Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Revelation 5:1-10

Sometimes when I read from the book of Revelation I am reminded of Halloween. I mean all the characters and animals described in Revelation remind me of costumes I see some of the kids wearing, and that I wore when I was a kid. Today’s reading is no different. However, today’s reading is not a children’s celebration – like Halloween – but is extremely serious and the basis in which we are all saved.

In today’s reading we are given a portrait that is only used this one time in the Bible, but has much symbolism. Today’s reading is the only passage in which the lion symbol for Jesus and the lamb symbol for Jesus are used together. In today’s reading Jesus is referred to as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Lamb looking as if it had been slain”. Of course these two descriptions of Jesus are symbols of Jesus at different times. The lion symbolizes the way Jesus will return to earth and destroy Satin. The lamb symbolizes Jesus offering himself as a perfect sacrifice for all of our sins. The former will bring heaven to earth. The latter assures us of an eternal life with God.

Another part of today’s reading is the scroll with the seven seals. The reading says only Jesus can break the seals and reveal the writing on the scroll. Only Jesus is worthy to do this because He conquered sin, death, hell, and Satin by living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. Only Jesus can break the seals and set in motion the forces that will bring about the final destruction of evil (if you want to see how this happens, read the rest of Revelation).

Today’s reading reminds us the wonderful act Jesus did for us and the future act he will do. Today’s reading reminds us to be grateful and say THANKS!

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Philemon

Not a "book" but a brief and personal letter, this little letter hints at a tale of of renewal, refreshment, and ultimately restoration. The runaway slave, Onesimus, has come to know the Lord and is ministering to Paul in prison. Philemon, the former master, is likewise a Christian, and host of a house-church. Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, but not to return to the duties in which he formerly labored--rather, to become a fellow-worker in the fields of the Lord.

Being in the Lord changes everything. It changes relationships--the hierarchy of the larger society does not force its way into the midst of our community. Being in the Lord may take away what we formerly considered entitlements--though it does not relieve us of obligations. Wherever we are, we are called upon to be useful, to forgive the debts and sins of others, out of reverence for the One who has paid everything on our behalf.

Lord, today let us be reconciled among ourselves. Restore the runaway to your presence. Renew our strength as we come to your hospitality. Refresh our hearts always in Christ. Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I Corinthians 16:10-24

Sometimes we parents must be separated from our children. When I sent my daughter to college for the first time, this fall, love compelled me to issue many admonitions. I wanted to fit all my wisdom into some last minute advice to ensure a happy life for my daughter. (These consisted of the following, “Don’t overstuff your suitcases!” “Take Vitamin C and wash your hands a lot!” “Floss! Your dentist appointment isn’t until December!”).

Going through Paul’s writings, I have really come to appreciate his love for God’s people and how Paul can put his heart on the written page. Here at the end of the book of I Corinthians he labors over details of church organization. Then he is compelled to issue some admonitions in verse 13-14 and they stand out boldly in the middle of organizational details. The admonitions are a few sentences, but they could be written on an index card and be titled, “briefly, how to be a Christian.”

“Be on your guard.” Against materialism, discouragement…anything which Satan could dish out. “Stand firm in the faith.” “Be men of courage; be strong.” Then finally Paul’s hope for all of us, “Do everything in love.”

That last sentence I breath in and I hope love comes out when I exhale. I thank God for Paul and may we do all in love. Let our hands, voices, and thoughts be gentle for the kingdom of God.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

While we often think of Paul as a great teacher, missionary, and theologian, we might also think of him as a great “social worker” as well. I do not mean this literally, of course, or in a secular sense. What I do mean is that the gathering of a special offering for the relief of the poor believers in Jerusalem was one of the most important ministries of Paul’s missionary journeys. And in this offering, we see that just as Paul faithfully preached the Gospel, so he also was committed to meeting the physical and material needs of those to whom he ministered.

It was vital to Paul that people put their faith into practice. One of the ways he encouraged people to do this was through generous giving. Here we learn several governing principles for sharing what we have as an essential part of faithfully following Jesus.

1. Giving should be systematic. Paul writes that on the “first day of every week” the Corinthians should set aside a portion of their income as an offering to God.

2. Giving is for everyone. Notice that Paul addresses his instructions to “each of you.” Anyone who had an income also had the privilege of sharing in giving to God’s work.

