Saturday, January 31, 2009

Galatians 3:23-29

We are All ONE in Christ Jesus. All. No exceptions.
Let's see how many more "nor" sayings I can add.
There is neither rich nor poor,
Native-born nor immigrant,
Advanced-degree-holder nor beauty-school-dropout,
Mainline denomination member nor evangelical,
Catholic nor Pentecostal,
Gay nor straight,
Black nor white,
Diva soprano nor American Idol reject,
Single-family home-owner nor town-house dweller,
Net-savvy Apple techie nor PC-illiterate,
Lowes Island Republican nor Sterling Park Democrat,
Steelers fan with a Roethlisberger jersey nor Cardinals fan with a Warner jersey,
For WE are ALL ONE in Christ Jesus.
And any attempt to divide us along any line that anyone chooses is flat out wrong.
Could Paul be any clearer?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Galatians 3:15-22

Part of this reading really struck me this morning as I was reading the interpretation provided by the Message. That was: "A will, ratified by God, is not annulled by an addendum attached 430 years later, thereby negating the promise of the will." Maybe it's because I work in the legal field and, in particular, have been doing more estate planning services recently, but through this reading, I received a crystal clear picture of Paul's meaning.

In this case, Paul was simply stating that God's message through the ancient laws was not "undone" by the arrival of Jesus as our Savior. Instead, Jesus amended the promise by making it even easier to take full advantage of the abundant life that God was promising. Before Jesus, it was nearly impossible to acheive everlasting life due to the abundance of the sin of Man. We put a wrench in the ability of God to delivery on His promise. God tried to deliver on His promise by adding laws for us to live by. That still didn't work to fully reconcile Man to God's purpose. So, He sent Jesus.

Sometimes, we put impossible conditions on ourselves or those situations we are involved in or on people we love. For example, we may say to ourselves that we will spend more time with our spouse. But, instead of doing it, we add a condition, such as "...if he would get home earlier from work" or "if she would just listen to me". Those conditions build until it is impossible for us to act on our original purpose. So, we need to "amend" our purpose not to necessarily change the conditions, but to make our original purpose work in spite of those conditions - "I will spend more time with my spouse no matter how much time he spends working". The condition is still there, since it is not something we can control, but we've worked backwards to insure that the original purpose is still met.

So our lesson today is to be aware of the initial promise and to make sure that we don't let those conditions get in the way of meeting that promise.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Galatians 3: 1-14

The last couple years I’ve enjoyed fishing for steelhead (lake run rainbow trout) in the fall. Even more, I’ve enjoyed learning how to catch them fly fishing. Fortunately, I’ve had a great teacher. He taught me how to “feel strikes”, to “strip wooly buggers”, and to skitter “dries” across the surface for explosive strikes. What a blast!

My point is that it was my teacher who made it possible for me to do something I could not do on my own. And it seems to me that is also the underlying point in today’s reading: through the Holy Spirit, God is able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

This may sound simple, and probably is. But it raises the question: What are we allowing God to do for and through us? What are we doing in our lives and in our churches that takes us beyond what we could do in our own natural capacities? Verse 5 really jumps out at me; where are we allowing the Spirit to work miracles today?

So, simple though the thought may be, it seems important that we ask questions like these. How is God shaping our lives and churches, even as He shaped personal lives and public communities in ages past? Where are we relying completely on God so that He can do in our life and churches that which only He can do? What is there, both in our experience and in what we offer others, that goes beyond modern psychology, the culture of success, and self help of the world around us?

If we don’t take the time to answer questions like these, we’ll find ourselves settling for the “curse” of human achievement rather than blessing of living life in the power of the Spirit.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Galatians 2:11-21

In many of his letters, if not all of them, Paul writes about the basis of salvation. Today's passage is no exception. I feel we can learn from Paul's message as well as how he delivered it.

Let me start with how Paul deliverers his message. Paul confronts Peter in public - in front of everyone. Among other things, I feel Paul is telling us that when we have an issue with someone, we should confront it head on. We should not talk behind that person's back, we should not write letters to the editor of a newspaper, we should not criticize that person to others. We need to be forthright with the person with which we have an issue and discuss it with him/her in a love filled manner. Paul is telling us this is the best way to handle such an issue.

