Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hebrews 10:26-39

Are we patient? Everywhere and every day I hear about people getting cold feet, knuckling under, throwing in the towel, falling by the wayside. Long-standing incumbent Senators are retiring rather than face up to angry, impatient voters. Massachusetts told the country, in effect, "throw that health care baby out, and her bath water too!" Many commentators are calling President Obama a failure after a single, hectically frantic year.
Ours historically is not a nation of quitters. We were born fighting, after all. But our drive for results has often become a demand and even an expectation for early returns and quick fixes. Wall Street wants earnings to drive higher quarter-on-quarter, and CEOs run their companies to meet those expectations. But systems that have been broken for decades are somehow to be comprehensively reformed, regulated, and governed into affordable shape--in a year?
Unfortunately many of us have also walked away from our jobs (employers of course aren't loyal anymore), our homes (mail the keys back to the bank), our marriages (God doesn't really hate divorce, does she?), or our church (in the car, children, we're going church shopping again!) Personally I prefer to remain where I'm firmly planted. I've had the same employer since 2001, same home since 1997, same wife since 1980. (thank you God and thank you Sheri!) At St Matthew's since 1988, in the Episcopal Church since 1965 (not quite from the cradle). Not that there aren't challenges every day to one or another of my commitments, and I know I haven't faced the challenges that many people have had, in this economy or any prior. I make no profession of anything other than day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out consistency. But I believe that I'm where I am because God can use me in this place. Has not God worked at St Matthew's? Will God not continue to work at St Matthew's?
Do you want to be amazed by what God can do? Stick around. Persevere. Knuckle down, not under. The best is yet to come.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hebrews 10:11-25

I wonder if anyone else is following the Olympic torch relay across British Columbia, Canada. These past two days I have followed it very closely as it has gone across the interior of British Columbia.

When I was in college I lived there for three summers. Today, as I looked at the line tracing the torch’s path my mind went immediately back over the decades in which I have had ties with this beautiful land. As I view the map it is all so clear; the mountains, forests, lakes. I can see the dirt roads I travelled and lived down and the lake I swam in. I can see the faces of the Canadian friends whom I still know in the small community nestled in the sky and the mountains. I can picture us sitting in their yards, laughing together. Today, just looking at my friends’ hometowns on that Olympic torch map made me yearn. It is all written on my heart.

One day, God says, we will never forget what we are to do for God since it will be written on our hearts. I find that many things keep me from remembering what I read in Scripture or what God whispers to me. But when God writes them on my heart, I will yearn and I will remember. I thank God for the moments of remembering and I pray for God to keep writing on my heart and mind.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hebrews 10:1-10

It has been said that Christianity is not about rules or regulations or even rituals, but relationships. In fact, that’s pretty much what the writer of the book of Hebrew’s is saying in today’s passage. Although the Law is good as far as it goes, Christianity was never meant to be a matter of simply keeping commandments. It is meant to be a matter of love.

That’s not to say that commandments are unimportant, or that there are not things we should and should not do. There are, and the great gift the Law gives us is that it clarifies those things. But we obey the Law because we want to, not because we have to.

True, it is not always that way. Sometimes we do what we have to even if we don't really want to it. But I think the principle still holds—in the larger sense, we still want to do what is right in the long run however we might feel about it in the moment.

And that brings us to sacrifice. When sacrifice is governed by law, it becomes a mathematical equation. There is a strict legalistic correspondence between what is done and what is required in response. But when sacrifice is governed by love, it becomes a matter of the heart.

The sacrifice that flows from love goes beyond what is merely required, doing more than what is necessary to achieve only some sort of equitable arrangement that everyone can live with. It wants to right what is fundamentally wrong. It is willing to sacrifice one’s very self ,and not just some lamb or goat, to redeem a broken or injured relationship. And this, of course, is the kind of love, the kind of sacrifice, that God offers us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So let me ask us: Are our spiritual lives more a matter of “have to” or “want to”? Are we still stuck in the old way of satisfying demands, real or perceived, or the new and better way of having our very hearts changed so that live out of the lavishness of love?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hebrews 9:15-28

Wow!! There is a lot in today's reading. If you have not read it I encourage you to do so now, prior to reading the rest of my comments.

