Thursday, December 31, 2009

James 4:13-5:11

Tomorrow is the start of a New Year. As we wonder where 2009 went, James words that our life is “a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes” are particularly haunting.

As we look to 2010, James reminds us that any plans we might have that don’t stem from seeking God’s will for us are arrogant and misguided. He also reminds that if we know we are supposed to do something, like help the poor, but don’t do it—that omission is a sin.

The message, then, is that although life is brief, God still has a plan for us, and that plan is so important to his purposes that if we fail to pursue it, we are giving our lives to the service of evil. And if that were not enough, he goes on to remind us not to lose sight of the fact that Jesus will return and the Judge is standing at the door.

James is no soft sell, and these are not easy words for us to read. But they do give us plenty of direction for 2010, I think!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

3 John 1:1-15

When we set our navigational course according to pride, we are setting ourselves up for destruction. This truth is illustrated by the captain of a ship who looked ahead and saw a light in the distance. He told his signalman to send a message to the other vessel to alter its course ten degrees south. But a message was relayed back to the captain to alter his course ten degrees north.
The captain was angered. He sent another message saying, "Alter your course ten degrees south. I am the captain."
Soon a message came back, "Alter your course ten degrees north. I am seaman third class Jones."
Immediately, the captain sent a third message, mustering all the authority at his command: "Alter your course ten degrees south. I am a battleship."
A message came back, "Alter your course ten degrees north. I am a lighthouse!"
If the captain had remained on course, he would have destroyed himself, his ship, all aboard, and the lighthouse. When we refuse to alter our course of pride, we risk destroying ourselves and others. The apostle John warned Diotrephes to change his course, but Diotrephes refused. He risked destruction by his rebellious action. We would do well to learn from him and to live our lives as servants, showing love and hospitality toward others.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Feast of the Holy Innocents

We always write based on the Epistle reading, but I cannot ignore that today is the appointed day for the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Easily one of the saddest days in our celebrations of saints. I'm sure you know the story. Herod was threatened when he learned that a baby who was to be king was born in Bethlehem so he ordered the murder of all boys in that town under the age of 2.
Those who died are the Holy Innocents. The church, in its wisdom, has seen fit to saint all those innocent lives that were sacrificed in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus... Herod obviously didn't know that Jesus and his parents had fled to Egypt.

There isn't anything worse that a parent can experience than the death of their own children... at any age. Parents are not supposed to bury their kids... and yet so many do. Thanks be to God that it isn't often that they are brutally murdered as the Holy Innocents were, but burying one's child is a loss that is so difficult to suffer and one that a person never gets over.

I remember attending a funeral of a baby who died 1 hour after childbirth. The mother had been on bedrest for months and yet the baby died anyway. The family and everyone who knew them was absolutely devastated. When the preacher stood in the pulpit to begin his sermon I kept thinking "what can he possibly say? where is the good news?" And, to my surprise, he came up with something...

He talked about the struggle the family had - the bed rest, the time apart, the prayers the support that everyone had given to bring this child into the world. He thanked God for the short time the parents had to hold the baby and tell him that he was loved. He went on to remind us that life is eternal and while we are devastated to have had lost this child, the good news was that his life would only know joy. That he would only know the love of God, that he was surrounded by family members that had gone before him and that his life would never know disappointment or rejection or failure. He would only know joy. That is the comfort.

We can't imagine the horror of those parents of the Holy Innocents centuries ago, but we certainly remember that they suffered. We also stand with those who have lost children since with the comfort of knowing that while they are missed, those children are with God and only know joy.

Friday, December 25, 2009

1 John 4:7-16

If Christmas isn't about love, it is nothing. The enormous love of a God to send his only Son to die a horrible death, all of which is known before his birth, just to save our souls. The incredible love of a Savior to love each and every one of us, no matter what we do or say. Indeed, a love which is, frankly, beyond our understanding.

These verses from John describe this love and further explains why that love was given to become such an intimate part of our lives. John explains that we are to love one another because God loves each one of us. John's statements are simple and easily understood: Whoever does not love does not know God. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

I've been having a hard time this Christmas finding the peace of Christmas. I've been way too wrapped up in the get-it-all-done mentality and wallowing in all kinds of self pity. I have allowed myself to get away from the very reason for Christmas. On the way home from church on Christmas Eve, I heard a news report about the folks at the homeless shelter in Manassas. They interviewed one lady who had been a teacher of nurses but who had been laid off and lost her home to foreclosure. Now, she has a part time job cleaning houses and lives at the homeless shelter. It's so easy to hear these stories and make believe that the persons involved are light years away from our lives. But, this lady could be my neighbor. Is she feeling the love of Christmas?

The thing about this amazing love of God that John writes about is that it is right there - you can reach out and touch it. It is available to everyone equally. All we need to do is to live in love. When we live in love, God lives in us and we in him. It's that simple -- and yet, because I'm the hard headed person I am, it's that hard.

My Christmas wish for each of you is that you take the opportunity to open your heart to this love and to live it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Today's verse from Philippians urges us to have the same attitude as Jesus who, out of his great love for us, took on flesh and became one of us--even when that meant death, death on a cross.

It is such love that we celebrate--and seek to share, at Christmas. With that in mind, I offer the following poem for your consideration.

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny ornaments, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tried.

Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

As for video games, they will break. Pearl necklaces will be lost, and golf clubs will rust and fade away. But giving the gift of love in Christ --now that, friends, is a gift that will endure for alltime.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Titus 2:11-3:8

Titus 2:11-12 is a favorite passage of mine. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age,"

This passage tells us that the power to live our lives as Christians comes from the Holy Spirit. It is quite a relief to me that I do not have to muster this power on my own. All any of us have to do is invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, through prayer, and ask Him to help us live a good and Christian life. If we do this through daily prayer, I assure you this prayer will be answered. You will look at life in a different way, have different priorities, and a different level of joy. I have lived on both sides and there is no comparison between living a life outside of God's will and living one in it.

It is not enough to renounce sin and evil desires, we must also live actively for God. As the above passage indicates, we must say no to ungodly activities and we must also say yes to active service for Christ. We are called to get involved in activities that advance the Kingdom of God here on earth. We must use the gifts and talents God has given each of us to do His work during our very short life on this planet.

Titus 2:11-12 reminds me of a quote by the 19th century pastor Adoniram Gordon, "It is the great work of nature to transmute sunlight into life. So it is the great end of Christian living to transmute the light of truth into the fruits of holy living."

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Titus 2:1-10

Today is my mother's birthday so I'm thinking very much about her. In reading Paul's letter to Titus and today's passage I'm also very much thinking about how my mother really worked hard to raise me with a sound doctrine and live a life worthy of the gospel. She raised me and my sister on her own, with some help from her mother and she worked to make sure we valued our education and we valued what was most important, family, friends, God.... not necessarily in that order. Most of all she taught us both to work hard (we both to this day have very strong work ethics) and to be fair. She practiced what she preached and really helped to form me as a Christian woman.

I think this is really what Paul is talking about in this passage. To have strong values and to pass them on to others - to be a witness for Christ in all we do so that we proclaim the gospel in all we do. We all have people in our lives who were formative in our coming to faith in Christ. We all owe a word of thanks (or more) to those who have been role models of faith. This Christmas season, may we remember those who gave us so much in how they lived their lives and what they taught us. May we also give thanks for the ONE who gave us everything at the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Revelation 6:1-17


This passage from Revelation seems to reinforce the dark aspects of this Lenten season in which the days are still diminishing. The dark element of Christmas is perhaps returning to a conspicuous presence. The First Christmas occurred in another, but no less dangerous time.

A Dangerous Christmas?