Now, let's discuss Paul's message of salvation. The question Paul poses is, does salvation come from Christ and adherence to the law as laid out in the Old Testament, or does salvation come solely from Christ? Of course God has given us a way to salvation and that way is through Jesus Christ. So, then, why should anyone obey the law? I mean what is the point? - if salvation is gained through belief in Jesus Christ, then one can sin as much as one wants to and still be forgiven and saved. Right? Paul answers this by a resounding "No"!

Salvation, given freely by God through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leads to freedom from sin's slavery not a license to sin. Paul teaches us about the transformation that occurs in believers. Christian life begins when we accept Jesus as our savior. As Christian life develops, we let our own will die and follow God's will. In other words, faith in Jesus demands lifestyle and behavioral changes. When we truly surrender to God's will our lives are transformed. The gift of grace does not abolish the law - it transforms it from an external standard that is impossible to meet to an inner motivation for living a good, pure, God-honoring life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Galatians 1:18-2:10

In today’s reading, Paul recounts some of his travels, including his journey to Jerusalem. There he saw James, Cephas and John who were the “pillars” of the church there. There seems to have been some debate on whether circumcision and adherence to the law was necessary for the faithful or for those converting to the faith. The bottom line was no, it wasn’t. As our devotion said yesterday, some are so focused on the rules or the law that they can’t see beyond it. But we have freedom in Christ.

What Paul was able to do is to convince those who stick to the law that the gospel he was preaching was valid and worthwhile. The agreement was for James, John and Cephas to stay with the Jews and Paul would continue to go to the gentiles. They divided up the responsibility. The only caveat was that Paul was to “remember the Poor” this is what they have in common – this is what we all have in common. Regardless of how we express our faith, whether we are conservative or liberal in our faith, if we are Episcopalian, Baptist, or Roman Catholic we all are called to remember the poor.

We must look beyond our own needs and our own theological interpretations, because in the end, they really don’t mean as much as taking care of each other – especially those in need – the poor among us. In fact, if we got past our denominational differences and focused on the needs of others, my guess is the needs of the poor would actually be met so that they were no longer in need.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Galatians 1:1-17

“When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting them or keeping them ‘in their place.’” Those are the opening words of Eugene Peterson in his introduction to the book of Galatians, and they do a great job of capturing the problem that Paul is going to address in this book.

From the beginning Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to set us free…” In the very next verse, he adds “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, then, is a Gospel of freedom and grace—not control or manipulation.

Paul will have harsh words for those who distort the Gospel and seek to use it for their own ends. But he also has harsh words for those who allow themselves to be used in this way. He wants them to know that there is only one Gospel, and he wants them to return to it. He wants them to live free and gracious lives.

It is interesting that this book does not follow the pattern of Paul’s other letters in that rather than beginning with thanksgiving for the church to which he is writing, he opens with a rebuke instead. I think this in itself tells us something about how serious this issue is.

Though it is a trite saying, it is nonetheless true: Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Religions are based on rules and regulations, rituals and ceremonies, all designed to force people into a certain box whether they like it or not. A relationship is very different, giving others the freedom they need to grow out of the box, and the grace that will keep them secure in the knowledge that they loved while taking the risk to do so.

May our lives and our churches be marked by nothing less. For Christ’s sake. For ours.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ephesians 5: 15-33

True confession: I have been drunk exactly twice in my life. The first time was when I was 16, and my girlfriend and I just broke up. I drowned my sorrows by chugging a glass of whiskey. It had the desired effect…and then some. The hangover was severe enough that it was not an experience I wanted to repeat.

I didn't repeat it until I was 34. This time I was seeking even some tiny measure of peace. If just for a moment, I wanted to escape into oblivion, and let all my cares and concerns fade away. And it worked, least until the next morning when I woke up.

I understood why a person will give up everything and lie face down in a gutter with nothing else in the world if only they can have another drink. The strength and intensity of that desire scared me so much that once again I knew this was an experience I couldn't afford to repeat—and, thank God, I haven’t.

