Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Galatians 4:21-31

Today’s lesson focuses on a figurative lesson based on the actions of Abraham who had been promised by God that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars. The problem was that both he and Sarah were getting along in years. Sarah suggested he sleep with her maidservant, Hagar, in the hopes of building a family through her (Genesis 16:2). Needless to say, things got a little complicated. Had they simply waited, they would have found that God was going to fulfill His promise exactly as stated.

This reminds me of a book from my childhood called The 18th Emergency by Betsy Byars. It’s the story of a boy running from the school bully. As he goes out of his way for days trying to avoid the bully, he recalls a number of emergencies for which he and his friend have a devised means of escape. For example, getting stuck in quicksand requires one to lie flat on one’s back. Those being charged at by rhinos should, at the last moment, turn sideways in order to disappear in the blind spot directly in front of said rhino. This continued until:

“It seemed to him suddenly that what most emergency measures amounted to was doing whatever was most unnatural. If it was natural to start screaming, survival called for keeping perfectly quiet. If it was natural to run, the best thing to do was to stand still. Whatever was the hardest, that was what you had to do sometimes to survive.”
It seems to me that this same principle sometimes applies to the dedicated Christian’s life: that which is hardest to do is often exactly what must be done.

When we would rather do nothing may very well be the time to act; when we become impatient with God’s timing (as did Abraham and Sarah) may be the very time to wait on Him; when we would rather not speak up may actually be the time to do so and when we would like to say something may be the time for silence. For me, at least, each of these has to do with being obedient, as simple and yet as difficult as that may be.

Dear Lord, may we go through this day being obedient to the tasks you put before us. Give us courage and restraint as each are needed in order to bring glory to your Name. Amen.

Mark Vereb

Monday, January 29, 2007

Galatians 4:12-20

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Jan. 30, 2007
Galatians 4:12-20
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

We continue today with Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul had preached the Gospel to the Galatian Church and had been very well received. Because of illness he had been a burden to them but they received him with love and as a true messenger of God. He then left on one of his mission journeys. While he was gone, prominent officials from Jerusalem came and challenged Paul’s teaching. They accused him of being a non believer because he taught against strict adherence to Mosaic Laws in favor of faith thru the spirit of God in Jesus Christ. Paul learned that many had turned against him because of these accusations. This is what prompted this letter. As we learned last week, this is one of the earliest letters that Paul wrote and it pre-dates the 4 Gospels. It is Paul establishing himself as an independent thinker and one truly inspired and driven by God alone through the spirit of Jesus Christ.

He feels he has been betrayed. He was trying to do God’s will and this was rejected. He feels like a parent who has lost a child. Rejection is a terrible thing. It is particularly painful when someone you care for rejects your love and turns away from you. The failure of a marriage is an all too common example of rejected love. God has spared me this sorrow but I have witnessed the pain and suffering experienced by those very close to me. I have also experienced personal disappointment in my career when my efforts were not appreciated. To love someone is to expose yourself to rejection. The decision to love is a decision to take risk.

However, in Jesus there is no risk. To love God is to know that your love is returned regardless of conditions or circumstances. What a wonderful comfort this is. Paul preached salvation through allowing your spirit to be taken over by the spirit of God in Jesus; to love him with all your mind and all your soul; always knowing that your love will never be rejected or challenged. Praise be to God and to my Savior Jesus Christ. My fellow man may let me down but God won’t.

AMEN

John Dickie, Jan.30, 2007

Galatians 4:1-11

In the late 40s A.D., Paul traveled through Galatia proclaiming the good news of Jesus. Many rejoiced at the news and trusted themselves to Jesus’ grace and love. Yet by the time of this letter – early 50s A.D. – some in Galatia had begun to teach a different message. They insisted that followers of Jesus had to obey the Jewish ceremonial law as well as trust in Jesus. In this view, Jesus did not suffice. Trust in Jesus was not the true medium of a right relationship with God. A right relationship with God required adherence to the law as well.

Paul knew this corrupted the good news. It did not stem from God. It entangled and encumbered people in a set of impossible demands. It did not amount to good news – the good news that Jesus saves us from the deadly burdens of sin. This view was bad news, indeed the worst news, for it spelled hopelessness and doom. Hence, Paul wrote to turn the Galatians from this anti-gospel back to the true gospel.

All of this lays the foundation for what Paul wrote in the passage we read today. Here Paul continued to demonstrate the enslaving character of this corruption of the good news. We could explore at length Paul’s discussion of slaves, children, guardians, parents, and estates. But in this short space what we must grasp clearly is the intimate relationship God gives us with himself through Jesus’ saving life and death.

We find this captured expressively in verses 6 and 7. “And because you are children [by adoption through Jesus], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (New Revised Standard Version). The Aramaic word “Abba” – Jesus used “Abba” to address God when teaching us to pray – was a tender name a child would use for his or her father, indicating love and respect in a deeply personal way.

Children of God, heirs to God’s goodness! This is God’s loving gift to us in Jesus, as any true relationship of parent to child finally consists of a gift in love. It cannot be earned. We must not try to earn it. It is simply given through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All we need do is receive it in love and live in it. This and this alone is truly good news. Let us rejoice then in it and never turn from it!

Gregory Strong


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hebrews 11:8-16

I grew up in central Texas where we had very hot summers and calling it a dry heat doesn’t make it any less oppressive in my book! During July and August especially, any respite from the intense heat was a very welcome event – even rain storms. Many times we would see a storm in the distance and watch as it approached – anticipating the coolness and refreshing that it would bring. In a sense we would welcome the rain before it arrived - actually feeling relief from the heat as we saw the wall of rain move closer and smelled the rain as it drew near. This is the picture of faith that is described in today’s reading – the picture of grasping something not yet received; welcoming something while it is still in the distance.

