Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hebrews 10:1-10

“Here I am, I have come to do your will.”

In a nutshell, that’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to offer our selves daily to God.

That is a very different thing than simply being concerned with keeping the law, with a legalistic approach to faith. People can strictly observe the law and not be very loving. They can get the words right without getting their hearts right. People can devote themselves to details of Christianity (what a person should or shouldn’t do) and miss the whole point of it (what matters most is the kind of person we are).

Offering God things (like money) is also a very different thing than offering him ourselves. People once offered God things like cow, thinking that as long as they did that, they could pretty much do what they wanted and that would cover it. Nowadays people are a bit more sophisticated. They offer God money or an hour on Sunday or an occasional prayer and that is the extent of their commitment. Love, however, doesn’t work like that. Love gives freely and without reserve, holding nothing back.

“Here I am, I have come to do your will.” That’s the prayer of someone deeply in love (remember how Westley expressed his love for Buttercup in The Princess Bride? “As you wish.”) It is not an obligation to be discharged through obeying rules, regulations, or even the letter (as opposed to the Spirit) of Scripture. It is not a matter of giving things (even obedience) when the reality is our heart is somewhere else.

“Here I am, I have come to do your will.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hebrews 9:15-28

What is the only thing each of us has to do? No, it is not paying taxes (you have a choice; I suppose you could choose to go to jail). The one, and only, thing each of us has to do is biologically die.

In today's reading, verses 27 and 28 say, "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; ..." There is a lot of meaning in these verses - let's discuss this a bit.

Verses 27 and 28 contrast the death of human beings and the death of Christ. For Humans bodily death is unavoidable. We will all die some day. However, Christ volunteered to die. He sacrificed himself for us. He chose to die. God has appointed that physical, biological death will come to all of us - we have no chose.

Now this may sound depressing, but it is not. Christians, like other humans, know that biological death is certain, but they have nothing to fear from death. When a Christian dies, he or she has Jesus Christ as a mediator. Christians know that Jesus died so we will not have to die spiritually.

My final point is in regards to the term "once" - "... so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins ..." The word once is very important. It indicates the completeness and finality of Jesus' sacrifice. It means Jesus does not need to repeat this sacrifice as it was large enough to take away all of mankind's sins. It was a perfect sacrifice.

Be thankful my friends for the sacrifice of Jesus. When you take communion, please remember these words, "On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me." and be thankful.

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

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hebrews 7:1-27

Hebrews is one of those books that is difficult for me to relate to. Let’s face it: I’m not a 1st century Jew. No matter how much research I do on this issue, I can’t quite get into the mind of this writer.

But, one thing strikes me about today’s reading. The purpose of this chapter, and in fact most of Hebrews, is to convince the 1st century Jews that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah within the context of the Old Testament. They had hear for so long that the Messiah was coming, they had gotten complacent and some had stopped believing. The Book of Hebrews tried to reconcile the old world Jewish laws to the new way of the risen Lord. Not an easy task.

So then I ask myself: What if the apostles were trying to convince me that Jesus was the Son of God? What arguments would they use in 21st century parlance? How would they advertise a tent revival with Jesus as the speaker? Would we go? That's a bit frightening, isn't it?

Well, today’s reading is about establishing the uniqueness and permanency of Jesus’ priesthood. In looking at that through the eyes of a 21st century “Christian” that would be hard to do. Look at how many different religions there are, how many different sects. How does one articulate “uniqueness” is this area? I would argue that, while there are many different opportunities for folks to worship in the way that is comfortable for them, there is still only one God and still only one risen Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how many different religions there are, or what the differences in worship styles, or whether or not you use liturgical sacramental rites, or whatever (although I personally get a little uncomfortable with snakes). There is no questioning the uniqueness of our risen Lord. No matter what century you are in.

So, if you, like me, are a little put off by words such as “Melchizedek priesthood”, don’t fret. Keep reading. The point is that Jesus is our risen Lord. He rose from the dead to save the sins of everyone, even 1st century Jews, even the sins of you and me.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hebrews 6:13-20

One of the ways we used to fish in Florida was called “bottom fishing”. Basically, that meant dropping a bait down to the “bottom” of the ocean to catch tasty fish like grouper and snapper.