It was no silent night. The displaced stable
Creatures crew and chewed and mooed and snorted.
A maiden moaned and gasped, strained to deliver
A crying baby, shrieking in the straw.
The little town was too spun up to sleep
As travellers swarmed the streets and filled the inn
Three to a bed, or bellies at the bar
That flowed with wine to make the landlord rich.
These were no kings, nor little drummer boys,
Only the scorned and leprous refugees
Of an empire backwater, pressed to pay the tax
Without a voice or vote--without a hope.
If there were heralds in the teeming streets
At midnight, their cry might be "Danger!
Mothers, hide your suckling sons!" as soldiers
Roamed and rousted, put them to the sword.
The truly dangerous One lay hid in straw
No gentle infant, not a friend to power,
Nor born to comfort, riches, life of ease.
Dare we let Christmas be dangerous again?
Exchange our safe, entitled holidays
For risk and sacrifice, for costly love?
Unlearn the sentimental tales of yule,
Learn new the Christmas mission meant for us?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Revelation 5:6-14

Two Fridays ago I told the story of a neighborhood handyman (really the beaver who lives in the woods near our house). We had admired his workmanship, but the dam he made caused the walking path to be flooded. Yesterday when we took a walk the beaver dam was gone; it had been dismantled to save the walking path. We stood sadly looking at where the dam had been, wondering about the fate of this amazingly hard working creature who with his small furry body could change the shape of the whole landscape.

For the past couple days I have been thinking about the bond we humans share with God’s creatures. All the good things we feel about creatures, like compassion, come from God. God uses creatures to instruct us, like in the familiar proverb about the ant; in Proverbs 6:6 the sluggard is advised to be more like the ant in its labors. And why would God show such concern for animals that He says a righteous man pays attention to what his animal needs (Proverbs 12:10) ?

What caught my eye in today’s reading was the end of the reading. The reading is about the end times, and we know that Jesus will be worshiped by all. But here, John adds that EVERY CREATURE will sing praise to God and Jesus. He adds, every creature on earth and under the earth, and in the sea will praise God. It echoes Job 12:7-10 where Job says the animals, birds and fish will teach us about God’s power.

This made me think about completeness. At the end of all things, all things that breathe will use their breath to praise God. The spirit of God which moved in creation will bring all created things to praise Him. Advent, the story of the coming of Jesus is the story of the beginning of the end, when our whole world will one day praise God.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Revelation 4:9-5:5

Revelation 4:9-5:5
As one who has been writing devotions for our website for 5 years now, I have become keenly aware of how often I find myself writing about passages from the book of Revelation. Though this a hard book to understand and therefore a bit intimidating to read (and write about!), we see in its repetition throughout the daily lectionary just how important the Church considers this section of Scripture to be.
Certainly one of the reasons that is so is because of the magnitude of the issues it addresses. For instance, one of the constant themes is worship. It is probably worth stopping right here and considering that for people who believe in God, there in absolutely nothing more important than getting our worship right. Perhaps that is why it is the subject of the First Commandment.

Today’s reading presents us with worship that completely engages those who are involved in it. It speaks on so many levels of active and wholehearted participation. In it a remarkable drama unfolds, and even more remarkably, we are invited to join in to what is taking place.

It raises the question, How is our worship going these days? Are we deeply involved in it? Do we appreciate the great drama of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will yet do? Do we begin to appreciate the magnitude of the forces at work? Do we catch something of the privilege we are given to behold all this?

And not just to behold it, but to participate in it. Too often we approach worship tired, disinterested, without focus or expectation.. I hope today’s reading will give us all a renewed realization of how our worship is meant to be nothing less than entering into the very presence of God Almighty, and therefore how it can be—how it must be—so much more than it often is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Revelation 4:1-8

This passage of Revelation brings to my mind the kid's game called king of the hill. Do you know this game? It is an outside game and involves one of the kids being on top of a hill and the other kids trying to push / pull him off. When someone is able to push / pull the "king" off his hill (off his throne) another person would immediately run up on the hill and take his place. This new person would now be the king and the others would have to challenge him for the right to be the king of the hill and sit on the throne.

This passage of Revelation describes the ultimate, eternal king of the hill. However, unlike the kid's game, God has a throne that can never fail. His throne will never be abdicated or taken by force. God created his throne, the place it is located, and its attendants and guardians to bring Him praise and worship forever.

This passage of Revelation opens the throne room of heaven to us. John describes to us the worship of God Almighty by those in the throne room. We hear and heed the call to acknowledge His power, dominion, and right to unleash the judgments later described in Revelation. It is very reassuring to me to know we have a heavenly father of this nature.

Our lives are full of change. As we go through this life we change physically and mentally - many of us make dramatic changes in our adult life. The world around us moves very quickly and it is easy to get caught in the hustle and bustle. Sometimes it seems everything in our lives is always dynamic. It helps me, and I hope it helps you, to take a step back when I feel overwhelmed and remember this passage of Revelation. To remember that God is constant, will never fail, and will obtain ultimate victory.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Revelation 3:14-22

I've always thought the Prophet John's message to the church at Laodocea was the most interesting of any of the messages for the churches. The reason they are subject to punishment is that they are neither "hot or cold." In other words, they are lukewarm. They have been unwilling to commit wholeheartedly to a relationship with God. Interestingly, they haven't rejected faith or God either, they are somewhere in the middle. It seems from this passage, at least, that the attitude of not being sure, not making a commitment, not making a decision, is what brings judgment. How many people do we know like that? People who are good natured but just don't focus on faith, God, church and such? People who do good works but have not made a faith commitment. People who really aren't sure that God exists but do nothing to pursue a relationship to find out. They don't go to church because they "don't have time" or it just isn't important to them? The bigger question is, how many of us are that way? How many of us put our relationship with Christ on the backburner when we get busy? How many of us don't participate actively in church because the one hour on Sunday morning is all we have?

Are we in? Are we committed? Or are we lukewarm?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Revelation 2:18-29

Today's reading is about the letter written to the Church in Thyatira. For the most part, the people of Thyatira seem to be in good shape, doing the right things. There are those who have slipped, and Jesus addresses those. In verse 24, he turns to those who have stayed faithful to his teachings. He tells them simply to "...hold fast to what you have until I come."

I'm pretty sure Jesus isn't telling them to hold onto material possessions they may have. He's telling them to hold fast to him, to his teachings and to his love. It's a message of hope and neverending love. In reading this, I get an image in my hand of a giant hand, reaching down from the sky to pick us up.

The Christian band "Mercy Me" has a song called "Hold Fast". Here are the lyrics:

To everyone who's hurting
To those who've had enough
To all the undeserving
(That should cover all of us)
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope

Hold Fast
Help is on the way
Hold fast
He's come to save the day
What I've learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp
So hold fast

Will this season ever pass?
Can we stop this ride?
Will we see the sun at last?
Or could this be out lot in life?
Please do not let go
I promise you there's hope

The one line above that stands out to me is the phrase "One thing greater than my strife is his grasp." It doesn't matter what you are going through. His love and the hope He offers is always bigger.

So hold fast.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Revelation 2:8-17

>We live in an age where increasing numbers of people do not believe in a personal God who created us for a purpose that is very often at odds with our own . In such an age, one should not be surprised by increasing hostility towards people who proclaim the existence of such a God, and especially those who proclaim that this God has made himself known in Jesus Christ.

And so it should also not surprise us that in today’s reading the two churches we find there, which lived in a similar age, are both marked by suffering. To embrace the truth of Jesus is to embrace suffering because it is often to live at odds with the world around us. To embrace truth is to live it in a world that often prefers lies. It is to make sacrifices in a world that is devoted to constant gain. It is to change what must be changed in a system that is devoted to its own perpetuation.

This raises the question of where God is calling us to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Where are we being faithful to Jesus at cost to ourselves?

Wherever it is, you can be sure if we are not suffering somewhere for the sake of the Gospel, we have not sufficiently beheld or grasped the Truth it so clearly and boldly proclaims.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Revelation 1:9-16

This opening chapter of the Revelation to John is amazing. Just thinking about his vision I wonder how John must have felt when he saw all of this. How did it happen? I don’t think any of us know. He, like the prophets of old, was given a gift – a gift which most of us don’t experience. This particular passage is John’s description of Jesus “the one like the Son of Man.” It isn’t an image of Jesus I have in my mind’s eye. I guess most of us have a picture of Jesus much like what Hollywood tells us Jesus would look like in “Jesus of Nazareth” for example… A tall, slender white male with long brown hair and piercing blue eyes. We all logically know, however, that Jesus was not Anglo-Saxon, but middle eastern. That having been said, I think we all have a vision of Jesus in our minds – whether it be the one from the movies or maybe something from a famous painting. My favorite is the one of Jesus laughing. It’s easy to picture Jesus standing on a hillside feeding the 5000 or healing the sick, but I love the idea of Jesus laughing.