This picture of faith brings with it the question of unrealized hope. How do we respond to those situations and circumstances where we do not receive the things we believe we have been promised?

Today’s reading gives us two clues to help prepare for those instances. The first clue is the idea of placement: on what have we placed our hope? The reading tells that God is faithful. He is the one sure foundation on which we can trust. The second clue is the idea of perspective: where are we looking for the fruition of our hope? The reading tells that we should look to the heavenly city that God has prepared for us or saying it a different way, we should strive to maintain an eternal perspective.

Summer storms in Texas are not trustworthy. They stop short or just pass by. A better faith is demonstrated by the people in today’s reading who admit they are foreigners and strangers on earth, longing for a better place – a heavenly country where they will dwell in the city God has prepared for them. May we be like them.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Galatians 3:23-29

For most of us, we were surrounded and protected when we were young by parents and family, teachers, and others who worked very hard to give us a foundation for living a good life. Although we may not have appreciated all of their efforts, they tried their best to keep us out of trouble and pointed in the right direction.

God cared for His people in a similar way. He provided the Law, through Moses, to give them boundaries to protect and direct them. What foods to eat and what sacrifices and offerings to make are two broad examples. The Law was studied and followed so they could stay on the path to salvation. But, they didn’t have a direct relationship with God.

At times, it may seem easier to follow a written set of laws. At least the Law is something concrete; spelled out in meticulous detail. You know exactly what is expected of you for a given situation. Having faith can be challenging. When we go through tough times we can’t always feel God’s presence; His peace. And, there are times when it seems like He just isn’t listening. But can you imagine not being able to go directly to God to ask His forgiveness or cry out for help?

God made a promise to Abraham and He fulfilled that promise when Jesus came to live among us. Jesus has adopted us as members of His family and relationship with our God is part of our inheritance. Through our faith in Jesus, we can go straight to God, ask for His forgiveness, for help, and even complain.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Gal. 3: 15-22 – Why the Law?

Each profession has its own diagnostic tools. In my line of work we have thermometers, stethoscopes, x ray machines and many other ways of finding problems in the human body.

In this seemingly technical passage, Paul is using a legal example to explain to his readers the limitations of the Law. If you recall, the Galatian people had started slipping back into wanting to observe the Law, rather than depending on simple faith in Christ. Ok, Paul says, let me explain. If people make a covenant, an agreement, no one can set it aside or add to it. In the same way, God made a covenant with Abraham, a promise that Christ would come. 430 years later, the Law was added, and it did not take away the promise of Christ.

So, Paul says, what then is the purpose of the Law? (v. 19). Does following the Law impart righteousness? Well no, Paul says. It hasn’t done that yet so we can stop holding our breath on that one.

This is where the diagnostic tools come in. Paul says that the Law shows that we have a problem inside. We can’t be made right with God by following rules, but only by faith in Christ. The Law is our stethoscope, our X ray, the funny noise our car is making as we drive it to the shop. Now that we know we have a problem, thank God that we can throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ. May we thank Him today for the gift of faith and for His sacrifice.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Galatians 3:1-14

A couple summers ago I had the opportunity to do some fly fishing on the Yellowstone River in Montana. My first night there I went out on my own and caught absolutely nothing (except a couple branches, of course). That might have been related to the fact that I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. Did I mention it had been 20 years since the last time I was fly fishing?

The next day, that all changed when a good friend of me took me fishing. He had a boat, so we could cover a lot more water. He showed me what flies to use and how to present them. He showed me exactly where to cast. And guess what? I caught several very nice trout, including a couple that were 20+ inches long and weighing several pounds.

My point in telling this story is that I could not have caught those fish without the help of my friend. I didn’t have a boat, the proper flies, or the necessary knowledge of how and where to fish this particular river. My friend had all these things, and in sharing them freely, made it possible for me to do something I could not do on my own.

It seems to me that the underlying point in today’s reading is that through the Spirit, God is able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

This may sound simple, and probably is. But it raises the question: What are we doing in our lives and in our churches that takes us beyond what we could do in our own natural capacities? Verse 5 really jumps out at me; where are we allowing the Spirit to work miracles today?

So, simple though they be, it seems important that we ask questions like these. How is God shaping our lives and churches, even as He shaped personal lives and public communities in ages past? What is God doing in our life and churches that only He can do? What is there both in our experience and in what we offer others that goes beyond psychology, the culture of success, and self help of the world around us?

Otherwise, instead of being the sacred places they were meant to be, our churches will only become more and more like the world around them, built on human achievement rather than the power of the Spirit.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Galatians 2:11-21

In many of his letters, if not all of them, Paul writes about the basis of salvation. Today's passage is no exception. I feel we can learn from Paul's message as well as how he delivered it.

Let me start with how Paul deliverers his message. Paul confronts Peter in public - in front of everyone. Among other things, I feel Paul is telling us that when we have an issue with someone, we should confront it head on. We should not talk behind that person's back, we should not write letters to the editor of a newspaper, we should not criticize that person to others. We need to be forthright with the person with which we have an issue and discuss it with him/her in a love filled manner. Paul is telling us this is the best way to handle such an issue.

Now, let's discuss Paul's message of salvation. The question Paul poses is, does salvation come from Christ and adherence to the law as laid out in the Old Testament, or does salvation come solely from Christ? Of course God has given us a way to salvation and that way is through Jesus Christ. So, then, why should anyone obey the law? I mean what is the point - if salvation is gained through belief in Jesus Christ, then one can sin as much as one wants to and still be forgiven and saved. Right? Paul answers this by a resounding "No"!

