Thursday, May 31, 2007

2 Corinthians 3:1-18

In Paul’s day, traveling speakers carried letters of commendation emphasizing personal qualifications and achievement in order to gain welcome and hospitality. Such letters would be much like a résumé or reference letter today.

It is interesting to think of people being a sort of reference letter for our Christian life. Paul points to the church at Corinth as his letter of commendation, as clear, tangible evidence that he is doing the work of the Lord. I wonder: who would our letters of commendation be? What people would we point to as bearing clear evidence of a growing relationship with Christ as a result of our having invested heavily in their spiritual development?

It is also interesting that the Corinthian church is not perfect. There are still problems. But Paul does not let that keep him from seeing the church in Corinth as a true church, and as such evidence of the Spirit’s working. The degrees to which we reflect God’s glory may very (vs 18), but they are a reflection still.

Yet another point of interest (there are so many!) is that Paul sees this letter of recommendation as being written on his own heart! I take this to be another way of Paul saying that he constantly carries the people he cares for in his heart. Whatever their response to him may be, he is deeply affected by them.

And I have found this to be true in ministry as well. Whatever the response of the people God calls us to love is to us, and indeed to the Gospel we preach, we are still bound to them. They are engraved upon our hearts, and that is as it should be. And so again we might ask, who is engraved upon your heart?

Finally, Paul also takes the idea of a letter of commendation and uses it as a metaphor for the Christian life in general. People do “read” our lives. Our lives do proclaim what is really in our hearts, which is often very different than our words. May ours be lives that are letters “of Christ”; that is, lives that proclaim first and foremost that Jesus lives in our hearts, and that Jesus is Lord!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17

In today’s passage, we find an example of how the church is to discipline as well as offer forgiveness. It seems that oftentimes neither one is sufficiently or properly exercised.

We seem to quickly shy away from administering discipline. Reasons given often refer to respect for privacy, respect for rights or respect for other nebulous entitlements. The idea of telling someone they are doing something wrong – that they are sinning – seems so cold, crass and uncivilized that only the uncouth or unkind would ever venture to broach the subject.

What is often overlooked however is that allowing others to continue in their sin shows how little respect we actually have for them. If our kids do something wrong, we tell them and help them overcome the problem out of love for them. If we are doing something wrong ourselves, we consider it a true friend who would (potentially) risk the friendship by bringing it to our attention. That person truly has our best interest at heart regardless of whatever “rights” we may claim.

As with many things however, the opposite extreme is also true. Sometimes we don’t discipline as we ought but it seems that once we cross the border of discipline we go too far in the other direction and neglect to forgive as we ought. It’s too easy to label someone a sinner and banish them from our midst lest it seem that we’re being too easy on them. People need to know where we stand and how could they possibly know if we forgive them too easily? It seems easier to identify the person as the sin and hate both the person and their actions.

Discipline and forgiveness: a fine line to walk. Fortunately, we have Jesus’ example and the instruction of His word to help us.

Dear Lord, help us to be faithful followers of Jesus and the examples He set for us. Don’t allow us to shrink away from either administering or accepting discipline but to embrace it out of love for our brothers and sisters. And with a humble heart, let us bestow on others the forgiveness you have so freely offered us. Amen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

2 Corinthians 1:12-22

To understand this passage, we need to know a little about the background. Paul had been severely criticized for changing his plans, apparently breaking his promise to the Corinthians. These verses are an answer to that charge.

From the very outset, however, we can see that when Christians misunderstand each other, the wounds can go very deep. Reading this passage makes me think such misunderstandings have been around for a very long time, but that doesn’t make them any less painful—or excusable.

Though Paul had been forthright about his plans to visit Corinth, they accused him of following ordinary human standards (earthly wisdom), of being “flip” or careless with God’s will, and of doing what pleased him instead of what pleased God. And that shows us part of the problem with misunderstandings, even amongst God’s people. They are very difficult to untangle. One misunderstanding leads to another.

As Warren Wiersbe writes of this passage, “Once we start to question the integrity of others or distrust their words, the door is opened to all kinds of problems.” That seems to me to be a sentence that has great relevance to the church today.

One of the great prayers that has endured over the centuries is the prayer attributed to St. Francis. Perhaps you’d like to make it your prayer today.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.
--Rob Merola+

Monday, May 28, 2007

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

While living and traveling in the Mediterranean region, Paul corresponded several times with the Christian community in Corinth (in Achaia, southern half of ancient Greece). Of the correspondence between them, we have two of Paul’s letters, probably written around 57 and 58 A.D. The two letters cover a lot of ground – theological, spiritual, liturgical, ethical, and relational.