Today's reading begins with the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the mediator of a new covenant. Jesus secured the forgiveness of our sins. The first covenant was when Moses brought the law (the Ten Commandments and several others) to the Hebrews. During the first covenant man could stay in communion with God by obeying the law. However, when man broke the law (i.e., sinned) the covenant became ineffective and a priest had to sacrifice an animal (shed the animal's blood) in order that the sin be forgiven. In a simplistic view, someone or something had to pay for that sin.

Jesus Christ's sacrifice earned the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus shed his blood so we would not have to experience spiritual death - eternal separation from God. This act created a new covenant between God and man.

All people die physically. It is the one, and only, thing we all must do. Christ died so we would not have to die spiritually. Christ died so that we can live.

Paul reminds us that the sacrifice Christ made for us does not have to be repeated. Christ was sinless and he volunteered to die for us. This act of love was so great that it can bear the weight of all of our sins. The sacrifice was so large that it can atone for the sins of all of us who have lived or are yet to live. Can you imagine how big this sacrifice must have been? Can you imagine how perfect Jesus was to carry this burden? Can you imagine how much love he must have for us to make this sacrifice?

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hebrews 9:1-14

It's difficult to offer a reflection on this passage of scripture without first contemplating it's place in the bible. The book of Hebrews was written to explain the glorification of Jesus Christ - His place in God's kingdom and what He accomplished on the cross. It really is that simple, but the author gets into minute details and this passage is one of them.

He goes into detail of how atonement was made for the Jews by their priests. It seems to us to be so foreign... so... complicated. It's so hard for us to relate to an ancient process that is, well, ancient. How is that relevant to us today? Why should we care?

I think the answer is that there is a lot in scripture that is ancient. Some of it is there to point to the coming of Christ (such as in the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament) and some of it is there to tell us exactly who Christ is (the Gospels) and what Jesus Christ continues to do in the world (the letters of the New Testament).

In this passage it really shows us the Amazing Grace that Jesus Christ brings - the need for a priest to offer sacrifice on our behalf is no more... the need for a Holy of Holies where only the High Priest can go with his sacrifice is no more... the need for curtains dividing the people from God Himself is no more... the need for fear and trembling before God is no more... because God Himself as revealed in his Son for US, for OUR SINS has covered every sin, every blemish, every wrongdoing, every mistake. Our access to God, our loving God is open - without fear, knowing the Grace and Love that God has shown to us and made our Relationship with God possible. Thanks be to God for his great sacrifice and for opening to us the freedom to enter the Holy of Holies and to be in the presence of God ourselves with Jesus Christ as our only Mediator and Advocate.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hebrews 7:1-17

I would not make a very good Jew. There are way too many rules and things to think about. Take today's reading. Paul's point is that it is better to become a priest on the basis of living an "indestructible life" rather than through "regulation as to ancestry." In making this point, Paul uses Melchizedek as an example and explains how Melchizedek was blessed by the way he lived and not by some right given to him by man.

In reading these types of passages, particularly in Hebrews where Paul draws much on Jewish rules and culture, it reminds me of everything one must do and be in order to be considered a good Jew.

Being a Christian is easy - believe that Jesus died for your sins. Although we are called to live Christ-like and love our neighbors, we are not required really to do anything since we are not rewarded based what we do. We are already fully rewarded by receiving God's perfect love.

This has really been an evolving revelation for me because I grew up as a cradle Episcopalian and we had rules. We knelt, sat and stood at specific times during the service and we said prayers from the prayer book at particular times and in a particular way. Each church had its own way of doing things as well - where the priest sat, how he gave his sermon and where he gave it from. There was lots to think about.

But now I know that, although those customs were very comfortable to me and I enjoy "old-fashioned" services still, it was all unnecessary. It doesn't matter what dishes we use at communion or what color the priests robes are. What matters is that we believe that Christ paid our debt with his life and that he rose again to give us eternal hope. It's as simple as that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hebrews 6: 13-20

Years ago, at 3AM in the morning, we rescued a boat that had lost its anchor. Because the boat’s motor had died, the heavy current of an outgoing tide raging through a treacherous inlet had slammed it into the concrete abutments of a bridge, cracking its transom and further disabling the motor. Panicked, the crew threw out the anchor but unfortunately forgot to secure the other end of the anchor line to their boat. The anchor sank to the bottom and was gone, while the boat continued to drift out to sea, sinking fast. Losing their anchor was for them a matter of life and death.