Salvation, given freely by God through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leads to freedom from sin's slavery not a license to sin. Paul teaches us about the transformation that occurs in believers. Christian life begins when we accept Jesus as our savior. As Christian life develops, we let our own will die and follow God's will. In other words, faith in Jesus demands lifestyle and behavioral changes. When we truly surrender to God's will our lives are transformed. The gift of grace does not abolish the law - it transforms it from an external standard that is impossible to meet to an inner motivation for living a good, pure, God-honoring life.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Galatians 1:18-2:10

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Jan. 23, 2007
Galatians 1:18-2:10
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

A little research on this letter of Paul to the Church in Galatia revealed it to be one of his first letters. Also, these letters predate the 4 Gospels. What prompted this letter was a controversy over whether Christian Gentiles were required to follow the Laws of Moses. We learn in his letter that 3 yrs after his conversion he went to Jerusalem and found that the only apostle there was James. He then went to Syria and Cilicia. He was known as the one who had previously persecuted those that followed Jesus and that now he was one of them. He was not famous for his preaching at this time. We then jump ahead 14 years when he again went to Jerusalem.

Why would he need to tell this history to the Church in Galatia? Did he wanted to position himself as the person delivering the good news to the Gentiles? He also needed to address the difficult issue of whether circumcision was required by Gentile believers in Galatia. Paul had preached that it was not necessary and he was criticized for this. This started the split between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians with Paul as the advocate of the latter.

I can relate very well to Paul’s position. He stressed in his teaching that through belief in Jesus Christ we have been given the freedom to be our own person and to express ourselves (desire) and love God in our own way. He teaches that the law is necessary to establish a standard (duty) against which we should compare ourselves. I have always struggled with desire versus duty. Is my behavior driven by my duty according to what is expected or is my behavior driven by my desires? I have come to learn from my own experience that my desire will usually win the argument and this is my sin. However, in Jesus Christ I am not lost. With him as my standard of human perfection, if I commit to adjust my desires to live a life in his image then desire and duty are not in conflict and I am saved. We are born with the free will to find and serve God in our own way. Through Jesus Christ and not through an instruction book, we have the means to adjust our human nature to do it right. Thanks be to God and his servant Paul.

AMEN

John Dickie, Jan.23, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

Galatians 1:1-17

The prospect of receiving good news sounds good, does it not? Yet what constitutes good news? In ordinary human terms, good news for one person or group may not figure as good news for another person or group. Consider sporting contests. A win for one team means good news for its fans but bad news for the other team’s fans. Far more seriously, for people or nations in conflict, victory comes as good news for one side but bad news for the other.

Around the early 50s A.D., Paul wrote to the Christian communities in Galatia, a region in Asia Minor (now Turkey). He scolded them for turning from the true gospel or good news to a different gospel. In fact Paul rejected that other “gospel” as good news at all. There is only one true gospel. There are not two or more sets of good news depending on our human perspective.

The true message of good news, captured by Paul in verse 4, is this: that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” This and this alone – Jesus’ sacrificial death to save us and our world from sin and evil – is gospel for you and me and all people. No other message purporting to be good news and salvation – whether religious, philosophical, political, psychological, financial, or scientific – really and truly measures up as gospel for us.

This then – the message of Jesus’ death on the cross as full, sufficient, and perfect saving grace – is God’s good news to us and for us. This is not good news in the ordinary human sense. Because this good news comes from God, it is not good news for one person or group but no news or bad news for another person or group. It is good news for all people and all groups.

It is truly good because God creates and knows us as we do not even know ourselves. He knows what we need when we do not know or care. God provides us the good news we truly need in the form we truly need it: Jesus’ death on the cross to rescue us from our sins and the world’s evil.

Let us never turn from this good news. It alone is true. It alone is truly good. It alone saves us, to the glory of God for ever and ever.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hebrews 10:19-31

Today’s reading contains two seemingly contrasting ideas about God.
“Draw near to God”
vs
“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

As I thought about these verses, I remembered meeting my wife’s Uncle Scott.

Shortly after our wedding, my wife and I visited her grandmother and it was there that I met Uncle Scott. He was a former Marine and he maintained the carriage and manner of a military officer. My wife couldn’t believe that I felt intimidated by him and his presence. She saw her uncle as a loving, caring man that doted on her. I saw him as a man trained for combat and someone willing to protect his family (including her) from all harm (including me). Over time, I got to know and love Scott but I will never forget how he told me to “treat his girl right.”

There wasn’t any difference in Scott – he was the same man, only seen from different perspectives.

I think that sometimes we focus so much on God’s mercy and compassion that we lose sight of his holiness, his hatred of our sin and hypocrisy between our belief and our action. Today’s reading reminds us that we need to see the whole nature of God – drawing near to him because of our assurance in Christ but also remembering that without Christ it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ephesians 6:10-24


Paul's conclusion to this magisterial letter is akin to a commander addressing his troops on the eve of battle. A good commander wants to ensure that, to the best of his ability within the requirements of the mission, no soldier will be lost. And because the enemy threats are diverse, each soldier is armed with a variety of offensive and defensive weapons. In modern combat, the terminology would include personal body armor, gas masks, MOPP suits and the like; but the principle would be the same. Nothing can be neglected or taken for granted. It's real bloody war out there, gentlemen (and, ladies). Take nothing for granted. Don't let your guard down.


Paul's knowledge of combat equipment was more than theoretical. He had traveled extensively throughout the empire, witnessing Roman soldiers at various outposts, and been at the pointed end of a soldier's cutlass. For two years he has been chained to his guards. He has heard the soldiers telling stories to fill the boredom of the night watches. Surprisingly, his real qualms are not with those who hold him prisoner. The real war is not against the Empire (though sometimes the Empire does evil); the real war then, as now, is spiritual. It is against Satan and his minions scattered throughout the visible and invisible universe. A real sword might have some temporary value in a fight with storm troops; the sword of the Word is our real defense against even more deadly threats.


