Saturday, March 29, 2008

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10 "Walk by Faith"

Where reasons are given, we don't need faith. Where only darkness surrounds us, we have no means for seeing except by faith.
-Elisabeth Elliot
I flew to London, Ontario the other day and landed in something just above a whiteout--snow blowing horizontally across the runway. Below one-half mile visibility, the planes cannot land. The pilot (generously) said it was a half-mile. We landed safely.
When I left there yesterday the sky was blue and bright--a foretaste of coming home. It's good to be home today and see the transformation in the cherry trees and especially the Bradford pears in just the last few days--today is the peak of bloom. It's as if the snow that barely visited Northern Virginia the last four months has returned in a different form of whiteness.
According to the Washington Post, two Virginia Tech students have sought to harness the power of computer algorithms and neural networks to forecast the blooming dates more accurately than traditional methods. I don't doubt that the potential exists to crunch numbers and quantify the natural course of the annual rhythm of the flowers. Not, I suspect, with perfect accuracy. Can anyone quantify the weight of glory?
This Easter-tide also brings an annual renewal of hope beyond what we can see. There is not, either for me or for any of us, an endless succession of Easter sunrises yet to come--not in this earthly body, this "tent". But the break-out from the tomb brings a foretaste of a transformation that we do not see today, but will--if we keep on walking toward it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Today’s reading is how, through the death of Christ, we have conquered death. Death is no longer victorious over us. Pretty straightforward stuff.

But I also think today’s reading is about life. Because it is through death, that we are reborn. Peter knows better than many people, including the apostles perhaps, that every person must first “die” in order to give themselves entirely over to God. That is, we must give up our narcissism, our belief that we are the center of our world.

The first step is to accept Christ as our personal savior. I assume that, if you are reading this, you will have likely already done this. But, that is just the beginning of our walk to conquer death. Living the life that Jesus envisions for each of us is not easy as it means to live each day as if it is our last and to love every person we come into contact with in the way that Jesus would have loved them.

This is the message of verse 58 of today’s reading. Each of us needs to excel in the work of the Lord. It is only in doing this work that our labor is not in vain. The reward is everlasting life – the only reward worth the effort.

Holy Week reminds us of the true sacrifice Christ made so that each of us would have the opportunity to have everlasting life. This past Holy Week, I watched the “Passion” movie on Maundy Thursday. I’m not sure why, but just watching that movie made Good Friday all that more moving to me. The Liturgy just came alive for me in a way that it had not in past years. To give up his life in the way that it was taken from him is such an evocative and iconoclastic story.

It certainly renewed in me a desire to be a better servant to Christ. My body is dying a little more every day. I can’t do much about that other than to take on healthy habits. I have much more control over how I live my life and making decisions that would bring me closer to the life after death that Christ has in store for me.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, March 27, 2008

1 Corinthians 15:41-50

I am glad to read this passage this morning. With three funerals in not many more days, and six in the last three weeks, I very much appreciate the comfort it so freely offers.

Personally, I think even our physical bodies are pretty great. They present us with so many possibilities and ways to enjoy life. When well cared for, they are beautiful, a wonder to behold. Touch is such a powerful way of conveying feeling.

Though I am not really what some would call a “touchy feely” type person, I am a very physical person. I love running, jumping, feeling strong, digging in the dirt, swimming in the water, eating watermelon and ice cream and fiery hot salsa.

So to think that our resurrection bodies are going to be even better… wow. As my generational cohorts might once have said, with genuine awe and wonder, “Far out, man.”

To be sure, I know that our present bodies have their problems, limitations, and failings. There are aches and pains, a general slowing down and dulling of the senses, sickness and disease. There is the abiding sense of loss that comes in being aware of these things. To see a loved one “lying in great weakness”, as the Prayer Books says, is to understand that as great a blessing as our bodies are, they carry a great curse as well.

So to know that not only will our new bodies be glorious in a way that our present bodies are not, but also that they will imperishable where our present bodies are perishable, is perhaps an even greater comfort still.