Why do people drink? A number of reasons, I think. Like me, I think they want to be free from pain. In addition, they want to be free from anxiety. They want to be free from inhibition so they can be more social. They want to experience camaraderie.

Today’s passage commands us not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Surely this command is rooted in what we allow to shape our behavior; will it be God or something else such as alcohol? But more than that, I think it is also a reflection on how we deal with our hurts, fears, and sense of isolation. It raises the question of where we find our joy, and perhaps if we are finding any joy in the first place.

To be filled with the Spirit is to be in a right relationship with God and one another. When such relationships are present in our lives, we have all the support we need to bear our grief and sorrows, all the security we need to cast off our anxieties, all the love we need to dispel our loneliness. We find the joy which can’t help but result in singing, making melodies, and giving thanks.

It comes as no surprise, then, that relationships are what the following verses address; relationships in the home, work relationships, our relationship with God. Rightly constituted, these are the things that produce a cheerful heart—a heart full of good cheer, not alcohol and the mere illusion of well being it produces.

So… where is there hurt in your life? Worry? Loneliness? How are you addressing it? Are the relationships in your life getting the time and attention they deserve? And perhaps most importantly: How are you doing in your relationship with the Lord?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ephesians 5:1-14

In today's reading, Paul encourages the Ephesian Church to be imitators of God. But how does one imitate God? What does Paul mean by this? I submit it is simple, live a life full of love. As C. S. Lewis says, "When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now."

I am certainly not the best subject for this, but the best way I know to show love and thus to teach others about Christ is through example. As the English author Samuel Johnson once wrote, "Example is always more effective than teaching." Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." Children become like parents, churches become like pastors, and students become like teachers all because the power of example.

Ephesians 5 begins with an appeal to this principle of showing others the love of Christ by the way we live our lives, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children; and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us..." Living a life in which others can see the love of Christ is certainly not easy. However, it is what each of us as Christians are called to do. We are called to love God, to put others before ourselves, and to live our lives in a way that demonstrates this to others.

The Great Commission that Christ gave to each of us is to go out and spread the Word. There are many ways to spread the Word, but one of the most powerful is by the example we set in our daily life. By setting this example, God will open doors for you to discuss your faith with others. This happened to me. We where having a very tough day at work when someone asked me how I was able to stay so calm. This opened the door to a discussion about my faith. This person has since joined their local church.

Setting the proper example is not always easy. When you feel down you might find it difficult to set a good example - I know I do. When this happens to you remember to thank God for the strength to carry on and remember God's love will see you through. Another example Christ gave us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ephesians 4:17-32

Today is election day. Regardless of whatever our political persuasions may be, we can all agree that this is one of the biggest days in our country’s history. An African-American is taking the oath of office to become our 44th president. Wow. Honestly, I didn’t think this day would come – I didn’t think he’d win. Call me pessimistic, but however charismatic Mr. Obama is, I didn’t think our country would elect a black man. I so very much wanted to see this day in my lifetime, but honestly didn’t expect it. But this election has given me hope that our American society can actually change – not change in the sense that we voted for “change” as Mr. Obama’s campaign promised, but somehow we ourselves could change – our prejudices, our habits, and all the old ways that we’ve lived for so long that we have been loathe to rid ourselves of. And, yet, it has happened. Overwhelmingly people are supporting Barack Obama and have renewed hope and the American spirit.

By accident, I was in Baltimore last weekend when Mr. Obama’s “Whistle stop” train came through. My family had gone to the Baltimore aquarium and we had no idea anything else was going on in the city that day – we had intentionally stayed out of DC as to avoid traffic! When we came out of the Aquarium which is in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore we saw CNN set up and down the street about 2 blocks away, we could see the celebration and the people gathered. It was too cold (about 17 degrees) for us to join them, but the crowd was enormous and made up of every kind of person – white, black, Hispanic, avian, and I’m sure all faiths and cultural backgrounds were present. We saw many pour into a restaurant in which we were eating about an hour later. Everyone was in a good mood, hopeful, joyful even. Even those who had supported Mr. McCain (a great American) in the election are now expressing their hope for the American future because of Mr. Obama’s election.

