Monday, April 30, 2007

Colossians 1:15-23

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 1, 2007
Colossians 1:15-23
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

A very happy May Day to you! I work for a European company and I am there very often (too often). Today is a really big holiday over there. Today they celebrate the worker and everyone takes a day off work to do that. The celebration has its roots in the ancient guild system when there would be great parades with the different guilds marching together. One of those was the teacher’s guild.

Today’s reading from Colossians illustrates Paul at his very best as teacher. Teachers are in my opinion one of the most critical and important professions and yet are under valued and under recognized. Paul’s great reputation as a teacher is illustrated by the fact that Paul had never visited Colossea and yet they paid attention. The letter was prompted by the emergence of a group who believed that physical reality including the earth itself was evil and that God existed only as spirit. They worshipped intermediaries. Paul’s letter was intended to bring them back to basics and show God as the single creator and Jesus as God’s image among us. There is no separation of physical and spiritual. They are one. Jesus is the proof of God’s existence and the spiritual reality that exists in all of us.

Often I find myself confused by too much logic. When confused, I must go back to basics and start with the basic things that I believe. Then, all will fall in place. My mother and father were both teachers. My father was my high school physics teacher and he taught principles not formulae. This meant always going back to basics and applying the principles. Is this what Paul is doing with this letter? I think so. The teaching is so powerful in its simplicity. He doesn’t defend the truth; he just states it as irrefutable fact. We are saved from our sin and the evil around us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual self is released from this sin and resides for eternity in Glory. These are the basics Paul teaches.

Thanks be to God for Paul and all great Teachers.

God bless you this day and every day!

AMEN

John Dickie, May 1, 2007

Colossians 1:1-14

In this letter to the Christians in Colosse (in Asia Minor), written around 60 A.D. while under a long house arrest in Rome, Paul reminded the Colossians of the full sufficiency of Jesus. Jesus fully represents both God and humanity to us. Jesus shows us the true measure of who God is and what human nature is. In Jesus, God has come to us fully and perfectly to restore us to himself, to ourselves, to each other, and to being human.

What God accomplishes for us in Jesus, then, goes far beyond the myriad self-centered, self-help programs in our culture that appeal to our need to live life more truly and fully. Indeed, what God does for us goes far beyond the imagination of many of us who intentionally follow Jesus. Too often we resist and restrict how God longs to change us and our world. Or, like our society at large, we warp toward a self-centered, self-help perspective which infects our churches far too much, as can be seen in, among other places, many televangelists and Christian bookstores.

What God accomplishes for us in Jesus goes so far beyond. God rescues us from the power of darkness and transfers us to the kingdom of light – the kingdom of his dear Son. This constitutes a life-change, a world-change, of almost unimaginable scope. From darkness to light, from bondage to redemption, from condemnation to forgiveness: what God does for us in Jesus transforms us and our world.

Yet this is but the beginning. As graduation from school is but the beginning, and the wedding is but the beginning, so transfer from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of light is but the beginning of new existence. It is the beginning of living in new, specific, concrete ways.

In this opening passage, Paul sketched the broad outline for living into and from this new existence. The basic aim in the kingdom of light is to live a life worthy of Jesus. How do we live such a life? As Paul urged in this text, we do so through (1) bearing fruit in all manner of good works; (2) growing widely and deeply in knowledge of God; (3) strengthening in spiritual power so we can shine with endurance and patience in a troubled and troubling world; and (4) giving thanks to God continually for innumerable riches of faith, hope, and love, for this world and the next.

This then is the day, in God’s grace and power, to get on with living in the kingdom of light, of living a life worthy of Jesus!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Third Letter of John

Above: Tomb of St John, Ephesus

John, the beloved young man as a staunch disciple, and beloved as well, "the elder" near the end of his life, in a dangerous time and in dangerous places, in a church that was being dispersed throughout the Roman (and pagan, persecuting) world and that was unfortunately embroiled in its own internal disputes. John, faithful witness at the cross and, so far as we know, the only disciple not martyred for his faith.

John's little letter has come to us, courtesy of the otherwise unknown Gaius. John encourages Gaius to stay focused on the mission work, and stay in the truth. Gaius perhaps came to believe through John, but they have been mostly apart since then, so John commends the good things he has heard about Gaius. But he does not use many words, preferring to save his wisdom for a time not long hence when they can share fellowship face to face.

Always with John it is the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ that anchors the church, brothers and sisters each with a unique character but each loved, to the end. If John has authority, it is because he has lived that love in all circumstances and among all.

Friday, April 27, 2007

2 John 1-13

In reading the letters of John, one must say that he was a “glass half full” kind of guy. In fact, I would go so far to say that John was a joyful man. He speaks of joy and love as if these are not just every day occurrences, but even every-moment occurrences.

It also strikes me from John’s writings that he was not searching for joy. Instead, he found joy all around him through the grace of God’s love personified in Jesus Christ. One of the things I learn from John’s writings is not to look for joy, but to be open to the joy that will be naturally available to all of us through the love of Jesus Christ and, as John says in verse 6 of today’s reading, by walking “in obedience to his commands”.

John made himself available and open to joy. In verse 12 of today’s reading, he explains to “the chosen lady and her children” that he would rather not write down everything he wanted to say. But, instead, he wanted to visit with her so that “…our joy may be complete.” This shows that if given a choice of actions (i.e., writing a letter or being in Christian fellowship with another), he would likely choose the one that would bring the most joy, not just for the sake of being joyful but because it was closest to the way Christ would want him to live.

