Friday, November 28, 2008
The object is laying in pieces on my nightstand, ready to be re-glued yet again. It’s a glass pelican.
In one of my moves, I was leaving a Florida town (hence the pelican). Two coworkers took me out to lunch and presented me with the pelican. I had gone through a lot that year and what they offered meant so much to me; love and support, now symbolized many years later by the little statue.
Paul, the writer of Romans can’t get enough of reminding us of the many blessings bestowed on us by Christ. “Welcome each other” Paul says, just as Christ has welcomed you.” Yesterday we had a day to reflect on our blessings. This Advent season, I hope to do as Paul says and, in remembering how Christ welcomed me, welcome others and bless them. We had a little start yesterday, as many families from St. Matthew’s made and served a Thanksgiving meal to needy families. It was a good time of gathering together.
We have all been needy or vulnerable at some point in our lives, like I was on that day when my coworkers blessed me with a pelican. May we remember and follow Christ’s example and welcome the vulnerable in many kinds of gestures.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
So who do we thank? Well, Paul is quite clear about that. He thanks God. And that is where we need to start as well, giving thanks to God for his goodness and love. Will you make time today, not just to say a quick prayer before eating, but to sit quietly and express your thankfulness to God? Or maybe you’ll want to make saying thanks to God a part of your Thanksgiving meal, going around the table and having everyone tell at least one thing for which they are thankful.
And what are we thankful for? Paul is thankful for people. That’s a good place to start. Who in your life are you thankful for? How will you tell them?
He is also thankful for the faith and love of these people—for the way they act to bring about good in the world. Maybe that’s something else we can be thankful for—goodness. Are you looking for goodness in the world and the people around you? It is there, and it too is something well worth being thankful for.
I am sure there are many other things we can think of for which are thankful. Let us not be selfish and silent. Let us give hearty expression to our thanks, and use this Thanksgiving day not just as a onetime occurrence, but as a pattern for how the whole of our lives should be lived.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The first spiritual blessing is being seen by God as "holy and blameless". We are seen this way because we believe in Jesus and accept Him as our savior. Of course we are not without sin, but we are seen by God as holy and blameless because of what Jesus did for us.
The second spiritual blessing is given to us through Jesus Christ. In Christ we are redeemed, forgiven, enlightened, and enriched. Redemption means we are freed from sin. Hand-in-hand with redemption is forgiveness - forgiveness of our sins. Enlightenment comes from the knowledge we have that at the end Christ will be the ruler of all. Enrichment signifies the eternal life we will inherit.
The third spiritual blessing is being made spiritually secure. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit indicating we are His and under His protection. To be marked in this way indicates authority, authenticity, and security.
Three spiritual blessings that sometimes are easy to forget in this hectic world in which we live. But these blessings are so important. When life gets us down, think about these blessings and realize how great it is.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Like the Corinthians, we so often need to be refocused on what’s important. Are we following leaders – religious or political? Are we focused on what the world around us is telling us is important and what we should believe or is our faith firmly on our true foundation, Jesus Christ?? Where are our priorities and who is our foundation – and do our lives reflect that??
As we approach Thanksgiving, let us all take the time this week to really give thanks for what matters, family, friends and the grace we have been given through faith in Jesus our Savior – our one, true foundation.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Actually, like most alleged Biblical contradictions, when we give this a little be of thought, it resolves itself rather nicely.
When we are commanded to bear one another’s burdens, the idea is that we would support one another in our life in faith. Specifically, the burden referred to here seems to be the burden of our temptations. At least part of the point seems to be that we all have temptations—whether it’s the temptation to gossip and negativity, or envy and discontent, or selfishness and greed. And if we are ever going to get beyond these things and live the life to which God calls us, it is going to take the love, prayers, and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It does not happen alone.
At the same time, however, we have to take responsibility for our faith. In the end, we have to say that the problems we are facing in our spiritual lives are not caused by anyone other than ourselves (and if we are honest in pursuing our spiritual lives on a level that goes beyond the superficial, we will face problems in doing so). Ultimately, therefore, we are the only ones who can solve them.
