Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1 John 5:1-12

In today's passage, we find, "This is love for God; to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome," (verse 3). This verse seemed odd to me when I first read it. I mean aren't God's commands very difficult to follow? In fact, aren't they so difficult (impossible) to follow that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, into the world so mankind could be saved. Paul tells us many times in his letters that deeds cannot save us as no one can follow all the commandments and thus we must be saved by believing in Jesus Christ. So what gives? John must have another meaning for burdensome other than easy to follow.

Certainly God's commandments are not always the easiest path to follow in life. In fact, it is often easier to disobey than to obey. Thus John must be talking about the consequences of obeying God's commands.

Let's take an example. Let's look at the commandment to not commit adultery. If obeying this commandment (remaining faithful to your spouse) is harder than disobeying (giving in to passion) then the consequences of obeying will be much easier than the consequences of disobeying. In other words, sin has a price. Most of the time when we pay that price we see that it would have been easier to not have sinned in the first place. In our example, the price for adultery can be devastating - it can lead to mistrust, hurt feelings, and family breakup. So in the long run, obeying God's commandments is not burdensome, it is much easier than the price of sin.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

1 John 4:7-21

Today's reading is all about love and love perfected. If we love one another, we can't hate our brother we are told. The rest of it seems to be some pretty deep theology that is difficult to understand unless we pick it apart. The bottom line is we are to allow God's love to flow through us towards all people, even those we don't particularly like. But, sometimes that is difficult even in the best of circumstances, because we just don't always feel like loving - anyone.

What do we do when that happens? What do we do when we don't feel love... and, what if the person we mostly don't love, is our spouse? After all, that is the person we are committed to loving, in sickness and in health and all of that, right? But what if we don't feel like it and all our spouse seems capable of doing is jumping on our last nerve? Or, even worse, we don't feel anything at all when we are with them - not anger, not disdain, not love, not anything.

I think really love isn't a feeling. I don't think we always feel love like we think we should or movies tell us we should. I think love is a choice. We choose how we treat another, we choose how we act, how we respond. We choose to act in love - or not. We aren't always going to feel like being kind, or patient or long-suffering. But we choose to do so in spite of how we feel. The feelings of love come and go. We must remember, marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. We aren't always going to feel great and sometimes we'll "hit the wall" to use a runners metaphor but if we push through that wall and just choose to keep going even though there are times we don't feel we want to take one more step, we just might find that we do indeed have the stamina to finish the race.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The "Other" John 3:16

Every sports fans knows "of" John 3:16. Every Christian (at least) knows what it says: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. That is the core of St John the Evangelist's gospel, a purpose he restates in chapter 20: these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.



That is a message reiterated by virtually every "small e" evangelist in the last two thousand years. The life of that message is undiminished by time. But it may get diminished when reduced to alphanumeric shorthand. Or when we focus, without context, on the magnificent thing God has done without absorbing what it calls on us to do and to be.



By a wonderful coincidence, John's letter provides a complementary and amplifying enjoinder. The third chapter, sixteenth verse says:



"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another."



Believing is not in what we write or speak. It is action. It is in love, the kind of love that Jesus showed and which John calls on believers to show--in "laying down one's life."

What does that look like? It could be, in the most extreme instance, the ultimate sacrifice. But I don't think that's what John intends as a matter of regular, daily demonstration of love. I think he intends that we love sacrificially by putting the needs of our brothers and sisters foremost in mind. That most certainly includes providing, when we are able, for the human and humane needs of those we see who need them.

I should ask myself each day: am I laying down my life for those who are in need? Am I thinking of others when I walk into a store and fill my cart? When I go out to eat? When I take a vacation?

If I'm being honest with myself, I acknowledge that I could be doing more, a lot more, to love sacrificially, to lay down my life daily. But that is what love is and what true love does.

I John 3:1-10

A lot of our life in this world takes place in families (as I write this a family of crows is in the trees outside, conversing in their funny voices). We have concern for our families and try our best to help them. We feel responsibilities to our families and suffer when they suffer.

Sometimes we look like our parents or share physical characteristics, for better or worse. We inheirit hair color or height. More powerfully, we learn behaviors from our parents, and values. When I think of my mother I remember her car trunk full of pies one day. A bakery had donated them and she was taking the time and trouble to pass them on to someone who may need a pie! One of her values was taking time to help people.