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. And don't let your shield sag. There's a war on.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ephesians 6:1-9

The title of this passage could be “Behaving Properly At Home and At Work”. Sounds easy enough. Much of it is common sense. How hard can this be?

But we know differently. Our lives are so jammed packed not just with activities, but with stuff that keeps our minds from focusing on what is important. Today has so far been one of those days for me. I typically listen to Christian CD’s on the way into work as a morning devotional. Sometimes it’s music and sometimes a bible devotional or a talk of some kind. So, this morning I had music on but instead of concentrating on what I was hearing, I was running through the list of things I need to do and getting anxious about the things I had not done yet. Not a good start.

I get into my office and the first thing that happens is computer problems. (Actually, the computer isn’t the problem, it’s the anxious operator, desperate to get the work done and knowing way to little to get the computer to do what I want). On days like this I find that at the end of the day, I feel as if I have behaved very badly and it’s not a nice feeling. Long story short, how can someone with so much “stuff” filling their brain remember to behave properly?

First of all, we need to keep perspective. Sure there are many things we must do or there are consequences. But I have found that those things do get done whether or not I worry over them. The more I worry over things, the less I remember about saying hello and giving a smile to my fellow workers. Yet, how many times did Jesus admonish his disciples when they worried over things instead of looking at the larger picture?

Second of all, keep your humor. As soon as I hear something funny, or smile over a comment, the sun comes out and I get a fresh look on the day. That “break” causes me to shake myself off and start over.

So, brother and sister, I am hopeful that I can start this day over and start behaving the way Paul instructed the Ephesians to behave.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ephesians 5:15-33

True confession: I have been drunk exactly twice in my life. The first time was when I was 16, and my girlfriend and I just broke up. I drowned my sorrows by chugging a glass of whiskey. It had the desired effect…and then some. The hangover was severe enough that it was not an experience I wanted to repeat.

The second time was when I was 34, and I was just seeking some peace. If just for a moment, I wanted to escape into oblivion, and let all my cares and concerns fade away. That, too, had its desired effect. I understood why a person will give up everything and lie face down in a gutter with nothing else in the world if only they can have another drink. The strength and intensity of that desire scared me, so that once again the experience was not one that I wanted to repeat—and, thank God, I haven’t.

Why do people drink? A number of reasons, I think. Like me, I think they want to be free from pain. In addition, they want to be free from anxiety. They want to be free from inhibition so they can be more social. They want to experience camaraderie.

Today’s passage commands us not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Surely this command is rooted in what we allow to shape our behavior; will it be God or something else such as alcohol? But more than that, I think it is also a reflection on how we deal with our hurts, fears, and sense of isolation. It raises the question of where we find our joy, and perhaps if we are finding any joy in the first place.

To be filled with the Spirit is to be in a right relationship with God and one another. When such relationships are present in our lives, we have all the support we need to bear our griefs and sorrows, all the security we need to cast off our anxieties, all the love we need to dispel our loneliness. We find the joy which can’t help but result in singing, making melodies, and giving thanks.

It comes as no surprise, then, that relationships are what the following verses address; relationships in the home, work relationships, our relationship with God. Rightly constituted, these are the things that produce a cheerful heart—a heart full of good cheer, not alcohol and the mere illusion of well being it produces.

So… where is there hurt in your life? Worry? Loneliness? How are you addressing it? Are the relationships in your life getting the time and attention they deserve? And perhaps most importantly: How are you doing in your relationship with the Lord?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ephesians 5:1-14

One of the resolutions many people make at the beginning of a new year is to go on a diet. I've found that for quite a while my diet has been filled with foods that contain "empty calories". Empty calories have the same energy content of any other calorie but lack accompanying nutrients such as essential vitamins and minerals. They taste really good but in the long run they are not good for you. They are out of place in a healthy diet and consequently their consumption needs to be reduced or even eliminated.

The problem is that once we get into the habit of eating them, it becomes rather difficult to just give them up. One strategy for dealing with this is to substitute "good" foods that are healthy and nutritious at those times we would normally eat "bad" foods. It may be tough to do in the beginning, but eventually we find ourselves feeling better as a result of the change in our diet.

This is a strategy that can also work in other areas of our lives. In today's reading we're told we should neither utter obscenities, nor engage in foolish talk or coarse joking because these are out of place in the life of a believer. These are empty words that lack both wholesomeness and encouragement for others. Like empty calories, they are ultimately not good for us (or anyone else for that matter). They, too, ought to be eliminated but the habit of speaking in this manner can likewise be a difficult one to break.

However, just as we can replace empty calories with "good" foods, we can replace empty words with "good" words. Today's reading tells us that words of thanksgiving are preferred over empty words. And while this substitution may be difficult to do at first, as with our food diet, we'll eventually find ourselves feeling better about the change in our conversational diet.

Dear Lord, help us be conscious of the words we speak today. May those words that are out of place not leave our lips but instead be replaced with those that are pleasing to you and helpful for building others up according to their needs. Amen.

- Mark Vereb

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ephesians 4:1-16

The Bible contains many stirring passages. Surely Paul’s plea to the Christians in Ephesus counts as one: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” To live a life worthy of the calling you have received. What a sharp challenge and powerful attractor! The sharp challenge lies in the sad and painful reality that in so many ways we fall short of and even war against a life worthy of what God has given us. The powerful attractor lies in the high beauty of the life God has given us.

We have rebelled against God as if he were a tyrant. What could be further from truth? Yes, God rules. After all, he created everything, including you and me. Yet his rule, saturated with wisdom and love, leads to life flourishing with all truly good things. To our shame and sorrow, we fall so short. Still, God comes to us in Jesus and calls us to the true “high life”!