So what can we learn from John about finding joy in our lives? We must “walk the walk”. As we are called to do, we must live in obedience to God’s commands. There are so many ways we can do this in everyday life. For example, while driving, allow the aggressive driver to go in front of you. Don’t get angry. Say a prayer that his day will go well for him. At work, take a co-worker who is worried about something to coffee and listen. Show her you care without being judgmental. At home, listen to your spouse while he or she unloads their grievances of the day. Provide comfort and support without taking anything personally. Any one of those small acts will likely bring you a great amount of joy.

I believe this is the type of joy John refers to and the type of joy he experienced throughout his life as an apostle.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, April 26, 2007

1 John 5:13-21

In my travels I often meet folks who do not attend church. They don’t attend for a variety of reasons but the most common response I get when I ask them why they don’t belong to a faith community is “I have a relationship with God and don’t need to go to church to know him. I see him in nature.” I think today’s reading from the First letter of John tells us something quite different. Knowledge and a true understanding of God can only be mediated through Jesus Christ and while nature may reveal the majestic and awesome power of God it is only through Jesus Christ that we can have an intimate relationship with God. While I believe that God through Jesus can reveal himself as he wishes at anytime it is through living life and worshipping together in Christian community that we truly come to know Jesus. Life in Christian community is a safety net that prevents us from creating false pictures of God that serve our own selfish needs and keeps us accountable to one another as we pray prayers of forgiveness for one another’s sins. It is only in community that we can combat false ideas about who Jesus is and where we model the love he has for each one of us. “Little children, keep your selves from idols” anything that that causes you to stumble and fall away from a relationship with God. A life lived in community removes some of those stumbling blocks. Today’s reading reminds us that we are the children of God and if we ask anything according to his will he will hear us. My prayer today is that God will continue to strengthen the love we have for him and each other as we worship, pray and live life together and that he will continue to reveal himself to us by removing stumbling blocks in each of our lives that keep us from seeing what is true and what is not.

AMR+

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

1 John 5:1-12

In today's passage, we find, "This is love for God; to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome," (verse 3). Well this verse seemed odd to me when I first read it. I mean aren't God's commands very difficult to follow? In fact, aren't they so difficult (impossible) to follow that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, into the world so mankind could be saved. Paul tells us many times in his letters that deeds cannot save us as no one can follow all the commandments and thus we must be saved by believing in Jesus Christ. So what gives? John must have another meaning for burdensome other than easy to follow.

Certainly God's commandments are not always the easiest path to follow in life. In fact, it is often easier to disobey than to obey. Thus John must be talking about the consequences of obeying God's commands.

Let's take an example. Let's look at the commandment to not commit adultery. If obeying this commandment (remaining faithful to your spouse) is harder than disobeying (giving in to passion) then the consequences of obeying will be much easier than the consequences of disobeying. In other words, sin has a price. Most of the time when we pay that price we see that it would have been easier to not have sinned in the first place. In our example, the price for adultery can be devastating - it can lead to mistrust, hurt feelings, and family breakup. So in the long run, obeying God's commandments is not burdensome, it is much easier than the price of sin.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

1 John 4:7-21

Daily Devotional – Tuesday April 24, 2007
1 John 4:7-21
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

How many times does the word love appear in the bible? I don’t know the answer though I assume it is many. In John’s 14 short and to the point statements in today’s reading love appears 21 times. This passage reads for me almost like a math equation. It is so simple and yet so powerful. In these 21 statements John summarizes our faith, our relationship to God and the role of Jesus.

“God is love” and “love is of God”. These statements take us to a whole new reality beyond our worldly experience. The significance of love in my life has changed over my many years of experience. These words can be hollow and rhetorical unless they are backed by human emotion and feeling. For love to live, it must be felt. I have come to learn this late in life.

I have heard many sermons in my life. There are only a few that I remember as actually changing the way I think and behave. One of those dealt with love. The sermon introduced the 3 forms of love (sensual, brotherly and Godly). These are the not the technical terms I cannot remember but I remember the differentiation between them. I also remember that they are not all the same value. While I want and need them all, I cannot live without the 3rd. God’s love puts the other 2 in perspective. I did not experience brotherly or family love to a great extent as a child. Loving came hard to me and to some extent it still does. Thank God for the love that he has for me and for giving me the ability to feel it and to be influenced by it. God’s love has opened my ability to see love where it is in all its forms.

I thank God every day for his grace given to me in the form of my family. I have learned to love and my Grandchildren are the beneficiaries as well as others close to me.

God bless you this day and every day!

AMEN

John Dickie, April 24, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

1 John 3:19 - 4:6

Likely addressing a number of Christian communities in the Roman province of Asia in the late first century A.D., John wrote to illuminate them about the true nature of God and Jesus and the true nature of the children of God. Some were twisting and perverting the truth about God, Jesus, and Christian life. False teachers denied that God had truly and savingly come into this world in the flesh and blood, historical person of Jesus. From this rejection they skewed even further from the truth into behaviors antithetical to holiness before God and love for others. John, beloved apostle and follower of the earthly and resurrected Jesus, aimed to expose the errors of their beliefs and behaviors.

Clearly then, from people in their midst or around them, those Christian communities were threatened by false teachings about the nature of God and Jesus and the nature of the children of God. Additionally, they ran up against their own sins – their failures to embody true holiness and love. In these ways, a swirl of external and internal falsehoods about God, Jesus, spirituality, and behavior confused and harmed them spiritually and practically. Hence, in a series of broad but profound statements, comparisons, and descriptions, John wrote to clarify and reinforce for them who God truly is, how God came into the world in Jesus to save us, and what it means for followers of Jesus to live out God’s love.

Of real encouragement then are the nearly parallel statements regarding the greatness of God in today’s passage. God is greater than our hearts. God is greater than the evil one who tries to rule and bedevil the world.

Lamentably, we will fail. In our hearts we will know we have sinned. When our hearts cannot rise because of the burden of our sinfulness, God can renew and lift our hearts through his tender yet transforming Spirit within us. God is greater than our hearts.