All this having been said, one thing that Mr. Obama has said time and time again, is that the change we are all looking for is not going to happen quickly – it will take time. It will not be easy, there are difficult decisions to be made and difficult work to do… and we all need to be a part of it. If we read today’s passage from Ephesians, Paul, too, is calling for change – a change in how we live, and a change in priorities and a big change in how we treat one another. It is clear that Americans believe it is time for a change – but what kind?? Maybe we all should start with the words from St. Paul “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

We have to be the change we want to see in the world. Just as so many millions of people have grown beyond prejudices, so we too must grow beyond being a culture of greed and focus instead on being a culture of givers who take care of one another and the rest of the world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ephesians 4:1-16

Although I played football in Jr. High School almost 40 year ago now, I can still hear my coach's voice like it was yesterday. One of things he said was that it was a privilege to be chosen to play ball, and that we needed to be worthy of that choice. He did not want—indeed would not tolerate—any “dead wood” on our team.

Paul began Ephesians talking about the incredible privilege of being chosen by God. Now, much like my coach, he goes on to say that we need to lead a life worthy of our calling. There is to be no “dead wood” in the church.

So how do we do that? Paul tells us. We are to live with all humility, gentleness, and patience; to bear with one another in love; and to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Wow! Doe that every raise a lot of questions! The questions for me, at least, aren’t about what Paul means—it’s about whether or not I’m doing it.

Take humility, for instance. I heard NT Wright, an Evangelical bishop in the Anglican church, say he always assumes that 1/3 of what he is teaching is wrong. Unfortunately, he said, he doesn’t know what third that is.

Now he makes it crystal clear that he is unwaveringly committed to the Lordship of Jesus the Christ. But he also makes it clear that good Christian people have been mistaken about a good many things, completely convinced they were being faithful to Jesus and the Bible.

In all humility, he would rather not make that mistake. Can you imagine the difference in our churches it would make if we all exercised humility like that?!

Or take bearing with one another in love. If we have to bear with somebody, that means we probably don’t much like them. At the very least, it means there are some very real differences and difficulties in our relationship. But if we are going to bear with them, and even more so bear with them in love, we have to stay in the relationship. Ouch! Can you imagine the difference in our churches if we all did that? We might still be one Church instead of the splintered mess we are today.

Or take the “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit”. Every effort?!! How often can we say that? How often have we given up, judging the future on the basis of the past, judging God on the basis of our own inadequacies, and seeing a person, a situation, a relationship, as hopeless well before we’d made every effort to allow God to work in the way only God can by the mighty supernatural power of the Holy Spirit? Only then will we have made “every effort” to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

This is a tough, tough passage. Not because it is hard to understand—but because it’s not…

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ephesians 3:14-21

Every now and then something happens such that, if we are being honest, we say, "that couldn't possibly have happened. But it did."
That's how I feel about what is being called the "Miracle on the Hudson." Captain Chesley Sullenberger ditched his Airbus 340 in the river. It should have broken up and cartwheeled on impact. A swimmer would have perished within 5 minutes of entering the frigid water. Yet not one soul among 155 was lost.
This coming Tuesday's Inauguration will mark the culmination of another seemingly miraculous journey. We ought to cast off any assumptions we may still hold about what our leaders should look or sound like.
We can discern the hand of God at work in dramatic lifesaving situations, and in historic national events. Can we see it in the life of our families, our church, our communities? What has God done in your life this past year? (In my life, I recovered from a fall that cracked my spine in time to kayak one of the biggest rivers in Colorado.) Do we believe that God may do something this year that will take our breath away?
And yet. Whatever heights our dreams may attain, whatever breadth our audacious hopes may span, whatever depth of analysis and inquiry we undertake, there is always the Higher, Broader, Deeper--in the inheritance our Father has given us, in the love of Christ within us, and the life of the power of the Spirit. Amen.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ephesians 3:1-13

In reading today's passage, I am struck not by Paul's actual words, but by the situation in which he found himself as he traveled from place to place, starting new churches and building the first congregations.