What then is this worthy life to which God calls us in Jesus? Here Paul characterizes it in terms of certain qualities: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and peaceableness – qualities that are not very “natural” in our sinful world. These qualities stem from God’s transformation of us.

How can we live into this life? Paul points to concrete activities. They flow from specific ways God graces us with gifts. When – in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and peaceableness – we practice God’s graces and gifts, we live a life worthy of Jesus.

What is the purpose of living into that worthiness? The aim of living a life worthy of the calling we have received is not self-fulfillment. So much of the world’s inspirational and motivational “wisdom” focuses on self. The aim of a life worthy of Jesus is to serve others. We put God’s graces and gifts into practice to help others grow in faith and unity. As a community of God’s people, we attain the whole measure of the fullness of Jesus.

When we embody the qualities and practices God gives us in Jesus, we begin to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. We find it is a life which looks like Jesus in character and action – a life devoted to serving others in the greatest faith, hope, and love possible. Could there be any worthier life to follow and attain?

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ephesians 14:17-32

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Jan. 16, 2007
Ephesians 4:17-32
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Paul does not beat around the bush. He has something to say and he says it directly and to the point. In today’s letter to the Gentile Ephesians Church, he challenges them to look into the mirror and to critically asses what they see. To take stock of their life style, their relationship with God and each other. He also tells them what he thinks of them and it isn’t very nice. Is this how you talk to a friend? In Paul’s case it is. After all, Paul loves them as he loves God and they are his neighbor in Christ.

This passage caused me to recall a time in my life at the beginning of my career when job promotion, increased responsibilities at work and in my church had me thinking that I was pretty good. I was feeding off the recognition and feeling pretty good about myself, so much so that it probably influenced my behavior. I was involved in the youth ministry of our church and was directing the choir. At that time God blessed me with the friendship of the Assistant Minister Murray Henderson. We were on a youth retreat and spent a lot of time together. He did to me what Paul does to the Ephesians in today’s reading. He questioned my commitment and motivation. He questioned my relationship with God and Jesus. Murray had become active in Anglican Church renewal and as his friend, he felt that he was doing the right thing for me. I did not see it that way at the time and I questioned why he would do that. Now I know. He did it because he loved me and because I loved him. Only I didn’t know I loved him at the time. I am still learning to love people.

Sadly I have lost contact with him and I have recently started a search to find him. In each of our lives, there is a short list of people that God places in our path to change our direction – for the good. Murray was one of these. I need to find him and tell him. I know I will find him because God wants me to. Murray will one day read this memory of him and smile.

AMEN

John Dickie, Jan.16, 2007

Hebrews 6:17-7:10

Many times I have been fishing in a boat and have depended on the anchor to hold me in place. Sometimes it has been in quiet water and the anchor was not really tested, but there have been other times when the water or wind put tremendous pressure on the boat. Regardless of the circumstances, I depended and trusted in the anchor.

In today’s reading in Hebrews, I was struck by the word picture describing our hope in Jesus as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

While I know this to be true and have had numerous experiences in my life where I can testify to God’s faithfulness, I wondered if other people can really see the surety of my hope in God by the way I live my life. Its one thing to take hold of that hope for myself, but does my belief translate into action?

I thought about this in relation to my family. As I am called to be like Jesus, am I a firm and secure anchor of the soul for my children; for my wife? Recent circumstances in my life and my reflection on these words, forced me to conclude that there are areas where I am not demonstrating and exemplifying the surety of my hope.

One translation of these verses reads, “… we who have taken refuge might be strongly encourage to seize the hope set before us.” [italics mine]

That’s the word that I took from today’s reading. I need to tenaciously take hold of that hope and not let go, regardless of the circumstances. I need to maintain the grip/focus on the hope set before me. Only by seizing the hope and then resting in Christ can I fully experience and demonstrate that Jesus is the anchor for my soul, firm and secure.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ephesians 3:14-21

In today’s reading, Paul prays for the members of the Church in Ephesus to be strengthened in their inner beings with power through His Spirit and for them to be able to fully know and appreciate the full extent of God’s love. In Eugene Petersen’s The Message, he describes it as the extravagant dimensions of God’s love.

God’s love for us is truly extravagant. He cares about every hair on our heads and every minute of our lives. There is nothing too insignificant for His attention. This extravagant love and acceptance is available to us; it is our choice whether or not to open ourselves up to this love. God doesn’t push us or force us into a relationship with Him but gently pursues us and asks us to allow Him be a part of our lives. He knows there is a definite chance that we will reject Him or disappoint Him but He still makes Himself available to us. When we accept God’s offer, His Spirit lives within us and gently, lovingly brings about changes within us – strengthening our inner being.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians so long ago is a prayer for all of us. In The Message, the verse is “Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” May we all be blessed with a life filled with the fullness of God.

Sue Reier

Friday, January 12, 2007

Eph. 3:1-13

Can you think back to a time when you were surprised? Maybe it was a happy surprise (like an engagement ring) and maybe it was a time when you were just floored.

One day before Christmas when I was about eight years old my father took my old bicycle. He said he was going to have new tires and fenders put on it to spruce it up a little. On Christmas morning he told me to go out in the garage and there was a BRAND NEW Schwinn sting ray bicycle (remember those?). I can still remember how surprised and how full of joy I was. I had no idea that this was in the realm of possibility. This was a big deal.

In this passage Paul is trying to deal with some very surprised people. As I read about Gentiles being included in God’s plan I thought of the poor Jews and what a shock to their system this would be. Paul keeps saying it’s a mystery (verse 6) and repeats three times in verse six the word TOGETHER, as in, Jews and Gentiles are members TOGETHER of one body. For the Gentiles to be included in God’s plan was formerly outside the realm of possibility for a Jew.