Paul and the Corinthians knew each other well. Paul had lived, preached, and taught in Corinth in the early 50s A.D. By the time of these letters, with Paul elsewhere, serious problems had erupted in Corinth in their theology, spirituality, worship, and lifestyle. Additionally, acrimony had soured the relationship between Paul and them. Hence, through passionate and profound arguments Paul sought to correct and renew faith and practice among the Corinthians. Just as passionately and profoundly, he hoped to reconcile with them, for he loved them very much.

Though Paul will soon address several problems in Corinth in this letter – 2 Corinthians for us – he began with a tender passage of praise for God and encouragement for the Corinthians. Paul’s praise and encouragement stemmed from God’s goodness and love – goodness and love most truly known in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Incarnating God’s compassion for us in our sinfulness and mortality, Jesus suffered and was raised for us. Thus God comforts us, bringing us new life, hope, and purpose in Jesus.

What can we take from this passage? First, we learn that, this side of the grave, God’s salvation in Jesus does not exempt us from trouble and death. The world apart from Jesus continues to fester with evil and suffering, and we live in this world. Those who are alienated from God still resist, ridicule, and attack God’s purposes and people as they did Jesus himself. And, most lamentably, we who embrace Jesus fail to live fully into the new life God seeks to work in and through us. From our failure comes further wrong and woe.

Second – yet this is the primary application we gather from today’s passage! – we learn that we can and should participate in God’s saving work through suffering love. Jesus suffered for us, and in that we experience God’s compassion and comfort. As we then follow Jesus faithfully, we also embody God’s love for the world, thus sharing in Jesus’ sufferings. Thereby we extend God’s compassion and comfort to others in their troubles, bringing them the good news – the salve – of new life, hope, and purpose in Jesus. So we, with Paul, may exclaim, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…!”

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 27, 2007

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

Why are some people willing to stand in harms way to protect the principles and freedoms for others?

I was hoping that since this weekend is Memorial Day that today’s reading would help answer this question or somehow help me reflect on and honor the memory of the men and women who have made this sacrifice. The reading doesn’t address this.

This Sunday is Pentecost – the day we remember when God poured out his Spirit on the followers of Jesus. I thought that perhaps today’s reading would address the challenges and rewards of walking in His Spirit daily. The reading doesn’t address this.

I had some expectations in preparing for this devotion, but these expectations have been unfulfilled. Unfulfilled expectations are something that we all must face and learn to deal with. Today’s reading does give us a word about expectations:

However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"
(1 Corinthians 2:9)

The Bible has many things to say about patriotism, altruism, remembering, honoring, sacrifice, devotion, passion, and dedication; but today, a day that we remember fallen soldiers; a day we remember and celebrate what could be called the inauguration of the Church – the word that I heard is that God has wonderful and glorious things prepared for those who know him and love him.

I don’t know how to tie all these thoughts up in a neat package but I hope that these thoughts would provoke you on this weekend of remembrance and celebration.

Alan Davenport

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hebrews 9:1-14

The Western, or Wailing, Wall stands in the Old City of Jerusalem, a visible remainder of the Second Temple, what was left after its destruction in the First Century. Beyond the wall and slightly to the left is the presumptive site of the Holy of Holies--and it is in that direction that some worshippers still direct their prayers. This was the place on earth where the presence of God was manifest. When the Ark of the Covenant completed its journey through the desert, it was on this mount that it rested. It was here that, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest went behind the innermost curtain, and offered sacrifices for the sins of the people--and his own.

When that unknown writer composed this letter to Jewish followers of Jesus, the repetitions of those sacrifices yet to be performed were numbered--though the writer did not know that. What the writer did know, and assert, was that Jesus had made a new covenant with his own blood, and that the Holy of Holies was no longer a hidden place, nor was it any longer a physical place at all. It has become the place where we encounter the living God. Our current customs and sacraments-- have value primarily as they point to that day when we shall, in truth, see our God face to face.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hebrews 8:1-13

I often question my authority as a child of God to teach others about Jesus, even about writing these devotionals. Today’s reading reminds me of how the disciples stepped out in faith in the years after Jesus’ death. These early church preachers, if you will, had to convince folks that Jesus, that radical carpenter, was the way, the truth and the life. In the case of the Jews (i.e., the Hebrews), this was particularly difficult as the disciples and early church leaders had to somehow connect the ingrained Old Testament laws and stories with the new “radical” teachings of Jesus. The Jews in those days had many reasons to turn away from Judaism, let alone to convert to Christianity. Their land was occupied by a foreign pagan power and it had been many many years since a “true” leader such as Abraham had stepped forward, or at least a leader that they would recognize. (Of course, they did not recognize Jesus as such a prophet as Jesus was too humble and did not stand out at all like they had expected him to.)

