Wednesday, September 30, 2009

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Today's passage deals with a strange issue, eating meat that has been offered in sacrifice to idols. This issue may be so strange in fact that we may feel it has nothing to do with us today. Even though today's reading deals with such a remote thing there are still three great principles which are eternally valid.

The first of these principles is what is safe for one person may not be safe for another. I firmly believe that God has His own way to every person's heart. The devil also has his own subtle way to every person's heart. A person may be strong enough to resist a temptation but another person may not. Therefore when we are in a group of people or being observed by people, before we undertake any action we must think through the influences that action has on us and on other people.

The second principle is nothing should be judged solely from the point of view of knowledge - everything should be judged from the point of view of love. There is always a certain danger in knowledge by itself. Knowledge can make us become arrogant, conceited, and feel superior to others. It can cause us to look down on others that do not have the same knowledge as ourselves. It can cause us to make fun of, or laugh at, those that are not as knowledgeable. It is especially dangerous when we are dealing with others that are not as far down their spiritual path as ourselves. Our behavior should not be driven by knowledge alone but by compassion and love for others. There are many times when out of compassion, love, and respect for another we should refrain from doing something or saying something that otherwise would be fine.

The final principle is no one has any right to indulge in a pleasurable activity which may harm someone else. We may have the strength of mind and will to keep that activity in its proper place. The pleasant activity may be safe for us but we do not have only ourselves to consider. We must also consider others and especially weaker others. Participating in an activity that is pleasurable to us but harmful to someone else must be avoided and could be a sin.

I am often amazed at the timelessness of the messages in the Bible.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

To marry or not to marry... this is the question. So many folks in the world are concerned with marriage - if they've never been married so many stress and struggle to find the right person because they so desperately want that commitment and relationship in their lives. Billions of dollars are spent on dating services, speed dating, dating websites such as match.com and eharmony. And yet, clearly Paul is saying in this passage that not being married is better because then one can focus on God and not be distracted. But, is being married a distraction? Can we have a full, vibrant relationship with God if we are married? Of course... let us not forget that not only was Adam lonely in the garden as he walked with God intimately and knew God's voice and only had God in his life. God then gave Adam Eve. Let us also not forget that Jesus blessed the wedding at Cana with his presence and first miracle - thus blessing marriage as a way of life.

So, why does Paul say anything different? Maybe because in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul was addressing a group of faithful people who were so busy fighting about their differences and arguing about who was right, who was living their lives in the right, Godly way, that they were being horrible examples to the world around them. The letter to the Corinthians is really to settle disputes and to remind them of what is important. It is later in this letter (chapter 13) that is the pinnacle of Paul's direction that in all things we are to live with each other and treat each other in love - regardless of our differences.

And it really is that kind of love that everyone is looking for. The love of God that can and should be reflected in human relationships. That's why we want marriage and that is why we wait and search for the right person - because we want that close-knit intimate relationship that Adam not only had with God, but which brought him Eve. For those of us who haven't found it and are still searching, just remember that God gives us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Psalm 102:11-22

What is God's ultimate plan for us on this earth?

During bible study last Wednesday this question came up after listening to Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson and trying to find God in the song. The problem was that this song wasn’t like the others we’d listened to that night. Instead of upbeat music showing us how we need to treasure God’s earth or appreciate each-other, this is a song about Annie, who is beaten and finally killed, completely alone without help from anyone. Where is God in that?

Certainly, God is present. He’s crying for our pains, and reaches to hold us when we do feel most alone. However, why doesn’t he do something about it?

Sometimes I just want to cry out to him that it’s unfair!

It’s unfair that you let my friends marriage fall apart, and cause so much heartache to their kids. It’s unfair that my friend was laid off and still hasn’t found a job. It’s unfair that my best friend has to move away just when I finally found the one person I could rely on through everything. It’s unfair that I work harder and harder, only to see someone else without the same responsibility, or even work ethic, make more money than I do.