Likewise, the evil one will test us with teachings and behaviors antithetical to Jesus, to holiness and love. When we seem overwhelmed by trials and temptations, God can stoop and raise us to new life, to holiness and love. We need not succumb. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God stripped sin and death of their power. God is greater than the evil one.

May we ever give thanks and praise to our triune God who is greater than our hearts and greater than all that harms his good creation!

Gregory Strong

Sunday, April 22, 2007

1 Peter 4:7-11

“The end of all things is near.”


That is the statement that begins today’s reading in 1 Peter 4 and it caused me to think about endings. Endings come in many varieties:

  • the end of a task – like homework or a job assignment
  • the end of a day
  • the end of a season – like the end of football or the end of winter
  • the end of a school year
  • the end of childhood
  • the end of a job or a career
  • the end of a life

  • Usually these endings approach us one at a time and when they do, there is a very natural sobriety that occurs. In some cases this may include a sense of accomplishment, in others a sense of grieving, but whatever the emotion, there is an instinctive time of taking stock as an ending nears.

    In today’s’ reading, Peters’ statement takes a much broader perspective – ALL things are coming to an end. In light of this, he exhorts us with very specific examples of how we should be living: love one another, offer hospitality (without grumbling), serve others, and speak the word of God.

    I suggest that these examples of living in preparation of the “end of all things” are really a preparation for “beginnings” for just as there are a variety of endings, each ending proceeds a new beginning:
  • A new task begins as one task completes
  • A new day begins at the end of the previous day
  • A new season begins as the old season concludes
  • Summer Vacation starts as the school year ends
  • College or career starts as childhood ends
  • Retirements starts as a career ends
  • Eternity begins as our life on earth comes to a close

  • It’s this final beginning that really matters. We need to hear and then live Peter’s exhortation, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” 1 Peter 4:11b

    Alan Davenport

    Saturday, April 21, 2007

    1 John 3:11-18

    “Love one another”
    In today’s reading, John speaks about Jesus’ command that we love one another. This teaching is so key, Jesus made it a second commandment. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

    John tells us that “we have passed from death to life”. We don’t go back and forth, we have passed out of death through Jesus. And, we know this and others know this because we love one another. Not just some people (people we know and like; ones who are easy to love), but even the ones who are difficult, different from us, far away from us – even our enemies.

    John reminds us that we are to use Jesus’ love and sacrifice for us as an example of how to love the people around us. There are people who are called to give their lives for others but most of us are called to demonstrate this love in kind, compassionate and helpful actions. Reading a book to a child, preparing a meal for someone, donating food for the hungry, participating in a church clean-up day, or a smile when you greet someone – these are all expressions of Jesus’ love. The works won’t earn us a place in heaven but they are a symptom of the changes Jesus makes in us when we let him in.

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    1 John 2: 18-29

    Today’s passage mentions “antichrists”, a reference to those who stand “against” or “opposite” Christ and thus are adversaries, and to those who would stand in his stead (take his place, if you will) and thus are counterfeits or false Christs.

    John writes that these antichrists have certain unmistakable characteristics. In earlier verses, for instance, he has told us that two such characteristics are disobedience to the commands of Christ and a lack of love for one another.

    In these verses, John gives us still more ways to recognize antichrists. In verses 18-19, we see that those who do not continue in Christian fellowship, or who do not remain in community with fellow believers, make their true status in relation to Christ known. Those who love and follow Jesus will be in deep and profound relationship with others who are so devoted.

    And then in verses 20-25, we see that antichrists deny the faith. They deny the true identity of Jesus the Christ as the unique incarnation of God the Father, who is indeed one with the Father so that whoever has the Son has the Father also. In so denying the identity of Jesus, they also deny his exclusive claim on our lives as our Lord and Savior.

    In sharing with us characteristics such as these, John’s hope is that we would recognize such people for what they are, and thus hold fast to the truth. His hope is that we would not be deceived, but instead continue to abide in Jesus.

    Clearly, antichrists continue to exist in the world today. They exhibit the same characteristics outlined in the First Letter of John, and so can be recognized today just like they were so many years ago. Like John’s earliest readers, we too must be diligent in holding to the truth, professing both by our words and our lives that Jesus is the Christ, is God incarnate, is our Lord and Savior. It is only when we do this that we will abide in him

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    1 John 2:12-17

    I had a devotional written for today’s passage but in light of the tragedy that occurred Monday at Virginia Tech, I decided to forego it for the following.

    As the events unfolded in Blacksburg, my thoughts immediately jumped to concern for the students we know that attend VT, including those from our own parish. Other than 9/11, this tragedy has hit closer to home for me than any of the other events that make up our nation’s history. After getting word that everyone we knew had survived and was alright, I exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

    My thoughts also turned toward the parents of those who did not survive. I shudder to think of how I would have reacted if I found out one of my kids had been killed by a mass murderer. We are all cognizant of the fact that any of us could die at any moment in time but we seldom live as if life were so fragile. I would imagine that each of those families that lost loved ones Monday would give anything in the world to see them one last time.

    May I make a suggestion? Tell each of your loved ones today how precious they are to you. Make sure your kids know how proud you are of them; tell your spouse how much they mean to you; if your parents are still alive, let know how grateful you are for all they sacrificed for you. And while you’re at it, give thanks to God for all the blessings He’s bestowed upon you.