The writer of Hebrews uses the language and imagery of Judaism to convince his readers that Jesus is, indeed, God’s chosen One. First, Jesus is described as a high priest of God’s true tabernacle, not a man-made tabernacle. In other interpretations of this passage, the term “tent” is used instead of “tabernacle”. This is a reminder of the long periods of time that the Jews were without a homeland, wandering the desert and living in tents. Secondly, priests are required by the old laws to offer gifts. These verses explain that Jesus has a gift which surpasses any gift any priest could offer – a new covenant. Lastly, the connection is made through the verses of Jeremiah that God will put His laws in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. At that point, all will know God in a way that none of their ancestors could or would have known Him since, going forward, all people are forgiven through the blood of Jesus.

So, the writer of this letter uses God’s grace through forgiveness to illustrate how the Jews can embrace the teachings of Jesus in fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. The story of God’s grace given freely through the blood of Jesus is a message that can be told to any audience since it is through that grace that we are given the authority and even the charge to tell this story.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hebrews 7:18-28

The book of Hebrews is a book about Jesus. It’s a book that wants us both to understand and appreciate the magnitude of the work God has done for us in Christ. Through careful argument built upon an in depth look at how God has acted on humanity’s behalf down through the ages, it seeks to convince us of the greatness of Christ and so that we might be fully devoted to him.

This passage is a good example of such an argument. It is part of an ongoing and exceptionally thorough analysis of priesthood, what it is and what it does and why it is important.

To understand the significance of the priesthood we have to start with God, and with a God who loves people so much He never wants to loose touch with them. He never wants to be disconnected from them, to be separated from them by a broken relationship.

Unfortunately, we all find ourselves separated from God. Such separation is painful for us. But it is important to remember it is also painful for God, and so He made a way for our relationship with him to be restored, healed, and made whole once again.

In the Old Testament, this way was through the ministry of the priesthood. Priests stood between people and God for the purpose of reconciling wayward people to the God who longs for their return.

Still, there were problems. Priests died, for instance. Their ministry was only a temporary one. Priests were (and still are) also subject to weakness that caused them to behave in ways counter to the character of the God they were called to represent.

So God, longing for His people, stepped in and offered a better way—the perfect and eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, our connection with God is completely assured; he is the guarantee of our relationship to Him; he is our best hope for the reality of the life we long for.

Today people around us may not be tempted to put their trust in ancient priests, but they still trust in things that are temporary, impotent to deliver upon their promise, and imperfect. Even good, upstanding, devout Christians find themselves tempted to put their hope in something other than Christ, and so falter in their devotion to him.

Don’t do it, Hebrews say. Don’t shrink back. Stand firm. Only Christ is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

So-- where is our hope? What exactly are we hoping for, right here, right now? To know Christ better? To serve him more faithfully? Anything else, argues Hebrews, is settling for second best.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hebrews 7:1-17

Humor me just for a second. In your mind, silently, list some of the important people from the Old Testament.

Thank you for doing that. How many of you had Melchizedek on your list? I may be way off base but I would bet very few of us had him on our lists. I know I did not have him on mine. Who is Melchizedek?

Melchizedek appears once in Genesis 14 and is referred to in Psalm 110 and that is it. This is hardly top billing is it? However, as today's reading corroborates, Melchizedek is paramount to an important truth: the priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of Aaron because the order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of Levi.

Why is this? Well let's remember that the letter of Hebrews was written to the Jewish nation, and at the time it was written the Jewish nation was accustomed to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi. Remember, from Exodus, that the tribe of Levi was chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle and Aaron was the first high priest. The priests from the tribe of Levi had been serving for many centuries when Hebrews was written, but now Paul is proclaiming in his letter, and backing-up his proclamation with evidence (which is listed in today's reading), that their priesthood has ended and replaced by the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

In today's reading, once again, Paul makes the argument that in Jesus, God has provided struggling sinners better access to him than the Old Testament believers ever had. Instead of going through a priest to access God, Jesus Christ is a priest who gives us constant access to God. Instead of animal sacrifices to remove past sin, Jesus Christ has freed us from all our sins, past, present, and future. Instead of a system that was insufficient to save us, Jesus is a Savior that has guaranteed our salvation. What an awesome God!!!

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hebrews 6:13-20

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 22, 2007
Hebrews 6:13-20
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

Could anything be better than to know that God, the creator of all, knows you exist and loves you? This is a truth we have been taught from birth. Can we really grasp the significance of this truth? God gives blessing to Abraham and tells him that he and his family will prosper and grow. This was a promise from God in whom Abraham had total confidence. Wow! God had great plans for Abraham and knew that Abraham needed the confirmation of God’s recognition, love and support.

In today’s passage we are reminded of Abraham’s blessing by God. In this same passage Jesus is referred to as a high priest. This is not normally how Paul presents Jesus in his letters and writings. This short passage places Jesus in the context of the Old Testament with the reference to Melchiz’edek. My research revealed that Genesis tells that Melchiz’edek was a high priest who blessed Abraham following a battle and was therefore above him. For Jesus to be a high priest above Melchiz’edek means that Jesus was above all the priests of the Old Testament.