3. Giving is relative to earnings. Those who make more should give more (“you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income” is how the TNIV puts it. The Message is more succinct: “Be as generous as you can.”)

Clearly, these principles apply to us as well. Duty goes with doctrine. May we be those who give as freely to others as God has given to us.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Today's reading is an interesting one. Paul begins the reading telling the Corinthians that one does not have to die to be saved when Christ returns. Paul says those believers alive when Christ returns will be transformed immediately into their heavenly bodies. This is good news and much relief for those that happen to be alive when Christ returns. Paul then goes on to discuss heavenly bodies compared to earthly bodies. This is all very interesting reading, but the verse I would like to concentrate on today is verse 58.

Verse 58 says, "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

Paul reinforces the message, with verse 58, that since Christ earned our eternal lives, we should be very grateful and show our gratitude via our deeds. No Christ honoring deed is done in vain. I like this message as I feel that sometimes we hesitate to do a good deed because we do not think we will see any concrete results or receive recognition. However, I submit, that if we truly believe that Christ died and was resurrected, thus assuring us of freedom from death, that belief should affect the way we live our lives. We should not let discouragement over an apparent lack of results, or lack of earthly thanks, keep us from doing what we are called to do. If our work is good and genuine, then our work with glorify Christ and his sacrifice for us; and will have eternal rewards. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.

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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

1 Corinthians 15:12-29

There are a lot of things in this life that don’t make sense to me. Wonderful things happen to people that don’t seem to deserve them and tragic things happen to really good people. It’s difficult to deal with this reality. I prefer when things make sense; when they happen in a logical manner (my definition of course).

In today’s reading, Paul’s argument is logical. If we believe that Jesus died and was raised up, then we can believe that we will also be resurrected with Him. Without this belief, there is no hope or grace; no forgiveness of our sins.

But Paul assures us that Christ has been raised from the dead. In the Bible, God provides us with prophecies and testimonies that bring us this great news and give us something to hold on to. He continually reminds us that, through Christ, we do have hope and our sins have been forgiven. We will, one day, be with Him in Heaven.

Thanks be to God!

skr

Friday, October 19, 2007

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

How many times do you have to hear something to believe it? How many times do you have to hear something in order to turn it into practice? I am better at some things than others in this regard. I seem to remember when bills are due to be paid because I don’t want to suffer the consequences of not remembering. But I’m not very good at remembering to pray. And I’m not much better at remembering my baptismal covenant.

In today’s reading, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the basic gospel: That Christ died for our sins and was raised in three days. He did this, through grace, for every person – even the sinners like Saul, the person Paul was before he converted.

Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul is giving specific instruction to the new church on how to create this new community in Christ, something which had never been done before. These new Christians were likely somewhat outcasts already and not just a little revolutionary in their thinking. It may have even been easy to get them all fired up about leaving behind those old Jewish rules and laws. But, those instructions are not what Paul’s mission was about. It was about spreading the basic gospel which is repeated in these verses.

It’s one thing to hear this reminder. But I find if I say “Christ died for me” a few times, the true meaning comes to me like a lightening bolt. When I allow those words to sink down into my core, that’s when I start to feel Jesus’ presence in my heart. So, I commend to you today (and every day, for that matter) to remind yourself of the basic gospel. Say it several times, slowly. Allow its meaning to reach into your soul. As it has done for me, it will give you peace. Not a bad way to start your day.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, October 18, 2007

1 Corinthians 14:26-33,37-40

Hmmm. It is 6:10PM and I realized I forgot to write my devotional for today. Not good!

So I’ll keep it simple. “Let all things be done for building up.” The reference is to “good order in worship”; it is to what is done in church services. But given Paul’s earlier in statement in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up”, I think we can apply this principle in the larger context of our lives in general.

It is a principle that really hits home with me. I do things for a lot of different reasons, and some of those reasons don’t square very well the idea of building one another up in love. In fact, sometimes the things I say and do have exactly the opposite effect.

When I get hurt, I sometimes seek to hurt others in return. When I get angry, all too often I go on the attack. When I want my way, sometimes it is my own ego that I serve, and not the good of others. It is not a very pretty picture.

I would ask you to consider how you are doing in making sure that all the things you are doing are being done to build others up. But on this one, I think I have to start with me before I ask anyone anything.