In this passage John says, God loves us so much that we are now the children of God; what a wonderful statement. Family resemblance; John says, should be apparent. If we claim that God is our spiritual parent people should be able to tell who our parent is by our actions. We will see God, and then we will be like him (verse 2), so, having this hope, we learn behavior from God and, anticipating being like God we behave like God.

John then goes on to explain what behavior we should learn from God; righteousness and love. We will not be sinless but we should persist in emulating our Father. John brings this passage to a close with a very direct example of what God wants; love our fellow Christians. Today may we love those in our faith family .

Thursday, April 23, 2009

1 John 2: 18-29

Today’s passage mentions “antichrists”, a reference to those who stand “against” or “opposite” Christ. John writes that these antichrists have certain unmistakable characteristics. In earlier verses, for instance, he has told us that two such characteristics are disobedience to the commands of Christ and a lack of love for one another.

In these verses, John gives us still more ways to recognize antichrists. In verses 18-19, we see that those who do not continue in Christian fellowship, or who do not remain in community with fellow believers, make their true status in relation to Christ known. Those who love and follow Jesus will be in deep and profound relationship with others who are so devoted.

And then in verses 20-25, we see that antichrists deny the faith. They deny the true identity of Jesus the Christ as the unique incarnation of God the Father. He is indeed one with the Father, so that whoever has the Son has the Father also. In denying the identity of Jesus, antichrists deny his exclusive claim on our lives as our Lord and Savior.

In sharing with us characteristics such as these, John’s hope is that we would hold fast to the truth as we continue to abide in Jesus. Practically speaking, this means being in regular and deep relationship with other believers, and intentionally seeking and submitting to Jesus' leading in our lives.

Clearly, antichrists continue to exist in the world today. They exhibit the same characteristics outlined in the First Letter of John, and so can be recognized today just like they were so many years ago. Like John’s earliest readers, we too must be diligent in holding to the truth, professing both by our words and our lives that Jesus is the Christ, is God incarnate, is our Lord and Savior. It is only when we do this that we will abide in him

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

1 John 2:12-17

At first glance 1 John 2:15 may seem like a contradiction. As we all know, Jesus tells us that the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. Now here in 1 John 2:15 we see, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." But how can we love God and our neighbors and not the world? Aren't our neighbors in the world?

The Greek word for world, in this case, is kosmos, which refers to the attitudes and values that disregard God or are blatantly against God. It does not mean, or refer to, God's natural creation or humanity. In other words, this message is consistent with Jesus' teachings - we are to love the people of the world but not the sinful attitudes and values those same people may embrace.

The last verse of today's reading is extremely powerful. If any of us truly believes that there is an opportunity to live forever, for all eternity, in the presence of God, in a place with a peace beyond our understanding, then all of us would do anything to fulfill verse 17, "The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."

I saw a documentary on Jim Elliot and the movie about his missionary work call, "End of The Spear", perhaps you saw it too. A quote of Jim Elliot's sticks with me and I feel is appropriate to today's reading. "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to get what he cannot lose."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

1 John 2:1-11

In another Christian denomination, the Bible lessons for the day are read in Sunday services. When the reader concludes the passage for the day, (s)he says “Blessed is he who hears the word of God, and keeps it.” This is essentially John’s message for the day – we can’t be faithful followers of Christ and not allow the word of God to become a part of who we are, a part of our souls and thus motivate us to live good, holy, godly lives. We can’t say we believe one thing, and do another. We have to walk the walk so to speak.
We do have to be careful, however, that we don’t get wrapped up in a “faith vs. works” debate on redemption. As Martin Luther very rightly reminded the world – we are saved by the grace of God, not anything we do on our own. There is nothing we can do to “earn” our salvation. That having been said, people of faith ought to be good examples for others of how to live our lives. We ought to exemplify the Gospel .
So, are we people of faith, or not? How can others tell? Do they see Christ when they look at us or not? Are we participating members of the Body of Christ or are we only worshiping God with our lips and not our lives? As John reminds us in today’s passage, we need to show are faith that is in our hearts, with our lives. We need to live as Jesus would live and do what Jesus would do.