God’s blessing of Abraham was not sufficient to ensure the salvation of his chosen people. They rebelled against him and went their own way. We know now that it was God’s blessing of his son Jesus Christ, the true and only high Priest, who has ensured lasting salvation for us all.

Don’t we all want to be recognized as special? I think back to the times in my life when I was recognized as special and how good I felt. I have also learned the joy of recognizing others as being special. This joy of recognizing others exceeds the ego satisfaction of being recognized. However, there is little that makes me feel any better than when a 12 year old boy or 8 year old girl tell me they love me. Truly this is God speaking to my heart. Thanks be to God!

God bless us this day and every day and may God’s to-do list guide us today!

AMEN

John Dickie, May 22, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hebrews 6:1-12

Few, if any of us, would accept that, as we grow from infancy to adulthood, we should remain at the level of intellectual, emotional, and moral development characterizing our elementary-age years. That was fine at that point in life. Yet, surely we should at least match our chronological and physical development with corresponding growth in mind, heart, and behavior.

How much more so should we grow spiritually from our first years in Jesus to our later years? Jesus radiates God’s glory and perfectly represents God to us (Hebrews 1). In Jesus we have this stupendous salvation from sin and death. We become sisters and brothers of Jesus, thus heirs to all God’s bounty (Hebrews 2). Should we not then devote ourselves wholeheartedly to living a life worthy of Jesus, of God’s inheritance? How can we do so unless we are growing spiritually and practically into the full humanity Jesus models and longs to develop in us?

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity….” So writes the author of Hebrews to followers of Jesus in the first century A.D. Many were stagnating in their initial, minimal understanding of and commitment to Jesus. They remained spiritual infants rather than growing in faith and life. At best they failed to mature. At worst they “crucified” Jesus again by disgracing him publicly through their weak faith and imperfect lifestyle. Hence, the author of this treatise exhorted them to devote themselves to growing, to maturing in mind, heart, and behavior into the likeness of Jesus.

How can we, like those early followers of Jesus and followers through the ages, do this – “leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity”? First, we realize that it takes a lifetime. We seek a faith for the long distance, not just the initial sprint. Second, in God’s grace, love, and power, we commit ourselves to practices which foster growth and maturity in Jesus (not to mention embodying the kingdom of God in this world): worship and prayer; study of scripture and spiritual reading; fellowship; acts of sacrificial compassion and charity. We practice these corporately with fellow Jesus-followers. We also practice them individually on our own. Gathering for worship, prayer, scripture, and fellowship on Sunday is good and essential, yet an hour or so on Sunday alone will likely leave us as spiritual infants. We must exercise these disciplines daily.

Let us, indeed, leave Christian elementary school, go on to higher learning in the school of Christ, and then enter the company of all those who labor with Jesus and like Jesus in a world of desperate need!

Gregory Strong

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hebrews 5:7-14

“While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God.” (The Message)

Life can sometimes be very challenging; in fact, it can be hard, crushing and seemingly without reason. We’ve probably all experienced hard times and losses in life. And, the bad things in life seem to hit the young, the innocent, the blameless as hard as those that we may think deserve them.

This reading tells us that even Jesus fully experienced all the sorrow, disappointment, fear and pain that have always been part of the human experience. When we’re going through these things – trivial or monumental – we can take them to Jesus and he’ll understand. He’ll completely understand because he has experienced the same feelings. He’s like a best friend who can look at you and know that you’re struggling, hurting because they’ve been so close to you. But he’s even better than a best friend because he knows your heart even better than you do.

He will hear your cries and pleas. And he will always be there; ready to bring you through the hard times to a better place.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

This morning I am reflecting on Jesus and what it means to us that Jesus has been tempted, like us, but did not sin. The author of Hebrews asks his readers to “hold firmly” to their faith, (v. 14) which means that they were seemingly in danger of wavering. It’s sad to see those we love slip away from a once strong faith. Here, the author of Hebrews admonishes us to reflect on Jesus as our high priest to keep our faith strong.
Discouragement can indeed cause a person to slip away from the faith. Sad times can cause Satan to gain a foothold, even temporarily or even on a daily basis. However, this passage points out that whatever sadness we encounter, Christ can sympathize. He has faced what we face, and more importantly, there is one big difference between us and Christ; He never sinned.
The author goes on to say, knowing that Christ can help us, let us approach God’s throne with confidence. He calls it “the throne of grace,” grace being unmerited favor. In other words, we don’t deserve God’s help but He gives grace, and mercy.
The one important thing we need to do is ask. Approach the throne of grace, ask for mercy and grace. We need to spend time with God in quiet, first thanking Christ and then asking for His help on our journey. Let’s take also the “smaller moments” to dedicate our day and our thoughts and actions to Him. Let’s not forget to ask.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

James 5:13-18

When I think of a church community, I typically think of people doing those things that James mentions in today’s passage: praying for the sick and troubled, partnering with the joyful to multiply their joy and supporting the sorrowful to help lighten their burden of grief. While it certainly is good to do these things for others, there’s another part of being a community of faith that is often overlooked: that of allowing ourselves be ministered to.