That doesn’t mean we don’t ask for help. We do, and that is part of what it means to take responsibility for doing life differently. It doesn’t mean we don’t need God’s power; we surely do, but we must come to the place where we realize that and so take the responsibility to ask for it and avail ourselves of it.
I need to take responsibility for my own stuff, and not blame others for it. But when I do that—when I admit my sin, my desire to change, and my commitment to work through the problems such sinfulness in the past has already created—boy do I ever need help. I absolutely need you to help me bear my burdens. I won’t make it through without you.
Bear one another’s burdens, Paul says. It is so desperately important that we do so. Are you bearing someone's burdens? Get specific. Whose burdens are you bearing right now? How are you bearing them? If you can’t answer those questions, what are you going to do about it—today?
All must carry their own load. It is, in fact, the only way ahead. Will you do it? Is there something you’ve been blaming someone else for, that you want to see as their problem when it is in fact your own? Will you admit it, confess it, and ask for help? Again, be specific. Who will you ask help? When? Where?
These are not verses to be approached intellectually simply as a problem to be solved. They are to be lived, in your life and in mine. Please, dear God—may it be so.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
May we be patient when we wait for the Lord, but impatient when we see people that God has called us to love.
May we persevere as Elijah did, with the constant expectation of the coming Anointed One.
May we become the congregation that James encourages us to become.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Patience is one of James’ themes throughout this epistle. One of my favorite passages from James is “Be slow to anger”. His point is a good one – in today’s vernacular, if you stop and count to ten, chances are you will rethink your reaction.
I truly believe that the majority of people would like to practice patience. After all, who deliberately wants to start the day cursing at traffic? But the fact of the matter is that it is plain hard to be “slow to anger”. It is hard to remember to count to 10. But imagine what a great place this would be if everyone did just that. Imagine going grocery shopping at Wegman’s on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving where there are a kajillion people in the aisles and everyone has a smile on their face and are not only civil, but outright nice to each other.
The tension in the air these days is palpable. The news of doom and gloom is everywhere. Everyone is on edge. Our personal rope that each of us holds on to before we blow is shorter and shorter. Yet we are still called to be patient. Patient with ourselves, patient with each other and patient on the Lord. All of us can do our part. We can practice throughout this holiday season. Don’t be the one at Wegman’s who snaps. Instead be the one who plans to take more time and can therefore take the time to be patient and kind. I guarantee that when you leave the store, you will have made your day – and the Lord’s too.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Rich people tend to be pretty confident about tomorrow. Their riches are a way to get things done, make people notice, create a safety net that protects them from the things that trouble so many people in the world today. They are pretty sure they'll do what they want when they want how they want and nobody is going to stop them.
Rich people in some way generally need to cut themselves off from their humanity. How else can we explain the willingness of the rich to enjoy luxury while other humans die from lack? They do not see these inequities as a manifestation of their selfishness, but as their right and privilege based either on their station in life or on their hard work.
James will have none of this. Riches for him create an illusion that will be dispelled on the day of judgment. What for a brief time seemed like a source of pleasure will now become “evidence against them”, “eating their flesh like fire.”
Boy, I’m glad I’m not rich. Stick it to them, James!
Because if I were rich… if I happened to be living in the top 5% (and most likely, top 1%) of the wealthiest people who ever lived… if I happened to have a home with more space than I need, multiple cars, enough food to be overweight, gadgets and conveniences most the world doesn’t even dream of…
Wow, would this be scary. This would shake me to my very core. If I took this at all seriously, I’d have to change the way I live.
Yeah, I’m so glad I’m not rich. Aren’t you?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
In today's reading I would to focus on two passages. The first passage are the verses in chapter 13. These verses tell us about false wisdom and true wisdom. The result of false wisdom is found in verse 16, "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." False wisdom promotes self-assertion and independence. It destroys a spirit of mutual concern.