Friday, April 17, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

I cannot really imagine how difficult Paul’s job was. Not only did he have to convince folks that Jesus died and rose again – an incredible tale in and of itself - but he also had to convince them that the reason Jesus died was to give to all the same opportunity. Throughout this Chapter 15 of 1st Corinthians he does this is a number of ways.

First, he reiterates the resurrection of Christ, as told not just by Paul, but by the other apostles. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is nothing special, but a sinner like everyone else, as if to say “Don’t listen to me, listen to the apostles who were actually there and saw it all.” Paul uses this argument in many of his writings very convincingly, given his background as a Pharisee who at one time had dedicated his life to killing new Christians.

Second, he refers back to the Old Testament prophesies. That is to say, if you believed in the Old Testament, how can you not believe in Christ. He uses passages from Isaiah, Genesis and Hosea to make his point – most particularly in today’s readings he quotes from Isaiah “Death has been swallowed up in victory”. How can death be a victory if there wasn’t something more to it, like a resurrection of the dead?

Third, he agrees that this is a mystery. It may be hard to believe, but it is truly so simple, so freeing and it makes such perfect sense. If being resurrected with Christ is not the point of death, then what’s the point of living? After all, death is inevitable – “the trumpet will sound”.

Finally, Paul encourages the readers – with all this to look forward to, stand your ground. Don’t hold back in your work for the Lord because it will not be in vain. The reward is so much greater than the cost; but, as with most prizes, it can be hard to always remember that. And that is, after all, the point of this Chapter – to convince new Christians – and all of us as well – that to follow the way of Christ is the path to everlasting life. Not an easy task, indeed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Acts 3: 11-26

One of the first things I notice in this passage is how quick Peter is to keep things centered on God. In the preceding verses, Peter has just prayed for a lame man who was instantly healed. Naturally enough, this got everybody’s attention, and so they turned to Peter. Perhaps they were wondering if he was the new Messiah.

Peter, however, immediately disabuses them of any notion that it is by his power or piety that the man was healed. It was God—their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who did this, and he did it through faith in Jesus Christ.

And it is still God, at work in His son Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, that “heals” people and makes them whole. It is God who restores all things, whether a broken body or a broken heart or a wayward spirit.

Like Peter, we too must let God’s power flow through us as we tell people about Jesus. One of the themes of the book of Acts is that we are to be so filled with the Spirit that the Spirit can’t help but flow forth from us in bold witness to Christ. But the problem for many of us is that we keep the Spirit for ourselves, or we dam up the flow. Often we do so out of fear; fear that we will be rejected, ridiculed, or that we somehow don’t know enough or aren’t together enough to be an effective witness.

And that’s too bad, because the world still needs people who will boldly proclaim their faith in Jesus just as Peter did. There cannot be a harvest if someone does not first plant a seed. If we want beautiful flowers or delicious vegetables later in the summer, someone has to plant the seeds now. If we want people to know how much God loves and cares for them and wants to be a part of their life, we’ve got to be willing to speak a word for Jesus now. There is no way around it.

Who have you told today about the Good News of what God has done in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:29-41

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

1 Corinthians 15:12-28

In this reading, St. Paul is arguing that through Christ’s resurrection all those who die are also given the gift of resurrection… they have eternal life. He goes on to say that if this didn’t happen then Jesus’ death and resurrection is in vain and our faith is in vain. For Paul, faith in Jesus’ resurrection is the cornerstone of faith - the foundation upon which all faith is founded.
I wonder, though, does it really matter? How many of us go through our daily lives not really thinking about the resurrection of Christ? How many of us get up, go to work, come home, have dinner, and go to bed not REALLY mindful of all the God accomplished in Christ’s resurrection and all the gifts we’ve been given through it? While we may be faithful people and we may attend and even be very active in church, do we keep Christ’s resurrection in the forefront of our minds? Do we focus on it as a guiding light or is it just a fact of history we accept but don’t really think about, and, therefore, don’t really let it influence how we live or our decision making processes?
What if we did? How would our lives be different? What if we focused on the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead and death, sorrow, sickness, and despair were no more? What if instead of getting wrapped up in the daily disappointments we got wrapped up in the daily joys? What if instead of getting angry with those who disappoint us we remind ourselves of the resurrection of Christ and the joys that that brings? How would your daily life be different? I suspect that if we all focused on the Resurrection of Christ, that our outlook on life would be different, more positive. We could certainly be assured that Christ’s resurrection does, indeed matter and His death was not in vain.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Exodus 12: 1-14, Psalms 148, 149 & 150 , Luke 24: 13-35 , John 20: 19-23

Sometimes people believe that what is really important about Christianity is what Jesus taught -- his message, his words. That, however, is not true. What Christianity teaches is that the single most important thing of all is Jesus himself. That the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as recorded in the Bible really did happen – THAT is at the very heart of Christianity.