God, please help me to serve you as my heart desires. In so doing, may all that I say and do be done to build others up in love. Amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

1 Corinthians 14:13-25

I do not know about you, but I always find the Biblical concept of speaking in tongues hard to understand. I understand it intellectually, but I have never witnessed someone speaking in tongues. So I have a hard time understanding the power of witnessing someone speaking in tongues. Thus today's reading is a difficult one for me, but amazingly enough, as with most (if not all) Biblical readings there are messages that are relevant for all of us, even someone like me who finds speaking in tongues hard to fathom.

Now I can certainly relate to verse 19, "But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." Again, from my perspective, listening to someone speak a language I cannot understand seems less effective then listening to words I can understand. As examples, when I travel to a country whose native language is not English, I cannot understand people who speak to me in their native language - no matter how loud they speak or how many words they speak. Likewise, in the early Church, when the prayers at worship services were given in Latin as opposed to the native language, I can imagine that this would not be conducive to attracting people to the Church. In the second millennium AD, when the Bible and worship services where translated into local languages this was, in my opinion, an enhancement which brought more people to the Church and to Christ. Having said all of this, I would agree with Paul's comment in verse 19 - understanding the message is critical to it being properly received and accepted.

Paul begins today's reading by saying those that speak in tongues should pray for the gift of interpretation. I fully agree and this, to me, seems obvious. To bring more people to Christ, the calling for all of us, people must understand our message. Delivering this message in a way that is understood by the receiver is critical. This goes beyond speaking a commonly understood language. This means speaking to a young person in language they understand, speaking to a seeker using examples to which they can relate, or speaking to a non-believer with respect and courtesy so we do not put them off from the message we are giving.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Corinthians 14:1-12

Today’s passage read like a sandwich to me. It begins and ends with an exhortation; stuffed in between is a lot of meat. I have to confess that my hunger might have had a little to do with the observation, but here’s what I read:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, ..., try to excel in those that build up the church.

I thought of several people when I read these words.

I thought of the young dad that is taking time every Sunday evening to hang out and share his life with the youth of our Church; mentoring them and demonstrating to them how to walk in the way of love.

I thought of the middle-age mom that in the midst of juggling family and career is choosing to exercise her gifts of administration and leadership for our church; helping us to navigate the difficult and complicated path of ministry in our community.

I though of the youth that is sharing their gift of music and helping us glorify God through song; allowing us to catch a small glimpse of heavenly praise.

Building up the church sounds like a daunting task because it is a daunting task. That’s why God gifts each of us in specific ways and then gives us opportunities to use and exercise those gifts. When we choose to exercise those gifts and let God work through us we can help build up that piece of the church that we touch.

Now, that’s a sandwich that I can sink my teeth into!

Alan Davenport

Saturday, October 13, 2007

1 Corinthians 12:27 - 13:3


Paul has been talking about spiritual gifts. The gifts are to the Church, and essential for the sound functioning of the Church. Each has a unique and specific purpose for the Church. But not everyone in the Church has each gift, nor in like degree. The gifts of preaching, healing, helping, and prophesying are intended to meld seamlessly within the body of the Church in the same way that eye and hand and bat combine to connect with a ball and drive it deep into the October night (to bring the analogy into our day).
Paul wants the Corinth church to strive for gifts. But he also takes pains to urge them to subject those gifts to something higher, stronger, purer--to what he terms the Most Excellent Way--the way of love. Regardless of what lofty speech may pour from the mouth, if it is not animated by love, it is pure noise. Doctorates, theses, even the unlocking of the genetic code, apart from love, amount to worthless knowledge. Even faith itself, faith the size of a mustard seed or a mountain, without love is nothing. And no sacrificial act, no forfeiture of goods has any true impact if love is not its driving force.
The Scottish preacher Henry Drummond delivered an address on the text of 1 Corinthians 13 at Oxford in 1889: The Greatest Thing in the World. His speech had such impact that it was printed and re-printed in the millions, and remains in print today. I highly commend it to the attention of anyone who wants to understand and live the truth of this chapter--which is itself the heart of the Gospel. I'll quote just a bit:
"A man is apt to recommend to others his own strong point. Love was not Paul's strong point...The hand that wrote, 'The greatest of these is love', when we meet it first, is stained with blood."
Love may not be my strong point either. It may not be yours. But there is nothing more worth praying for, hoping for, believing in, giving one's life to, than the love which excels all. May we in the church never, ever forget that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I Corinthians 12:12-26

The other day I clipped a large bouquet of flowers from the garden. Each flower seems more precious than usual since cool fall winds are sweeping through the garden. As I brought the cut flowers into the house, the stem of a beautiful red zinna was damaged. The flower slumped and I felt bad.