What is it, you want from me when it seems nothing I do is right? Don’t you want me to be happy?

Then it hits me… Of course he doesn’t want me to be happy.

What God wants of me is to cause a change in his world. He wants me to live for others more than I do for myself. He wants me to love others like I love Him, and like I love myself. He wants me to save others so that they can spend eternity with Him.

Where does it say that the path to saving others is a paved road lined with roses and honeysuckle (I know it’s a weed, but I still love the stuff)?

The Psalmist is crying out to god through his suffering with a simple lament. Let the world find your glory as I continue to glorify you. He has every reason to cry out, and in fact, he does. He still focuses on God giving his blessing and helping those with less.

What can we do for someone else tomorrow, regardless of our own discomfort?

Peace

Saturday, September 26, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:10-24

Paul had opinions. Strong opinions. He didn't mince words. Although (so far as we now) he was an unmarried man, he doesn't hesitate to give advice to married men and married women as well.

Personally I believe that no one on the outside can ever understand what goes on inside a marriage. What is seen in public may be utterly different and even opposed to what goes on in private. We married folk, for many different and good reasons, tend to put a good face on even when the interior is scowling.

So Paul is personally ignorant of the daily realities of marriage. But he does understand the difference between someone who knows eternal hope, and someone who denies it. He sees it (properly I believe) as an impediment in a marriage--but not grounds for divorce. Marriage is always worthy of respect and worth keeping intact. However--if your unbelieving partner leaves you, Paul advises that you not grovel to make them stay.

This is not a theoretical discussion for me. My wife believes in God and lives a life that is answerable to God. She loves unconditionally and sacrificially. But we have vastly different views of how that belief translates its impact to the wider community. When I said last week that I would not vote for an avowed atheist, she was shocked and disappointed that I could engage in "anti-atheist bigotry." She polled her friends and associates as well as her clergy, and the overwhelming consensus was against me. I may need to re-think my position; after all, a profession of faith has never been a guarantee of competence in elected office (or any other job). But I still have a fundamental discomfort with the prospect of being led by someone who denies what to me is a self-evident characteristic of the universe.

So we, like many couples, must agree to disagree, and (try, with mixed success, to) avoid being disagreeable in the process. It's not up to me to try to change her (nor vice versa). The marriage is imperfect but God blesses its imperfection. As I look back on nearly thirty years, it is abundantly clear that God is not done with either of us--nor with the two of us together.

Friday, September 25, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

Let's face it. Sex is a huge issue. A wrong decision about sex can change your life, even take your life. I must admit that when I read the passage about which I was assigned to write, I was a little overwhelmed.

But, I must remember. I'm not writing about sex. I'm writing about what Paul wrote about sex. In that context, I am taken by the fact that Paul deals with sex in several of his letters, not just today's reading. It was obviously a big issue back then, perhaps as big an issue as it is now.

In today's reading, Paul says it loud and clear: Sex is for marriage. Period. It is necessary for marriage for several reasons: it provides an intimacy that a married couple cannot find elsewhere (i.e., "the wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband...In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife."), it removes the issue of immorality (this assumes faithful relations between husband and wife, i.e., "each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband..."), and, being married is a gift from God.

I am thinking that being a young church in the decades just after Christ's death may be similar to our young people learning about morality and ethics today. In those times, as is today, society is rife with everything that is wrong and unholy. I'm not trying to sound "high and mighty" here, and many of today's issues are so woven into our fabric that it is hard to tell that they are problems anymore. But let's face it: It's hard to be a Christian today. Well, it was evidently hard back then, too - particularly when it came to sex.

So, our generation (whether the hippies of the 60's, or the Gen x'ers of the 80's, or any other group from today) did not invent the sex problems. But what is so astonishing is that the answer to the sex issues hasn't changed: Sex is for marriage.