Is it any different for us? When people lose (or loose, as I first typed!) their anchors in life, things tend to go downhill fast. In the face of tragedy, which surely comes to us all, they are left with nothing to hold. In the face of temptation, they have nothing to hold them fast. In the face of finding meaning and significance, they find themselves set adrift without purpose or direction.

We all probably know people like this, and we’ve probably all been there ourselves somewhere along the way. It is not a pleasant place to be, is it?

Hebrews speaks of our hope in the promise of God as our anchor. Jesus is the embodiment of that hope, the fulfillment of God’s promise, the incarnation of God’s character. He plants the anchor firmly in heaven, and it holds secure.

As Abraham knew so well, God always makes good on His promises. Storms may rage (and they do.) Disappointments may come (and they do.) We may fail (and we will.) But our hope remains sound and unshaken, so long as we remain tethered to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

These are glorious verses for those of us who believe. But they should also provide us with a strong motivation to rescue those who have lost their anchor. Like the story with which began, the stakes are so very high.

It is hard to imagine any real follower of Jesus Christ, any real believer in God and His love, sitting safe and content on their well anchored boat while others are swept to sure destruction…

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hebrews 6:1-12

Boy, today's reading, right off the bat, strikes me right between the eyes. It is a wake up call to us all.

"Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, ..." (verse 1). Certainly basic, or elementary, teachings about Christ and Christianity are extremely important for all of us to understand. These include why Jesus came into the world, the significance of his death and resurrection, and his promise of eternal life. The author of Hebrews calls us to go beyond, not away, from the elementary teachings into a deeper understanding of Christianity.

But how does one obtain a more mature understanding of Christianity? I submit that one must go beyond half hearted commitment. Go beyond simply attending church on Sunday and participating in the corporate worship. One must walk the talk and begin to live a life modeled after the teachings of Christ.

To help one become a more mature Christian, begin in prayer. Ask God to open your heart to his will. Ask him to help you develop a deeper relationship with him. God will lead you to actions that will transform you into a more mature Christian. In addition, read the Bible. Read the way Christ lived his life. Read about the way Jesus interacted with and treated other people.

Before I got involved in mission trips, I asked God to help me ascertain how I could move into a more mature relationship with him. It was clear to me that this is what God wanted me to do. However, the journey into a more mature relationship with God is never ending. I continue to ask God to help my relationship with him become even deeper. He continues to talk to me and lead me in new and wonderful experiences.

Seek that deeper, more mature, relationship with God. He will answer you. He longs for the relationship too.

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hebrews 5:7-14

I guess I really don't know the difference between spiritual discipline and just something bad happening in life. Maybe there isn't a difference, but if there is, I don't tend to recognize it - at least not when it's happening. When bad things happen, like anyone, I tend to complain and not really find anything good in it. I'm not a big wallower in things - but at the same time I don't really appreciate what appears to be negativity happening in my life.

That having been said, there are alot of bad things that have happened that I can look back on and realize that if they didn't happen, my worldview would be very different. For example I wouldn't understand the nastiness of stereotyping if I hadn't experienced it myself and seen and felt it's effects... I wouldn't understand sexism unless I had experienced it myself. What these experiences have given me is a deep empathy for those who experience such things on a regular basis. I guess you can say I can learn from experiences. I think that's really the key to what the author of Hebrews is suggesting - that we do have experiences - some good, some bad. Some of the bad ones, and maybe even some of the good ones, are really spiritual discipline - God showing us something that we need to learn. I'm not sure that makes it any easier to take when it's happening, and usually we have to really wait for some time to pass before we can look back on anything and see how something good really did come out of it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hebrews 4:1-13

That we may end our lives in faith and hope, without suffering and without reproach, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Most of us live our lives pretty much in the here and now, because we are so enmeshed in the complexity of daily life that we don't have room to do much else. But I find that, as I have grown older, I am more mindful of the life that may come after I cease to work (full time) and then the Life After That. I am already seeing little though increasing indications of the inevitable aging of my body, and perhaps my mind. Thus the price of living, and of wisdom. Some measure of suffering is inevitable, but reproach--the degradation not of the body, but of the soul--that I believe would be worse, far worse.