I wonder how I would have reacted to Paul. In my mind, he would have walked into my village and started telling me how to live my life. Hummm. I don't think I would have liked him much. In fact, I could hear myself thinking, "That Paul. What a know-it-all. What makes him so high and mighty?" What proof did he have of his relationship with Jesus?

Of course, 2,000 years later, we have our proof of who Paul was and how Jesus indeed used him to further the Kingdom. And that makes me wonder - who in my world could I have dissed that was sent here to help me further the Kingdom in my own life? Or, who did God send to me to witness to but I just didn't see it. As enlightened as I think I may be, I have not been looking for those opportunities that God sends my way. When I meet new people or I'm placed into new situations my first thought is not always "Okay, now why has God placed me here?" Instead, I'm ashamed to say that I typically think about how such a situation or person would be of benefit to me.

I wonder how many Pauls have been sent my way that I have not allowed into my life. I tend to be shy anyway and I think that shyness is often misunderstood as being aloof. I've done nothing to change that perception as it is a handy screen. I am not good about letting people through my screening process. In fact, one of my New Year's resolutions is to work on that this year, to try and let more people get close so that I can affect their lives and, maybe even more importantly, so that they can affect mine.

So, maybe by the end of 2009 I'll be echoing Paul's words - "And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head" - because I've lowered my guard and allowed myself to see opportunities to reach out and to further God's Kingdom as He would have me do. Like Paul did.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ephesians 2:11-22

I’m going to assume that if you are taking the trouble to read this devotional, you are someone who takes the Bible seriously. Good for you! I’d like to think I do to.

If that is indeed the case, I think it is possible—perhaps even highly likely—that these are going to be some very difficult verses for you. They are for me.

I write that because I think these are some of the hardest verses of all for people who seek to be faithful to what the Bible teaches. It has been our tendency to judge, separate, and divide. Current events as well as world history bear this out in a way that seems inarguable to me.
These verses, however, teach that it is God’s great dream for his people that they might become one new humanity rather than exist as groups that are hostile to one another.

This weekend we will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He did not just preach a message of racial reconciliation. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He did not just preach his own dream for one humanity, he preached Jesus’ dream. And his message was no more popular in our day than it was for Jesus in his day. People—even good Christian people, perhaps ESPECIALLY good Christian people—would rather fight and divide than love and be reconciled.

Dear and beloved friends, please forgive me if I seem harsh and overbearing, but we cannot afford to continue to fail in this. To be one is the fulfillment of Jesus’ great prayer for us in John 17. It is the fulfillment of our mission as the Church as Paul lays it out so plainly for us in these verses.

We are called to be one in Christ! Sometimes the cost to us personally seems so high, especially when we are so certain we are right and so well justified in our actions… But I would suggest that the cost of our divisions to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is even higher, and that they cannot fail to break the heart of all who would seek to faithfully follow him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ephesians 2:1-10

Many times when I read the prescribed Bible reading for a given week, I am drawn to a particular verse or particular section. Today is no different. In today’s reading I am drawn to verse 8.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (verse 8).

This verse helps me remember, and I do not know about you, but I need to be reminded from time to time, that it is not by our own works that we are saved. It is by God’s mercy that we are saved. But what is this bit, “through faith”. I think Paul means that we need to give up on the concept that we can save ourselves, the concept of being able to provide what we need for our salvation, and let God give what he alone can provide. We need to trust God.

To me this verse reminds me what I know, but the reminder is most helpful. God’s grace gives you and me life and unites us with him. All we have to do is accept it. But how do we accept it? By accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. This is what we are asked to do. And when we do this, as our faith grows, we will want to apply his teachings into our lives. Our own personal will will become less important in our lives and God’s will will become greater. As this happens, the world becomes a better place.