I'm frankly not sure if any generation has really gotten this one right. Let's continue to pray for ourselves and our youth that all of us will listen to Paul and truly understand that the only true place, the only holy place for sex is in marriage.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

1 Corinthians 6: 12-20

Someone has commented that while generations past may have lived like there was no such thing as sex, our generation lives like there is nothing but sex!

Our culture is one that sees sex a lot like fast food. It’s a basic human “appetite”; why shouldn’t we indulge it whenever want, however we want, as is convenient for us? It’s only natural, right?

The interesting thing about this passage is that it ties sex into what it means to be a person. People were created for relationships with God and one another where, to borrow a phrase from Immanuel Kant, we always treat persons (including ourselves) as ends in themselves, never merely as a means to our own ends. To take sex so casually that it is a mere matter of ends justifying the means is to violate the Christian view of what it means to be a person.

That is why casual sex is very different than fast food. It does not honor people as people, but uses them only for own pleasure and gratification. And by the way—that is the problem with sexual fantasy as well. It reinforces ways of thinking that use people to the point where it becomes our most natural way to approach them.

This is also why in the Christian tradition sex is reserved for marriage. In marriage, sex is more than mere physical coupling. It is part of that unique, lifelong process, born in public commitment before God and our community, to love another so deeply that two become one not just in body, but also in heart and mind and soul.

So we are to glorify God by using our body as an expression of what we believe to be true, right and wrong. And even as that principle so clearly pertains to sex, I hope you can see how it can be applied in a much broader sense to our life in general.

Once again, I like how The Message puts it:

Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8

Once again Paul writes some exceptional messages in his letter to the Corinthians. I note a special message in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 5, "not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, and idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."

In these verses Paul makes it clear that we should not disassociate ourselves from unbelievers. If we did so how could we take the message of Jesus to these people? How could we fulfill one of Jesus' commandments to us? How could we share the message of salvation with them? Paul is telling us, however, that we should not associate with someone who calls himself or herself a Christian and at the same time still lives in sin. Such a person usually has a seemingly, at least seemingly on the surface, rationale for his or her actions. But always as we dig deeper we realize this rationale is unfounded. By rationalizing sin a person harms others for whom Christ died and dims the image of God in himself or herself. As a church, and as a community of Christians, we must be ready, willing, and able to correct, in a loving way, such people. This can be extremely hard to do. I know I find it hard to do - so hard in fact that I shy away from it. However, not only do they harm themselves but they harm all Christians - after all actions speak louder than words - thus we must do it.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

1 Corinthians 5:1-8

"Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?" says St. Paul to the Corinthians. Sometimes "just a little" does hurt. Having one area of our lives that isn't dedicated to God, having a "secret sin" or one thing that we keep all for ourselves, can really be to our detriment. We hear all the time that a little won't hurt, or it won't hurt just to look, or I'm just looking, not touching! But what does looking hurt? It hurts our own spirit. When we are looking at something, be it another woman or man other than our spouse, be it a nicer car, a bigger house we could never afford, be it violence on television, it hurts our spirit.

It has been proven that watching violence on television desensitizes people to violence. We don't even flinch or are even appalled by someone being shot and killed. This is so true that violent television shows and movies are moving to more and more graphic details on how one is killed and even show killings that are not shootings but torture. And yet we watch. Crime television seems to be more popular than anything else on TV - how many Law and Orders and CSIs do we need to have? The same must be true of seeing other things on television, sex, nudity, etc. We must also become desensitized to that and then translate what we see there to our spouse - forgetting that what we saw on television is not real.

If we really want to be wholly dedicated to God, we have to be careful about what we watch and what kinds of activities in which we participate. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Phillipians (4:8) "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Peter 2:19-23

I lived and worked for a while in Africa. After being there six months I went to a gathering at an American’s home and saw for the first time during my stay an American flag. I loved Africa, but I’ll never forget the sudden rush of pleasure I felt in seeing that symbol of my true home.

