Thursday, December 31, 2009
As we look to 2010, James reminds us that any plans we might have that don’t stem from seeking God’s will for us are arrogant and misguided. He also reminds that if we know we are supposed to do something, like help the poor, but don’t do it—that omission is a sin.
The message, then, is that although life is brief, God still has a plan for us, and that plan is so important to his purposes that if we fail to pursue it, we are giving our lives to the service of evil. And if that were not enough, he goes on to remind us not to lose sight of the fact that Jesus will return and the Judge is standing at the door.
James is no soft sell, and these are not easy words for us to read. But they do give us plenty of direction for 2010, I think!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The captain was angered. He sent another message saying, "Alter your course ten degrees south. I am the captain."
Soon a message came back, "Alter your course ten degrees north. I am seaman third class Jones."
Immediately, the captain sent a third message, mustering all the authority at his command: "Alter your course ten degrees south. I am a battleship."
A message came back, "Alter your course ten degrees north. I am a lighthouse!"
If the captain had remained on course, he would have destroyed himself, his ship, all aboard, and the lighthouse. When we refuse to alter our course of pride, we risk destroying ourselves and others. The apostle John warned Diotrephes to change his course, but Diotrephes refused. He risked destruction by his rebellious action. We would do well to learn from him and to live our lives as servants, showing love and hospitality toward others.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
These verses from John describe this love and further explains why that love was given to become such an intimate part of our lives. John explains that we are to love one another because God loves each one of us. John's statements are simple and easily understood: Whoever does not love does not know God. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
I've been having a hard time this Christmas finding the peace of Christmas. I've been way too wrapped up in the get-it-all-done mentality and wallowing in all kinds of self pity. I have allowed myself to get away from the very reason for Christmas. On the way home from church on Christmas Eve, I heard a news report about the folks at the homeless shelter in Manassas. They interviewed one lady who had been a teacher of nurses but who had been laid off and lost her home to foreclosure. Now, she has a part time job cleaning houses and lives at the homeless shelter. It's so easy to hear these stories and make believe that the persons involved are light years away from our lives. But, this lady could be my neighbor. Is she feeling the love of Christmas?
The thing about this amazing love of God that John writes about is that it is right there - you can reach out and touch it. It is available to everyone equally. All we need to do is to live in love. When we live in love, God lives in us and we in him. It's that simple -- and yet, because I'm the hard headed person I am, it's that hard.
My Christmas wish for each of you is that you take the opportunity to open your heart to this love and to live it.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
It is such love that we celebrate--and seek to share, at Christmas. With that in mind, I offer the following poem for your consideration.
If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny ornaments, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.
If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.
If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tried.
Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
As for video games, they will break. Pearl necklaces will be lost, and golf clubs will rust and fade away. But giving the gift of love in Christ --now that, friends, is a gift that will endure for alltime.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This passage tells us that the power to live our lives as Christians comes from the Holy Spirit. It is quite a relief to me that I do not have to muster this power on my own. All any of us have to do is invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, through prayer, and ask Him to help us live a good and Christian life. If we do this through daily prayer, I assure you this prayer will be answered. You will look at life in a different way, have different priorities, and a different level of joy. I have lived on both sides and there is no comparison between living a life outside of God's will and living one in it.
It is not enough to renounce sin and evil desires, we must also live actively for God. As the above passage indicates, we must say no to ungodly activities and we must also say yes to active service for Christ. We are called to get involved in activities that advance the Kingdom of God here on earth. We must use the gifts and talents God has given each of us to do His work during our very short life on this planet.
Titus 2:11-12 reminds me of a quote by the 19th century pastor Adoniram Gordon, "It is the great work of nature to transmute sunlight into life. So it is the great end of Christian living to transmute the light of truth into the fruits of holy living."
Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I think this is really what Paul is talking about in this passage. To have strong values and to pass them on to others - to be a witness for Christ in all we do so that we proclaim the gospel in all we do. We all have people in our lives who were formative in our coming to faith in Christ. We all owe a word of thanks (or more) to those who have been role models of faith. This Christmas season, may we remember those who gave us so much in how they lived their lives and what they taught us. May we also give thanks for the ONE who gave us everything at the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
< This passage from Revelation seems to reinforce the dark aspects of this Lenten season in which the days are still diminishing. The dark element of Christmas is perhaps returning to a conspicuous presence. The First Christmas occurred in another, but no less dangerous time. A Dangerous Christmas? It was no silent night. The displaced stable
Creatures crew and chewed and mooed and snorted.