When we come together, the many kinds of people that we are, to worship Christ, it helps the world see the manifold, or multifaceted wisdom of God (verse 10). Recently I observed a large group at church gathered for WATCH, the program of fellowship and Bible Study. The parish hall was alive with fellowship and to me the room did sparkle like a diamond as everyone brought support to each other, each person playing a part.

Paul says by the grace of God, he expounds on the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (verse 8) and it is true that it is a gift to be able to meditate on and share with others the riches of Christ. Let us today meditate on the riches of Christ, available to all, and reach out to all.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ephesians 2:11-22

Here is a little interactive task for you. Count how many times the word “one” is used in this passage. Then you might also count how many times the word “peace” is used—peace that is essential if humans are ever going to live into the oneness that this passage makes clear is God’s plan and dream for humanity. The repetition of both words is not an accident, of course, but a tool Paul is using to highlight their importance.

Accordingly, Paul uses several images to illustrate the unity of which he is writing. Though all of them (one body, vs. 16; one family, vs. 18; one nation, vs. 19; one temple, vss 20-22) are worthy of reflection in these troubled times, in this brief devotion we are going to focus on the image of one new humanity.

It is appropriate that we do so as we look to celebrate Martin Luther King Day this weekend. The vision of one new humanity is in stark contrast to the host of races, nations, sects, and divisions which are so often at odds with each other in the world today.

Who of us can forget words such as these?

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers
. (Dr. Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream, August 28, 1963).

Who of us who names the name of the Jesus who calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves does not find these words ringing in our own heart? Who of us does not desire with every bone in our body, every fiber in our being, that they were true?

And yet, what are we doing to be peace makers, to heal the inequities and right the injustices that continue to mar our world even today (and might I be so bold to suggest that we strongly consider going on a mission trip for precisely these reasons)? How are we working, tirelessly and with an unconquerable hope, to end the divisions that are present not just between races but in communities and businesses and churches and sometimes even our families themselves?

Dear and beloved friends—we cannot fail in this! Because the hope of the world is not the political process that leads to ever greater and greater division. It is not the wielding of worldly power, which creates as much as suffering as it alleviates. It is not simply rallying good people, because the truth is few if any of us are as good as we need to be; most if not all of us run up against our own comfort and selfishness more quickly than we’d care to admit.

The one hope—the one and only hope—is hearts changed by the Lord Jesus Christ who is our peace; [because] in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ephesians 2:1-10

Have you ever thought about death? About your death? Of course you have - we all have. There is no greater contrast in human experience than that of life and death. There obviously is physical death when personal experiences on this earth cease. We are all going to face physical death – it is the one thing we all have to do. However, in today's reading Paul discussed spiritual death – being eternally separated from God.

The first three verses of today’s reading presents a hopeless humanity. A humanity trapped in sin and fully under Satan’s power. A humanity that is incapable of freeing itself. A humanity that is doomed for spiritual death.

Then in verse 4, Paul says, “But because of his great love for us, God …” These two words, “but God” is the cornerstone of Christianity. But God “made us alive with Christ…” (v5), “… raised us up …” (v6), and “… seated us with him (Jesus) …” (v6). God in his mercy provided humanity with a path to avoid spiritual death. We did not earn it, nothing we did warranted it, but God gave us life when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God” (v8).

We become saved through God’s underserved favor, not do to any efforts, abilities, choices, characteristics, or acts of service on our part. Our gratitude for this free gift should be to serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness. We are not saved merely for our own benefit but to glorify Christ by serving others. Works do not produce salvation but are the evidence of salvation. At Saint Matthew's we strive to know and share God’s love.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mark 1:14-28

Daily Devotional – Tuesday Jan. 9, 2007
Mark 1:14-28

Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Greetings dear reader. It is a blessing to be back with you following the wonderful Christmas experience. It is also an honor to be given this opportunity to read and to personalize the Holy Scripture in this manner. This experience has served to strengthen my understanding of The Bible and has also served to confirm my faith.

Today in Mark’s Gospel we read of Jesus’ very early acts and how he established his reputation. Jesus had something very important to say and he needed to gather people around him to spread his message. The analogy of the fisherman’s net is so simple and yet so profound. He spoke to fisherman in a language they understood. When he went into the synagogue to teach he did not do so as teacher or scribe but as someone with authority. He also made it very clear where that authority came from – from God. I have had many teachers in my life who taught me because it was their job and they really didn’t care whether I learned or not. I have also been fortunate to have teachers who really wanted me to learn and in doing so showed that they cared. This is the kind of teacher that attracts students who in turn would spread the teaching. Often these good teachers would teach by example.

Jesus speaks to our spiritual inner self. This is where the demons dwell. He knows they are there and calls them out. Why did he do this to the man in Capernaum? First I believe he wanted the man to know that God loves him and wants his spirit to be clean. I also believe that he wanted to show that he was the Son of God with the authority of God. He possessed the power to defeat the demon and he used it. What an incredible experience it must have been for those people who witnessed this act of compassion and to see the Power of God. This was an experience that had to be shared with everyone. It is no wonder the Good News spread as quickly as it did. Jesus continues to teach through the Gospels and through each of us. Through his Resurrection and Pentecost we also possess the Power of God to defeat demons and cure the body and souls of others. We are also called to continue to spread the good news. What a wonderful privilege it is.

AMEN

John Dickie, Jan.9, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ephesians 1:1-14

Today’s passage opens Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, in the Roman province of Asia (now Turkey). Some early manuscripts of the letter do not include the designation “in Ephesus.” Perhaps Paul intended it as a general missive to circulate among several churches, including Ephesus. At any rate, Paul wrote this letter to deepen and strengthen the faith of followers of Jesus.