The salutation which begins I Peter says that we are “strangers in the world.” Although we love this world and a lot of things about it, it is our temporary home. I have a US Passport but my real citizenship isn’t for a country I can see.

One wonderful thing about these New Testament letters to young churches is that for the first time, people were holding in their hands letters which were “citizenship manuals,” letter which described the life, behavior and values of their new country. In this reading, Peter tells his readers, you may have to hold your tongue, and suffer even if you are doing the right thing, and here is an example of what this should look like. He goes on to talk about how Jesus, who was sinless, had to suffer unjustly but did not retaliate.

It’s not uncommon in our dealings with others that we have to be patient. We may think we are in the right, and we may be, but let us pray for patience. Jesus’ words come to me, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9). Let us be people of peace.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

My guess is that anyone who is reading this is interested in being spiritually mature; in feeding on the solid food of the adult rather than the milk of infants. We are those who want to go deep in Christ!

Clearly, being “spiritual” involves both knowledge and practice. No matter how much Scripture we may have stored up in our head, or how much time we have spent studying it, if we still behave like people who are pursuing “what makes you feel good” or “what makes you look important” (as The Message puts it), well, we’ve missed the proverbial boat.

If our life continues to be marked by “infantile” behavior (again, the Message) like the jealousy and quarreling that keep us from loving and appreciating one another as Christ loved us, we can be sure that somewhere, in some way, we’ve gotten off track.

So let’s get real practical. Who are you jealous of? Deep down in the secret places of our hearts, who is that we feel has it better than we do? How does this jealousy keep us focused on someone else’s life instead of being grateful for what God is doing in our own? Perhaps jealousy, which often is not easily acknowledged even in the privacy of our own souls, is a source of anger and ill will which keeps us from faith, hope, and love.

And how about quarreling? Who are you fighting with right now—even if it is only within your own mind? What personal wars are you waging? You know the old saying: It takes two to tango. What are we contributing the fight? How are we keeping the battle going? How much of it is, if we are painfully honest, our problem? And how is this keeping us from faith, hope and love?

Let’s face it. No matter how much we might like to think we understand and participate in what God is doing in the world through Jesus, if we do not love “our neighbor as our self”, that is not in fact the case.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

First let me start with some background. The Corinthians were confusing the gospel by creating artificial standards of faith. They were using wisdom as the gauge. The more wisdom someone claimed, the more spiritual that person became. They were arguing and dividing over which person had the deepest spirituality. Paul, on the other hand, did not come to them and try to compete on a human wisdom basis. Instead he came with the “simple” gospel message. In these verses Paul was not debating speculative notions for these never saved anyone. The wisdom of this world offers nothing for salvation. Salvation comes from the wisdom of God. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (verse 12). Paul says that the gospel message had not been given with words of human wisdom because no human wisdom can adequately explain God’s wisdom. To this I say a big Amen.

Can you imagine what heaven would be like if it were designed by human begins? I submit it would be a lot like earth. I do not know about you but I do not think the earth humans have created is paradise. I mean it is not horrible, at least not where we live, but it certainly is not a place with a peace beyond our understanding. In verse 9 Paul states, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” In other words, the future blessings we will enjoy in heaven are beyond the ability of our pea size brains to understand. To this I say alleluia!!!

But how do we know this? We know this not because a human being has told us but because God has revealed it to us. Not because of human wisdom but because of God’s wisdom.

Since God is so wise, and much wiser then ourselves, wouldn’t it be smart to follow His will and not our own, or that of another human? For believers the simple and obvious answer is yes.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1 Corinthians 1:20-31

Foolishness of the world. Boy isn't there a lot of it! Society tries to give us our priorities - how much stuff can we accumulate? How can we be just like everyone else and put on airs to please each other? How much do we collect? We are told to keep everything we make for ourselves - after all we've earned it! We are told to have all the status symbols - cars, houses, boats, everything we are told we need. We try to keep up with the Jones'. The more we try the more we are frustrated because there never really is enough - you achieve a goal of buying your first home, but then we need a bigger one. We are so much like goldfish - we grow into whatever we have ... and then some. Foolishness... it's all foolishness. These "priorities" really aren't the ones that matter - God gave us different priorities.... Love God. Love your neighbor. That is what matters. God didn't say "love yourself and only take care of yourself." Love God. Love your neighbor. It is that simple.