Allowing ourselves to be ministered to provides three benefits to the faith community:

1) It provides an opportunity for others to put into practice those actions God calls us to. For example, if I’m hungry but don’t let anyone know it, they have no opportunity to feed me. By letting others know of my need, I present an opportunity for others to respond to that need.

2) It provides me the benefit of help in my area of need. Continuing the hungry example above, by letting others know of my need, I will have the opportunity to be fed. We may have many areas of need but we seldom reveal those to others thereby preventing us from receiving the help that could address those needs.

3) It provides an opportunity for me to practice humility. This is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of allowing others minister to us.

Many of us are willing to provide for or tend to the needs of others but we often balk at making our own needs known. In some cases, it may be downplaying the severity of the need but in other cases it may be a matter of pride and not wanting to admit a need, acknowledge a fault or reveal a weakness because doing so puts us in a vulnerable position. We run the risk of being misunderstood or perhaps being understood all too well and not wanting our real selves to be so openly known.

I believe that’s part of the reason James tells us the sick are to call upon the elders of the church and that each of us is to confess our sins to, and pray for, each other. Failing to do so limits the benefits listed above but by making ourselves vulnerable we can help each other so that everyone benefits and grows in God’s love.

Dear Lord, grant us the humility to allow ourselves to be ministered even as we minister to others... Amen

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

James 1:16-27

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 15, 2007
James 1:16-27
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

“Faith without works is dead”. This is one of the many truths that I have learned in my lifetime. James provides this truth in today’s reading with great clarity and power. Paul emphasized that belief in Jesus was enough to ensure salvation and said that following The Law was not the way. In today’s letter, James goes further. He defines religion more in terms of a person’s ethical behavior. A person’s behavior is more important than a person’s intellectual beliefs. James challenges the “feel good” Christian, who stays at home, reads his bible, prays and does nothing else. Feeling good about oneself and being comfortable in a relationship with God isn’t enough according to James.

I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s day. I did. I went to Canada last weekend to visit my 92 year old mother and 93 year old father. It was a long way to go for a less than 24 hr visit but it was worth it. I have some relationship repair work to do with my parents and this trip was an important part of that. I have found in my life that good intentions that go unfulfilled lead to frustration and guilt. Jesus has set a standard for my expectations of myself. I don’t always succeed in meeting these expectations but real failure is not trying. We need to be always aware of God’s to-do list for us.

James is so right to tell us to be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger. It has taken me my lifetime to learn this simple lesson. I thank God that he has given me this time with my parents because I know I am running out of time. This last weekend was made available by God’s grace and I thank him for that. It was time of listening and learning. It was wonderful to listen to my parents relive those times and events that were important to them. It reminded me that life is a series of experiences. The ones that are the most memorable are those where you have enriched the life of another. I pray that God will give me many more years and the energy to do just that.

God bless us this day and every day and may God’s to-do list guide us today!

AMEN

John Dickie, May 15, 2007

Monday, May 14, 2007

James 1:1-15

We live in a suffering- and loss-averse culture. This makes sense to a point. Naturally, we do not like to suffer or experience loss. The idea of desiring suffering and loss, whether mental or physical, seems pathological. In general, the wise person desires and seeks stability, security, and fullness of life, not suffering and loss, in mind, body, and spirit.

Yet in so many ways we have taken a natural and healthy aversion to suffering and loss and made it into something else. Not only do we not want to suffer, we believe we should not have to suffer. We are entitled not to suffer. From this perspective, virtually anything in terms of technology becomes justified if it helps us avoid suffering and loss. We assume and assert a right not to suffer if there is a technological way to overcome the cause of our suffering or loss, no matter what ethical ambiguities complicate the “remedy.”

As we read in today’s passage, James, probably writing within a generation of Jesus’ death, took a different approach: “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds….” Why would James have said this? Perhaps few of us can say we experience much joy when troubles and suffering afflict us. I cannot say I naturally experience pure joy or even limited joy in them.

But James could write this because he knew deep-down from personal experience – learned from Jesus’ suffering and from his own life of faith, which eventually led to martyrdom – that God makes good out of evil. Specifically, God can take troubles and loss which afflict us and build us more and more into image-bearers of Jesus. Trials, perceived and engaged faithfully, can be concrete ways we walk in the way of Jesus. Through them, God can strengthen our character so that we grow in life-sustaining and life-fostering attitudes and virtues. Then, as we become true bearers of Jesus, we radiate his life and love to the people and world around us, also suffering troubles and loss.