It is because these events are true that we believe Jesus is the Christ, the one who is able to save us from sin and death.

It is because Jesus rose from the dead and really did appear to the disciples that we believe He can enter our hearts today.

It is because He really did deliver His followers from their fears and brought them a peace that passed all understanding that we believe His very real presence in our lives can do the same thing for us today.

It is because He really did breath the Holy Spirit upon his disciples so that they received the very power of God to transform their lives and their world that we believe our lives and our world can still be transformed by that very same Spirit, that very same power today.

It is because Christianity really did happen in Israel 2000 years ago that we believe it can continue to happen in our world today.

Yes, Jesus’ words are important. But even more important is Jesus himself, for it is Jesus who brings those words to life as he shows us the way and gives us the power to turn from the path of sin and death, to be free from the baggage of that way in the very real forgiveness He offers, and to live in a vibrant and robust relationship with God Almighty, the very creator of all that is. May we celebrate this Easter by dedicating ourselves anew to living in the power and in the presence of our risen and very much alive Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

--CRM

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Job 19:21-27a, Psalm 88, Hebrews 4:1-16, Romans 8:1-11

I really enjoy the book of Romans. In today’s reading from Romans 8, I have always liked verse 6, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” This verse has been on my verse list for some time.
In this verse, Paul is not defining two categories of people; rather, he is using the opposite extremes of the spectrum to illustrate two ways of living life. To illustrate this point, I like a story told by James Boice from the life of the English abolitionist, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce, a strong Christian, had tried unsuccessfully to get his friend, William Pitt, the Prime Minister of England, the person Pittsburgh is named after, to go and hear the great British preacher, Richard Cecil. Pitt was a nominal Christian only, and Wilberforce thought the preaching of Cecil might awaken faith in his friend’s heart.

Finally agreeing to go with Wilberforce, Pitt attended Cecil’s preaching service, where the two sat and heard a powerful and wonderful presentation of the truths of God. Wilberforce was sure that his friend, Pitt, would sense the truth and embrace it wholeheartedly. But as they left the service, Pitt turned to Wilberforce and said, “You know, Wilberforce, I have not the slightest idea what that man has been talking about.” Boice concludes by saying, “Clearly, Pitt was as deaf to God as if he were a physically dead man.”

The easy observation is people at the far end of the spectrum. But, like Boice’s story, Paul is also talking to us – those who profess to be Christians. We are called to live a life controlled by the Spirit. To act out our faith. To preach the gospel without always using words.

Peace be with you on this Holy Saturday. Allow your mind to be controlled by the Spirit.

--RPL

Friday, April 10, 2009

Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 22, 1 Peter 1:10-20, John 19:38-42

Psalm 22 is one of the most famous Psalms for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or the intense feeling of unanswered prayer. Many of us petition God continually not only for our own needs but also the needs of others. In a world filled with poverty, disease, and heartbreak, this Psalm is one we each can identify with at some point in our lives. We ask ourselves during these times if God really is a loving God – because if He were, wouldn’t He answer these prayers to resolve such devastating things? If God were all powerful, wouldn’t He in His loving power reach down and heal the world from its ills? When these huge devastating events hit close to home, hurting our families or close friends and we drop to our knees looking for God to rescue the situation and He doesn’t, how do we resolve that in our hearts?? Sometimes we don’t see how God makes good from a situation until long after it’s over, but it is very difficult to see in the moment.

The only comfort we have is that we are in good company. A couple of years ago, Mother Teresa’s confessor did a highly controversial thing in publishing her letters of confession to him. Mother Teresa confessed that, for more than 20 years, she never felt the presence of God and wondered if her prayers would be answered. It’s difficult for us to imagine that a woman who is so revered for her faithfulness actually had doubt.

Finally, remember that these words from verse 1 are so familiar because Jesus said them on the Cross, “…My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus, the Son of God, the one so intricately connected to God, a part of God Himself, felt the agony of the separation. We can take comfort that God, at the very least, understands.