Our priorities are to be to take care of each other. To help each other in times of need. To give to others. Not collect and amass stuff but to give ...

"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."

Our faith in God gives us new priorities...the priorities the world tries to dictate are nothing but foolish.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Philippians 3:17 - 4:7


What a week it has been. Tuesday was my youngest's first day of high school, and the reality of the journey she has embarked upon hit her that night. When had math homework ever been a source of tears? But as I sat at the dining room table with her she calmed herself and got it done. Clearly, we're not in middle school anymore.
Wednesday morning I was on the road as usual. Traffic seemed light on the Fairfax County Parkway and the left lane was mine, all mine. My iPod was plugged in and I was miles away. Blue lights in the rearview brought me back to earth. Any reason why I needed to do 68 in a 50-mile zone? No good reason, sir. I put the yellow carbon on the seat as I pulled back onto the road and, in a confessional mood now, called my wife. She said curtly she would have to call me back. A few minutes later, she told me: Pop died during the night. Our friend Jerry's struggle with liver disease was over. What was it I needed to tell her?
Thursday morning I was at the breakfast table when my wife's phone chirped with a text message. An accident had closed Route 7. She would need to get the word out to the staff of the pre-school she directs. I don't ride on 7, so I dismissed the thought. Stayed (mostly) in the right lane that morning, and coming home, too. My wife and daughter were sitting on the deck. I got the news of the day.
The accident on Route 7 had killed the brother of one of the teachers. My wife had calmed the hysterical staff member, whose daughter is also in the school. Sheri had met with the other staff, thought through how the children should get the news. As much as it could be, it had been a normal day of dropping off and picking up.
Friday was my off day. I recalled the morning 8 years ago, another day when I was not at work (between jobs at the time) and watching the news unfold, and picking up my daughter from her first grade class.
Later today I will be at Jerry's funeral. Adam's funeral is Sunday. Life goes on.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:1-16

Today's reading speaks, among other things, thoughts about knowing Jesus (see verse 3:8). To "know" Christ is not simply to know of Him. We all know the story of Christ. According to the MacArthur Bible Commentary, the Greek verb "to know" means to know experientially or personally. "It is equivalent to a shared life with Christ" as stated by MacArthur.

Wow. I don't know about each of you, but I have had occasion over my lifetime to share my life with several different folks. First, there were my mother, father and brothers. Sharing life with them did not feel much like sharing. Maybe it was because I was the youngest and the only girl, but I was pretty much told what would happen and when. Then, in college, I shared my life with roommates. That was more like NATO negotiations over who would have what side of the closet, whose music we would listen to, who could share in the bounty of the small refrigerator. Then, at least in my life, I married early and we began the marriage negotiations. Who picked the new car, who cooked, who cleaned, and on and on. Obviously it worked because we have been married for almost 30 years and have two college kids. Maybe I should apply to NATO!

But, my knowledge of all those I have shared my life with is nothing like the knowledge we could or even should have of Jesus. Indeed, it does not measure to the relationship Jesus wants to have with each of us.

So, how do we get there? How do we get to the "surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"?

Baby steps. Start by praying. All the time. Talk to Jesus. Anytime, anywhere. You will be amazed at how that affects your daily life. I don't mean that the actual praying will be a chore; instead, the freedom you will feel by praying will be enormous. At least it has been for me.