    Let us pray:

    Dear Lord, we offer up to you all those affected by the events that unfolded this past week. Heal those who were physically injured as well as those who have been traumatized by the violence. Comfort those who lost loved ones and surround them with the love and support of friends and family. And while it is natural to look for someone to blame, inspire your people to come together in community to work with each other in love rather than against each other in anger. Above all, Lord, use the evil that reared its ugly head this week to draw people closer to you so that all glory and honor may be yours. In Jesus’ name… . Amen.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    1 John 2:1-11

    Daily Devotional – Tuesday April 17, 2007
    1 John 2:1-11
    Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

    The wind blows and the rain falls. Spring in Virginia should be warmer and brighter than this. The weather seems out of control; and it is possibly because of our disregard for God’s creation. What is constant and warming is the familiarity of the opening sentences of today’s reading from John’s Gospel. We say these words every Sunday. We say them because they are important and are at the very core of what we believe as Christians. These are words we should not take for granted. Jesus lived a holy and perfect life in contrast to our/my own. John reminds me that I live in sin and I need to be reminded at least on a weekly basis. Then comes the great gift of grace. Through Jesus Christ the righteous, my sins are forgiven. And not only mine but the sins of the whole world. Wow! It is very clear to me why we say this every week.

    John also reminds me that there is no room for a double standard. I cannot have it both ways. While the Grace of God’s love and forgiveness of sins is an unearned gift, I must obey his commandments. I see John’s vision of Jesus as a man with the same weaknesses and wants as myself. He had the same potential for sin as I was born with. However John portrays a Jesus who denied those weaknesses in favor of fully accepting the power and presence of God in him. It was the power of God in him that drove his behavior. His great message to me is that that same power of God is available to me and you. We too can walk in the same way in which he walked. The price for this grace is only ourselves. We must believe in him and walk in his ways.

    The imagery of the light and darkness is very meaningful to me. I can easily associate those low times in my life when I felt the farthest away from God as being in the dark. It was like feeling my way along a wall not knowing where I was going. The birth of anxiety – the fear of the unknown. The fear of the dark. But I do know where I am going. Jesus has secured a place for me and for you with our Father in heaven. The light is on and it will say on. Thanks be to God!

    God bless you this day and every day!

    AMEN

    John Dickie, April 17, 2007

    1 John 1:1-10

    The word “Word” – as in John’s reference to “the Word of life” in verse one of this letter – may seem abstract and vague. To be sure, we have a sense of the power of certain words and how we use them: sometimes positive as in, for example, caring and praising; sometimes negative as in, for example, stereotyping and criticizing. Yet it seems in our contemporary world we have lost something of the profound notion that words can and should have specific and concrete meaning and power.

    Hence, we often use words in ways that tend to empty them of true definition, shared meaning, and vitality. To cite but some examples, watch any sports broadcast, and hear how liberally the announcers employ superlatives to describe athletes and their plays. Or consider how infrequently in our day we hear someone say “You have my word on it,” such that the expression means what it means and binds what it binds. Ponder the ease with which we often say one thing and yet do another thing. And observe how words like “God” and Christ” and “love” can take on almost any meaning whatsoever depending on what the user wants them to signify.

    John meant nothing abstract or vague concerning “the Word of life.” Some people in John’s time did. They wanted to speak of the Word or of Jesus but detach the meaning from the specific, concrete world of flesh and blood history. The Jesus who bodily lived and died and rose – enjoying food and drink, suffering hunger and thirst, bleeding and expiring on a cross, leaving an empty tomb, incarnating the kingdom of God and thus transforming our physical, historical world – embarrassed them. So they spiritualized “Word” and “Jesus” to mean something entirely different from the Word which became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

    John, however, understood that his faith – that is, Christian faith, for individuals and the community of believers – stemmed specifically and concretely from the Word incarnate in the living, dead, and risen Jesus. This Word “which was from the beginning” – echoing the beginning of Genesis and the gospel of John – had entered the physical, historical world in Jesus of Nazareth. John and others had – in the person of Jesus – heard the Word, seen the Word, and touched the Word. (What a stupendous thing!) This Word creates life and infuses life – yours, mine, and the world’s – with meaning and power: meaning and power to live in the light, and in true and joyous fellowship with God and with each other. This is good news!

    In Jesus, we have God’s Word on it.

    Gregory Strong

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    1 Peter 2:2-10

    I have always enjoyed sports – as a participant or a spectator. This last Friday was no different. I was having a good time watching my son’s baseball practice, talking with the other parents as the boys went through their different drills. Over the course of a couple of hours, the coaches helped and encouraged the boys as they practiced many skills and went over a variety of very specific game-like situations.

    Several of us parents were very encouraged that the coaches were really instructing the boys and helping them improve in their execution of the fundamentals of the game and also increasing their understanding of some of baseball’s intricacies. The boys on the other hand weren’t as impressed – they were participating but they didn’t really seem to be enjoying themselves.

    Toward the end of practice, the head coach had the boys play Pickle. This is a game of running, throwing, and catching – the most basic parts of the game. There was very little instruction – it was at this point that we could see their enthusiasm return and they were just boys playing a game they really enjoyed.

    When we find something we enjoy, something that we’re good at, there is a natural tendency to want to improve. We focus on strengthening areas of weakness. We find teachers or coaches to help and encourage us. We practice on specific skills to increase our mastery. Sometimes in this process we lose or forget our initial passion for the endeavor.

    Today’s reading encourages us to avoid this tendency in our spiritual life. 1 Peter 2:2-3 tells us, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good”. The pure spiritual milk is Jesus – the Word of God. We can’t let our spiritual disciplines, our spiritual practices; dull our passion for the Lord.

    Just as the game of pickle helped my son’s team remember why they love baseball, we need to keep our spiritual passion flowing. What is your spiritual pickle?

    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    Acts 4:13-31

    I recently listened to the full audiotrack of the Gospel of John, a feature film from 2003 which used solely the text of that Gospel (and very dramatically and effectively). I was struck by-- how early on, how vehement, and how persistent was the opposition to the person and ministry of Jesus. The chief priests and elders were focused almost exclusively on ensuring their own continuation in power, and it didn't seem that they ever quite understood what Jesus was saying or doing--although they well understood how it could be a threat to them and to the uneasy balance of power that prevailed in 30 A.D.