True wisdom is free from self-interest and strife. It leads to peace and goodness. It results in being "... peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy ..." True wisdom avoids petty quarreling. It promotes peace and righteousness. It does not escalate a conflict, pass on gossip, or fan the fire of discord.
I like to think of myself as a wise person, but after reading these verses I wonder if I'm as wise as I think I am. How about you?
The second passage is found at the end of today's reading - verses 11 and 12 of chapter 4. These two verses remind us that we are not to judge others or to speak bad of them. These verses call out the following question. Do we build people up with our words or do we tear others down? Are we constructive or destructive?
The verses of James clearly tell us that we should use our words to express love and concern for others. It is our human nature to be critical. However, James calls us to resist this urge and to consciously use positive words.
Human pride leads to criticism of others. In other words, by cutting someone else down we automatically elevate ourselves. This may be true in our human world, but it is certainly not true in the heavenly world.
Join me in trying to live a life that follows James' teachings. It will not be easy, and we will not be able to carry it out flawlessly, but let's commit to trying. If we are only partially successful, what a better world this would be.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
As James points out with the same tongue we praise God and “curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” Words can praise God, make friendships, show love and caring and at the same time words are also powerful to end relationships, hurt others and even go so far as to curse God our Redeemer. Remember, God spoke the world into existence – he created all things by saying such things in Genesis as “God said let there be light, and there was light” God spoke and things happened, the world was created. We learn in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Logos or Word of God – this is how He participated in creation – in some way he was those same words that God spoke and created all that is. By God giving us intellect and conversation, He has given us a powerful tool that can also create or destroy. Therefore we must be aware of what we say, how and to whom we say them.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Do you ever find yourself asking these questions? I do.
Clearly, faith is more than just cognitive assent or intellectual acquiescence. Faith involves the whole persons. It involves our emotions in the form of trust. It involves our will in the form choice. It involves our bodies in the form of action.
For these reasons, faith cannot but help shape our life. If faith is present, there must be “hard copy” or concrete evidence that exists. Where is that evidence in our lives?
Another way of asking this might be is, “How is the church different from the world?” Or more specifically, “How is my life different from the life of the many, many good people who live exemplary lives but make no claim to faith?”
It can be a hard question to answer. But until we do… are we really following Jesus?
Friday, November 14, 2008
One of the phrases in today’s reading has run through my mind for as long as I have pondered life; God does not change (v. 17). Everything else changes but God does not. God does not change himself. He does not change His mind (Numbers 23:19). He does not change in how He loves everyone. The psalmist notes how nature may change but God will not (Ps. 102:27). I have always found comfort in these words in James 1- God doesn’t change.
James then gives some very practical advice on how to life our faith . Verse 19 says be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Again James says in verse 26; control your tongue. If you consider yourself religious, take care of the physical needs of others such as the poor (widows and orphans) in their distress (v. 27). I can remember times when I was in distress and how others were a comfort to me. I know God would want us all to remember those who are in many kinds of distress and to have compassion on them.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
James is a book that has often been seen as promoting “works" instead of “faith”. But in these opening verses James gives us the context in which we are to read the rest of the book, and that context is the importance of faith.
We are encouraged to have faith in God’s ability to work even in the midst of our most difficult times; to have faith that God really will give us the wisdom we need for living through these times; to have faith that any sacrifices we make in this life are well worth the cost; and to have faith that it is better to resist temptation than give into it.
In each of these situations, our faith is the vehicle by which we are able to continue to confidently hope for the best, even when what life actually brings us is trials and tribulations. It’s what keeps us connected to God so that we are willing to pay the price necessary to live the kind of Christian life described in the verses to come. And let us make no mistake: there is a price to be paid in living the kind of life that follows in Jesus’ footsteps.
Take verse 12-15 for instance. Desire is, of course, desirable. But sometimes our desires are inappropriate, destructive, or hurtful. To say “no” to our desires is to say no to what we want, and that is painful. Is it really worth it?Faith answers, “Yes, it is.”