He's right there. And He wants to be part of your life. He wants you to "know" Him.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Phillipians 2: 12-30

It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2:16

Lately I’ve been thinking that perhaps one of the differences between casual and committed Christianity is how often we actually think about Jesus. In other words, in the everyday things we might or might not do, how often do the choices we actually make (or fail to make) flow in a very conscious and intentional way out of our relationship with Jesus? Said another way, how much of our days are shaped by a deep dedication to do what brings joy to our Savior’s heart?

The Bible is very clear: One day we will stand face to face with Jesus Christ. It is worth remembering that, and never letting that get too far from our minds. On that day, we’ll want to be able to look back on our lives in such a way that we are not ashamed of them; that we do not regret the choices we made; that we did not waste our lives and the opportunities before us.

When Paul in today’s passage speaks of “boasting on the day of Christ”, I think what he is talking about living this way. He is saying that has devoted himself to living in way that is directly tied in to what God wants of him. More specifically, it means nurturing people in their faith so that they really do live the Gospel. They put into practice what Paul had taught them about life in Christ.

So if we are going to live this kind of life as well, our lives also will be centered on people. Whatever our actual jobs may be, teaching them about Jesus will become our life’s labor.

How are we doing that? How are we pouring our lives out like a drink offering to introduce others to Jesus, teach them what it means to follow him, and nurture them in our faith? What specific names of people come to mind that we hope to introduce to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Who, specifically, are we mentoring in the faith that they might walk more closely with Jesus?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Philippians 2:1-11

Whew. What a reading we have today. I do not know about you, but this one makes me think hard about what it means to be a Christian.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." (verses 3-5)

In America there is a lot of talk of individual rights. Now do not get me wrong, I think the Bill of Rights is a wonderful document and I am very supportive of it. But sometimes I think people play "their rights" card too frequently and perhaps for the wrong reason. The verses above remind us that Jesus humbled himself. He gave up his rights in order to obey God and serve people. Like Christ, Christians are called to have a servant's attitude - serving out of love for God and others. Often people, not you but other people I know, excuse selfishness, pride, or evil by claiming their rights. They think, "I can cheat on this test because I deserve to pass," or "I can spend all this money on myself - I worked hard for it." We are called to have a different attitude, one that enables us to lay aside our rights in order to serve others. If we say we follow Christ, we must accept His teachings into our lives and attempt to live as He lived.

Let me close by calling your attention to the last part of the verses given above. The part about our attitude. As we follow Christ and grow our servant attitude, we are called to do this service out of love and not out of guilt or fear. To me the act of being a servant is much easier than doing that act with love in my heart. Remember, each of us can choose our attitude. We can approach life expecting to be served or you can look for opportunities to serve. Today's reading is a great reminder for us all.

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

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Philippians 1:12-30

I don't think any of us can really comprehend the life of St. Paul. He grew up in Tarsus, which is located in modern day Turkey. He was sent to Jerusalem as a young man to study with the best and brightest scholars of his day. He grew to become a Pharisee - an expert in Judaic law. He persecuted Christians and was present at the martyrdom of Stephen. He has an incredible conversion experience on the road to Damascus that completely changes his life forever and he becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ.

From then on he travels throughout the Mediterranian as a tentmaker and teacher establishing churches everywhere he goes. He is often arrested, beaten and imprisoned for his teaching. What is astonishing, is he never lets those trials deter him from spreading the gospel of Christ. Come what may, he doesn't ever change his message, he is never silent, he just keeps going.

I'm not sure I'd have that in me. If I were arrested beaten and facing death, I don't know how I'd handle it. So often in my life there are those with whom I don't agree and vice versa. It is easiest to just not discuss religion (or politics) or anything that could be construed as contraversial. It's easiest to let things go and not get into it.

I wonder what would be different in the world if Christians were more like Paul? Not in an overbearing, pushy sort of way, but just a calm, cool, proclamation of the gospel in every aspect of our lives, regardless of what people might think about it. What would happen?