Suffering and loss do not come from God, any more than Jesus’ suffering came from God. They come from a world alienated from and opposed to God. They come from our own alienation from God. Yet when God reconciles us to himself and we endure trials faithfully, as Jesus did, we grow in likeness of Jesus and manifest Jesus to the world. Then we can live joyously and hopefully in and through troubles, sufferings, and loss – all to the glory of God in this life and the next.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 13, 2007

1 Timothy 3:14-4:5

How should Christian’s conduct themselves?

Boy, that’s a pertinent question and evidently it was a pertinent question in the early church as well for this is exactly the question that Paul answers in his first letter to Timothy.

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

Two things really struck me about this statement. First, it is okay to expect proper behavior of people in the life of the church and it is proper to teach this “right conduct.” Paul certainly believed that the instructions he was giving Timothy were appropriate – appropriate for teaching and appropriate for living out.

The other idea that really hit me was the description of God as the pillar and foundation of the truth – I really like that picture. I believe that truth and right conduct based on that truth are as stable and unchanging as the God they are founded on.

The idea of absolute truths stands in stark contrast to the moral relativism popularized by our culture but our desire should be to hone in on the principles for Godly living and then, by the power of the Spirit, demonstrate them in our lives.


Alan Davenport

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Romans 15:1-13

In the midst of difficult times, Paul sends a word of encouragement: our God is a God of hope, and he is our power to be hopeful, no matter what the outward circumstances seem to indicate.

I know plenty of people, people I see every day, who need encouragement in boatloads. There is a man in his thirties who may have arterial blockage and need a stent put in today. There is a woman trying to hold her marriage together and keep her home. There is a young man wondering if he can afford to go on a mission trip to build homes in Mexico. I really really need to be strong for these people, to be praying for them daily, to be urging them to stay on course and trust divine wisdom. Of course, I need someone to be strong and encourage me too!

Lately I've been listening to the Bible on CD, the whole Bible, starting with Genesis. I'm up to the Second Book of Kings. As Paul writes, these scriptures are intended to encourage us. I have to say, it's been a bit rocky, not always encouraging to me at all...the narratives are replete with war, murder, deception, illicit sex, substance abuse, and the black arts. God's chosen people never stayed on track for long it seems. But, in the midst of thousands of years of chaos, a thread of his purpose endured, and from that, eventually, emerged Jesus. And Jesus extended the promise of hope out to all humankind.

Paul takes the long view, and so must we. Lord, fill us with the hope of believing that miracles can happen here, now. By the power of Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Romans 14:13-23

Today’s reading is a very practical guide for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior as to how to interact with others. But I think it also applies to so many other aspects of our lives as well. The bottom line is that you should never become such a zealot in what you personally believe that you become judgmental to those around you and even potentially hinder their ability to be in communion with God. Wow, aren’t those words relevant in today’s Church, and indeed relevant to religious conflict throughout the world!

In these verses, Paul is specifically telling the new Roman converts that the ancient Jewish laws and customs regarding what you eat, how you eat it and when you eat it were no longer relevant after the crucifixion of Jesus. What we may see as a desire to “teach” someone in God’s way may actually be the very thing destroying them and, indeed, us. It’s the old adage that we don’t see the forest for the trees. Paul says “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peach and joy in the Holy Spirit…”

Paul goes on to instruct us to keep what we believe between ourselves and God. I believe that believers are meant to be facilitators for non-believers, portals to God’s awesome love. We are not meant to stand in front of that portal and force everyone who comes up to it to take and pass a litmus test before passing through. Jesus certainly never referred to such a thing during his teachings.

If all of us of faith truly lived this way, there would be no religious arguments, no religious wars, no divisions of any kind due to religion. Now that is something all of us can support and do our part by living Paul’s words every day.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Romans 14:1-12

You gotta love the first line of today’s reading: Welcome those who are weak in faith,* but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. It is so wonderfully honest, acknowledging that we often have hidden agendas for what we do. You mean that somebody might welcome somebody into a group, not for the sake of treating them with dignity as a fellow human being, but so that we can argue with them and convince them we are right? Yep, apparently so.

Welcome, of course, is meant to be an act of love. But the suggestion here is that it can be turned into an act of violence; of manipulating a person into a place where we can “have at them.” And what is true of welcome can be equally true of other acts of love.

Prayer, for instance, can be used as a tool to spread gossip, or to subtly try and correct the people we are praying with, or to force people into our way of seeing things.

Bible study can become an exercise in self righteousness or pride or the deception that we are doing God’s will when we are doing no such thing. We might simply be considering the intellectual meaning of some words much like we’d study anything else rather than letting those words seep into our very bones and change our lives.

You mean people do that kind of thing? At church? Well, I know at least I do. Perhaps you do too.

These verses call for a humility that is so sadly lacking in the world and even in the church. We all stand before God. We will answer to Him. We all have business of our own we need to take care of without worrying about how bad somebody else is.