Now you may know that you can’t just drop your bait down anywhere. There are certain spots, like reefs or wrecks (old ships sunk for the purpose of attracting fish), that will be very productive. There will be other spots (the vast majority of spots, in fact!) where you could fish all day and not catch a thing. Often the difference between a productive spot and a non-productive one will only be a matter of feet.

So how does a person who wants to catch some fish stay on a productive spot? First they locate it (typically via a combination of GPS and a “fish finder” which graphically displays what the bottom looks like). And then they anchor over it. It would do no good to find a productive spot only to lose it again, or drift away from it due to wind, waves, and currents. The anchor is absolutely essential to staying on the sweet spot.

Hebrews speaks of our hope in the promise of God, and in His character that stands behind that promise, as an “anchor for our soul, firm and secure.” In other words , God—especially as He is known in Jesus—keeps us anchored to the “sweet spot” in life.

How is our anchor holding? Are we holding fast to the life God has made available to us in Jesus? Or are we adrift, tossed about by wind and waves and currents? Are we on the “sweet spot”, or are we lost at sea, not really knowing where we are going? Or perhaps what we are doing is rowing desperately, working so hard to stay in that sweet spot that we are completely exhausted. Maybe what we need to do is let down the anchor, trust in the goodness of God’s love and promise, and rest secure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hebrews 6:1-12

Boy, today's reading, right off the bat, strikes me right between the eyes. It is a wake up call to us all.

"Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, ..." (verse 1). Certainly basic, or elementary, teachings about Christ and Christianity are extremely important for all of us to understand. These include why Jesus came into the world, the significance of his death and resurrection, and his promise of eternal life. The author of Hebrews calls us to go beyond, not away, from the elementary teachings into a deeper understanding of Christianity.

But how does one obtain a more mature understanding of Christianity? I submit that one must go beyond half hearted commitment. Go beyond simply attending church on Sunday and participating in the corporate worship. One must walk the talk and begin to live a life modeled after the teachings of Christ.

To help one become a more mature Christian, begin in prayer. Ask God to open your heart to his will. Ask him to help you develop a deeper relationship with him. God will lead you to actions that will transform you into a more mature Christian. In addition, read the Bible. Read the way Christ lived his life. Read about the way Jesus interacted with and treated other people.

Before I got involved in mission trips, I asked God to help me ascertain how I could move into a more mature relationship with him. It was clear to me that this is what God wanted me to do. However, the journey into a more mature relationship with God is never ending. I continue to ask God to help my relationship with him become even deeper. He continues to talk to me. This year I will not be leading any of the mission trips, which is good because we want the trips to continue and I know God is calling me to do other things (I will go on a trip, just not lead it).

Seek that deeper, more mature, relationship with God. He will answer you. He longs for the relationship too.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hebrews 4:1-13

When last I wrote in this space, I was a day removed from falling flat on my back. I was in pain and discomfort--that was all I knew then. A few days thereafter, I got my x-ray results--a "mild" compression fracture of the 2nd lumbar vertebra. I went in for an MRI on Monday and saw an orthopedist on Tuesday, all of which essentially just confirmed the diagnosis. On Wednesday I began to develop cold symptoms and by Thursday was rapidly losing my voice. I spent most of Friday in bed and didn't get up 'til 11 this morning. I thought about going back into Urgent Care yesterday but decided that only rest was going to provide the cure.

Thank God for the technology which allows humankind to look deep within the body and discern where bone has cracked, and where the vital spinal cord runs intact. Thank God for medicines which ease the pain while the body heals.

Thank God also for the wisdom of his Word, which is also more than capable of delving deep within us and separating the healthy thought from the diseased one. I have been subjected to invisible radiation and magnetic fields; but how much more to the piercing two-edged sword, which clearly has more work yet to accomplish within me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hebrews 3:12-19

In today’s reading the author of Hebrews reminds us of the story of the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness for forty years. This journey is often used as an example to us; the Israelites wandered, having chances to observe God’s works and His goodness, but they just didn’t see.