I wish you all a wonderful 2009. I pray that all of us mature as Christians and we are all drawn closer to God.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ephesians 1:15-23

What is “the hope to which God has called us”? What are the “riches of His glorious inheritance”? These days so many of us have seen today’s economy absolutely devastate the personal financial situation of so many in our society and maybe even ours – we’ve all lost something recently. Retirement accounts are worth significantly less, other investments are non-existent and even worse, whole companies have gone out of business and so many have lost their jobs. When we think about hope and riches – what most of us think of first is how much we don’t have.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the losses. Some have – they’ve been so devastated they don’t know where to turn. Two billionaires who lost so much they couldn’t deal with it and decided they were worth more dead than alive and they committed suicide. Hopefully none of us are anywhere close to that and we realize that our very lives are so much more valuable than any stock we hold or any job we have.

So, in these times, where do we find hope? Our hope is always first and foremost founded on Christ. Let us remember, when Jesus came into the world the world was expecting a Messiah – but a very different one. They were expecting someone to rescue them from the Roman oppression. Jesus came. He was the Messiah. Roman occupation did not end. What Jesus gave was hope in spite of the occupation. The riches he gave were found in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the peace of knowing the God loves them and is with them - in good times and in bad times. Reliance on the goodness of God is what gets us through times like this. God’s riches are also the inspiration for us to focus on what true riches are – riches of our families and friends, riches of having a personal relationship with God. If we focus on developing those relationships and not developing our portfolio, we won’t be so stressed about what is going on in the world. Maybe we could even save more worldly riches by not spending on things that are unnecessary and living our lives more simply. Now is a good time to reprioritize – to focus on the hope that is in Christ and the riches He has given us and not on the things of this world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ephesians 1:1-14

How much do you think about God?

We live in such a busy world. Do we ever simply sit down and reflect on who God is? Do we think about his magnificence, his splendor, the depth and extend of his lover for and goodness towards us?

Paul thinks about God. “How blessed is God!” he writes, expanding that thought in the verses that follow. As I read them, I cannot help but feel how deeply blessed we all are to be able to share in that blessing. “And what a blessing God is!” Paul exclaims, and I cannot help but agree. This is surely one of the great benefits of engaging in the very ancient practice of thinking about, or meditating upon, the very glory of God.

Whether or not we think about God, these verse make it clear he thinks about us. A lot. Since before the world began. “Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.”

I think what God is a saying is that from the very beginning he has made up his mind to love us, and nothing is going to change that. His love and commitment for us are a reflection on who he is, and so not subject to the vicissitudes and changes of our lives or our world. He is absolutely faithful, absolutely loyal, can always be counted on to love us without fail.

Paul is going to go on to show how what we believe about God must be joined to what we do for God. He is going to go on to address our various relationships in very specific ways, encouraging us to see how God’s relationship to us is meant to shape our relationships with one another. As he is unfailingly faithful to us, so we need to be unfailingly faithful as well.

The world, the church, and the people in them will always change. I will not always like those changes; in fact I often do not. But when I am at my best, those changes do not determine my actions. I want to stay faithful not because of what anyone else does or doesn’t do, but because—by God’s grace—it is who I am.

(Note: I’ve chosen the use The Message for reading these verses. More traditional translation introduces the idea of predestination, and it is entirely possible that this will lead readers down a theological rabbit trail and so miss what these verses are really about.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Revelation 2:18-29

This is a tough passage at first. It’s so angry. I grew up in a house with a lot of anger and sometimes anger, in all its forms threatens to be one of those things that weighs me down. Yet when I read this passage in The Message I realize that it is God who is angry. My experience with anger tends to color how I see God’s anger—how I see God himself.

Bu the I realize that He is angry because His Son’s death on the cross was being trivialized by so-called “prophets” who are adding to the Gospel. His anger flows from his love, not from the dark places our from which our human anger so often flows.

Also God here is showing compassion for some; for those who are holding fast to the gospel, not giving up and going along with the deception that others have.

Like Scripture will do, this is a call for us to examine ourselves to see how we are “going along” with the religion of the day, the culture of our day. I know for me, it’s easy to be content with my comfortable life. This challenges us to really examine Scripture to see how our lives are veering off from the truth of Christ and what He died for.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Revelation 2: 8-17

Would you like to know what Christ expects of you in 2009?