    They must have found it absolutely stunning that, after they had framed the conviction and execution of the charismatic leader of the movement, the followers were back preaching and performing miracles in Jesus' name! They must also have had some doubt about what exactly to do, because the Pentecost day converts' numbers were already a critical mass, and the movement was continuing to grow in size and bold visibility. They could hardly go back to Pilate or Herod and say that a new 'king' of Israel had emerged to succeed Jesus, because that was not the apostles' claim. Rather, the preaching was putting Jesus in an exalted place where the high priest could not possibly reach.

    Their solution to the dilemma--"let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name"--seems incredibly weak. Perhaps they simply hoped that the movement would yet run out of steam. But there was a power at work that simply wasn't going away, a power that was manifest in earth and sky and especially in those people who had walked with the risen Jesus.

    They simply weren't going to be quiet!

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Acts 4:1-12

    The folks who develop the Lectionary really knew what they are doing when they scheduled the readings for the weeks after Easter. I particularly like reading the beginning chapters of Acts right after Easter as I feel that I can relate to these new Christians. It reminds me of baby animals in the Spring, learning to walk and stumbling around.

    Here we have a group of people, including the disciples, who are so frightened right after the crucifixion takes place, and so puzzled about the resurrection. They see Jesus, he gives them their marching orders, and that gives them a little more direction. But it isn’t until they are filled with the Holy Spirit in the Acts 3 that they get their “full legs” so to speak and can begin to walk straight. What a miraculous few days!

    Also in Acts 3, Peter cured a crippled man who had begged in front of the Temple every day. In today’s reading, the same priests and Sadducees who crucified Jesus are questioning Peter and John about that miracle. They realize that there is little they can do about what Peter and John have done because everyone was so amazed at the miracle. When asked what kind of power Peter and John have, Peter, who just a few days before had denied his relationship with Jesus, courageously and assertively replies that it was only through the salvation of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified, that this power is given.

    Whenever I feel weak in my ability to walk the Christian way, as instructed by Jesus, I think of these early Christians. Many of these folks were waffling. They were the ones screaming for Barabbas one day, then kneeling in awe of a miracle performed by the disciples another day. In Acts 3, Peter spoke with these people and gave them an out. He explained that they acted in ignorance, but now they had the chance to repent and be blessed forever.

    How often do you waffle in your faith? Just remember these verses from Acts and the story of how these early Christians learned to walk the walk and take comfort that others have walked this path before you.

    Vicki Nelson

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Acts 3: 11-26

    One of the first things I notice in this passage is how quick Peter is to keep things centered on God. In the preceding verses, Peter has just prayed for a lame man who was instantly healed. Naturally enough, this got everybody’s attention, and so they turned to Peter. Perhaps they were wondering if he was the new Messiah.

    Peter, however, immediately disabuses them of any notion that it is by his power or piety that the man was healed. It was God—their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who did this, and he did it through faith in Jesus Christ.

    And it is still God, at work in His son Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, that “heals” people and makes them whole. It is God who restores all things, whether a broken body or a broken heart or a wayward spirit.
    Like Peter, we too must let God’s power flow through us as we tell people about Jesus. One of the themes of the book of Acts is that we are to be so filled with the Spirit that the Spirit can’t help but flow forth from us in bold witness to Christ. But the problem for many of us is that we keep the Spirit for ourselves, or we dam up the flow. Often we do so out of fear; fear that we will be rejected, ridiculed, or that we somehow don’t know enough or aren’t together enough to be an effective witness.

    And that’s too bad, because the world still needs people who will boldly proclaim their faith in Jesus just as Peter did. There cannot be a harvest if someone does not first plant a seed. If we want beautiful flowers or delicious vegetables later in the summer, someone has to plant the seeds now. If we want people to know how much God loves and cares for them and wants to be a part of their life, we’ve got to be willing to speak a word for Jesus now. There is no way around it.

    Who have you told today about the Good News of what God has done in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Acts 3:1-10

    When I first read this passage I thought to myself what am I going to write about? Sure Peter performs a miracle in today's passage, but just pointing that out seems to be just stating the obvious. However, as I thought and meditated about this passage, I found more and more "less obvious" and deeper meanings.

    The first "less obvious" item I found was a window being opened. God has a remarkable way of opening windows in front of us and giving us the opportunity to preach his gospel or testify about our faith. I do not know about you but I have seen this happen in my life where someone will come up and ask a question that gives me the opportunity to share an aspect of my faith. This happen in today's reading too. The beggar gives Peter the opportunity to minister to him. One thing I have noticed about these windows of opportunity, they are mostly unanticipated and as such we must be ready to react to them. If someone asked you why you believe the way you believe, are you prepared to quickly and succinctly answer that question? If not, you may want to practice your response.

    The next "less obvious" item I noticed concerns miracles. Do you think God has stopped performing miracles? I would submit that the answer is no. As an example let me use the medical field. Doctors can do things today that certainly would have been considered a miracle in Peter's time. God reveals new knowledge to mankind and through that revelation He is still performing miracles. I have heard a doctor say once, a very good doctor, that he bandages the wound but God heals it. There are still many miracles today, we just need to take the time to see them.

    The final "less obvious" item I want to mention is the act of Peter helping the man up. The power of God healed the man but Peter still helped him to get up and walk. This same situation is in the world today. The power of God is still there to help make things happen, but it takes action by people (churches) to fully utilize this power. This is why churches must continue to perform activities (outreach, community, mission, etc.) and not just wait for God to do it.