An older couple, long-time friends of my parents, have made headlines in Massachusetts, to the presumed mortification of their children (who were classmates of my sister and younger brother). They made extended stays at various upscale inns in the Bay State, then wrote bad checks and skipped town. They seemed like good, trustworthy folks--"perfect guests". Their speech reflected their upper-crust educations at Northwestern University and Smith College. But somewhere along the line, having run through inheritances and 401Ks, they wound up broke and homeless. And so they resorted to lying and stealing in order to maintain some measure of the lifestyle to which they had grown accustomed. They kept at it until they wound up on the Massachusetts Most Wanted website, and finally turned themselves in. I wonder if they have regrets about that. What will they tell their grandchildren?

Reproach seems to be a common theme in the daily news (From freeloading White House gatecrashers to gun-toting NBA millionaires). Of course, not every false front is exposed to the light of scrutiny and justice, certainly not in this life. Despite the ancient warning not to judge books by their covers, we accept the value of the face, every hour of every day.

Then, often without warning, a true judgment occurs. Tectonic plates shift violently beneath our feet, and the ill-constructed house suddenly collapses around our heads. The well-appointed falsehood is rendered naked for the world to see. It is not pretty, but it is true.

That's not the way I want to go out. Do you?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hebrews 3: 1-11

Often we are tempted to choose sides or pick favorites; vanilla is better than chocolate for instance. The truth is, there is plenty of room to enjoy them both, and each has its place.

When the letter to the Hebrew’s was written, people were saying that Moses was better than Jesus or that Jesus rendered Moses irrelevant and out of date. In effect, they were forcing a choice between the two—and incidentally, there are still plenty of people trying to that today. (Ever hear anybody say “The New Testament is about a God of love but the Old Testament is all about a God of wrath!”)

The writer to the Hebrew’s says, in effect, that “there’s plenty of room for both.” Both Jesus and Moses’ have an important role to play in the life and history of God’s people. Neither can be ignored or discounted.

Still, he is careful to distinguish between roles of Jesus and Moses, and to make sure his readers realize that Jesus is to be given the place of greater honor. This is not meant to denigrate Moses. Only when we fully realize who Jesus really is will we then realize what a glorious thing it is to be counted his faithful servant.

The point seems to be that we need to recognize and value God’s work both in Moses and Jesus so that we can recognize and value God’s work in ourselves and in one another. There is continuity there, a consistent revelation of what it means to be a fully devoted God-follower.

In other words, if we are ever going to get where God is trying to lead us in the future, we must keep our minds on what God has done in the past. That, of course, is what God is still doing: reconciling the world to Himself in Jesus Christ as we do our part in spreading the message of His grace and love.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hebrews 2:11-18

What is the one thing that all of us must do in this life? Hint: It is not paying taxes. The only thing all of us have to do is to die. For everything else in this life we have a choice. Sometimes the choice is not pleasant (even though many people say you have to pay taxes you do have a choice, you could choose to go to prison instead) but it is a choice just the same. Today's reading reassures us that the only thing all of us have to do is not something to be feared.

Hebrews 2: 14-15, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." When Christ died on the cross he defeated Satan and thus defeated death. By defeating death He earned eternal life for all of us. If Christ had not come in human form and had not paid for our sins with His sacrifice, then the one thing all of us must do should be feared - as who among us could pass the test of judgment? But for all of us who truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, death should not be feared. It is not an end but the doorway to a new and wonderful life.

Do you know anyone who fears death? If so how can you share this truth with that person? For if that person became a follower of Jesus Christ, or deepen their faith in Jesus, that fear of death may be removed from their life. Today's reading reminds us not only of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us but that we should share this with those who do not fully appreciate its meaning. Remember, God wants you and me to come to heaven, but He does not want us to come alone.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hebrews 2:1-10

"What are human beings that you are mindful of them?" the writer of Hebrews asks in today's passage. Certainly, what are we that God should care? Sometimes it is so easy to wonder just that. How is it that human beings who were created to have a intimate relationship with God and who have done so very much to destroy that same relationship should somehow be deserving of God sending his Son for us? How is it that God would continue to love us... no matter what? We who have ostracized ourselves from God, we who have been at war with each other since the days of Cain and Abel, we who have all but destroyed the planet that God created and gave us to care for, have received the greatest gift God could possibly give us - His Son. ALL we have done has been redeemed.