--ASM

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Jeremiah 20:7-11, Psalm 102, 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32, John 17:1-26

He blessed and broke the bread, he poured the wine
Arise, let us go from here
No more with us ever share fruit of the vine
Arise, let us go from here
He’s washing our feet, he’s cleansing us all,
He speaks of a traitor (we feel appalled,
Sober or stunned). Now we heed his call
Arise, let us go from here.

So down from that upper room, into the street
Love each other as I have loved you
Afraid, in the dark, of each stranger we meet
Love each other as I have loved you
We creep past walled vineyards, beneath olive trees
Still listening, still wondering at what this night means
And where we are going, what longing appease
Love each other as I have loved you.

So here in Gethsemane set the night guard
I have much more to say to you
Some rest in the shadows, the waiting is hard
I have much more to say to you
He prays in the moonlight, he sweats in the cold
What dangers await us, what crisis unfold
When others discover us, daylight behold?
I have much more to say to you.

He meets me, and all of us, in the streets where we live and walk. His challenge, his mandate to us is to think about unthinkable acts of love, and to practice them not randomly but with his purpose. He calls his a new commandment, new because no one had ever perceived that loving one another with no conditions whatsoever could actually be God’s intention for us.

Look upon the calloused, aching, broken trod-through-the-grime-and-sweat feet, and not only not look away, but caress and care and love them in all their cracked reality. Our hands on filthy feet are his instruments of grace, the means that he chooses to make each other fit to stand before him at the last day. And our feet may yet also walk the road of sacrifice.

--MLB

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Jeremiah 17:5-17, Psalm 55, Philippians 4:1-13, John 12:27-36

Because Jesus gave with the view that people are equal, we, as Christians, ought to support the same view. When I went to Belize the summer before last, I felt uneasy. I had this strange feeling that the trip was about me, and not about the people I was supposedly going to help. When I reflected on these feelings, I realized I could understand them by examining a phrase that I hear from many people who go on mission trips, including myself: “I went to give to them, but they gave so much to me.”

The motivation to give, at least on the surface, is that we have more material resources (money) than those to whom we give. However, consider the mindset of many people who go on mission trips. I think it’s fair to say that most of them go for two reasons: to give materially and to give love. This leads to a contradiction, though, because if we are going there to give them both money and love, we do not just go because we have more money. We also go because we have more love, which implies that we are better in some sense than those to whom we are giving. A second common statement by those who have gone on mission trips resolves this: “When we realize how much love they give to us, it becomes clear that we are not going on these trips to give love, but to exchange love.”

This subtle realization changes our mindset from one that gives as people to one that gives as Jesus. One of the shortcomings of mission trips is that, over time, people tend to forget what they learned; they then have to wait for a later trip to relearn it.

Yet, if we were to forget this particular lesson and have to wait until the next mission trip to relearn how to give like Jesus, when, then, will we really give like Jesus?

--JDH

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Jeremiah 15:10-21, Psalms 6 & 12, Philippians 3:15-21, John 12:20-26

I enjoy reading the lamentations and cries for relief from suffering interspersed with worshipping praises, as in the First Reading (Jeremiah) and the Psalms. Somehow it makes me feel better knowing there were thousands of people feeling exactly as I do at times. Call it a tinge of ‘misery loves company’?

After these first readings, though, I also enjoyed reading Philippians and John. It’s certainly too easy to get caught up in your own life, especially if it feels ridiculously busy; but these last 2 readings seem to give me exactly what I need in dealing with that: focus and direction. I wish I had all the answers for running my own life, but these readings remind me that I don’t have to. To me, it’s not just a matter of ‘giving it to God’ when you’re at a loss for how to fix a problem yourself. I think it’s more a matter of focusing on God that the answers become easier to discern. John 12:25 says, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This passage refers to our ‘self’ which is to be in union with God, not to be as an autonomous being. Hating your life refers to keeping your life as your own and under your control. But seriously, where is the value and joy in that? Are you helping others if that’s your focus? Is that what you would really want? Considering this, isn’t it even easier to try to be a disciple of Christ, of God, than to live your life for yourself? If you keep your focus on trying to be one with God rather than, “I have this list of problems,” might you feel some relief from stress? I sure do.