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

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    1 Corinthians 15:12-28

    Daily Devotional – Tuesday April 10, 2007
    1 Corinthians 15:12-28
    Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

    Greetings dear reader and welcome back to Tuesday with John. I hope you have experienced a wonderful Lent and Easter and that the Lord has enriched your life during this time. For me it was a time of reflection; a time to stop and smell the roses and take inventory of the good things in my life. I find I do not do this enough as I rush around meeting all my obligations.

    The fact that you are reading this means that you are taking the time to focus on what is important to you – The lord. Good for you! I am blessed to have this opportunity to take the time to consider the Lord through his Word and to prepare this devotional on a weekly basis. It is s form of therapy that enriches my life.

    Having just celebrated the death and resurrection of our Lord, Paul’s comforting words to the Church in Corinth are made even more powerful. He challenges those that might question the resurrection. He comes at it from the other direction. If there was no resurrection then all hope is in vain and man remains in sin for eternity and all we have to look forward to is death. The Easter celebration provides the proof to me that Jesus is the Messiah and is my Savior. It also reminds me that what happened to Jesus can and will happen again. Just as Jesus’ spirit was released from the bounds of death, so can --and will mine. Death is the ultimate enemy of mankind and Jesus showed us the ultimate victory.

    It was wonderful on Sunday to participate in the worship Services at Saint Matthews and to experience the presence of God among us as we claim our faith and say thanks. Just as Jesus was delivered to his Father in heaven, Jesus will deliver us as well.

    Isn’t this worth taking a few moments every day to think about? We might even smell a rose or two while we are doing it.

    God bless you this day and every day!

    AMEN

    John Dickie, April 10, 2007

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    Acts 2:14, 22-32

    Crucifixion meant death – usually long, humiliating, excruciating death. Indeed, our word “excruciating” has as its origin the Latin word for cross – crux – nailed right into the middle of it. No one at the time of Jesus doubted the utter and terrible certainty of death for anyone hammered to a cross. A crucified person was powerless. Death wielded all power on a cross.

    This despairing certitude gripped and overwhelmed the disciples and family of Jesus as they witnessed, directly or indirectly, his crucifixion. He, whom they had followed and loved, cruelly suffered and died. They knew unequivocally crucifixion meant his painful, shameful death.

    How astonishing then that within a very short time those same witnesses to his death became witnesses to his life – not just his pre-crucifixion life, but his post-crucifixion life! Having known and followed Jesus before his death, they unabashedly proclaimed that they continued to know and follow him after his death – not as a cherished memory, but as a glorious and living being!

    How could this be? Death is absolute; death by crucifixion is absolute certainty. Or so it seems from a human perspective. Yet Jesus proved otherwise. As Peter exclaimed in this first public testimony to Jesus after his crucifixion, “[I]t was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” In the mercy and power of God, Jesus overcame death and rose to new life, never to suffer death again. Jesus succumbed to death’s power only to strip death of its power in the splendor of resurrection life.

    Death seems to keep its hold on us. No matter our current age or health, we all will suffer death by some means at some point. Of this we can be certain. And death pervades our world in many tragic and even fearsome forms. A week’s worth of news leaves us no doubt of this.

    How wondrous then that in the midst of our life, which seems but a prelude to our death, Easter blossoms true hope and joy for us! Jesus died, but he did not stay dead. God emptied death of its power by raising Jesus to a qualitatively new order of existence. As splendid as all the signs of new life around us are this April – and the surge of colors, fragrances, and songs is intoxicatingly sublime – they pale compared to the resurrection life Jesus enjoys and longs to blossom in us now. When in heartfelt love and trust we embrace Jesus – the crucified one whom death could not hold – we rise to new life in his resurrection. And life for us and our world thus begins a long alleluia of perfect truth, beauty, and goodness!

    Gregory Strong

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Exodus 12:1-14; Psalms 148, 149, 150; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:19-23

    It seems to me that you learn a lot about people from what they celebrate. I was thinking about that while I was reading the Christmas newsletters we delight in receiving every year. Generally, these newsletters celebrate some aspect of the year gone by in the life of those who send them. For many, it consists in the achievements of their kids (or grandkids!). For others, it lies in notable accomplishments and successes. For still others, it stems from the trips they have taken and the places they have seen. Some even mention their churches, and one of the most touching cards we received talked about experiences had on a mission trip. The most logical conclusion one might draw is that these are the things that are most important to the people who make the effort to write about them.

    In much the same way, Passover and Easter are celebrations that are meant to express what is most important in the life of a Jew or a Christian. Passover, described in the reading from Exodus, points to God’s grace in sparing the Israelites as he delivered them from the brutal slavery of the Egyptians, and brought them through exodus and set them free. Christians celebrate this same grace in Easter. Only now that grace becomes most fully manifested in Jesus as the sacrificial lamb by whose blood God passes over our sins, and through whose resurrection God delivers his people from the power of death and sets us free.

    So on this Easter Day, what are you and I celebrating, really? Baskets and bunnies? Chocolate and ham? Time off and a trip with the family? There is nothing wrong with any of these things, of course. They are all good and beautiful in their own right, and they are all that many in the world around us think of on this day. But for the Christian…well, Easter is a very different story. It is the day where we remember the importance of the Jesus who delivers us from sin, raises us to life anew, and causes our hearts to burn like fire within us. That, friends, is something well worth celebrating!

    Father Rob

    Saturday, April 07, 2007

    Job 19:21-27a; Psalm 88; Hebrews 4:1-16; Romans 8:1-11

    We sometimes think people who are close to God must have an unwavering optimism because of their certainty of God’s love and presence. In the readings for todayin the quiet space between Good Friday’s terrible drama and Easter Day’s miraculous triumphwe read disquieting reflections from godly writers who knew trouble first-hand. There’s something merciful in the way Scripture reveals emotional and spiritual low points. It doesn’t paint a picture of placid faith. Instead it shows us faith that looks hard reality in the face, yet sees something more.