A maiden moaned and gasped, strained to deliver
A crying baby, shrieking in the straw.
The little town was too spun up to sleep
As travellers swarmed the streets and filled the inn
Three to a bed, or bellies at the bar
That flowed with wine to make the landlord rich.
These were no kings, nor little drummer boys,
Only the scorned and leprous refugees
Of an empire backwater, pressed to pay the tax
Without a voice or vote--without a hope.
If there were heralds in the teeming streets
At midnight, their cry might be "Danger!
Mothers, hide your suckling sons!" as soldiers
Roamed and rousted, put them to the sword.
The truly dangerous One lay hid in straw
No gentle infant, not a friend to power,
Nor born to comfort, riches, life of ease.
Dare we let Christmas be dangerous again?
Exchange our safe, entitled holidays
For risk and sacrifice, for costly love?
Unlearn the sentimental tales of yule,
Learn new the Christmas mission meant for us?
This passage from Revelation seems to reinforce the dark aspects of this Lenten season in which the days are still diminishing. The dark element of Christmas is perhaps returning to a conspicuous presence. The First Christmas occurred in another, but no less dangerous time.
A Dangerous Christmas?
It was no silent night. The displaced stable
Friday, December 18, 2009
For the past couple days I have been thinking about the bond we humans share with God’s creatures. All the good things we feel about creatures, like compassion, come from God. God uses creatures to instruct us, like in the familiar proverb about the ant; in Proverbs 6:6 the sluggard is advised to be more like the ant in its labors. And why would God show such concern for animals that He says a righteous man pays attention to what his animal needs (Proverbs 12:10) ?
What caught my eye in today’s reading was the end of the reading. The reading is about the end times, and we know that Jesus will be worshiped by all. But here, John adds that EVERY CREATURE will sing praise to God and Jesus. He adds, every creature on earth and under the earth, and in the sea will praise God. It echoes Job 12:7-10 where Job says the animals, birds and fish will teach us about God’s power.
This made me think about completeness. At the end of all things, all things that breathe will use their breath to praise God. The spirit of God which moved in creation will bring all created things to praise Him. Advent, the story of the coming of Jesus is the story of the beginning of the end, when our whole world will one day praise God.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
As one who has been writing devotions for our website for 5 years now, I have become keenly aware of how often I find myself writing about passages from the book of Revelation. Though this a hard book to understand and therefore a bit intimidating to read (and write about!), we see in its repetition throughout the daily lectionary just how important the Church considers this section of Scripture to be.
Certainly one of the reasons that is so is because of the magnitude of the issues it addresses. For instance, one of the constant themes is worship. It is probably worth stopping right here and considering that for people who believe in God, there in absolutely nothing more important than getting our worship right. Perhaps that is why it is the subject of the First Commandment.
Today’s reading presents us with worship that completely engages those who are involved in it. It speaks on so many levels of active and wholehearted participation. In it a remarkable drama unfolds, and even more remarkably, we are invited to join in to what is taking place.
It raises the question, How is our worship going these days? Are we deeply involved in it? Do we appreciate the great drama of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will yet do? Do we begin to appreciate the magnitude of the forces at work? Do we catch something of the privilege we are given to behold all this?
And not just to behold it, but to participate in it. Too often we approach worship tired, disinterested, without focus or expectation.. I hope today’s reading will give us all a renewed realization of how our worship is meant to be nothing less than entering into the very presence of God Almighty, and therefore how it can be—how it must be—so much more than it often is.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This passage of Revelation describes the ultimate, eternal king of the hill. However, unlike the kid's game, God has a throne that can never fail. His throne will never be abdicated or taken by force. God created his throne, the place it is located, and its attendants and guardians to bring Him praise and worship forever.
This passage of Revelation opens the throne room of heaven to us. John describes to us the worship of God Almighty by those in the throne room. We hear and heed the call to acknowledge His power, dominion, and right to unleash the judgments later described in Revelation. It is very reassuring to me to know we have a heavenly father of this nature.