I put the flowers in a vase and propped up the red zinnia against the stronger stems of the other flowers. Now, days later, the red zinnia looks beautiful and healthy, nestled in the center of the bouquet. Its stem is held up by straight by the other flowers.

To me today’s reading about the body of Christ, the church, can be summed up in three words, “we are one.” Paul likens the church to a physical body in which each part is important. Each part has its part to play and supports the other parts. We may feel weak, but we are needed. We may be damaged, but we are held up by those who surround us.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Spiritual Gifts

Today’s reading raises the topic of spiritual gifts. That this is a very important subject is made clear by Paul’s injunction that we would not be ignorant of them.

Several things become immediately clear:
1. Everyone has at least one gift.
2. Our giftedness comes from God, and is therefore to be used according to the purposes of God.
3. Our gifts, and the behavior they produce (forms of service, activities in which we engage) will vary from person to person.
4. Though our gifts will be varied, they are meant to work together in such a way that our sense of community is deepened
5. The harmonious interworking of these gifts will enable us to accomplish more together than we could on our own (the common good).

The questions that proceed from the above seem equally clear:
1. What are our spiritual gifts?
2. How are we using them?
3. Do we appreciate our differences in giftedness or do we feel resentful, superior, or try to remake others in our image?
4. How are we doing at working with others? In the church, how we do our work is every bit as important as what we do. In today’s language, the idea would be of working in teams united by love, not lone rangers doing their own thing.
5. How is the larger community (including, I think, the community beyond the four walls of the church building) benefitting?

Where the answers to these questions are as clear as the questions themselves, let’s celebrate that fact. Let us be encouraged in the gifts that we offer, the camaraderie that comes in offering them together, and in the good work we see being done.

Where we do not know the answers, may we be diligent in seeking them until we do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

1 Corinthians 11:23-34

How appropriate is today's reading for me. As I get ready to assist in the teaching of our Confirmation class this weekend, God gives me a reading on the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion.

A section of the Confirmation class I get to teach is about Holy Communion. Today's reading will help me in that task.

The first few verses of the reading are what Father Rob says during Holy Communion. "and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" (verses 24 & 25, NIV).

These verses are very important but they are not what I want to concentrate on today. I feel verse 28 is a key message, "A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup." In reality, no one is worthy to take Holy Communion. We are all sinners saved by grace. This is why we should prepare ourselves for Holy Communion through healthy, honest introspection, confession of sin, and resolution of differences with others. By doing this we remove barriers in our relationship with Christ. So many times during Holy Communion I find myself just going through the motions. How about you? We need to prepare ourselves for what we are about to participate in. We need to examine our hearts and get things right with God. We need to remember what Jesus did for our sins, long for his return, and grow spiritually.

Remember, Paul did not say that we had to be worthy to partake in Holy Communion; but we should partake in a worthy manner. So the next time you participate in Holy Communion remember to examine your heart and repent of your sins. When I have prepared properly for Holy Communion I have been amazed by the power of God to help heal me. I am sure His power will help you too.

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

1 Cor. 11:2,17-22

My family has a rich tradition of teasing – we consider it is a sign of affection since we tease people that we care about. I have to admit that it is a delicate and sometimes treacherous road but we generally follow a couple of guidelines to promote “safety”:
  • specific personal physical features are off limits (general family features like big lips however are fair game)
  • teasing should always produce laughter not hurt feelings
Sarcasm is a natural part of the teasing that I have practiced and experienced in my family and since I have had a lifetime of exposure to sarcasm, it kind of jumped off the page at me when I read today’s passage. Paul laid it on pretty thick. It is very clear that Paul was not at all pleased with how the church in Corinth was behaving when they got together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

I’m sure that some of the folks in Corinth were really put off by Paul’s comments; but I like to think that others heard the love and concern of a brother and then worked to correct the problem within their community.

That is the other side of the teasing in our family. We have learned to listen with a humorous ear and the knowledge that we are being teased because we are loved. We can choose to laugh at ourselves and embrace the teasing. I guess that is the lesson that I got from today’s reading.