That is the subject of today’s verses from the book of Revelation. In them, we see two basic expectations Christ has of his followers who are faithful to him. First, they will be willing to suffer. And second, they will hold fast to the Truth. The two are not unrelated.

To embrace that Truth is to embrace suffering. Because to embrace Truth is not just to believe it, it is also to live it. It is not just to see what should be done, it is to do it. It is not just to see what needs to be sacrificed, it is to sacrifice it. It is not just to see what must be changed—in ourselves most of all—it is to change it.

As we head into 2009, it is worth asking where God is calling us to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps we are called to suffer financially, as the Truth leads us to see what really matters and give with a generosity we once would never even have thought possible (and certainly would not have thought desirable!). Perhaps we are called to suffer physically, as the Truth of our identity as servants calls us to help others in ways that are uncomfortable for us, require hard work, or entail giving up time that we would rather have spent on our selves. Perhaps we are called to suffer mentally as the Truth calls us to see the world in new ways, to think in new ways, to trust in new ways. Perhaps we are called to suffer relationally as the Truth calls us live honestly in love, learning to forgive, to be vulnerable, to forsake familiar patterns of behavior.

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 dangerously and boldly proclaims.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Revelation 2:1-7

I often find the book of Revelation a bit confusing – but today it seems very clear to me. In today's reading, Jesus Christ commends the church at Ephesus for working hard, persevering, resisting sin, critically examining the claims of false apostles, and enduring hardships without becoming weary. These good works are the characteristics every church should have. But then, in 2:4, Christ indicates something much less commendable, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."

Is it possible in the battle to maintain sound teaching and good morals and to lose the loving spirit?

Of course, and today the same accusation can be leveled at some churches. Sure there is an eagerness for truth, there is continuous and persevering labor; but the intimate love for Jesus Christ is sometimes lacking. A church, a community, or a Christian can set an example with good deeds but still not have the love for Jesus Christ that must grow in the core of the being. Without growing love, these activities are in vain.

This concept of growing love is troubling. I mean think of a new relationship or your spouse. When you first meet the thrill is very high. The excitement is very high. You think about the other person all the time. However, when the relationship or marriage gets older, there is a tendency for these items to fade. In the same way, when we became new Christians we were excited and "fired up" to do God's work. We longed to find ways to show our love of Christ. But as our relationship with Christ has matured, there could be a tendency to let that excitement fade just a bit. Our love is not growing, it is stagnate at best.

The best way I know to grow this love is to be intimate again. Intimate with your spouse. Intimate with Christ. Recite the Jesus Creed, make a point of praying every day. Growing the love in our heart for Jesus will bring us closer to his will and help each of us understand his plan for us.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Revelation 21:22-27

Today is the feast of the Epiphany the day when the 3 kings found the baby Jesus and worshipped him. They came bearing exquisite gifts. They came to help prepare Jesus for his life in this world. Today we begin the season where, like the kings, we worship Jesus because our King has come into the world.

Today in our reading from Revelation, we get a vision of the next world - where Jesus' kingdom is established. The word epiphany actually means "light" - and we are told that Jesus is the light of the world (John 1). In this reading from Revelation, there is no need for a sun or a moon, because God illumines everything through Jesus. We are given hope that the Heavenly world and earthly world will meet upon Jesus' return - that God's kingdom will be established on earth. One day, we all, like the 3 kings on that first epiphany, will worship God and all earthly nations and all earthly kings will one day acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior and worship Him.

In the meantime, we are called to carry the light of Christ for the world to see so that all might be drawn to worship Him as their King. As we move through these next several weeks, may we all consider how we might more effectively be the light of Christ for the world.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Faith… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of a great Cloud of Witnesses. Their continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

I’m sure you recognize these words as the introduction to Star Trek. But they could also well be a summary of today’s reading from Hebrews, and a summary of our mission as people of faith as well.

I could be wrong, but it strikes me that Christianity has become an increasingly rational enterprise in recent years. Sermons are often recommendations on how to live based more on psychology than the radical, supernatural power of God. Churches have more and more followed modern business, marketing, and entertainment practices rather than seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Christians emphasize studying the Bible but neglect prayer, a bold exercise in faith if there ever was one.