Whatever our own picture or vision of Jesus is, the trick is to keep that image of Him in the forefront of our minds as we go throughout this holiday season. Jesus is who we are celebrating and it is He who we focus our lives around. It is so easy to be distracted by the busy-ness of this holiday season and really forget that the entire reason we are celebrating is because Jesus has come and is coming into the world. If we can focus on Jesus in our lives and have our priorities revolve around him, we will indeed have a wonderful Christmas season as we once again celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jude (Just Before Revelation)

Saint Jude ... he makes it fast
Take a second and read his letter
It's just a few verses long -- so is this song
So pay attention

"Saint Jude" by ApologetiX from the album Rare Not Well Done Vol. 2 (Parody of Beatles' Hey Jude)

Whether we are in 'the last time' now, or whether that is an age yet to come, no one knows, and it doesn't matter. Our mission now as in the first century is the apostolic mission. We live, as they lived, in a world where lines are continually being drawn, literally or figuratively. Here is a news flash: the lines that divide us in so many ways weren't erased after election day. Sure, we've accepted democracy's verdicts (for the most part) but I still see candidate's signs on the parkway, and the bumper stickers haven't been torn off cars driven by the winning side (true for both 2008 and 2009!). The president has deliberated and sought a middle course in Afghanistan but both Left and Right are angry about it!

Jude wants those of us who are the beloved in the Holy Spirit to reach out, too, even while remaining mindful of the line beyond which lie (in several senses) the fleshly materialist scoffers. He cites three types of people that we must be mindful of:

1. The waverers. These folks are walking in Christ, but they have a tendency to stray across the faithful line. Have mercy on them.
2. The one-foot-in-the-fires. They have crossed the line, but are still reachable. Snatch them from the flames.
3. The almost-beyond-the-pale. They are out there, way way out there. But not utterly without hope. Even now we are to have fearful mercy on them--but ensure they leave their filthy rags behind when they cross back over.

Saint Jude ... is written down
I have found it ... here's how you get there
Remember That Revelation comes last ... right before that
Is Saint Jude's letter
So get it out and read again, Saint Jude, begin
Don't wait until Sunday School to learn it
For don't you know that old Saint Jude
He said -- we should
Contend for the faith, because it's permanent...

As for the One who is able to keep us from falling--yes, he is able, and more than able, if we do our part--all glory, majesty, power, and authority, in our Saviour, Christ the Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jude 1-16

We are fortunate to have very good neighbors. Good neighbors are friendly and peaceable and hopefully good caretakers of their property. If we go a little ways behind our house, though we have a very destructive neighbor. He’s destructive by being so busy in his yard that he is changing the way the whole area looks. He is doing what he thinks is best and we haven’t been able to speak to him about it, since he is a beaver. When we visit he seems to be under water- all we can see are the pointed stumps of his lately chewed trees. Due to his handiwork and dam-building expertise there is water everywhere, which we now have to wade through. He has changed the woods so that we can’t recognize the terrain.

Today’s reading is about an unfortunate change. Here it’s the life which is supposed to be changed by God which Jude can’t recognize. His readers were being influenced by people who told them that since their sins would be forgiven they may go ahead and sin. As a result, their lives wouldn’t be recognizable as being touched by grace. Their life would perhaps look like that of people in the world around them.

Let us dwell in God so that others may recognize His grace in our lives. Let us be people of purity and goodness and really listen to God during this Advent season. Many need our help in many ways.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

2 Peter 3:11-18

There are some things in Paul’s letters,” Peter writes in today’s passage, “that are hard to understand.” It’s kind of an ironic observation, as a lot of people reading Peter’s letter have found it hard to understand exactly what 2 Peter 3: 11-13 is referring to as well.

Peter goes on to say that such difficulties should not sweep his readers off their feet. Yes, the exact meaning and reference of some passages in the Bible is hard to understand. But the overall message is not: we are to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

So let’s not lose our focus. The basic question for all of us who consider ourselves Christians must always be, “Am I growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ?”

Are you?

Am I?

What hard evidence is there in your life and mine that would back this up? Where have I become bolder because my faith is deeper? In what tangible ways have I become more generous because I am growing in grace? What concrete things am I doing differently because my knowledge of what Jesus asks of me has increased?

What sort of people ought we to be? Are we, in fact, this kind of person?

Let’s not use religious differences or debate or the failures of others as a way of avoiding these clear questions ourselves. May we answer them honestly and live accordingly. And in so doing, may we too bring Jesus “the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2 Peter 3:1-10

I really enjoy the reading for today. I hope you, like I, find it very inspirational.

Today's reading assures us that the Lord is still in control despite the confusion that exists in the world today. He has promised in the past that He will return and He will keep that promise. Based on this fact, today's reading helps me, and I hope it helps you, to keep focused on trying to live a life that honors God. Many people will continue to attempt to detour us from the path we are on. We must resist them, but never stop loving them.

False teachers will always be a pressing problem for Christians. But the promised return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, looms bright on the horizon. This promise should, and must, supersede any human presence that now assaults us. We must continue to look to Him and continue to live for Him. Just like hitting a baseball, keeping our eye on the ball, or goal, is extremely important in our success. Keeping our eye on the goal helps to block out the distractions caused by false teachers.

My final thought on today's reading has to do with physics. In my account, or the account of any mortal, there is a vast difference between one day and a thousand years. Yet, in the account of God there is no difference. All things, past, present, and future, are ever before Him. Thus, the time of His return can be today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now. This seems like a tremendous time difference to us, but to God it is not. If He "delays" His return for a thousand years it is no more to Him as us putting off anything for a day or an hour. As it has been said before, time is relative.

In the midst of uncertainty and struggle, believers in Jesus Christ must never lose sight of the certainty and hope of the future that bring meaning to the present.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

2 Peter 1:12-21

Today's passage ends like this: "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Boy is this true. It is so easy to read a scripture verse and interpret it to suit our own needs - to make it say what we want it to say. I don't think anyone really ever does this intentionally, however I do think we can all be guilty of coming to scripture with our own preconceived ideas, and, rather than being open to what the Spirit is telling us or seeing something new or for the first time, we just read it the way we want to. Really, whatever we believe about God, right or wrong, we can find at least one verse (and sometimes more) to support our theory.

For example, there are some in Christendom that believe that women ought not to be leaders in the church. These folks point to a verse in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 where Paul tells women not to speak in church. Some churches take this to mean that women literally should not speak in church - they don't serve at the altar, they do not read scripture, they are not leaders in any way (except usually Sunday School) and they certainly are not clergy. These folks do not take into account that women were in leadership in the church since the beginning - that Deborah was the first woman judge in Israel - (the book of Judges) that Paul, the same person to said women shouldn't speak in church had women in leadership in the churches he started - such as Lydia who he refers to as a Deacon, Priscilla who worked diligently with her husband, Aquilla. Clearly Paul didn't mean that women can't be church leaders. But, some have read scripture within their own worldview and have interprested it that way.

The same can be true about any point of theology. Our task is to read scripture as a whole - what other things must we take into account when we are making a theological claim? Are there other verses that say the same thing? Or the opposite? We must rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire our minds and hearts any time we are reading and studying scripture, so that we truly can have God's Word revealed TO us in a powerful way, and not just have our own ideologies confirmed.

Friday, November 27, 2009

1 Peter 3:13-4:6

My college-age sons don't go to church. The fact is that although they grew up coming to church and being in the youth group, the world presents a pretty confusing face of Christianity to them. They are, understandably, having a difficult time seeing what people do in the world in the name of Christianity and reconciling that image to what they grew up thinking of Christianity.

Today's reading gives us instructions, though, in how we as Christians are supposed to act. Peter says to "(a)lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." If Christians actually did this, my sons may not have as many problems with being Christians in today's world.

When I meet someone who seems perpetually happy, or kind, or gracious, I wonder if they are a Christian who lives Peter's teachings. I want to be that person. I want to be the kind of Christian that no one ever questions about my motives or why I am the way I am. I want to be a "Peter" Christian. I want to be able to tell anyone why I hope, or why I'm happy, grateful or whatever. I would love for them to ask me to give me an opportunity to tell them about God's boundless love for me. And I would love to tell them with the greatest of love and respect. So that they too can feel what I have felt.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite there yet. It may be a constant struggle throughout my life to leave aside my petty complaints, such as "Man, I worked hard today" or "Traffic was awful" or whatever I may use to forgive myself for my behavior. But, I will keep working on it because the end result is so worth it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

James 4:13-5:6

Today is Thanksgiving.