In a lot of ways we wander too. We have different struggles but like the Israelites we struggle with sin’s deceitfulness (v. 13). To deceive means “to play a trick,” and Jeremiah 17:9 says our hearts are deceitful. As our days go by we must keep “checking in” with God to stay close to Him, so our heart doesn’t play tricks on us. We may struggle with greed or anger.

The author of Hebrews has one suggestion. Encourage one another daily (v.13) he says, so sin won’t play tricks on you. I like the word encourage. We may disappoint each other, but “encourage” speaks to me of gentleness rather than bitter words, of kindness and listening, of lending a hand and of praying for our brothers and sisters.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hebrews 3: 1-11

So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts… Hebrews 3: 7-8a

Wow. What a challenge that is!

Three things I notice. The author of Hebrews is quoting Psalm 95: 7-11. However, he doesn’t refer to the words of this Psalm as the words of a human being, but as the words of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing I notice is the phrase, “IF you hear his voice…” Hearing the Spirit’s voice isn’t automatic or assumed. It may or may not happen. One, for instance, can read the pages of Scripture and only hear the voice of man, of someone writing a long time ago. Or one can read it as the words of human beings, yes, but human beings writing in such a way that their words carry the very voice of God.

When we read the Bible this way, we read it expecting to hear God speak. We listen for his voice speaking every bit as clearly and specifically to us as it did when those words were first written.

The third thing I notice is the command, “do not harden your hearts.” The Message says, “don’t turn a deaf ear”. The New Century Version says, “don’t be stubborn.”

So let’s assume we have heard the Spirit speak, perhaps in the pages of Scripture, perhaps in some inner prompting or leading, perhaps in something someone has said to us that had the ring of truth. What the writer of Hebrews is really saying is, “DO IT!”

Of course, if we all did what the Spirit prompts us to do, the church, our families, and the world, would be very different places. It’s often easy to pick out the ways the people around us fail to heed the Spirit (“I wish so and so heard that sermon,” instead of thinking how much we needed to hear it.) But chances are, we are no different. Chances are, the Spirit is speaking to us as well, but we remain stubbornly set in our ways, refuse to listen, and ultimately harden our hearts.

So how can we keep that from happening? May I suggest that is a question well worth pondering? More than that, it’s a question worth going to any lengths to answer, not only in our minds, but especially in our lives.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hebrews 2:11-18

Today's reading reminds me of our Wednesday night course on James - at least one verse does. During last week's course we discussed temptation as opposed to being tested by God. Does God tempt people? Does God test people? What is the difference? It was a great discussion.

Verse 18 of today's reading says, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Of course the "he" being referred to in this verse is Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to earth as a human being. During his time on earth he experienced suffering and temptation. The sufferings and temptations Jesus faced were not only what happen to him on Good Friday, but also throughout his ministry. From Satan's temptations in the wilderness to the drops of blood he shed in prayer before his crucifixion. Therefore he understands our weaknesses and shows mercy on us. As an example, think about Good Friday for a moment (if you have not seen it, you may want to check out Mel Gibson's the "Passion of the Christ"). As Jesus had the power to stop the flogging or crucifixion at any time. Think how tempted he must have been to use that power. The pain must have been unbearable. But he did not stop it. He endured it for our sake.

What are you facing that you need Christ to face with you? When you face trials, go to the Lord for strength and patience. Jesus understands your needs and is able to help.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2)

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

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Colossians 3:1-17

Sometimes, I read the Bible and have difficulty relating it to living in the 21st century. That is not the case with today’s reading. These verses are as relevant today as they were in the 1st century. In addition, the themes of today’s reading are repeated throughout the New Testament. And as we learned in Bible 101, if something is repeated, it is meant to be extra important, right?

Chapter 3 of Colossians could be entitled “Rules for Christians to Live By”. It gives us a good list of ways we should behave and ways we should not behave. It says that the way we once lived is no longer acceptable. That person has died. The new “you” has been reborn in Christ and you, therefore, need to behave differently.