Our lives are full of change. As we go through this life we change physically and mentally - many of us make dramatic changes in our adult life. The world around us moves very quickly and it is easy to get caught in the hustle and bustle. Sometimes it seems everything in our lives is always dynamic. It helps me, and I hope it helps you, to take a step back when I feel overwhelmed and remember this passage of Revelation. To remember that God is constant, will never fail, and will obtain ultimate victory.
Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Are we in? Are we committed? Or are we lukewarm?
Friday, December 11, 2009
I'm pretty sure Jesus isn't telling them to hold onto material possessions they may have. He's telling them to hold fast to him, to his teachings and to his love. It's a message of hope and neverending love. In reading this, I get an image in my hand of a giant hand, reaching down from the sky to pick us up.
The Christian band "Mercy Me" has a song called "Hold Fast". Here are the lyrics:
To everyone who's hurting
To those who've had enough
To all the undeserving
(That should cover all of us)
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope
Help is on the way
He's come to save the day
What I've learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp
So hold fast
Will this season ever pass?
Can we stop this ride?
Will we see the sun at last?
Or could this be out lot in life?
Please do not let go
I promise you there's hope
The one line above that stands out to me is the phrase "One thing greater than my strife is his grasp." It doesn't matter what you are going through. His love and the hope He offers is always bigger.
So hold fast.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
And so it should also not surprise us that in today’s reading the two churches we find there, which lived in a similar age, are both marked by suffering. To embrace the truth of Jesus is to embrace suffering because it is often to live at odds with the world around us. To embrace truth is to live it in a world that often prefers lies. It is to make sacrifices in a world that is devoted to constant gain. It is to change what must be changed in a system that is devoted to its own perpetuation.
This raises the question of where God is calling us to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Where are we being faithful to Jesus at cost to ourselves?
Wherever it is, you can be sure if we are not suffering somewhere for the sake of the Gospel, we have not sufficiently beheld or grasped the Truth it so clearly and boldly proclaims.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Whatever our own picture or vision of Jesus is, the trick is to keep that image of Him in the forefront of our minds as we go throughout this holiday season. Jesus is who we are celebrating and it is He who we focus our lives around. It is so easy to be distracted by the busy-ness of this holiday season and really forget that the entire reason we are celebrating is because Jesus has come and is coming into the world. If we can focus on Jesus in our lives and have our priorities revolve around him, we will indeed have a wonderful Christmas season as we once again celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Take a second and read his letter
It's just a few verses long -- so is this song
So pay attention
"Saint Jude" by ApologetiX from the album Rare Not Well Done Vol. 2 (Parody of Beatles' Hey Jude)
Whether we are in 'the last time' now, or whether that is an age yet to come, no one knows, and it doesn't matter. Our mission now as in the first century is the apostolic mission. We live, as they lived, in a world where lines are continually being drawn, literally or figuratively. Here is a news flash: the lines that divide us in so many ways weren't erased after election day. Sure, we've accepted democracy's verdicts (for the most part) but I still see candidate's signs on the parkway, and the bumper stickers haven't been torn off cars driven by the winning side (true for both 2008 and 2009!). The president has deliberated and sought a middle course in Afghanistan but both Left and Right are angry about it!
Jude wants those of us who are the beloved in the Holy Spirit to reach out, too, even while remaining mindful of the line beyond which lie (in several senses) the fleshly materialist scoffers. He cites three types of people that we must be mindful of:
1. The waverers. These folks are walking in Christ, but they have a tendency to stray across the faithful line. Have mercy on them.
2. The one-foot-in-the-fires. They have crossed the line, but are still reachable. Snatch them from the flames.
3. The almost-beyond-the-pale. They are out there, way way out there. But not utterly without hope. Even now we are to have fearful mercy on them--but ensure they leave their filthy rags behind when they cross back over.
Saint Jude ... is written down
I have found it ... here's how you get there
Remember That Revelation comes last ... right before that
Is Saint Jude's letter
So get it out and read again, Saint Jude, begin
Don't wait until Sunday School to learn it
For don't you know that old Saint Jude
He said -- we should
Contend for the faith, because it's permanent...