The great irony of the day is, of course, that very little thanksgiving will actually take place! There will be plenty of cooking, eating, and watching sports. But in terms of actually giving thanks, that will most likely be relegated to a single prayer said by a single person, a brief and customary tradition rather than an appropriately extravagant expression of thanks and praise to God.

The opening verses of today’s reading from James are instructive. They speak of giving God the proper place in our lives; of acknowledging our complete and total dependence on Him. If on Thanksgiving Day we enjoy the bounty before us without intentionally stopping, and with great focus and clarity, recognizing that it is only by God’s grace that we are enjoying such things, then we are guilty of committing the sin James describes here.

The second half of today’s reading from James, beginning in Chapter 5, talks about another very important way we acknowledge God’s place in our lives and practicing what he wrote about in the previous verses: To the best of our knowledge, we live right.

And I’d suggest that perhaps the greatest way we give thanks to God for all He has done for us is to do just that: to live in harmony with the ways and will of God. So another thing we might do on Thanksgiving Day is spend some time considering “how should we then live”.

An important way of doing that is to remember. It is to remember all the ways we have been blessed. Then we can begin to think about how we can share similar blessings with others. Otherwise, today just becomes another instance of our living a self-centered, comfortable life style marked by over consumption and excess.

So I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but I also have a lot to think about. Maybe you do too?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

1 Peter 2:1-10

I really like today's reading. Peter portrays the church as a living, spiritual house, with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone and each believer as a stone. This portrayal is very similar to Paul's portrayal of the church as a body with Christ as the head and each believer as a body part.

Both portrayals emphasize community. One stone is not a temple or even a wall just as one body part is useless without the others. In today's society, a very individualistic society, it is easy to forget our interdependence with other Christians.

In addition to Christian community, this passage points out the importance of Jesus Christ in our lives. When one builds a structure, what is the stone that really is important? Peter pronounces in his writing that Christ himself is that stone. However, Jesus is also called "the stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." Some stumble over Christ because they reject him or refuse to believe that he is who he says he is. People who refuse to believe in Christ are making the greatest mistake of their lives. They stumble over the one being who could save them and give meaning to their lives. Psalm 118:22 says, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,".

In closing, let's ponder a couple of questions that I feel summarize today's reading. What can you do, or what can I do, to affirm or build up someone? Who do you know that has had difficulty believing the gospel? What can you do, or what can I do, to help them believe?

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

1 Peter 1:13-25

I've been thinking a lot about Father Rob's sermon on Sunday. The one where he talked about his "crisis" as a decision about his life... is he happy with it? Is he committed and came back with a resounding "I'M ALL IN!" I'm hoping that those that heard that sermon really take some time to think about that message - are you happy with it? Do you like the way it turned out? What do you need to do to be truly happy? Are you committed to God? How do you live that out? Are you ALL IN?

In 1 Peter I like so much the first verse of this passage - "prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed." Are we prepared for action? Do we act? Do we act on that which is truly important? Are we involved in those things in the world that really make a difference? Are we All IN? Are we wholly committed to God and His work in the world in whatever fashion we are able? Are we a part of St. Matthews - is there more we can do to help, to really make a difference in the world around us. Is the work that we can do together as a community one that will make us finally feel completely satisfied and completely ALIVE - that feeling that like we are on top of the world for the first time? We finally found out niche, our ministry, our gift, the one that when we really give that gift back to God through ministry, we actually do make a difference in the lives of others and discover that our own lives have changed for the better? Are we prepared for action? Do we take action? Are we ALL IN???

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Revelation 22: The Last Word...or the Lost Word?

“Father,” Langdon said, his tone challenging, “we’re all familiar with the Revelation of Saint John and the literal meaning of the Apocalypse, but biblical prophecy hardly seems—”

“Oh, heavens, the Book of Revelation is a mess!” the dean said. “Nobody knows how to read that."

In this scene from Dan Brown's latest thriller, The Lost Symbol, Professor Robert Langdon and the Reverend Colin Galloway engage in a classic scriptural debate: just what on Earth (or in Heaven) does this book mean? Is Revelation in fact a divine message or just a godawful mess?

Much of the action in The Lost Symbol hinges on the tension between the literal interpretation of codes and ciphers, and the layers of true meaning which underlie the literal. For thousands of years many have tried to read John's Revelation as a coded guide to unfolding history. Numerous schemes have sought to decipher the number '666' to reveal the name of a pope, a potentate, or a president. All, thus far, in vain, because at the heart of all the would-be mapmaking and codebreaking is a desire to do what is plainly warned against here in chapter 22: to add manmade words to the divine Word.

This is the end of The Book. There will be no further words of Holy Scripture. Enough has been written and the message now goes out to the seven churches in Asia (Minor) and from them to the wider Church: Come. Here is your share in true life and in the community of all the saints. Come as you are--no more but no less. Just Come.

"The Apocalypse is not the end of the world, but rather it is the end of the world as we know it."
--Peter Solomon, in Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

Even so, Come quickly Lord Jesus. Maranatha!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Revelation 22: 6-13

>At this time of year, things are getting shinier. In the stores, the Christmas retail push has started. We are all attracted to shiny things. Glitter can be entrancing.

John, in this final chapter of Revelation is being shown the future by an angel. Angels are wonderful beings in Scripture. They come from the presence of God and yes, sometimes they are spoken of having shiny garments. They frequently have to say first, “fear not,” because they, well, scare people. They are impressive and awesome.

This angel showed John what would take place as the world we know would come to an end. John fell down to worship at the feet of the angel. Would the angel accept John’s worship? After all, angels are not human. They are special messengers of God. But wait! The angel told John. Don’t worship me! I am a fellow-servant with you!

The angel knew. We all serve God. Some of us are more- angelic? Shiny? Glorious? And some of us are plain. But God’s most faithful servants are humble in their knowledge that we all are equal and serve God as equals.

When I think of a humble servant I think of Harry and his potato soup. Harry was a wonderful, godly man at our church when I was a teenager. He was a good, loving, humble person who never basked in the spotlight. His family had the custom of having families over to share potato soup. There was nothing too glamorous about that but we all, as fellow servants, shared and served together. In humility as fellow servants, let us serve God together and worship Him only.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Revelation 21: 22-22:5

Can you imagine life without light? Of course not. Life as we know it needs light to thrive. Green plants need sunlight for photosynthesis, and animals depend on greed plants for food and oxygen. But it’s not just a matter of physical survival. Let makes it possible for us to see. It lifts our spirits. It brings out the beauty of the colors around us.

Can you imagine life without water? Of course not. Life as we know it needs water to thrive. Without water, living things shrivel up and die. But it’s not just a matter of physical survival. Think of how enjoyable it is to drink a glass of ice cold water when you are feeling parched from working hard in the hot sun. Now that’s refreshing!

In sum, light and water are needed for life. And it is for that reason that they are picked up here in this passage as symbols of God’s power not just to sustain life but to cause it to blossom and flourish. The point is that the way of Jesus is the way of Life, of life in abundance, life to the full.

We are, of course, confronted with a variety ways to do life each and every day. Many of these ways compete with the way of Jesus and seek to replace it. Many of these ways of destroy or denigrate life rather than cherish and encourage it.

A good exercise might be to make a list of ways that compete with the way of Jesus, and then think of how they entice us to follow them. Some examples might be the way of perfectionism, the pursuit of bigger and better and more and more, the way of impersonalizing others for own ends, or demonizing those with whom we disagree, and so on. None of these are the way of Jesus, and none promote the life he died to bring.

Will you and I choose this day to walk in the way of Jesus, to be people who bring light to a world that often lives in darkness, and refreshment to a dry and weary land where there is no water?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Revelation 21:9-21

Today's reading provides us with a stunning description of the new city of God. Like much of the Book of Revelation, the description is symbolic and shows us that our new home with God will defy description. We will not be disappointed in any aspect of our future home with God.