May we be willing to trade in our hidden agendas, which secretly serve our insecurities, for God’s agenda. As is befitting those who truly belong to the Lord, may our love for one another be honest, humble and forthright.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Romans 13:1-14

The middle of today's reading really spoke to me. I am not sure why this particular passage spoke to me, it is a common theme repeated in the Bible; perhaps it is Paul’s use of a debt analogy. The passage I am referring to is verses 8 and 9, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbor as yourself."

There is a certain paradox in Paul's words. In order to get out of debt to the law, we have to get into debt to love. To me this is extremely liberating. Instead of being in debt to something we can never fully comply with (perfectly keeping all of the laws of the Old Testament), we are free to focus on what we can do (love our neighbor as ourselves).

Why is loving others called a debt by Paul? Simple, we are permanently in debt to Christ for the love he poured out on us and the freedom he bought for us. The way Jesus asks us to repay this debt is to love others the way we love ourselves.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is a simple way to say take care of others with the same natural motivation that we care for ourselves. Each of us tries not to let ourselves go hungry. We each try to clothe ourselves. We try to make sure there is a roof over our head. We try to make sure we are not cheated or injured. This is the way we love ourselves and thus this is the way we are called to love our neighbor.

Finally Paul points out that with each day the time for our judgment is that much closer. What will be the final balance of our debt when that time comes?

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

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Romans 12:1-21

Daily Devotional – Tuesday May 8, 2007
Romans 12:1-21
Lord, bless me with understanding and clarity. Open me to your message and love.

We do not and cannot live alone in this world. Our man-made disciplines of daily life force us to interact with each other. Our greatest joys and our greatest pain come from this interchange. Are there times when you would just like to “get away” and have the world leave you alone? I know that I have these moments quite often when I would like to opt out. However when I look back at those times when I have been most content and most proud of my accomplishments, it was when my contribution to a “community” was recognized.

Today we have Paul’s letter to the Romans where he offers some very practical instruction on how to live in community. This wonderful passage helps us position ourselves in the Community even when we feel rejected by the community. The 10 Commandments provide instruction on how to establish a right relationship with God and our neighbor. However we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves without showing that love. God expects more than good intentions. Paul provides a set of behavior guidelines for everyday living within a community.

Paul cautions us to not think too highly of ourselves in comparison to others. Our Community is made up of many different people each with a unique and equally important gift. These gifts are from the grace of God and are to be used for the benefit of our neighbors. This passage is God’s “to do” list for us. This is how we should behave.

Our basic human nature is not to act in this manner. We must be changed. Jesus is that agent of change as we cannot do it by ourselves. Jesus provides a constant reminder of the power of good over evil. We must not sit in judgment of each other because that is where evil lives. We are all subject only to God’s judgment.

God bless us this day and every day and may God’s to-do list guide us today!

AMEN

John Dickie, May 8, 2007

Monday, May 07, 2007

Colossians 3:18-4:18

We in Western societies – Americans in particular – live in cultures emphasizing the individual and individual rights to a high, virtually an absolute, degree. We assume and demand autonomy and rights in many spheres of life: business; courts; politics; marriages and families; churches; and more. We chafe against things that limit personal liberty and self-assertion. The suggestion that we should defer and perhaps even submit to another rubs our sense of freedom the wrong way.

Then we come to Paul’s final teachings in his letter to the Christian community in Colossae. Paul focused in the first part of the letter on the sufficiency of Jesus to reveal God to us and to restore us to God, to others, and to true human nature. In the second part of his letter – beginning in chapter 2, verse 16, and especially in chapter 3 following – Paul concentrated on principles and practices for embodying our renewed human nature in the day to day of our situations and relationships.

In what we read today, Paul addressed Christian attitudes and behaviors for household relationships of the first century: wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. A careful understanding of the foundations and implications of Paul’s instructions would take more space than we have. Yet two key points may help us hear God’s Word to us in these instructions, especially when the cultural mold of unchecked individualism leads us to resist or reject the real value in them.

We find the first point in verse 15, preceding today’s passage: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Here the “peace of Christ” is primarily relational, not individual, in meaning. It signifies both lack of conflict and robust harmony in relationships. We should try to live into Jesus’ sin-defeating, reconciling, invigorating peace in our relationships – even at cost to our pride, position, and interests. After all, Jesus gave his life to make peace between God and us and between us and others!

We find the second point in verse 23: “as working for the Lord.” Whether our relationships are good, less than ideal, or painfully difficult, we should behave in them as if acting for Jesus. This does not foreclose hoping, praying, and trying for positive change in them. It does mean striving, in grace, to let the heart and mind of Jesus permeate all our hopes, prayers, and actions.