In reading this, we may catch on the language of predestination, with numerous questions arising. Over nearly two thousand years, much reason and passion have been spent on the issue. We cannot engage it here with due care. Yet we can see grand emphases in the passage which put the matter in context and give us much to ponder and take to heart.

The priority of God in creation and salvation. God as God creates and saves us. We as creatures can do neither. Creation and salvation are gifts from God – incomparably good gifts! They alone bring true life and good life. All we need do is receive them gratefully and lovingly to enjoy and inhabit them.

The cosmic significance of Jesus. In creation and salvation, God works through Jesus on behalf of the entire universe. Everything exists from God in Jesus. In Jesus everything returns to God. God works to bring together, not just some things in heaven and earth, but all things, including you and me, under the rule of Jesus, who is truly good.

The richness of what God gives us in Jesus. In creating and saving, God pours his glory and beauty into our world and our lives. We lack good things not because of the poverty of creation and salvation, but because of our poverty. In Jesus God seeks to lavish upon us all true and good things to his glory and our well-being.

The steadfast love of God for us in Jesus. God creates and saves us in love. Far more than any parent for a child, God loves us purely, comprehensively, and consistently, for our good. Though we spurned him, God loves us through sin and death to new life in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Truly, God is love.

The meaning of predestination? Genuinely challenging. The priority of God in creation and salvation; the cosmic significance of Jesus; the richness of what God gives us in Jesus; and the steadfast love of God for us in Jesus? More than ample reasons for joining Paul in giving all praise to God and Jesus for splendor abounding!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hebrews 1:1-12

Over the holidays we were going through some things in storage and I came across an old record player, a hi-fi stereo system. For those too young to remember record players, hi-fi or high fidelity meant that the sound produced by the record was an exact replication of the original. A more formal definition of fidelity is “faithfulness to or an accurate reflection of”. I thought about that stereo system and the idea of fidelity as I read the following words from Hebrews in today’s reading:

“[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being and he sustains all things by His powerful word”
(Hebrews 1:3)
I really like the concept of fidelity as it is captured in these words, and while this particular passage is relating to Jesus, the new testament resounds with the idea of us reflecting the nature of Christ. As we allow the Spirit of God to work in and through us, perhaps we can become hi-fi Christians – faithful to and accurate reflections of the nature of Christ.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalms 96, 100; Revelation 21:22-27; Matthew 12:14-21

Congratulations! You’ve made it the whole way through this book, through another Advent and Christmas season. It is 2007, and you are six days into the New Year. What now?

The reading from the book of Revelation speaks of heaven – a place I assume we’d all like to go! The description pictures a place where God’s presence is made known everywhere just as plainly as it is in church. It’s a place bathed in the light of God’s glory. And it’s a place that is marked by purity – something our culture values more in food and water than it does in thought and behavior.

What is important for us to realize, I think, is the continuity between now – six days into 2007 – and then – the day we go to heaven. In other words, if we don’t learn to enjoy God’s presence now, what makes us think we will enjoy it then? If we are doing things in the darkness now – hidden things, things that we keep secret from others – what makes us think we will embrace the light of God’s glory then? If we don’t long for purity now so that we pursue it with our whole heart, what makes us think we’ll want God to make us pure then?

Said just a bit differently, for heaven to be heaven for us, we have to be in the process right now of allowing God to make us into the kind of people who live life in God’s presence, are guided by his light, and whose characters are conformed to the standards of his purity.

It is an ongoing process to be sure. None of us are there yet. But by God’s grace and with his help, we better be on our way. How will 2007 bring us closer to heaven? And if doesn’t … well, then please realize that what 2007 will bring us closer to is … hell.

So you’ve come to the end of this book. Advent and Christmas are over. It is six days into 2007. What now?

- Father Rob Merola

Friday, January 05, 2007

Joshua 1:1-9; Psalms 2, 110; Hebrews 11:32-12:2; John 15:1-16

This psalm, to me, is a very interesting one. One of our Bibles subtitles it, “Announcement of the Messiah’s Reign.” The beginning is filled with promises of triumph, beauty, and transformation; yet then it goes on to describe God executing rulers of nations and judging in his holy wrath.

This seemed to me a very bizarre reading for Advent. I had always associated Advent with promise, new life, and joy. How could wrath and destruction possibly fit into that picture? What could David have been thinking, putting two such seemingly opposite images in the same psalm? After thinking about this, I remembered something that my mother said to me, that we are unable to truly live in God until we have died to ourselves. Perhaps the death portrayed is a metaphysical one.

After thinking more on this I realized what I was doing. I was trying to fit God into a preconceived box, one that allowed him to be very neat and operate according to how I thought he should. I did not want his reign to be one that required messiness. God is not supposed to be messy. Or is he?

Jesus chose to be born to Mary, a woman who was not, at the time of his conception, married. He chose to be born in a stable, among animals and straw and filth. He chose to be raised in a town which people thought no good would ever come out of. Jesus chose a messy life, and I realized I was falling into the same trap people fell into then. I could not see the Messiah operating in any other way than mine. So let us in this season of Advent celebrate the new creation and beauty that we find in and through Christ. And let us realize that it does not matter if our lives are messy. As C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan, “He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.” Yet Lewis adds, “But he is good.” So too, let us remember our God is not a tame god, but he is good.

- Alex Davenport



Thursday, January 04, 2007

Exodus 3:1-12; Psalm 89:1-29; Hebrews 11:23-31; John 14:6-14

Many times when I think of serving God, I envision grand acts of service, magnificent feats like those found in today’s readings.

I envision myself recognizing God’s call on my life, although surely I wouldn’t need a burning bush to recognize it. I see myself resolutely and humbly enduring mistreatment along with the people of God rather than enjoying the pleasures of sin for a short time. I foresee my faith growing so strong that a week’s worth of neighborhood prayer walks would bring down not only walls of mere stone, but the sturdier and unyielding walls built of hate and violence, arrogance and indifference, self-righteousness and self-indulgence.