Verse 11 really hit me in this Chapter. It says “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” The Town of Colossians lay pretty far east from Israel. It was located along a fairly well-traveled east-west transportation route and was, therefore, occupied (either temporarily or permanently) with folks from all walks of life and all religions. It was particularly difficult to get a new church up and running with so many outside influences. But, this is not so different for us. We, too, are constantly bombarded with outside influences whether they be people we work with or neighbors, the newspapers we read or TV. Verse 11, for us, could read “Here there is no Muslim, African-American, Chinese or Hispanic…” or “Here there is no one who is overweight, overly sensitive, talks too much, gossips or complains…” Whatever makes you hot under the collar, or agitated or upset could fit into this sentence. Just fill in the blanks.

Then, Verse 15 gives you the ultimate instruction: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…and be thankful. What more could you hope for in life than the peace of Christ? Colossians 3 gives you a road map for allowing that peace into your life. All you need to do is read it with an open heart, then live it.

Vicki Nelson

Colossians 2:8-23

There is an age old prohibition that basically says, “Don’t major in the minors”. It seems to me that is what Paul is saying here as well.

Another way this is said is “Keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing here is hold to Jesus Christ as our head, the ultimate authority in faith and practice.

That means that in our spiritual lives, knowing the teachings of Jesus is far more important than any religious rite, ritual, or regulation. And it means that putting those teachings into practice is far more important than worrying about what we eat, how someone is baptized, what holy days one does or does not observe.

When we don’t know what Jesus taught, it is all too easy for us to be taken captive by false gods and deceitful messiahs. Sadly, I have seen this happen many times, over and over again through the years. Unfamiliar with what Jesus had to say, people are led astray from the truth into empty and even destructive beliefs.

Practically speaking, to put this passage into practice, I might start reading something like Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, found in Matthew 5-7. I’d read it one section at a time, starting with the first 12 verses which are called the Beatitudes, and consider what it would mean for my life to put what Jesus is teaching into everyday practice. So, for instance, we might take one Beatitude a day and say, “How am I doing at living this?”

Keep the main thing the main thing. Follow Jesus.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Colossians 1:24-2:7

One verse speaks loudly to me in today's reading.

"We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." (1:28)

Christ's message if for everyone. Everywhere Paul and the other apostles went they brought the Good News to all who would listen. When Paul and his colleagues proclaimed the Gospel, their message had two parts. They warned that without Christ people are doomed to eternal separation from God (the admonishment). And, salvation is available through faith in Christ (the teaching)

Per the Great Commission, we are all called to spread the Word. Today's reading tells us we should tell others about Christ as Christ works in us. We should warn and teach others in a loving manner.

Do you know someone that needs to hear the Gospel message? What is preventing you from sharing it with that person? One of my favorite stories regarding this point is: if your friend was dying of cancer and you knew the cure, wouldn't you tell him/her? I submit that we would. Then if a friend of yours is setting themselves up for eternal separation from God (far worse than dying of cancer) and, of course, you know the cure (the Gospel message), why do you not tell him/her? I encourage us all to tell others so they may have a chance to find Christ. I know it is sometimes scary, but what do we have to be afraid of knowing that the Holy Spirit will be with us?

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

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ephesians 6:10-20

This passage is long familiar to me, and probably to you as well, so today I'm going to view it through the lens of a hard lesson that I am living through this weekend.
For us, as with Paul and his audience, there may be a temptation from time to time to look about us and think, "Well, no enemies in sight, let's take a break and relax from battle dress." Paul had plenty of enemies; the early Church had plenty of enemies. Their earthly enemies came bearing swords and shooting arrows. But Paul knew, and we ought to know, that the most dangerous enemy is the one we cannot see. It is an enemy that is all too ready to penetrate our defenses when we let our guard drop. It can be an enemy within our minds.
Yesterday I did something unaccountably foolish. Alone in the house, I brought a stepladder up to the attic entrance and set up there for the purpose of stowing some items from the garage that I had been admonished simply to throw in the trash. as I stood on the next-to-highest step, the ladder fell over sideways, with my feet flying in its direction, and I fell six feet and landed flat on my back, hard. I have never been body-slammed before; I never want to feel that again. What ensued was an embarrassed call to my wife's workplace, a trip to urgent care for tests and x-rays (nothing obviously broken), then a regimen of pain killers and muscle relaxers.
I am laid up today, pretty useless to fill any household role for a few days, and why? I was so intent on doing in secret what I wanted to do that I was vulnerable to an accident that could have left me unconscious and crippled, and undiscovered for hours. I didn't put on the armor of God; I put on only my own selfishness and uncaring attitude. It will take a few days at least to work through the discomfort and uselessness. God willing, I may--no, I must--internalize this lesson and be ready for battle in the future. I urge you all, be mindful of what gear you don--is it God's, or your own? Are you ready for a sudden fall? Will you take steps to ensure you don't fall?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Ephesians 5:1-20