It can be hard to live in peace, for the Lord, in our closest relationships, especially if they are challenging, perhaps even unjust. We all fail God’s goodness and true human nature. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. If in Jesus we devote ourselves to prayer and love, we can begin to shake off the grip of culture, to be molded anew by the Spirit in likeness of our crucified and risen Lord in our selves and our relationships.

Gregory Strong

Sunday, May 06, 2007

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

I hate to say goodbye.

My desire is to say something important, to express how I feel in a way that is meaningful, but many times it seems that my words are inadequate in articulating what I want. One reason I enjoyed today's reading is that it shows such a good example of how to say farewell.

We can hear the word of the Lord through Paul. When we say goodbye to someone:

  • Express encouragement for the work of Christ in their life
  • Remind them of the hope we have in Christ
  • Speak words of blessing to them
  • Point to Jesus and His good work

I'm going to take these words to heart today and try to use them the next time I find myself saying goodbye to someone I care for. I hope you find these words helpful too.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Colossians 3:1-11

I love this passage because a couple phrases seem to summarize our life in Christ:
“set your heart on things above” is the first. Things we set our hearts on are things we yearn for, daydream about. They may be things we want badly but know are a long shot. Usually we set our hearts on earthly things, like a vacation, material possession, comfort or happiness. I think, however, to set one’s heart on things above means to desire what God desires and to be willing to sacrifice what we want to do His will.

To be in tune with God like this we need to spend time with Him, asking Him to make us His servants.

The next meaningful phrase is to me a three word summary of my new life in Christ;
“FOR YOU DIED.” (v. 3). Paul goes on to say that since we died, life as we knew it is over; our life is now “hidden with Christ in God.” (v3). Physical death is so final. Paul says, it’s over and the things we used to value, to yearn for and think about , are gone now too. We used to be preoccupied with things of this earth, but now other things occupy us.

Paul then lists ways we used to behave and again says, now you have a new self.
We are new, we have changed, we died. How we yearn for this to really be true in our lives, for us to be able to turn our backs on the old. Certainly that is what we pray for, why we spend time in prayer and reading His word and enjoying His presence; in the hope that each small step will remind us, we died.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Colossians 2:8-23

Colossians is first and foremost a book about Christ. It’s about the Christ who is the Lord of the universe, the church, and our lives. It’s about the Christ who is head over every power and authority, who holds everything together, and who will reconcile all things to himself.

As one of Time magazines 100 most influential people in 2006, Stephen Colbert was asked, “Who you think the next “Person of the Year” should be?” He replied, “Jesus Christ. Three reasons: 1) short but effective résumé–’God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God’; 2) he’s been on a lot of TIME covers; 3) he could be coming back any day now, and you do not want to be the guy who left him off the list…”

That answer might serve as a pretty good summary of the book of Colossians. OK, so Colossians never mentions Time. But it makes the point over and over again the yes, Jesus really is God, and that we need to be prepared for the day he appears again. We do not want to be the one who leaves him off our list of the most influential people in our lives. In fact, we do not want to be those who have Jesus anywhere but at the very top of that list.

Beginning with the final paragraph of today’s reading, Colossians goes on to show how who Jesus is has everything to do with how we live our lives. He is to be the most powerful influence in our lives. And yet, there are often far more powerful people and forces that, if the truth be told, are the ones that are most directly and immediately shaping our lives.

That got me thinking. Maybe it would be a good thing for those of us who call ourselves Christians to do a “Jesus inventory.” Maybe we’d do well to begin looking at every area of our lives—relationships, work, free time, money, etc.—and ask, “Is Jesus really Lord over this area of my life? Is he shaping how I live this area of my life, or is it someone or something else?”

Jesus is Lord. And I want him to be my Lord. But for that to be the case, the book of Colossians asks me to consider that I just may need to take Jesus a bit more seriously than I presently do. How about you?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Colossians 1:24-2:7

The more I read and study the Bible, the more convinced I become of its eternal truth hood. From the lessons to be learned from the Old Testament to the warnings and teachings of the New Testament, the Bible is full of practical, relevant and life-giving lessons. Today’s passage is no different as Paul lets the Colossian readers know that he is writing to remind them to be true to gospel they originally heard.

This was necessary because of false teachers in the church who preached a gospel other than the one taught by Paul. Paul was concerned that these false teachers would deceive others by their fine-sounding arguments. That concern is also one that Jesus had since he tells us that “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible” (Matt 24:24).

That concern is also pertinent today. There are many fine-sounding arguments put forth in today’s culture that preach a gospel other than the one of the Bible. The number of different “takes” on who Jesus is and what He has done are staggering and these interpretations run the same potential for deception as the false teachings to which Paul refers.

So what are we to do? First and foremost, we need to focus on Christ by grounding ourselves in the Bible. By becoming fully acquainted with the Bible, we are able to quickly and easily discern those things that are contrary to it. We also need to be sure that we submit ourselves to sound Bible teaching and finally, as today’s last verse puts it: “...just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Amen.