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.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

1 Corinthians 9:1-15

In reading this passage, it seems pretty clear that there were some people who were upset with Paul. They were complaining about him and the way he did things. Apparently they wondered if his way of doing things was “of the Lord”. It’s also seems clear that Paul is hurt by this.

And my guess is that anyone who has taken a step out in public ministry can relate to that. Whether it’s the Youth Group, Music Ministry, Sunday School, teaching, leadership—whatever—more often than not there is going to be somebody who is unhappy with how you are doing things. And it will hurt.

I think two things. First, Paul was clear that what he was doing was indeed of the Lord. He knew he was being faithful. So he didn’t stop what he was doing or how he was doing it. Though it is valuable to receive input and feedback, we answer first to God.

Second, in seeing how deeply Paul was hurt by the people around him, might we be encouraged to do a better job of valuing and being grateful for the people around us? In particular, can we be those who learn to appreciate people who step out in ministry, to see what God is doing through them rather than being threatened by it or thinking about what we would do differently? Can we send them a note of encouragement rather than finding someone else who will share our complaint?

I guess the real question is: Can we learn to appreciate one another, care for one another, love one another—like Christ loved us?