The new city is enormous and layered with fine jewels and gold. It is large enough to hold all of us. Its description is meant to make us feel that it is a place we would want to go and never leave.

As Christians this is exactly what, I think, we want heaven to be. It should be a place to which we long to go. It should be a place to which we hunger to go. It should be a place in which we are so satisfied we will have no desire to leave. It should be a place in which there is a peace beyond our understanding.

If this description of heaven is what we believe, and when I say believe I mean truly believe in our hearts, then all of us should be very eager to get there. Yet, I wonder if we, or I, truly believe that this is what heaven is like, or sometimes if it exists at all. Because if we truly believe in this description of heaven, and that we will be able to spend all eternity there, what wouldn't we do in this life to get there? I mean that compared to all eternity this short, quick, blink of an eye 100 years we spend in this life is a nanometer on all eternity's timeline. So what task is too big, what sacrifice is too great for us to do or make in this life to obtain all eternity in heaven? Jesus confirmed that there is nothing we shouldn't be willing to do to earn our way into heaven; however, He said all we had to do was to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, love our neighbor as ourselves, and share the Word with others.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Revelation 21:1-8

I found out recently that someone I know has been told he only has months to live. I'm not sure how I would deal with that had it been me, it is difficult enough to walk with someone through that time. I sometimes have the reaction of "that cannot be true" and deny what is happening. I have seen enough suffering and heard enough "death sentences" to know that sometimes... sometimes doctors are wrong. Sometimes they tell someone this and that person fights hard enough to either live much, much longer than they were told, or they recover altogether. But, the fact is, sometimes that doesn't happen, and they die - either within the prescribed time, or sometimes sooner. Usually it is those around that person that are completely devastated. The person who is dying usually finds a way to cope before the end actually comes, but his/her family has a much more difficult time.

That is where today's reading comes in. What a comfort to think that there will actually be a time when there are no more tears, no more death, no more suffering. This is hopeful for all of us who have lost a loved one. It is comforting to know that all things will be made new and all things will, one day, be made right. The suffering we are now experiencing will, one day, end. We just have to hold on until then.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Revelation 19:11-16

What do you think of when you hear the words "Faithful and True"? I've heard those words many times associated with a beloved pet. If you have never had a pet, it is very hard to describe. You are its whole world. Their whole life revolves around you.

Recently, there was an email going around that featured videos of pets when they are reunited with their owners who are service members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. To say these pets were overjoyed would be an understatement. I was amazed that they did not just faint or even have a heart attack given how overly excited they became to be reunited with their owners. Surely these pets are Faithful and True.

It is rare to share that kind of bond. I know some wonderful people and I am very blessed to have some incredible friends. But I'm not sure how those relationships would fare on the "Faithful and True" scale. Maybe a 7 or 8 out of 10 when compared with the selfless devotion of a pet. I count myself very lucky to have those relationships.

Today's reading describes Christ as He returns to our world. Verse 11 says "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True." That is God's wish for each of us - that we have the kind of relationship with Christ that allows Him to be to us Faithful and True. This is what He offers to us, and yet we find it hard to fully embrace that offer. We keep Christ at arms length because we cannot truly deal with Faithful and True. But can you imagine the life that this would give?

My prayer for each of us is that we allow Christ to be Faithful and True to us, as He promises, as He deeply desires and as He is more than capable of providing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Revelation 19:1-10

One of the people who helped me better understand the book of Revelation is John Ortberg. He preached a series in which he likened the book of Revelation to Studio Wrestling. That may seem like a strange comparison, but I found it very helpful. Perhaps you will too.

All of us know that Studio Wresting isn’t “real”. We understand from the very start that this is different than, say, Olympic Wrestling, and we interpret what is happening in the ring accordingly.

Much the same can be said about apocalyptic literature, of which the book of Revelation is an example. Everyone in Jesus day would’ve known that Apocalyptic isn’t “real”—that is, it’s not to be interpreted in a strict literal sense, and it is meant to be read differently than, say, historical writings (such as the Gospels).

This means that in Revelation, John uses bold and graphic images to remind us of the essential truths. In today’s reading, for instance, John doesn’t mean for us to read of “the great whore” and think that at the end of time Jesus is going to be judging some massive prostitute.

No, his point is that there are always going to be people and forces that will seek to entice us to compromise our moral standards and from being one hundred percent faithful (is there any other kind of faithfulness, really?) to God. They seek to eradicate our integrity. The result is that we are drawn into secret sins, into creating a secret self, which we hide away not only from the public eye but from those who are closest to us.

We’d do well to remember that on some level at least whores have to be attractive, or they’d go out of business. Evil doesn’t look bad, or most of us wouldn’t do it. It looks good—pretty darn good, in fact! But what a prostitute promises—the pleasure of intimacy—is not what she really offers. Beyond the physical connection, there is no intimacy in what is in essence a business transaction.

In contrast to the whore is the bride who has stayed true to the one she loves and thus is “bright and pure.” Whereas the way of the whore will be exposed for the corruption it is, the way of the faithful bride will bring such great joy that it results in the festal shout, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

Fans of Studio Wrestling know that they have to make a choice between the good guy and the bad guy. Wise readers of the book of Revelation know the same thing: we are going to have to choose between God and the great whore, and our eternal destinies depend on that choice.

It’s a choice you’ll have to make today as you will every day. Who will you choose? Who will I?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revelation 18:21-24

Today is Veterans Day. To all our veterans – THANK YOU!!

Today’s reading is only four verses. It is about the final destruction of the evil city of Babylon.

The reading begins when an angel “picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea”. This symbolized the conclusion of the judgments and the disappearance of the great final city of the antichrist. The city will sink into oblivion just as the unsinkable Titanic sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

The reading then goes into a poem about what will never be heard in that city again. I would like to call your attention to the line near the end of verse 23, “Your merchants were the world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.” Babylon’s business men and women were very influential. They could have used their talents, abilities, and influential skills for good; however, they “led nations astray.” They led them into that false religion that security and happiness can be found in the multitude of possessions. They led them into worshiping money instead of God. As Jesus said, you cannot serve two masters – money and God. The worship of money and possessions led them to their doom.

Today’s reading tells us that God will destroy this great wicked city because it enticed people away from true religion and holiness and into false religion and impurity. This is a very good reminder to me to keep focused on, and to put my trust in, God. Only God will save us. Chasing earthly idols will ultimately lead to our downfall.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Revelation 18:9-20

There is a lot of speculation about the book of Revelation. What does it mean? Who are the players in the visions? Scores of people have speculated on which countries in today's world are the ones who ultimately be subject to God's wrath and judgment? Who will be "in" and blessed and included and welcomed? Who will be "out" - destroyed, burned, and cast into the outer darkness.

I think some of the speculation comes from our own sense of right and wrong. We all want, and maybe even need to believe that at some point, those who do the right thing and make good choices and are good citizens that are faithful to God will somehow be rewarded. It might not be in this life, but certainly God will make all things right - at some point. And for those of us who live faithful lives and don't feel the encouragement or blessing from God now, remain faithful anyway - not just because it is the right thing to do, but because we know it will work out in the end. As we see others around us being hurtful to others, selfish in their daily lives, being dishonest, careless, and just downright cruel, we more easily can deal with the fact that there are people in the world like that when we say to ourselves "they'll get theirs!" It all comes down to judgment. We hold out for that last judgment as the time when all things will be just.

While that is true, and God does make all things right in the end, when I read things like today's passage from Revelation, I wonder what it really means? Is there really a city that will be destroyed? My guess is it is a metaphor for something else. And, while I'm an educated person, scores of others are also educated and have speculated on the exact correlation of the metaphor to today's world, I can't begin to do the same. I think it's dangerous to assume anything about God and His judgment. Thousands assume things all the time, and they are wrong - God loves me, so I won't get sick. God loves me so I'm protected no matter where I go or what I do. God loves me so bad things can't happen to me. God loves me so he will give me that Cadillac to drive. I don't assume. Many assumed that Jesus would overthrow the Romans and establish God's kingdom on earth. While I believe he did establish God's kingdom on earth, it was in a much different way than any expected - it was in the hearts of people, and not in the government.