Paul seemed convinced in today's reading that his very imprisonment and persecution was aiding the spread of the gospel. If we looked at the world the way Paul did and used our lives and valued them in the way Paul did - that we have been given life in order to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in all we do - the world might, indeed, be a better place.

Friday, September 04, 2009

James 4:13-5:6

“Wake up” James tells us here. The book of James has been compared to the book of Proverbs, containing practical paragraphs about how to live our life. Today’s reading is two different paragraphs. The topics are slightly different but I notice that both pertain to how we should “wake up” are think about how we treat others.

The first paragraph reads like a parable. People are making their leisure or work plans, or vacation plans. They’ve planned to travel or make money. James tells us, as we make our plans, to say, “if it’s God’s will.” In other words I should make my plans but be ready and willing to put aside my desires in case someone needs me.

The second paragraph reminds us about how temporary wealth is (sounds like the headlines) and to not oppress others or mistreat others in our desire to be comfortable ourselves. James describes stingy landowners who didn’t pay their workers. The cries of the workers reached God’s ears. I like thinking about God’s ears. When I deal with others today, what will God hear as a result? I thank God for people who have recently shown concern for me. As they have cared for and comforted me, God has heard. May I do the same and may good sounds reach God’s ears.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

James 3:13-4:12

Wow! Where do we start in a passage like this, loaded with so much very practical advice? I expect one could spend a lifetime trying to put everything in this passage into practice.

And that, of course, is precisely what we are meant to do. We were never meant to read a passage like this, say a quick prayer, and forget it. We are meant to reflect on the wisdom graciously offered here, consider what it would mean to put such wisdom into practice in our lives—and then do it!

Let us just take one line as an example: And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace (verse 18). Wouldn’t this be a great verse to memorize? To put on our refrigerator, office desk, bathroom mirror, car dash board—all the above? What would it look like to live and pray with this verse for a week or month or year—to work it deep into the soil of our lives so that it does indeed produce the promised harvest?

Where can we make peace today? I don’t think a day ever goes by where I don’t have some opportunity to make peace—or wage war. At home, at work, while driving, at church—what does it look like for us to continually be the kind of people who make peace, who leave the waters calm and placid instead of agitated and stirred up?

The passage gives us some further insight as to how we can sow the seeds of peace. We need to be humble, gentle, willing to yield (ouch!), submit to God (do those two go hand in hand?), wholly resistant to speaking evil against one another. That’s quite a list (and it’s sure not exhaustive). Anybody else struggle with any of these things?

This morning I was cut off in traffic. Did I make peace or wage war? Did I respond with aggression or love? I will only say I wish I had read these verses a little bit sooner...

Now I have. You have too. Will it make a difference?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

James 3:1-12

Those who know me know how much I enjoy the book of James. For me it is an inspirational, in your face, book. It is straight forward in its commentary on how we should live our lives. Today's reading is no exception.

Today's reading regards controlling one's tongue. The power of speech is one of the greatest powers God has given us. With one's tongue, one can praise God, pray, preach the Word, and lead the lost to Christ. This is a great thing!! But with the same tongue one can tell lies or spread gossip that can ruin a person's reputation or break a person's heart. The ability to speak words is the ability to influence others and accomplish great tasks; yet we take this ability for granted and sometimes without the proper respect.

Alright, so how bad can improper use of this great gift and tool be? How bad can using it without thinking be? Have you ever said anything that you wish you could take back? I know I have. And even though we apologize and say we take it back, the damage is done, isn't it? James compares the tongue to a raging fire. The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. To me James' analogy reminds me that words are like fire - you can neither control nor reverse the damage they can do.

So what are we to do? Someone told me this a while ago and I still remember it today. I do not always practice it but I try. Before you speak ask yourself the following questions, Is what I am about to say true? Is it necessary to be said? Is it kind? If the answer to all three questions is not yes, then examine if it needs to be said before you say it. I do not always, and some might say often, practice this, but I try. It is helpful to me and I commend it to you.

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