    After pouring out his pain and alienation and even attributing it to God’s hand, Job still could acknowledge, “I know that my Redeemer lives . . . and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” This was not a sentimental statement. Job was very low indeed. But he knew that his present circumstances were not the final word.

    The writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus’ human experience. He encourages believers facing persecution that the eternal Lord can fully “sympathize with our weaknesses,” having “been tempted in every way, just as we areyet without sin.” So we can come before God with our weakness in full view and receive what we need from the only one who can supply it.

    Surely those who saw Jesus’ suffering on the cross were unnerved and afraid. His closest followers had seen him praying in agony before he was arrested. On the cross, he cried out as one forsaken by God, but then said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He knew the Father would receive him.

    I’d like God to shield me from trouble. But God comes to this messy world and my messy life, just as they are. His mercy and grace extend my view as Scripture shows God working eternal purposes into the world’s mess. He is the way, the truth, and the life beyond all measurebeginning right now. Despite the valleys of human suffering, there is certain hope. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence [think of it!] so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

    Karen Strong

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 22; 1 Peter 1:10-20; John 19:38-42

    What follows is a melded poem: the original words of Isaac Watts, and my own annotation or meditation (in parentheses) within. I make no claim of having improved on the 300-year-old original. But I invite you to enter into its familiar words and consider with me how to make it your own prayer.

    When I survey the wondrous cross

    (As on that day, a battered, ugly thing)

    Where the young Prince of Glory died,

    (Bruised, beaten, mocked: “Hail, King”)


    My richest gain I count but loss


    (As all seemed lost and nothing “good”)


    And pour contempt on all my pride.


    (As he poured passion w
    ith his blood.)



    Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast

    (Or brag I’d join you on this hill)


    Save in the death of Christ my God


    (That made a Roman – and the world – stand still)


    All the vain things that charm me most,


    (In vain I think possess the power to save)


    I sacrifice them to his blood


    (My life, my love, and all I have).




    See from his head, his hands, his feet

    (Scratched, slashed, mangled, pierced)


    Sorrow and love flow mingled down


    (With spurned, rejected lover’s tears)


    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,


    (Weep for Jerusalem, oh! if only)


    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?


    (For one forlorn, despised, and lonely)




    His dying crimson, like a robe,

    (He lost the robe a soldier gloats to win)


    Spreads o’er his body on the tree;


    (A tree that bore the whole world’s weight in sin)


    Then am I dead to all the globe


    (Forsake the claim of any human hand)


    And all the globe is dead to me.


    (Apart from this place all is foreign land).




    Were the whole realm of nature mine

    (A gift from one who calmed the sea)


    That were a present far too small;


    (Compared with all eternity)


    Love so amazing, so divine,


    (So free, unselfish, born in me again)


    Demands my soul, my life, my all


    (So let it be and so – amen!)




    Matt Brown

    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    Jeremiah 20:7-11; Psalm 102; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32; John 17:1-26

    Once when I was a young boy, my family visited a church service where an invitation was given to participate in the Lord’s Supper. I don’t remember the exact words of the invitation. But I do remember being apprehensive as I went forward and thinking to myself, “Am I really worthy to receive the bread and cup? Is there something else I need to do before I take communion?”

    Paul’s words of instructions in today’s passage from Corinthians reminded me of this boyhood experience. They are certainly appropriate for this day when we remember Christ’s celebration of the Last Supper with his disciples.

    “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Cor. 11:27-29.)

    Since there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves worthy of Christ’s sacrifice, I don’t believe that these words were written with the thought of excluding us from the table, but more for helping us to prepare ourselves with a right heart. John Piper, pastor and author, said it this way.

    “[W]hen we eat the bread and drink the cup, we may nourish our souls by faith on the spiritual presence of Christ. When we remember and proclaim his death, he manifests himself to us as infinitely precious. He shows us all that God promises to be for us in Christ. This is the food of our souls. With this we are nourished and find strength to live as Christians. The Lord’s Supper is worship because it expresses the infinite worth of Christ. No one is more worthy to be remembered. No one is more worthy to be proclaimed. And no one can nourish our souls with eternal life but Christ. So let us come and remember, and proclaim and eat.”1

    1John Piper at Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org.

    Alan Davenport

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    Jeremiah 17:5-17; Psalm 55; Philippians 4:1-13; John 12:27-36

    Personal and practical. God in heaven spoke personally to the prophet Jeremiah. The psalmist spoke personally to God. God spoke personally to Jesus from the clouds and spoke very practically to the apostle Paul. Does the Lord God communicate with you on a personal and practical level? How is the supernatural made natural so that we can have a personal and practical relationship with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings? The only answer, of course, is by the grace of God.

    The apostle Paul in his letter to new Philippian believers suggests a discipline of fixing the mind on whatever is true, honorable, and right; whatever is pure, lovely, and of good report; whatever is excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). It takes daily exercising of renewed thinking to foster kingdom actions.

    Lately I’ve been fixing my mind on the truth of Calvary. I want the meaning of that transforming event to be lifted out of the religious frame and become more central in my life. I want to be genuinely, wholeheartedly thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I want to have my mind renewed in the Spirit so that thanksgiving will circulate through my system as naturally as my own blood quickens every cell in my body.

    New insight came in a card I received last week from Inova Blood Services. It read: “Today we shipped your blood to a patient in need. Thank you.” In reflecting on the experience of donating and distributing blood, I saw the supernatural becoming natural. Thanksgiving followed freely. Jesus gave his blood, in obedience to his Father, and packaged his life in born-again believers so that he could, by the Holy Spirit, ship it to a patient in need. Life is in the blood in the natural. Life in the supernatural comes because of Christ’s blood. Only the needy receive transfusions of new life for old. He knows where each needy one is. If I maintain through exercise a personal and practical relationship with him, he will ship me to the patient in need.