And the greatest comfort of all, I think, does not come so much in knowing that this applies to us. It comes in knowing that this is true of all those who we love but see no longer, those to whom we have said good bye. Though their body is “sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” That’s a promise I am holding onto, and I hope you will too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

1 Corinthians 15:29-41

Paul makes two major points in today's reading. In the first part of the passage Paul points out that it would be meaningless to live as a Christian if we were not to be resurrected. Often in this passage Paul uses himself as an example. Paul makes it plain that he would never endure the trials he lists for merely human reasons. Instead he would have subscribed to the philosophy, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Of course Paul is alluding to Isaiah 22:13 where the prophet rebuked his listeners for not taking the warnings of divine judgment seriously.

In the second part of today's reading Paul turns to some specific issues regarding the idea of a general resurrection. I like Paul's analogy of a seed. A seed must die before it comes to life. In other words, a seed must be buried as if it were dead before it grows into a plant or tree. The ability God gives a seed to overcome its burial should be reason enough for everyone to believe that human beings can be resurrected by God's will.

However, Paul is not finished with his seed analogy. When answering the question what kind of bodies will we have when we are resurrected, Paul again uses it. Paul points out that when people plant seeds they do not plant the body that will be - in other words a seed does not bear the shape and size of the full-grown plant. In fact a seed does not look anything like the plant it produces. Instead God gives it a body that He has chosen. Thus, Paul is saying that we in resurrection will have the types of bodies that God has chosen for us.

To conclude his point, Paul points out that God has given out many different types of bodies. The bodies of men, animals, birds, fish, heavenly bodies, earthly bodies, the sun, the moon, and the stars all differ from one another. God does not have any problem coming up with shapes, sizes, and textures for each item in His universe.

We should not worry about the questions Paul answers in today's reading. We do not have to come up with the answers as God already has.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lamentations 2:10-18

One of the guidelines we set in writing daily devotions is that we would write on the New Testament reading for the day. Since we preach mostly from the Gospels on Sunday morning, we figured this would be a way for all of us to learn more about the rest of the New Testament. And because the daily readings are typically “serial” readings, with each day continuing where the previous day left off, it gives us an opportunity to work through entire books (we’ve been working through Corinthians recently, for instance), which is probably the best way to get an idea of what the various chapter and verses are really saying.

This week, however, is Holy Week, and today in particular is Maundy Thursday. The readings for the day, therefore, are not so much related to what goes before or after, but to the themes of this day. One of the themes of the day is service. As Christians, our fundamental identity as those who follow Jesus is that of a servant. We are those who are called to serve.

You don’t have to look very far in modern Christianity to see how deeply that has been forgotten. We seem to think following Jesus is about exercising power, not serving others. To make this mistake is to betray Jesus anew; to give him fresh cause to weep.

If I were to commend a reading to you today, it would be the reading from Lamentations. One cannot read very far in the Bible without coming to the conclusion that God has often had problems with his people just as his people have often had problems with him. To think that has changed would be manifestly arrogant.

For those who have ears to hear, I think the song of the Lament is still very much present in our church (whatever church that may be) today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

Today's reading has a great, but tough message for us. It is in regard to tough love.

"For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you." (2 Corinthians 2:4)

Have you ever had to reprimand someone? Perhaps a co-worker, a friend, or a child. How did it make you feel? Well, I submit that Paul did not enjoy reprimanding his friends and fellow believers; but he loved them enough to confront them with their wrong doings.

"Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (Proverbs 27:6) Sometimes the people we love can stray, or make wrong choices. If we see this and ignore it how are we helping them? If we look the other way we are not showing love for them. We show love by expressing our concern in a caring, personal manner. We express our concern in a way that would help them do the best they can to advance God's kingdom. If we do not make any move to help, we are indicating through our actions that we care more for being liked, or not rocking the boat, than about what will happen to them.

I fully realize it is not easy, but let's take Paul's example and try to help each other. If we truly do it in a loving way just think of the joy we will all ultimately share.