I expect God's judgment to be the same, not done in a way that is expected, but certainly in a way that is wholly just. While I would love to see the folks that have caused hurt and pain in my life get their just reward, I also am very aware that God loves them just as much as he loves me. Jesus died for them too. So God's judgment might very well look different than I would expect, nonetheless, He is God and His ways are better and higher than mine. His will be done.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Revelation 15:1-8

>We experience in several ways in our daily life the feeling of freedom when we are “delivered.” It may be the bell marking the end of the school day. I remember feeling free, walking home with friends. It may be when the clock strikes five and we can knock off work for the day. It may be putting on our exercise clothes and hitting the trail for a walk or a jog, especially in these autumn twilights when leaves carpet the trail, the sunset turns into a moonrise and we can hear geese overhead in the dusk as we turn for home.

Our earth, too will be delivered some day. Today’s passage describes the beginning of the end of suffering for the earth, its creatures and its human inhabitants. Just like we feel a connection to Christians from the days of Jesus when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the people who had suffered and conquered the beast (verse 2) sing another familiar song, the Song of Moses from Exodus 15:1-18. This song celebrates one of the great acts of deliverance in history; the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

Psalm 107 describes the terror of a storm at sea and how God delivered the sailors. God saves the helpless. We will be delivered. We may experience small daily deliverances. God worked in history to effect a large deliverance; that of the people of Israel. But finally, all of history and our earth will be delivered.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Revelation 14:1-13

The “mark of the beast” is something that has fascinated people down through the ages. What is it? How is it recognized?

Some have taken it quite literally; that to have the “mark of the beast” is to have 666 tattooed on our foreheads. Others have been a bit more fancifully, seeing it as some kind of bar code inscribed on the back of one’s hand or on one’s forehead. This bar code will be required by the Antichrist when he is finally revealed, and without it no one will be able to buy or purchase anything.

I don’t find either of those explanations convincing. First, they do not honor the fact that this is apocalyptic literature, a form of writing that uses images and numbers as symbols of a greater truth. When John wrote this book, neither he nor the Holy Spirit who was inspiring him meant for them to be taken literally.

Second, if they are only future events that will occur someday, they really don’t have a lot to do with me now. I can skip this portion of Scripture, leaving it for the day when the mark of the beast really is a problem.

Third, notice the contrast between verse 1 and verse 9. The 144,000 (again, a number not meant to be taken literally but as statement of God’s perfection and ability to save) also have a mark on their forehead; the name of God.

This seems like a pretty big clue to understanding what is going on here. These are people who are faithful to God, who live according to his purpose and calling.

With these things in mind, it seems to me that the mark of the beast is the life that fails to worship God. It is on the forehead because it represents thoughts that run counter to God’s thoughts; it is on the back of the hands because it represents works counter to God’s works. It is the life that is lived in such a way that it brings a little bit of hell to earth rather God’s kingdom (heaven).

When we understand the mark of the beast in this way, we understand it was something the people of John’s day struggled with just like its something you and I struggle with. In a sense, it is the struggle of our lives –and not just a reference to some obscure future event that was as irrelevant to John’s readers as such a reference would be to us.

To win this struggle will require endurance. It will require us to keep God’s commandments. It will require us to hold fast to the faith of Jesus. It is the faith of Jesus that will define our lives, not the world around us.

The good news is that for those who persevere, one day their labor will be over, and it will not be in vain. As The Message puts it, those who stay faithful to Jesus receive “blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they've done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end."

I can’t wait.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Revelation 12:1-12

In today's reading I particularly like verse 11. Verse 11 speaks to me. I find it extremely powerful and motivating.

"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." (Revelation 12:11)

Verse 11 points out to all of us that the critical blow for Satan came when the Lamb, Jesus Christ, shed His blood for our sins. This means that the ultimate victory was won and continues to be won by sacrifice - Christ's death in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, and the sacrifices we are obligated to make when we are faithful followers of Christ.

I believe Satan is real and exists in the world today. Satan presents temptations to us and encourages us to act upon those temptations. As we face the battle with Satan we should not fear it but we should follow the example of Christ. Jesus Christ provides us the power to resist Satan's temptations. By resisting Satan, our testimony can be inspirational to others. Our actions can influence the actions of others, and this can help draw others into a relationship with Christ.

The final item I wish to point out about verse 11 is the last part - the part after the semicolon. Christ's followers should not love their own lives so much that they are unwilling to die for Him. This verse tells me that those who are true followers of Jesus Christ must dedicate themselves wholly to His service. This means that no task is too great or too small if done in His service. There is no price too high to pay to be in His glory.

This verse inspires me. It helps me to remember all the Jesus has done for you and me. Remembering what Jesus did for us inspires me to offer my life to Him. After all, compared to all eternity, these 100 years we spend on this earth is no time at all.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Revelation 11:1-19

This particular section of Revelation, particularly it's ending always reminds me of the Indiana Jones movie - I think it was Temple of Doom. Toward the end of the movie he is tied up and the Ark of the Covenant had been discovered and someone opened it. He closed his eyes tightly as to not look upon God and a great force swept through the room and essentially killed all the bad guys and made them disappear.

Oh if that only would happen! I often wish that sometimes, just sometimes, the bad guys of this world would be swept away forever. This world can be such a depressing place. I don't even watch local news anymore - I can't handle all the reports of killing, gangs and violence. I suppose I shouldn't put my head in the sand, but my head gets depressed if I watch it. I focus much more on Paul's verse (read: my own way of justifying this) that says "whatever is true, whatever is lovely.... think on these things."

We could get wrapped up in all the wrongs of this world and all the violence or we could focus on the good, knowing that the goodness of God, in the end will and does prevail. Unfortunately it isn't always the way we'd like or when we'd like, but it does - and usually it's in ways that are so much better than we ever dreamed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Revelation 6:12-7:4

How often are we afraid? Some of you may have dealt with fear as a child, when the bogeyman was very real. But, I don't mean fear as in the bogeyman or even "I'm afraid to face the day", I mean truly fearful for our lives afraid. Thank God, that does not happen much to us here in suburban Virginia. Today's reading, and certainly much of Revelation, deals with real, raw fear. Or, at least things that could and should cause such fear.

I can't imagine what it would look like to have the stars fall out of the sky. Then, after that, the sky recedes, as if it was rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed. Gone. Vanished. Today's reading deals with the full fury of God in opening the sixth seal. I think I would be more than afraid.

But, I do know the fear of being in an earthquake. Being from California, I've lived through many. Some not so bad and some very bad. It did not matter, though. When I was in one, I was afraid for my life. There is absolutely no place safe to turn. No matter where you are, a building could fall on you or the earth could swallow you up. It did not matter how many drills you had in school. They were terrifying. I was 30 when I left California. I was not yet confident in my faith to not be afraid of death. So, when we left, I was relieved in an unbelievable way. In fact, for the first month I was in Virginia, I swear I felt several earthquakes. Believe me when I say - true fear is horrible. You can only hope that you go your entire life without being in that kind of paralyzing fear. And yet, the earthquake in today's reading would, I imagine, be the worst ever.

The Book of Revelations tells us that those who truly follow Christ need not be fearful. The very purpose of these events is to separate those of faith from those with no faith. So, you better have your act together or you may be mistaken for someone with no faith. If you have 45% faith, what will happen to you?

The point I am making is that there is no in-between with faith. Either you are in or you are out. You are 0% or your are 100%. So make up your mind.

But I can tell you first hand -- you do not want to be in that earthquake.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Revelation 5:11-6:11

One way to express a truth is simply to express it factually. “Racism is wrong”. But another way to express that same truth is show it in pictures without ever making the literal statement.

For instance, perhaps you have seen the film Crash. It literally made me weep at how messed up this world can be because of how we mistreat each other. Racism is wrong, but that statement doesn’t move like the images I saw in that movie.

Revelation is expressing truth as surely as any factual statement, but it’s using images rather than literal words. If you understand the images, which are rooted both in a type of literature called “Apocalyptic” and in Biblical history, you understand the power of what is being portrayed here.

Take the four horses of the apocalypse contained in this passage, for instance. Will such horses one day really ride the earth? I’d suggest they do so now as they have throughout human history. The horses represent such things as political power, war and violence, injustice and poverty, death.