For example, I often desire to use my credit card. The problem is, my credit card makes spending too easy. I buy things I don’t really need, and then come to the end of the month and the bill takes more of my income than it should. So at least until the end of the year (we started in October), my wife and I have decided to say “no” to our credit cards for everything but gas (yes, we do realize that this includes what are typically known as the “shopping days” before Christmas).
Saying “no” to our credit cards is sometimes painful. There are things I want, like books or fishing tackle or maybe some additional bulbs for a fall planting in the garden. But although saying “no” in the moment is painful, by faith we believe in the long run it will bring far greater rewards than a moment’s simple passing pleasure .
James tells us it is that way with all our “sinful” desires. It may well mean choosing pain instead of pleasure now. But faith answers resolutely, “It will be worth it in the end”.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
As we examine today's reading I want to point out a couple of things that I find of interest.
When Jesus first came to the earth, some 2,000 years ago, he came as a sacrificial lamb. Jesus' first coming brought forgiveness. As today's reading tells us, in the second coming of Jesus we will see him as a conqueror and as a king. His second coming will bring judgment to those left on the earth after the rapture. This judgment will be final and result in the total destruction of evil (the beast, the false prophet, and all of those that worship the beast).
The second item I want to discuss may not be as obvious as the first. The second item I find interesting is the four names used for Christ in today's reading.
The name Jesus Christ is not used in today's reading, but I think it is clear that the rider of the white horse is Jesus. This rider is identified as "Faithful and True." I think this refers to Jesus as the faithful and true witness to God's glory.
The second name is unknown to us, known only to him. I think this implies that no name can do Jesus justice. Just like heaven will have a peace beyond our understanding, Jesus is greater than any human description can devise.
The third name is the "Word of God." What strikes me about this name is the use of "Word." In his Gospel, John called Jesus "the Word". Jesus speaks God's words, acts according to the word of God, and is the word of God.
The fourth name is actually two titles listed together, "King of kings and Lord of lords." This properly allows the reader to know the true position of Jesus in the hierarchy of man.
Yes, Jesus did die, Jesus was resurrected, and Jesus will come again. From today's reading it will be a glorious return that triumphs over evil.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Such is the twice repeated refrain of today’s passage. It is one that we can perhaps appreciate now more than ever. Watching historic drops in the stock market occur and trillions of dollars of wealth disappear in mere moments, this verse becomes an eerie description not just of the fall of an ancient empire, but of the events of our day.
One of the things these verses drive home is how insecure all the things of this world are. To look to any them—even to the most powerful nation the world has ever known—for security is ultimately to have a false hope. It is the very nature of this world, and of the things of this world, to pass away. No human being, and no human invention or institution can keep that from occurring.
In years past, if people had extra money many would just reinvest it with the expectation they would reap greater returns and enhance their financial security (which many people most directly relate with their personal security as well). Right now, that doesn’t look like a particularly attractive option. Wouldn’t it be far better to invest in something more secure?
That something is, of course, the Kingdom of God. It is the work of God in this world.
And it is not just money, of course. It is time. It is energy. It is our skills and our best thoughts. Will we invest these things in a world that doesn’t last, in pursuing a security that can be gone in the blink of an eye and is so is not secure at all?
Or will we invest in something lasting, something eternal, something that even all the forces of hell cannot stand against. Will you… will I… invest ourselves, all that we are, all that we have, in serving God and doing his will here on earth even as it is done in heaven?
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Global crises of this Third Millennia have brought humankind to another hinge-point of history. We are not today who we were 8 years, or 8 months, or 8 weeks, or even 8 days ago. Where we shall go from here is in God's hands, if we will trust Him and not false gods. Else our descent to ruin shall be our legacy for those who follow us.
Lord, help us to know that you alone are the source of richness in life.
May we long for the fruit that flowers in your gardens alone.
May we see the splendor that is reached only by walking through your gates.
Friday, November 07, 2008
The servant who buried the money played it safe. Fear caused him to bury the gift. John Ortberg calls this the “Tragedy of the Unopened Gift”. The Bible is full of stories of people who risked so much and used their God-given gifts and were rewarded abundantly - Abraham, Noah, Moses, Ruth, Jacob, Mary (Jesus’ mother), Mary (Martha’s sister) and on and on.