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

Saturday, March 15, 2008

2 Corinthians 4:13-18 Weight of ¤Glory¤

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please be a real ingredient in the divine be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"
We are on the eve of commemoration of the one day in his ministry when Jesus accepted the perquisites of earthly glory, when he became "the King of Glory" entering Jerusalem on a colt's back, when the shouts of Hosanna rang from the peoples' lips--and perhaps from the stones in the road. Our hymn echoes their cry: "All Glory, Laud and Honor to Thee, Redeemer King!"
Peter later recalls that "We beheld his Glory", glory as of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
He bore that weight of glory rather lightly, and usually out of plain view. He won eternal glory by bearing the burden of sin to the cross and beyond.
Mere mortals carry that weight rather less well. Any gifted artist, athlete, academic, aviator, or even astronaut returns rather swiftly to earth after being heaped with praise. Our leaders, elected or in waiting, do not run the political gauntlet without suffering the occasional fall from grace--and some seem to leap into it recklessly.
It presents a daunting task for us whose aspirations are modest. It is no task in fact that we can execute without mountains of grace. I shrink from the weight of glory. It is too much for me. But because it was not too much for him, I have a hope of attaining ultimate glory such as I cannot even imagine.

Friday, March 14, 2008

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

Lent begins in winter, when the daylight hours are short and the trees bare. By the time Lent ends, spring has started. I just walked in my front yard to see the crocus blooms. First the slender green shoots appeared, then happily, the purple blossoms. The world is getting lighter, in every sense.

In this passage Paul reminds us that God created light out of darkness in the first place. Out of utter darkness God created light, then a world for us to live in, then us with our senses to experience it. Then, Paul says, God took the darkness of the human heart and created light in it, when He sent Jesus. But Paul says that even though the light is there, some people don’t yet have their spiritual senses. Like not being able to see the crocuses, some don’t yet have the spiritual senses to experience things like the grace of God, blowing through our lives to give comfort or even joy.

Paul’s great joy is to be able to open the eyes of those spiritually blind. Mercy is a term we use when someone weak is shown a great kindness. This is the term Paul uses to describe the gift that God has given him in being a minister; “through God’s mercy we have this ministry…” (verse 1). Whenever you and I help someone experience God, God’s mercy has given us a great gift. No wonder Paul then goes on to describe how he can persevere in the hardships he can experience in that great passage in verses 8 ff; “ we are hard pressed, but not crushed…” Paul tells us, “I have some tough times (and remember how Paul suffered) but this is so exciting, I can’t help but give thanks!!” We all, if we serve God, will have tough times but let us remember what a gift it is to be able to help.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

The basic idea of today’s reading, jam packed as it is with content, is that a relationship to God through Jesus Christ brings a person into a deeper experience of the glory of God than does a relationship to God through the Law.

Whereas the person who lives by the Law will find themselves feeling more and more guilty, the person who trusts in Jesus so that they live by faith in God’s grace will experience acceptance and joy. Whereas a person who lives by the legalism of the law will find themselves all wrapped up in keeping rules and regulations and ensuring that others do likewise, the person who relates to God through Jesus will find themselves living in the freedom of the Spirit, even as Jesus did.

Clearly, God wants people to do what is right and best not because of an external code, but because of our internal character. This means that though Christians are free from the law, they are not lawless; to the contrary, we are being transformed into the very image of Jesus that we might radiate from within (and not just reflect from without) the glory of God. If that is not exciting, I don’t know what is.

This is our great hope; that we will come to live in the unfading, eternal, unimaginable glorious presence of God. And that is why we share our hope with others with great boldness; because we want them to know this glory too. It is the best gift anyone could ever give to another human being.

Which, of course, raises questions like these: Are we sharing it? How are we doing in our relationships with those who are far from God? Just when was the last time we talked to someone far from God about Jesus? How bold are we?

If you are anything like me, these verses remind me I still have a long way to go.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6

I really like a particular section in today’s reading. “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” (2:15-16)

To me these verses speak loudly. But before I discuss them in a bit more detail, let me give you some background. In a Roman triumphal procession, the victorious Roman general would display his treasures and captives amidst a cloud of incense burned for the gods. To the victors, the aroma was sweet (i.e., “the fragrance of life”). To the captives in the parade it was the smell of slavery and death (i.e., “the smell of death”).