Before we leave the Christmas season behind I am thinking of all the wonders of the season. Even though sometimes the glory of the season slips by in a blur we do have reflective, peaceful moments. Today’s reading speaks of how our lives can be like the Christmas season; a wonderful gift to the world.

Imitate God, Paul says; you are beloved by God and so live in the knowledge of Christ’s love for us. Our lives, reflecting God’s love, can so be a gift to the world. Jesus’ life was sacrificed as a fragrant, extravagant offering. We can all think of extravagant gifts which we have received, but none are so extravagant as the grace offered to us. I think of how the fragrances of Advent and Christmas are so satisfying; pine trees, candles, spices. Paul says that Jesus’ sacrifice was a fragrant offering to God.

Advent celebrates the coming of light into the world and victory over the darkness which used to rule the world. Paul says, we are children of light (v8). Like the lights of the season which shine into the cold and darkness, our lives can be a light.

Sing for joy, Paul says in closing. This Christmas, I thought about how good it is to be together with loved ones that we don’t see as much as we like. We even think about loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord. We can praise God, knowing that the coming of Jesus means, someday, we will all be together.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ephesians 4:17-32

Today’s reading is one of those passages that is so straightforward and practical that it really needs no commentary. I confess that I sometimes read the devotionals without actually taking the time to follow the Scripture link and read the Bible passage on which the devotional is based. If you do that too, I’d encourage you today to take the time to read the Scripture for today and let God speak directly to you. A lot of subjects are covered, so what the Lord has to say to you may be different than what He has to say to me.

That said, one verse that jumps out at me is verse 28. Thieves are not to steal—they are to labor and work honestly so as to have something to share with the needy. It’s the second half of the verse that speaks to me. The reason we are to work hard and make some money is not so we can buy more stuff or pad our savings accounts or even simply to make an honest living, but so we can give it away to the needy.

The principle, then, seems to be that we work in order to give away. It’s a very different way of thinking than the way of the world around us. Yet that is precisely how this passage started, isn’t it—we are not to think like the world around us (for their way of thinking is futile) but to think in accord with what we have learned from Jesus.

Practicing such radical generosity would seem to be pretty good example of doing this. It’s a high ideal, to be sure—but then, would we expect any less in following Jesus?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ephesians 4:1-16

As we enter the New Year, I find today’s reading to be very timely. Today’s reading is divided into two main parts – verses 1 – 6 talk about unity and then verses 7 – 16 are on individual diversity in the church. In today’s reading Paul is calling on the Ephesians to remain unified as believers and to incorporate their diversity to serve and glorify God. I find this message just as applicable today as it was when Paul wrote it, almost 2,000 years ago.

Both of the sections of today’s reading would make worthy study, but I am going to concentrate on the first part – unity – in my writing today.

In the Holy Baptism sacrament as given in our prayer book beginning on page 299 it states:
Celebrant There is one Body and one Spirit;People There is one hope in God's call to us;Celebrant One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;People One God and Father of all.

This comes directly from today’s reading, “There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (verses 4-6)

When we are baptized we are baptized into one body under one head, Jesus Christ. The emphasis is on “one”. It is repeated a number of times. Regardless of all that can divide us – racial background, social status, gender, the national church – today’s reading and our baptismal vows remind us that we belong to one body.

I find that today’s reading is certainly timely. It reminds us that we should not focus on what divides us, but remember what unites us. For me, and perhaps for you, this is a great New Year’s resolution. How can we help unify the church and how can we appreciate differing viewpoints to further the mission of Christ?

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