In today’s reading, we are told the continuing story of what some call the Rapture. I believe today’s reading exposes several gifts from God to us. First, we have the gift of the Book of Revelation. He is giving us ample warning in great detail so that we will have time to get on the right side of this battle. Second, he gives us the gift of choice. We can choose to be on the right side, with Jesus. Third, he gives us our special gift to use while we are here on earth. By opening this gift and using it, we are moving to the right side of the battle.
But, in living in fear, and not opening the gift that God has given you, you are choosing to be on the wrong side of the battle described in today’s reading. And that side goes directly to Hell.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
As we’ve come to expect, the images we find there—things like the drying up of water, the plague of frogs, peals of lightning and thunder coupled with the shaking of the very foundations of the earth, and the coming of massive hail—all call up numerous stories from the Old Testaments. And the stories in turn call to mind God’s decisive action on behalf of His people. God would have His people be free, and so stands against all that would keep them from such freedom.
In the midst of all this, we hear a voice, and it is speaking directly to us: “See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed,” the voice says, “not going about naked and exposed to shame.” We recognize the voice, of course. It is the voice of Jesus.
God would have his people be free. He does stand against all that would keep us in bondage. His judgments against such powers are fierce. But what if we give up our freedom ourselves? What if we “fall asleep”, losing consciousness of what God is doing in the world and what He wishes to do through us? What then?
Blessed is the one who stays awake. Blessed is the person who is well aware that he or she is free to say “NO!” to the powers of this world, and deliberately, intentionally, follows Jesus.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The bowl judgments are God’s final and complete judgments on the earth. The earlier judgments in Revelation are called the trumpet judgments. To me, there are three main distinctions between the bowl judgments and the trumpet judgments.
(1) The bowl judgments are complete and final. The trumpet judgments only affected a part of the earth and heavens.
(2) Because of (1), the trumpet judgments still give unbelievers the opportunity to repent. The bowl judgments do not – that is what is meant by a final judgment.
(3) The trumpet judgments indirectly affects mankind. All of the bowl judgments directly affect mankind.
In today’s reading we know the people receiving these bowl judgments know they are coming from God. We know this because in the reading mankind curses God for sending these judgments upon the earth. Now this is very important as I think this is the key, or at least one key, message in today’s reading.
I know each of us has met people that have a very hard heart towards Christianity and perhaps religion in general. Some of these people may even be hostile towards the subject. When the trumpet judgments come, and God’s power is revealed, I am amazed that all people do not repent. I mean what other proof does one need? However, from the reading today we know some will refuse to repent – some will have such a hardened heart that they will not repent. The message is, if you, or I, find ourselves ignoring God on a particular issue, we should turn back to Him now before our heart becomes too hard to repent. If we ignore God for an extended period of time, today’s reading tells us that at some point a human heart will become unable to receive His word and then it will be too late to turn back to Him.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
And it’s particularly interesting (to me, at least!) that the comparison concludes with this line: “…for their deeds will follow them.”
It seems to me Christians use the word “worship” in two different ways. When we talk about Christians worshiping God, we think of something people do in church, singing songs and generally proclaiming God’s praise. But when we talk about people worshipping, say, money, it seems to me we mean something very different.
We are not saying that the person who worships money sings songs to dollar bills. He doesn’t kneel before his money and say, “Money you are so great! You are worthy, money, worthy of glory and honor and power!” He doesn’t have a special altar set up to his money or a separate time of day that he devotes strictly to telling money how great it is.
No, what we are saying is that the person who worship money orients his everyday life to money’s service.
And though it seems to me that worship in the traditional sense of the word is important, it also seems to me that unless we orient the whole of our lives towards God’s service (if we do not “follow the lamb wherever he goes”), then we are guilty of a double standard.
Because the truth is this: If we are not orienting our lives towards God’s service, then we are not really worshipping God at all.