What would it mean for you to live by faith like the people described in these verses? What would it mean for me?

What a sacrifices would we make if we believed by faith there really was something better waiting for us ahead? In what ways would we be willing to suffer if by faith we believed our suffering achieved a great purpose? What great works would we do if we were convinced by faith that God wants us to do them?

Frankly, I need to do a far better job of living by faith. Perhaps you do too. So let’s take the plunge. Let’s get a little, or maybe a even a lot, crazy. Let’s be audacious. Let’s refuse to settle for the ordinary, for life as we’ve known it, and—by faith—go where no one has gone before.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Hebrews 11:13-22

I'm just home (in the last hour) from a two-week odyssey. My body is still on Pacific time (and it was only yesterday that I was paddling through sea caves in the Pacific). Holiday is over; back to work on Monday; but I am home.

The writer of Hebrews tells of those people of faith who were seeking the way home. They knew that, wherever on earth they might be, at best they were passing through. They had a promise given to them. They didn't know precisely when the promise would find its fulfillment. They didn't know where. But they kept looking, with expectation all the while.

Lord, thank you for bringing us safely to this New Year. Help us to keep looking with keen expectation for the times and places where you need us to be ministers of your grace. Keep us mindful that we can only find our true home in the land of your promise.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Hebrews 11:1-12

We can all use a dissertation on faith every now and again, don’t you think? Some of us are better at faith than others, I’m sure. But, doesn’t also seem that God places lessons of faith at the very time and place where they are needed the most? Look at George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

This is one of those times in my life. Today is my son’s 21st birthday. I think back to the last 21 years and everything that has transpired in between. At any one given moment, it seemed like a normal life time, but looking back, each moment was precious.

As our children age – in fact, as we ourselves age – we have so many dreams and hopes. We have faith in their future. We perhaps have even more faith in their ability to survive than in our ability to get through life. But, having them around gets us through as well. We work so hard at getting them where they need to be – prepared for life.

In fact, faith plays a huge part in bringing up children, in my mind anyway. In today’s reading, this verse rings particularly true: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, SO THAT WHAT IS SEEN WAS NOT MADE OUT OF WHAT WAS VISIBLE” (emphasis added).

So much of what we do for our family we do from blindness as to what the ultimate outcome will be. It is with faith – and, if you’re like me, lots of prayer – that we continue to plug along. Yet, it’s not out of faith alone. I don’t believe that God means for parents to be devoid of decision-making except out of divine guidance. And that, of course, is the crux of the issue.

We really won’t know the fruits of the parents’ labors until the children are fully grown, and sometimes until they have children of their own. In the meantime, we continue with faith in believing the best in them – and the best in ourselves.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Colossians 2:6-12

For many, January 1st is the day we celebrate the New Year. However, the calendar of the Church Year celebrates something different. Do you know what it is?

I’ll give you a hint. There is ancient Jewish ceremony that was practiced on the eighth day of a boy’s life. If you guessed circumcision, you are correct. As such, this day is the occasion where we remember Our Lord first shedding his blood for us.

Over time, as people have perhaps become more squeamish, the emphasis came to be on the other part of this ancient custom. On the same day a Jewish boy was circumcised, he was also formally named. On most modern calendars of the Church Year, then, January 1 is called the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Either way, this day is an opportunity to renew our trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. He is the one who suffered to save us, and in so doing to bring us into the fullness of our salvation.

That is also the message of our reading from Colossians as well. Baptism becomes our “spiritual circumcision”, now available to women as well as men. In it we die to the “flesh”, to the corrupt desires that separate us from God and each other. In it, we are raised to new life in Christ. That is the great hope on which we stake our lives.

As we begin a New Year, let us commit ourselves anew to following Jesus Christ with our whole heart; with all that we have and all that we are. In so doing, may we be willing to suffer for him even as he suffered for us. May our prayer be, “Lord Jesus, what would you have me do in 2009?” And then may we go on do it, letting nothing in heaven or on earth stand in our way.