Sometimes, we are going to get a word of correction or be told something that is hard to hear. We have the choice to become defensive and react against it; or we can listen with an open heart and embrace it.


Alan Davenport

Friday, October 05, 2007

1 Corinthians 9:16-27

I do not consider myself an athlete. This is not because I don’t have the physical ability because while I may not have that ability now, I know I could if I really wanted to. But I don’t particularly want to spend my time to do what it would take to become such an athlete. I’m lazy in that regard.

Today’s reading tells Christians that they don’t have that choice. They cannot be lazy when it comes to proclaiming the gospel. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that you must punish your body and enslave it. He also advises us not to run aimlessly, meaning to be deliberate about the effort and the prize, using self control to win. And to do all this of your own will.

That’s a tall order. But what is at stake is much more than a few extra pounds of belly fat. For me, the hardest thing about a regular physical work out routine is actually starting one. Once you get through the first few weeks of regular exercise, it’s routine and doable. Those folks who jump out of the gate with extremely high expectations (i.e., I’m going to lose 20 pounds this month) tend not to reach their goal and end up getting discouraged.

Perhaps, then, establishing our personal spiritual work out should be approached the same way. Make it regular and start with achievable goals. Increase the output and the expectation to just beyond what you are capable of doing. After a while, you are likely to be surprised by the headway you have made and how far you have come in your journey. Buoyed by your success, you push yourself on to higher heights. I think this is exactly the kind of thing Paul was talking about in this reading.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, October 04, 2007

1 Corinthians 9:1-15

Do you get the feeling from today’s passage that Paul is sick and tired of being criticized, second guessed, and going unappreciated? Do you get the feeling that ministry has taken a huge toll on him personally, not from the world, but from the church, from those who he would expect to be his brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you sense the depth of his frustration?

I was playing Halo 3 the other day with my youngest daughter. It is a story of war between good guys and bad guys. As with every war, it takes its toll. There is a scene where one of the characters we had fought beside from the very first game dies. And you just get the sense that he has lost so much, he appreciates the mercy granted in his passing.

I think Paul could relate to that. He fought the good fight that came along with keeping the faith, and it took its on him too. But the surprising thing is that it was not the world which is causing him so much grief here. It is the church.

I am fortunate in that I serve a church that does a great job expressing love, support, and appreciation. But even so, ministry still has its painful moments and tough times. Yes, ministry brings with it some of the greatest blessings life has to offer. But it is important to realize that it will bring grief and sorrow and some of life’s greatest challenges as well.

That’s why we don’t let our ministry or service to God rise and fall on the opinions of others. Like Paul, it needs to be rooted in our understanding of God’s call upon us. I think Paul asks the initial questions in verses one and two as much of himself as does of the Corinthians. He is asking himself these questions not to call the answers in doubt, but to remind himself of the answers. Yes, he is an apostle. Yes, he has seen the Lord. Yes, the Corinthians are his work in the Lord. Everything else flows from there.

God has called us as well. He has called us to serve him. He has called us to continue to love his people. And so, no matter what comes down the pike, good or bad, we do.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

When I first saw today's reading, I thought to myself, what could possibly be the message from a passage about eating or not eating food sacrificed to idols. Come on, this may have had relevance two thousand years ago, but it certainly does not have relevance today. I mean when was the last time you had to decide to eat or not eat food that had been sacrificed to an idol? Exactly my point. However, as a read today's passage a several times, I began to realize that it did have a relevant message for us in the twenty first century. Let's have a look.

Verse 8 says, "But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." Food is neither good nor evil, regardless of whether or not is has been sacrificed to an idol. Paul indicates that Christians have the freedom to eat such meat. However, we should not let our "freedom" cause others to stray. Remember everything is not about "me". Helping others grow in their faith is much more important.

So what is Paul telling us? I think what Paul is telling us is that mature Christians (Christians strong in their faith) can participate in things that would cause other, less mature (less strong in their faith), Christians to fall into sin. Thus, mature Christians are called to act in a way that will not lead less mature Christians to stray. In other words, even if a Christian could do something, he/she should not do it if it would lead others astray. For example, a mature Christian can play cards with his/her friends. But this mature Christian should not invite someone battling a gambling problem to play. A mature Christian should be willing to "sacrifice" their freedom for love of another.

Mature Christians are to act in love. A mature Christian realizes that if Christ willingly gave up his life for us, we should be willing to give up an occasional freedom so as not to harm another.

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