If you have ever taught, preached, or shared the Good News with another person, these verses may speak to you too. To me they say that when we share the Gospel with others, the message we are giving is good news to some and very bad news to others. Some recognize the life giving “fragrance” of the message we are delivering; others think the message smells like “death”. For non-believers it can be their own death.

So the next time you teach or preach remember that you may not please everyone – nor are you suppose to. Rely on the Holy Spirit to give you the ability to speak God’s word. To some that will be great news – to some it will cause discomfort. When one thinks about it, that may help save a life.

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

Friday, March 07, 2008

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3

Aren’t I the lucky one? I get to write about that famous 1st Corinthians verse about love. Well, guess what? I’m not going to write about that. Well, at least not in the beginning.

Instead, I’m going to focus on another part of this passage. Specifically, I’m going to write about verse 12:31 which says “But strive for the greater gifts.” In Chapter 12, Paul is talking about many different spiritual gifts. You need to understand who Paul is talking to. Corinth is a city in Greece. It had many temples to pagan gods and much immorality. Paul’s letter was written to give the new Christians guidance in how to maintain their faith amid such immorality.

What are the greater gifts to these new Christians, with daily reasons to live against Jesus’ teachings? Are these different for different people? Is this talking about greater earthly gifts? Or greater heavenly gifts? Is this talking about a greater gift than love? What could that possibly be? Or is this talking about that greater gift being love? And is this any different for us, than it was for them? I don’t think so.

Okay, I’m cheating. I really am going to talk about those famous verses. Paul was very simple in his message in these verses. We are the body of Christ. We are not all alike. In fact, Paul talks about (in previous verses) the many parts of the body and the diversity of that body. But, we can each speak and live the language of love. In this way, we can be most Christ-like.

Throughout 1st Corinthians, Paul mentions many types of gifts. But, as we know, the greatest of these gifts is love. If we practice love in everything we do and say, then we will be most Christ-like. We would truly be the body of Christ.

I wish I had something more unique, more esoteric to tell you about this reading. There simply is no greater gift. Jesus’ entire life was a life of profound love unlike any other. If each of us could only try to live such a life, can you imagine what the world would be like?

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, March 06, 2008

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

I remember being at a conference where there we hundreds of other churches, from a wide variety of denominations (and non-denominations!) present. Seeing the great sea of people gathered together, the speaker asked: “How many churches are here today?”

The answer: One.

We worshipped together at that conference, but the sad truth is that we wouldn’t have been able to worship together every week on Sunday. For a great variety of reasons, from things like the mode of baptism to exactly what happens at the Lord’s Supper, from how to interpret the book of Revelation and other passages in the Bible to the role of the Holy Spirit and so much more, the history of the church is the history of one group of people not being able to go on worshipping together with another.

Won’t it be a surprise, then, when in heaven we have to worship with those we could not worship with on earth?

Which raises a really, really big question: Why wait?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Today's reading is about spiritual gifts. Paul was writing to the Corinthian church regarding this issue because instead of unifying the church it was splitting it. Spiritual gifts had become symbols of spiritual power. The topic was causing rivalries because some people thought they were more spiritual than others because of their gifts.

I submit this can be an issue today as well. Spiritual gifts are a gift from God, not something we earned our self. Their purpose is always to help the Church function more effectively.

There are several things to realize about spiritual gifts.
· All gifts come from God
· There are many different kinds of gifts
· No one gift is better than another
· All gifts are to be used for one purpose - the building up of the body of Christ

Verse 7 implies that each believer has at least one spiritual gift. I would agree that each of us has at least one gift that can be used for the betterment of the Church. Each of us should seek God's guidance on how he wants us to use this gift for this purpose. Many times it takes personal courage to step up and use one’s gift. If you are not using one of God’s gifts for the betterment of his kingdom, ask yourself why not? God would not have given you the gift and then not give you the wherewithal to use it. Step up to the plate knowing the Holy Spirit will be with you.

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

Saturday, March 01, 2008

1 Cor. 10:1-13

Oh Lord, we know that you are ever faithful.

When it seems that we are tested beyond what we can endure, show us the way out.

The way home. Amen.