Friday, November 27, 2009

1 Peter 3:13-4:6

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

James 4:13-5:6

Today is Thanksgiving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

1 Peter 2:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

1 Peter 1:13-25

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even so, Come quickly Lord Jesus. Maranatha!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Revelation 22: 6-13

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Revelation 21: 22-22:5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Revelation 21:9-21

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Revelation 21:1-8

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Revelation 19:11-16

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Revelation 19:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revelation 18:21-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Revelation 18:9-20

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2009

Revelation 15:1-8

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

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Revelation 14:1-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Revelation 12:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Revelation 11:1-19

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

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

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