As for the One who is able to keep us from falling--yes, he is able, and more than able, if we do our part--all glory, majesty, power, and authority, in our Saviour, Christ the Lord. Amen.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Today’s reading is about an unfortunate change. Here it’s the life which is supposed to be changed by God which Jude can’t recognize. His readers were being influenced by people who told them that since their sins would be forgiven they may go ahead and sin. As a result, their lives wouldn’t be recognizable as being touched by grace. Their life would perhaps look like that of people in the world around them.
Let us dwell in God so that others may recognize His grace in our lives. Let us be people of purity and goodness and really listen to God during this Advent season. Many need our help in many ways.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Peter goes on to say that such difficulties should not sweep his readers off their feet. Yes, the exact meaning and reference of some passages in the Bible is hard to understand. But the overall message is not: we are to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
So let’s not lose our focus. The basic question for all of us who consider ourselves Christians must always be, “Am I growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ?”
What hard evidence is there in your life and mine that would back this up? Where have I become bolder because my faith is deeper? In what tangible ways have I become more generous because I am growing in grace? What concrete things am I doing differently because my knowledge of what Jesus asks of me has increased?
What sort of people ought we to be? Are we, in fact, this kind of person?
Let’s not use religious differences or debate or the failures of others as a way of avoiding these clear questions ourselves. May we answer them honestly and live accordingly. And in so doing, may we too bring Jesus “the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Today's reading assures us that the Lord is still in control despite the confusion that exists in the world today. He has promised in the past that He will return and He will keep that promise. Based on this fact, today's reading helps me, and I hope it helps you, to keep focused on trying to live a life that honors God. Many people will continue to attempt to detour us from the path we are on. We must resist them, but never stop loving them.
False teachers will always be a pressing problem for Christians. But the promised return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, looms bright on the horizon. This promise should, and must, supersede any human presence that now assaults us. We must continue to look to Him and continue to live for Him. Just like hitting a baseball, keeping our eye on the ball, or goal, is extremely important in our success. Keeping our eye on the goal helps to block out the distractions caused by false teachers.
My final thought on today's reading has to do with physics. In my account, or the account of any mortal, there is a vast difference between one day and a thousand years. Yet, in the account of God there is no difference. All things, past, present, and future, are ever before Him. Thus, the time of His return can be today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now. This seems like a tremendous time difference to us, but to God it is not. If He "delays" His return for a thousand years it is no more to Him as us putting off anything for a day or an hour. As it has been said before, time is relative.
In the midst of uncertainty and struggle, believers in Jesus Christ must never lose sight of the certainty and hope of the future that bring meaning to the present.
Wishing you much success in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Boy is this true. It is so easy to read a scripture verse and interpret it to suit our own needs - to make it say what we want it to say. I don't think anyone really ever does this intentionally, however I do think we can all be guilty of coming to scripture with our own preconceived ideas, and, rather than being open to what the Spirit is telling us or seeing something new or for the first time, we just read it the way we want to. Really, whatever we believe about God, right or wrong, we can find at least one verse (and sometimes more) to support our theory.
For example, there are some in Christendom that believe that women ought not to be leaders in the church. These folks point to a verse in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 where Paul tells women not to speak in church. Some churches take this to mean that women literally should not speak in church - they don't serve at the altar, they do not read scripture, they are not leaders in any way (except usually Sunday School) and they certainly are not clergy. These folks do not take into account that women were in leadership in the church since the beginning - that Deborah was the first woman judge in Israel - (the book of Judges) that Paul, the same person to said women shouldn't speak in church had women in leadership in the churches he started - such as Lydia who he refers to as a Deacon, Priscilla who worked diligently with her husband, Aquilla. Clearly Paul didn't mean that women can't be church leaders. But, some have read scripture within their own worldview and have interprested it that way.
The same can be true about any point of theology. Our task is to read scripture as a whole - what other things must we take into account when we are making a theological claim? Are there other verses that say the same thing? Or the opposite? We must rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire our minds and hearts any time we are reading and studying scripture, so that we truly can have God's Word revealed TO us in a powerful way, and not just have our own ideologies confirmed.