    AHK

    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    Jeremiah 15:10-21; Psalms 6, 12; Philippians 3:15-21; John 12:20-26

    Bronze influences. When we are born, we take in each and every action of our parents: some good actions, such as saying evening prayers; and some not so good actions, such as maybe slipping a bad word when we fall down. This “absorption” of action continues as we grow older, but the influence changes with age. As we go on our own, friends, roommates, educators, significant others, coworkers, employers, and others with whom we spend our free time take the place of our parents as influences in our daily life decisions. While we can’t control the actions of another person, we can control what and who we are going to let influence us. By choosing friends that share your same moral, ethical, and religious values, you build up a “wall of bronze” that will be difficult for bad influences to penetrate. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phil. 3:17.)

    I recently began my college education this past fall, and there are many differing influences on any college campus. Drinking, smoking, skipping class, and cheating are just a few of the bad influences that many college students face on a regular basis. The hardest one to overcome for me comes at about 7:30 a.m. when my alarm goes off to go to those cursed 8 a.m. classes. When my alarm goes off again at 7:45 a.m. and I haven’t moved, my roommate sits up in bed and says, “Turn off that alarm and go to class,” or something to that nature. That, thankfully, gives me the extra push in the right direction.

    We all need pushes sometimes to get moving. By surrounding ourselves with those who can push us in a direction towards Christ and strengthen our faith in his power, we can live more fulfilling lives in his promise of everlasting life. By choosing friends who share your faith, there isn’t pressure to go against the moral values that have been put into place. The relationships that embrace Christ as the center create not only stronger relationships but a more fulfilling life that is able to better resist temptation and bring an abundance of joy.

    Heather Vereb

    Monday, April 02, 2007

    Jeremiah 12:1-16; Psalm 51; Philippians 3:1-14; John 12:9-19

    We as humans seek justice throughout our lives, first from our parents, then from friends and even strangers, as evidenced by our overcrowded court systems. But most of all we expect it from God. In Jeremiah 12:1, Jeremiah questions God’s deliverance of justice to the non-believers. Jeremiah sounds a lot like a spoiled child who is not getting his way. He asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer. 12:1.). He voiced his displeasure that “the faithless” are allowed to flourish while the faithful suffer.

    Exactly what is justice? I suggest these synonyms: fairness, impartiality, righteousness, evenhandedness, fair dealing, honesty and integrity.

    As children, most of us, especially those with siblings, complained that our parents did not treat us fairly. My siblings and I were constantly petitioning our parents for fairness in their administration of justice. You would hear, “It’s not fair.” My mother often tells the story of counting jellybeans for our Easter baskets to avoid one of us claiming that he or she had been treated unfairly by not getting as many as everyone else. We definitely carried justice (fairness) to an extreme. After all, had we not all received the jellybeans through no effort of our own?

    It was obvious we equated justice (fairness) with getting things our way. Perhaps that is similar to the way Jeremiah saw things. Had God not always provided for his people, Israel? We seem to think we are somehow more deserving or entitled than others. Our sense of justice is complicated by our prideful nature and does not reflect God’s sense of justice. We seem to want God to be more like us rather than us being more like him.

    God sent Jesus to live among us and to teach us his ways. By God’s mercy we are not given what we truly deserve, and through his grace we are redeemed. There is “righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil. 3:9) for which we should strive by “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13).

    We need to present to God our broken and contrite hearts and pray as David did in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We are all unclean and in need of forgiveness. May David’s prayer of supplication be ours not only at this time, but also throughout our lives.

    SWG

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalms 24, 29; 1 Timothy 6:12-16; Matthew 21:12-17

    Palm Sunday always makes me think of the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and the painful and amazing events that follow in the week to come. While today’s lessons from the Hebrew Bible address Jesus’ kingly role, today’s gospel paints a different picture. In my office I have a print of an oil painting that hangs in a museum in Moscow. The painting has many different depictions of the face of Jesus. Some of them are very obvious, and some are hidden within the painting. Like the painting, today’s gospel reminds me of the many different faces of Jesus, the distinctive roles he has played in my life, and how he is able to comfort and challenge me just when I need it. Today we see a side of him that we don’t often acknowledge, a righteously angry God who is going to change how people view what it means to be church. Jesus wasn’t mad at the money lenders or those folk in the temple selling doves and other animals for ritual sacrifice. They were just doing their job, providing a service which was an important part of the worship life of the people of Israel. Instead, I think his actions were directed at the leaders of the temple and those who were using the temple for purposes other than what God intended. Jesus’ actions send a clear message that it will not be business as usual for much longer. In fact, by healing the blind and the lame, those folks considered unclean, not allowed within the walls of the temple, he put out a welcome mat for those who had been disenfranchised by the powers that be. He demonstrated in very visual ways his message that his kingdom will be very different, a place where all are welcome, saint and sinner alike.

    Today’s gospel reminds me that God does indeed get angry and call us to do the same when our churches become the exclusive domain of the privileged. It reminds me to be intentional about reaching out to those who are outside our community and inviting them in to be part of the life of Christ’s church. As Christ-followers we are called to reach out to all, not just those who are clean and comfortable. So I ask myself this Palm Sunday, “Am I doing enough to heal and help those who are powerless in our community? Am I too comfortable to be angry for those who are exploited by others for profit or just ignored because of their low status? Is everybody welcome at Saint Matthew’s? Is Christ really my king?”

    Jesus, create in me a clean heart, open to righteous anger. Help me make a difference in the lives of others, and give me the privilege of helping make your kingdom a reality in this broken world.

    Ann