The horses ride through history in battles between nations; corporate scandals that cheat and defraud; in terrorism. But they also ride in homes torn apart by conflict; wherever children live in neglect and fear; and wherever “good” people are willing to manipulate or hurt others.

These riders seem to ride roughshod over the earth, and sometimes it even seems they trample the church underfoot as well. And so we hear the voice of an anguished church, of real people who have suffered at the hands of the world for their faithful service to Christ.

What are we to make of that?

The answer is in the next image of those who have overcome the world; who have transcended it, risen above the power of the horses; and hence are beyond the reach of the suffering they cause. This is the victory the white robe represents—a robe “given” to them, showing the need for God’s grace and help to able to receive it.

Very quickly, note two other things. First—rest. Oh how I long for that! Sometimes the battles here take such a toll… but it won’t always be that way.

Not also that those in robes are numbered. God counts. Why? Because He is not willing that any of his children should perish. I have two kids. Whenever we go anywhere, I always count to be sure the both are there. “Counting” is a way of expressing how very precious God’s children are to him.

God will rescue, friends. You matter to Him. That’s what this chapter teaches, and that is a truth—whether said in words or in images—you can count on as sure as sure can be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Revelation 5:1-10

What a wonderful book Revelation is. It is filled with wonderful symbolism and beyond this world images. This particular reading is no different.

As one could write much about many of the verses in Revelation, I am only going to discuss a few of them from today's reading. Let's begin with verse 4. John is weeping because he cannot see inside the scroll God is holding. In verse 5 an elder tells John to stop weeping. We do not need to weep because we cannot foresee future events. It would be great if we could foresee future events about ourselves or the world, but this information would not help us with our present duties God has given each of us to perform. The only future event we need to know has been revealed to us - Jesus Christ will prevail over evil and His followers will enjoy an eternal peace. This future event should be sufficient comfort to allow each of us to focus on the present and be the best Christian we can be.

Now let's discuss verses 5 & 6. Jesus Christ is pictured as both a lion and a lamb. The lion symbolizes authority and power while the lamb symbolizes submission to God's will. Christ the lamb was the perfect sacrifice for our sins and defeated all forces of evil by dying on the cross. Christ the lion will lead the battle in which Satan is finally defeated. Christ the lion will be victorious because of what Christ the lamb has already done.

Finally let's take verses 9 & 10. These verses describe a song that is sung to and about Jesus. The song praises Jesus Christ for the work he has done and is going to do, however, it is all in the past tense He was slain, purchased us with His blood, gathered us into His kingdom, made us priests, and appointed us to reign on earth. It is written as if it already happened because it is a guaranteed certainty. Jesus has already died and paid the penalty for our sin. He is now gathering us into His kingdom and making us His priests. In the future we will reign with Him. Knowing this we should worship God and thank Him for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do for all who trust in Him. With this glorious future we all can find the strength to follow His commandments, live in His will, and face our present difficulties.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revelation 4:1-11

‘Holy, holy, holy,the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power,for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’

These words are familiar to us as we sing Holy, Holy, Holy each week, but we might not realize that those words come from Revelation. John sees that this is the worship exerience in heaven where continually those around the throne of God sing praises of worship and adoration to Jesus. While we can get so wrapped up in our duties and work in this world, what a refreshing reminder that this adoration of God is what is happening in heaven! If we can just pause for a moment and participate in our hearts in the adoration of God as we begin each day, we will find that our days are less stressful and more fulfilling. Our attitudes will be more joyful and our very demeanor may just reflect the love of God to those around us.

Maybe that's what we do when we take time to read these devotions - to stop... to focus on the Risen Christ and His love in our lives and worship Him - if even for just a few moments.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

To: Philemon ‡ From: Paul ‡ re: Onesimus

Not a "book" but a brief and personal letter, this little missive hints at a tale 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 slavemaster, 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, and all out of reverence for the One who has paid everything on our behalf to gain us our freedom.

Lord, today let us be reconciled among ourselves. Restore the runaway, and all who are questing for freedom, to your presence. Renew our strength as we return to your hospitality. Refresh our hearts always in Christ. Amen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

1 Corinthians 16:10-24

My son, who is a senior in college, wrote my husband an email this week forwarding one of those blanket emails that go from person to person. It said that we should treat people like it was their last day to live. It said that by doing this, our lives would be change substantially. I had seen the one that says that you should treat people as if it is your last day to live, but it seems more "in your face" turning it around. I like it. We need "in your face" pretty much on a daily basis to remind us to be civil, thoughtful, kind and, well, loving.

In today's reading, Paul models civility and love for us. He uses the opportunity of ending his first letter to the Corinthians in a very loving, initimate manner. Remember that this letter, while having much to do about love, was meant to chide the Corinthians who were not acting entirely as new Christians should. Paul used this letter to get them back on track, but some parts of the letter were stern. So, he chooses to end his letter in a way so that they are reminded that, after all, it's all about the love.

Christians should be the best models of love in the world. After all, that is what Christ tells us to do - love our neighbor as ourselves. Not just when we feel like it. All the time. Every day. Every person. Even our enemies. But, somehow, that commandment gets lost in the daily shuffle. We are too busy to remember to love.

So, maybe today you will receieve a reminder by blanket email. Love everyone as if you know, and only you know, that person will die at midnight. Even if you conciously do that for an hour, your life will be changed. Imagine if all of us did it everyday, without prompting - how many lives would be changed.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

In Chapter 16, Paul goes from talking about the resurrection of Jesus straight to talking about money. The two are directly related.

The effect of chapter 15 was to move us from what is temporary to what is eternal; from what is perishable to that which is imperishable; from a materialistic way of life to living spiritually. Chapter 16, then, becomes a very concrete way of living that new focus out.

As those who share in the resurrected life of Jesus, we are to give generously, and freely share what we have with others. Here we learn several governing principles for sharing what we have as an essential part of living faithfully in light of the resurrection.

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. Money is to be given in faith at the beginning of the week, not out of what (if any) might be left when the week is done

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 21, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

As we read this passage of scripture we must remember that once again Paul is dealing with a subject matter that defies language and expression. We must take it on faith and not try to use our small human brains to dissect it as if it were a scientific thesis. Paul's argument follows a series of steps until it reaches its climax.

(1) Paul insists that we are not fit to inherit the Kingdom of God. We may be well enough equipped to get on with life in this world but for the life of the world to come we are not. As an example, a person may be in good enough shape to run a short distance to catch a bus, car, or train that is about to leave, but that same person would have to be in a vastly different shape to competitively run in an Olympic marathon. Paul argues that we need to be changed prior to entering the Kingdom of God.

(2) Paul goes on to say that no one should fear this change. Why do people fear death? Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown. Or perhaps it is the fear of sin. As long as we see God as a judge we would be the equivalent of a criminal standing before a judge in a court room with no hope of acquittal. But this is why Jesus came to the earth. He came to tell us that God is not about judging but about love. Through God's grace Jesus took the punishment we deserve and thus victory over death. Thus, death should not be feared for it is in death that allows us to go home to our Heavenly Father.

(3) At the end of the passage, Paul does what Paul does often. He challenges us to live a good Christian life. I do not know about you but sometimes I hesitate to do a good deed because I will not obtain or see any immediate personal reward. But if we maintain a perspective on this life and an outlook that by living a good Christian life we will obtain the reward of all eternity with God, we would do the good we have the opportunity to do knowing this work has eternal returns.

The Christian life may at some times be a struggle, but the reward is infinitely worth the struggle.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:41-50

This reading in and of itself is a little confusing. Paul is really talking about Adam vs. Jesus. He says that through Adam, the first man in the garden of Eden, we have all been found guilty of what is called original sin. We all have sinned, following Adam's example. Because he and Eve were not faithful to God and thus thrown out of the Garden of Eden, all of their descendents live with the guilt of sin and are not welcome in the very presence of God. Paul is saying that through Jesus, all has been made right. Through Jesus we all have been given grace, not through anything we deserve or have earned but through the free gift of the love of God, we have been restored. We have been given entrance, once again, into the presence of God. Through Adam we sinned. Through Jesus we are saved. Through Adam we are outcast. Through Jesus we are restored and welcomed home.

Thanks be to God for the richness of his mercy. Thanks be to God that we've been given the gift of forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God that he loves us that much.