When I remember my focus, my requests to God – my prayers – are much different. Remembering Christ loved me so much that he was willing to be sacrificed for me makes me love Him all the more and want to be one with Him.

--LML

Monday, April 06, 2009

Jeremiah 12:1-16, Psalm 51, Philippians 3:1-14, John 12:9-19

I personally love to read the Psalms during Lent. They are comforting in so many ways. I’m reminded that I’m not alone in my sinful existence. From the time Eve took the bite of the apple, man knew that we were sinful creatures. Since we ourselves are not God, and because God gave to us free will, we will continue to sin.

But, one of the things I like about this particular Psalm is that David, who has just committed adultery and is seeking God’s forgiveness, does not wallow in his misery over being sinful. Instead, he asks God to clean his heart so that he can fulfill what God would have him achieve – “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.”

It would be very easy (and very human) for us to believe that we are without cause. Why even bother to live the life God would have us live? We will always fail since we are human? But, as we know, time after time in the Bible, and even time after time in our own lives, God teaches us to pick ourselves up and learn from our sins. “Go and sin no more” is what we are taught. To ignore this instruction would be turning our own backs on God and the life He would have us live.

But this passage also teaches us about hope. The security of God’s love that David asks for in his repentance is the same blanket of grace that God offers to us day after day, and time after time. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” The hope of restoration is a constant reminder to us that God will never leave our side. The only abandonment that ever could occur would be on our part – not God’s.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. His plan for us already includes the allowances we need to succeed based not only on our shortcomings but also on our capabilities, many of which we may not even know fully.

So, my take away from Psalm 51 is to trudge along, with faith and hope, and the certain knowledge that God is with me and will help me succeed.

--VAN

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Zechariah 9:9-12, Psalms 24 & 29, 1 Timothy 6:12-16, Matthew 21:12-17

Many people look at God as a grey-haired, bearded old man sitting up in heaven just waiting for someone to mess up so He can zap them with thunderbolts to straighten them out again. As we read Psalm 29, it’s easy to see how some might take that view. Starting in verse 5, we have a list of things that the voice of the LORD can do: breaking cedars into pieces, moving mountains, striking with flashes of lightning, shaking the desert, twisting oaks and stripping forests bare.

These are pretty powerful acts done to some of nature’s most impressive objects. And yet, it should come as no surprise that the voice of the LORD can do these things since it was that very same voice that spoke all of creation into existence. Surely, if He can make it, He can shake and break it.

So why is David telling us all of this? Is it just to remind us that God can destroy things? That we better behave ourselves or we might find ourselves at the wrong end of a lightning bolt? No. Instead, David is reminding us that God has power and control over all these big, impressive things in order to convince us that He has power and control over ALL things.

As we enter Holy Week, we’re also reminded of God’s great love for us. It is this combination of great love and great power that is truly good news for us. For out of His great love for us, He gives us His strength rather than using it against us. And it is out of that great strength that we are blessed with His peace.

May you come to feel His strength and know His peace this Easter season.

--MRV

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalms 137 & 144, Romans 11:25-36, John 11:28-44

This past year was one which proved hard for many, or at least it seemed that there was more attention placed on difficulties. Perhaps there was financial trouble. Perhaps school and classes proved more strenuous than you thought they would. Or perhaps the attitude of the nation just brought smaller troubles into sharper focus.

For me, at least, hard times make it even harder to practice Lenten disciplines. If I am having trouble balancing school activities, I will often forget to read the Bible. If I am under a lot of stress, it is tempting to again take up habits I may have given up. And I expect this year will be particularly stressful -- school stuff has piled up, and, honestly, my sophomore year has just been harder than I expected it to be. So, when a passage like Psalm 144 comes up, I can’t help but smile; Psalms of praise always make me smile, but especially so when times are hard.

My favorite sections of this Psalm are verses one, two, and nine. The first section speaks about how God is able to strengthen us in the face of trouble, and the second section speaks to our praise of God. It seems a beautiful and apt juxtaposition. Similar to the Eucharistic prayer which asks that we be delivered “from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal,” it is hard to fully revive ourselves only through supplication and protection; a great renewal can be found in praise of our Lord.

May we find this time of Lent to be one in which we find renewal amidst hardship.

--AD

Friday, April 03, 2009

Jeremiah 29:1-13, Psalm 22, Romans 11:13-24, John 11:1-27

“In God we Trust!”