Oh, how I would like this to be a true reflection of my actions. The reality however is far different. A burning bush is not enough to get my attention. Sometimes a spotlight is too dim for me to see what God wants me to do. I am more often than not anything but humble, and I dispense mistreatment far more often than I endure it. And those unyielding walls are so reinforced around my own heart, it makes no sense worrying about any neighboring community. The disparity between my desires and the reality of who I am is so great I end up doing nothing at all because I can’t accomplish the entirety of what I desire.

Our Christian walk is often compared to running a marathon. Unfortunately, just as I am incapable of accomplishing the ideals of the spiritual feats listed above, I am also incapable of running a marathon. The biggest difference seems to be that if I wanted to run a marathon, however, I would come up with a plan to accomplish it. I would set a goal of running a 10K race. If I couldn’t do that yet, I would set a goal of running a 5K race. If I couldn’t do that, I’d set a goal of running one mile. And if I couldn’t do that, I’d start with walking a mile – that would certainly be better than doing nothing.

Hmmm… I just noticed that the previous paragraph started out talking about our Christian walk. Could it be that the same approach that works for my physical life would also work for my spiritual life? If I would break an overall goal of running a marathon down into manageable pieces, into goals that aren’t overwhelming, and into tasks that could be easily accomplished, could I do the same for spiritual goals? Of course, the answer is obvious even if the question wasn’t. Besides, it beats doing nothing.

- Mark Vereb



Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Genesis 28:10-22; Psalm 68; Hebrews 11:13-22; John 10:7-17

It’s hard for me to write about faith. I did not grow up with a strong faith in God, and it is something I continue struggling with. And yet I can’t stop thinking about today’s reading from Hebrews. It has really forced me to consider what I believe in and why is church important to me?

We read that the figures from the Old Testament “were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.” I dream of a “better country,” too; however, not as a personal reward, but rather as a goal for all of us here on earth. I dream of less violence, greed, and hate; and of more compassion, sharing, and love. But like the subjects of the reading, I know that I will not see this country in my lifetime. Earth may not be such a place for another hundred generations. When I see hints of it, I believe it’s possible.

I see the beginnings of such a world when our teens go on mission trips to help and understand others. I see it in the box of food for the LINK pantry. I see it in the donations for victims of natural disasters. The volunteers who give so much of their time to put together these programs are our ambassadors from this better world.

There are so many wonderful opportunities for the people of Saint Matthew’s to help each other and to help the world. I love getting involved where I can, and always wish I could do more. And I know that I am able to do more, to love more, because of Saint Matthew’s. The church provides me with opportunities to help others, but it is also a community of people who want to help each other help others.

I hope that by seeing me love others, my son will be a more compassionate person. And his children in turn. And then their children. And I honestly believe that all of these acts of love, however small, are steps toward a better country – a heavenly one.

- Mason Turner



Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Genesis 12:1-7; Psalm 34; Hebrews 11:1-12; John 6:35-51

Today we read about Abram who leaves his country and travels to Canaan (Genesis); about David’s praise and teaching after he escapes from Gath (Psalm); about faith and examples of the faith of Old Testament ancestors (Hebrews); and about Jesus as the bread of life (John).

There is a lot going on in these readings, but the common thread I see in them is faith. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” All of today’s readings provide examples of people who acted in faith, even though they didn’t know exactly what God was planning or understand what God was promising for the future.

John records the story of Jesus telling a questioning crowd that he is the bread of life. Whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. Three times in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us to believe in him. “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

During Advent, we exercise faith when we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Although we can’t physically see or hear or touch our Lord, we can always turn to the Bible to read how people like Cain, David, Abraham, Sarah, and many others acted on their faith. All we have to do is to believe, to have faith. We need to trust God enough to act even when that action is as simple as saying “Yes!” – we want Jesus in our lives.

Lord, thank you for your faithful servants who have come before us and provide us with examples of living in faith. Help us to grow in our faith so that we can hear your voice and trust you enough to obey. Amen.

- Sue Reier



Monday, January 01, 2007

Genesis 17:1-16; Psalm 103; Colossians 2:6-12; John 16:23b-30

As I look back on the past year it is impossible to deny the work of God in my life and how I rely on God through prayer. Prayer has been an important part of my life, from the rote prayers I learned as a little girl to the conversations that I have with God now. My prayer life is a big part of what keeps me connected to God.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have experienced times in my life when I haven’t been so sure that God was doing anything with those prayers. But as I look back at those periods of difficulty, I realize that God was at work in ways I would have never considered at the time. Such an instance would be the friend who arrived just at the right time to listen to me when I could not carry a particular burden alone any longer, a circumstance that changed the course of a career and made family life so much better. I believe those things that we sometimes chalk up to happenstance are not coincidental. I look on them as my God moments. Each one comes as a gift and a glimpse into the future of what life is going to be like when we are fully and finally home with God. That is my hope.

Today’s reading does not promise a life free from hardship or pain just because we are followers of Jesus. However Jesus tells us that, if we ask in his name, we will receive and our joy will be complete. It does not say our every wish will be granted, but our joy will be complete when God’s promise is fully realized in the second coming of Jesus. God hears and answers our prayers. I am convinced of this. He may not answer them the way we want or when we want, but Christ promises us that God does and will answer. If God can raise his Son from the dead, then in him all things are possible when we believe.

My resolution this year is to involve God in all aspects of my life and ask that his will be done. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, I pray, Lord, that you help me remember to spend time with you each day and begin each day asking that your will be done, not mine. Peace and God’s grace to all you in the New Year.

- Ann Ritonia