Friday, October 16, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:1-10

In prior chapters of I Corinthians Paul builds up the young church by instructing them in matters such as communion, how to treat each other and divisions in the church. In this passage he continues to encourage by going back to the basics and reminding each of us about what Christ did for us.

First of all, Paul says, remember that Jesus rose from the dead. I have known about the resurrection for my entire life. I forget how exciting it was as current news, which Paul here repeats; Christ died. He was buried (in other words, He was REALLY dead). He rose. There were many eyewitnesses to His resurrection which Paul lists here, including Jesus’ half brother James (I like to think with instructions to reassure His mother that He had risen).

Then Paul lapses again into thankfulness to Jesus for saving Paul from his old life. Often I look at Paul as needing God worse than I do (since his old life had more actual violence involved), but to personalize this passage I think, what old life was I taken from ? What old life am I to be taken from daily, as I turn my day over to God? Lack of gratefulness to Christ? Unkindness? Selfish hoarding? What does it look like for me, today, to put my gratefulness to Christ into action?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

1 Corinthians 14:26-33,37-40

As you know, we have been in the book of 1 Corinthians for several weeks now. Earlier in this book, when Paul was talking about certain religious beliefs and practices, he wrote, that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).”

In today’s passage, Paul is writing about “good order in worship”, addressing what is done in worship. And again he says, “Let all things be done for building up.”

Hmmm… do you see a pattern here? Paul is taking a general principle—that Christians are to build one another up—and applies it to specific circumstances. How might this principle apply to the specifics of our lives?

I can tell you, it 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.

Maybe this is something you could use a little work on as well. If so, I invite you to say this prayer with me:

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

1 Corinthians 14:13-25

Unlike last week's passage, I find the message a bit harder to discern in this week's passage. However, as in most, if not all, passages of scripture a message is there. After reading the passage about half a dozen times I think I found at least one message I can discuss here with you. (If you have not read the passage go ahead and read it so you can better understand my point. Of course different passages of scripture speak differently to each of us so you may find many easily understood messages - if you do I would love to hear from you about them.)

The message I received from this passage has to do with being understood. Paul refers to speaking in tongues and even seems to have an enthusiasm for this. Evidently the Corinthians do as well. Paul points out to the Corinthians that this enthusiasm can be carried to an extreme - just like many of us when we have an enthusiasm for something.

Paul tells the Corinthians that it would make Christianity seem ridiculous to a non-believer if that non-believer heard a sermon in a language which neither the preacher nor the assembly understood. However, if the preacher plainly interprets scripture in everyday language and simple words he might convert the non-believer to Christianity. Scripture truth, plainly and duly taught, has a wonderful power to awaken the conscience and touch the heart.

Words can have a powerful influence on people. The words you say and the words I say can change people. However, these words have to be understood by the receiver. I could read a Vector Calculus text book to a three year old hoping that three year old would learn the subject. Chances are he or she would not as they would get bored, think I am crazy, and would walk away. In the same token when we begin to discuss our believe and faith with those who have not experienced the joy of allowing Jesus Christ into their hearts we should start by teaching the basic concepts first. Concepts that can be easily understood. One of the most basic concepts is that of love.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Spiritual gifts are often a point of controversy. Mostly because most Christians of mainline denominations don't have any experience with speaking in tongues, prophesy or anything such as these. All we know of this are the writings of Paul, and when we see folks on TV on some of the Christian TV stations having religious experiences, most of us feel uncomfortable with what we see.

If we think about it though, that is how we are with most things we don't understand. We can easily brush those things off with a "that was fine for the 1st century, but it doesn't happen now." Or we might even come up with some other explanation - such as "the only reason they were speaking in other languages is that they were from different parts of the world." But the fact is that the Holy Spirit was given to these people to empower them in their faith and to build the church.

We receive that same Holy Spirit at Baptism. It still empowers us and gives us wisdom, courage and all things necessary for the building up of our personal faith and for the building up of the whole church. We only need to stop and recognize the Holy Spirit in our midst to really appreciate all He does for us.

Friday, October 09, 2009

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

If you ever needed a reason to belong to a church, today's reading gives you that reason. Notice I say "belong" and not just "go". Paul makes it clear that God has arranged us all as members of one body "as he chose". This is a further thought to the passage of yesterday.

God gives each of us spiritual gifts to use to further His kingdom here on earth. But, those gifts are not meant to be used alone. Paul says, "God has so arranged the body...that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it."

I don't know about you, but these are such reasuring words to me. I don't want to walk this life alone. Just the same as I like to hang around people with like interests (it's why I love my book club ladies), I am so energized when I hang with my church family. And that energy is somehow increased exponentially when I use my spiritual gifts while hanging out with them.

But, I don't need to convince you. Try it yourself. Once you determine your spiritual gifts (attend the latest Watch class and learn), use those gifts at church and I will guarantee that you will shine - both inside and out.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

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 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 from our presence in it?

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 07, 2009

1 Corinthians 11:23-34

No passage in the whole New Testament is of greater importance than this one (there may be others as important but I submit none of greater importance). It gives us our most sacred act of worship. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so now.

What does the Last Supper mean? I do not think it was a spiritual accident that the meal in this passage occurred on Passover - in fact Jesus and His disciples were celebrating the Passover meal. Passover celebrated the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Holy Communion celebrates our deliverance from sin by Christ's death on the cross.

I also find a very spiritual meaning when Jesus tells His disciples, and us, to eat the bread and drink the wine in "remembrance of me". I wonder how many of us, and certainly me included, really dwell on these words. These words are extremely important to Holy Communion. Jesus is telling us to think, meditate, and pray about what He did for us and why He did it. When Holy Communion becomes just a ritual, and we do not concentrate on what Jesus did for us, it loses its significance. If we find this happening to ourselves, let's commit that we will return to this passage of scripture so we can be reminded of the significance of this act of our worship.

Paul reinforces this message when he says that no one should take Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. In reality no one is worthy to take Holy Communion. We are all sinners saved by grace. This is why we are called to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion through healthy introspection, confessing our sin, and resolving to live a new and better life. If we do this, the meaning of Holy Communion is properly defined in our minds, we become worthy to receive it, and we focus our minds on living a better life.

Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

1 Corinthians 11:2,17-22

All divisions in the church only hurt the witness we have to share with the world. My guess is not only was Paul concerned with the community of the Church at Corinth, but, being the missionary that he was, he was also concerned what the world would think of the church and what kind of witness it was.

So much of what we do speaks to the world. They really do watch and see how we react to things, how we treat one another and how we treat those outside the church. I can't begin to tell you how many people ask about the split that recently happened in the Episcopal church and is still ongoing. Why does it happen? How do we feel about it? Is St Matthew's going to leave? What is our position?

Divisions in the church really go beyond these questions. When Christians can't even find a way to live in harmony with each other, how do we talk about the love of Christ for all people and "Jesus loves you" with a straight face? Who would believe us when we say these things but at the same time don't live our lives loving our neighbor?

The only way we are ever going to be believable, is to put our divisions aside and just focus on the mission of the gospel of Christ to tell and show the world that God loves them.

Friday, October 02, 2009

I Cor . 9: 16-27

Paul again here shows his passion for Christ when he says he is obligated and compelled to preach the Gospel. I recently read a biography of Mother Teresa. I am struck by how she and others who work for God do so out of love and thankfulness to Christ. Paul never forgets how God reached into his life.

The next paragraph of today’s reading seems to me to be a call for peace. God knows that our human tendency is to categorize and judge people or at the very least wish that they would see things as we do. Paul in this paragraph exhorts us to have patience and compassion for those who may see things differently. You may be familiar with Paul’s statement, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (v. 22). Paul states in verse 22 that to the weak, he would become weak. What compassion he shows here and what patience for those with a weak conscience. (Remember Paul’s discussion of not eating meat sacrificed to idols; he agreed that an idol is a worthless piece of wood, but said that some “weaker” Christians would be offended at the thought of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols). Often with someone less mature it’s hard to show patience and mercy but Paul does it for the sake of his first love, Jesus.

Perhaps that is the key to loving behavior; we sacrifice our rights because we love Jesus. Instead of pushing, we stand aside. Instead of being hard-hearted we ask, “what does this person need from me?” and try to put our wishes aside. Paul would say that it is for the Kingdom.