We see these words almost every day, but do we heed these words? Today’s readings led me to reflect on the words that this country holds dear. With the abundance of wealth and possibility available to us, how much trust in God do we really have? To truly trust in God, do we need to save and keep our money? Spend our time accumulating things or worrying about the stock market and the economic roller coaster? We should not have these worries. Instead, as Christians with faith in our hearts, we should trust and be kind and generous each and every day. But do I, or do you, have that child-like faith that God is wanting for us? To have trust in this way is to remove worry from our hearts and replace it with love and kindness, but it also means letting go of control and responsibility that we, as adults, are taught we should have.

In Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord declares, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Psalm 22, which starts with the famous cry, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” actually talks very positively about those with trust and faith being satisfied and having their needs met. The Gospel reading is one we know, the death of Lazarus. Who cannot admire the complete faith that Mary and Martha had in Jesus and the power of God that He represented? Which one of us could imagine asking God to bring back to life someone we love dearly, and God, through Jesus, making it happen? Would we ask for such a miracle? Would we truly believe it could happen? Trust should never be dependent on guaranteed results. Trust and faith in God should be because our hearts tell us it is the right thing to do, and it should be what we want to do. True trust and faith in God allows us to let go of fears and worries and to share our time and funds with others. It frees our hearts for love and our time for kindness. During Lent, I pray that we all have faith and that we trust in God always.

--ATL

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jeremiah 20:1-16, Psalm 131,Psalm 132, and Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-12, John 10:19-42

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! (Psalm 133)

I have a nasty habit of holding grudges. About two weeks ago, one of my coworkers and I had a phone conversation in which I felt that she was extremely rude and snippy. I held onto my resentment and anger towards her, even after I found out that she was feeling poorly and was having a bad day. For most people, the knowledge of this would have been enough to “let it go” and move on; except, I didn’t do that. It was the last straw in a history of incidents with this coworker, incidents that spanned a period of five years. I’d finally had enough!

I decided it would be easier just to avoid her altogether and not speak to her. By doing that, I rationalized, I’d also be preventing any “potential” confrontations. And, since none of the work I have to do involves any direct contact with her anyway, I felt that this was reasonable.

Well, the only problem with that solution was that it created an extreme amount of tension, the kind that comes with not getting along with people. I even felt uneasy and sick when I’d just walk by her office. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of energy to maintain a grudge. And selfishly, I felt my behavior only affected me. Anyway, she and I ran into each other in the bathroom. She was very upset with my “lack of civility” towards her both on the phone and in person, and so I unleashed my fury towards her regarding her rudeness. In the end, we ended up going to my boss for arbitration. That was one of the most embarrassing and humiliating interactions with my boss in my entire career here. The resolution? Basically, we have to make nice. Funny thing is that once I started speaking to her again, the tension and uneasiness and sickness I’d been feeling suddenly vanished, and I now enjoy going to work again (well, for the most part.) Life IS much easier when you live in unity with one another.

Dear Lord, please forgive our selfish and stubborn ways, and help us to be more loving, patient, and understanding of our family, friends, AND coworkers. Amen.
--KLR

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Jeremiah 25:30-38, Psalm 119: 145-176, Romans 10:14-21, John 10:1-18

There are many aspects of my life where I think of myself as a shepherd. I hope that I am a good shepherd. I often pray for help and guidance so that I might be better. So how am I doing?

As a parent, I try to protect my children from harm and guide them down life’s path. At work, I’m responsible for managing other people and their careers. Within our St. Matthew’s congregation, I lead youth activities and groups. I’m also an active leader within a Boy Scout Troop. In a way, these are small flocks that have been entrusted to me. I try to teach and help and guide them all. It’s not as easy as I’d like it to be. Sometimes it feels like a heavy burden to have such responsibility. I often wonder if I’m doing the right thing or doing enough.

God has provided me with numerous opportunities so that I can use the gifts that I have been given to help others. I rely on Him to give me strength when I am tired, and He lifts me up. I find comfort in remembering that I am not just a shepherd, but I am also a member of His flock. Knowing that Jesus is my shepherd brings peace into my life and assurance that I am on the right path and doing well. I pray that you may remember that being one of His sheep can be just as comforting as being a shepherd within His flock.

--PFH