The writer of Hebrews seems to be saying in essence 'isn't that worthy of your attention?' Isn't it? Don't we who have been redeemed feel a calling on our hearts, minds and even our very lives to live our lives in thanksgiving for this great gift? Or do we continue to wallow in the mess we have made? Will we live each day with gratefulness to God and working to do His Will and not our own? Do we recognize the great gift we've been given and live our lives accordingly... or do we just go on like nothing really has changed?

Oh that we would give heed to God's call our our lives. Oh that we would live the best we can each day, in thanksgiving for God's lovingkindness towards us every day.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Colossians 1:15-23

The word “firstborn” is such a special word. The technical meaning – being the eldest – doesn’t really do the word justice. To anyone who has children, they can tell you the wonder of the firstborn. They know that at the moment of birth, the parent of the firstborn feels many different things – fear, love, excitement, anxiety, amazement. You are almost terrified with the enormity of the love you have for this being. Then, throughout the rest of your life, you can recall that moment and the myriad of emotions that you felt. Every time someone you know has a firstborn, it all comes back. And with the memory comes such a warm, wonderful feeling.

In Jesus’ time, firstborn really referred more to a high rank within an extended family structure. The firstborn had a special place in the hierarchy as the successor, the sovereign-to-be of the household. This was understood not only within the family but within the entire community.

Today’s reading uses the word “firstborn” twice to describe Jesus. In the first sentence, Paul says “he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;”. Then in verse 18, Paul says “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy.” God wants all of us to accept Jesus as God’s firstborn – as the highest in rank.

Paul establishes this meaning by first stating that Jesus is firstborn of all creation and then later states that Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead. The Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End.

This reading makes me marvel at the love God had for us that he would sacrifice his firstborn – the firstborn of the world – so that we could be reconciled to God. I cannot imagine giving up my firstborn for anything. If anything were to happen to him, I would miss him so much. I can’t even think about it without getting weepy. On top of that, to think that he would die a horrible death would be unbearable.

Yet, God did all of that. For us.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Colossians 1: 1-14

>In today’s reading, Paul prays for the Colossians that they would “be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power”, and thereby “be prepared to endure everything with patience.” Did you notice the play on word, which in Greek reads dynamei dynamoumenoi?

“Strong” and “strength” are just slightly different versions of the same Greek word. Perhaps you have also noticed that this Greek word is very similar to some English words; dynamo, dynamite, dynamic, and dynamism, for instance. All these are words that speak of great power, and this is obviously the idea here, repeated for emphasis.

It’s kind of fun to play with the English equivalents in paraphrasing Paul’s prayer: that God would make us “spiritual dynamite”. Maybe you remember an old ACDC song that went, I’m T.N.T , I’m dynamite, T.N.T, and I'll win the fight? That’s not far from what Paul is praying here, so long as we remember that it is God’s might and not our own that makes us powerful, and that our fight is not with flesh and blood but with “all the spiritual forces which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” Are we T.N.T?

Or how about thinking of this prayers as asking that God would make us “dynamized dynamos”? Just how dynamic are we as Christians? Would anyone describe us as a real dynamo for God’s kingdom?

God’s power, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is available to each and every one of us. How is that power being manifest in your life and in mine?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Revelation 21:22-27

Today's reading is very short, just 6 verses. I particularly like the first section of today's reading. In this section, it is stated that the heavenly city needs no light in the usual sense. "The city does not need the sun or the moon." (v. 23).

To me, this description brings two complementary pictures to mind. First, verse 23 goes on to say, "for the glory of God gives it light". Obviously God more than makes up for the absence of the sun and the moon. His glory is brighter than the sun!! Further He will be there with us day and night, forever.

Second, and parallel, and maybe not quite so obvious, verse 23 further states, "and the Lamb is its lamp". Physical light is often a biblical picture for spiritual and moral right. The presence of an everlasting lamp points to the permanent overthrow of sin and evil. In his Gospel, John recorded Jesus' statement, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). This section reminds us that the Lamb will utterly defeat any darkness.

To me, today's short reading is very encouraging and reassuring. We can be assured that God will ultimately destroy evil and that He will be eternally present with his people in heaven. I hope you agree this is very good news on this day of Epiphany.

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

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ephesians 6:10-20

This passage describes in detail the armor of God. Whenever I read it, I remember the novel from the early 1990s entitled "This Present Darkness" by Frank Peretti. It was a book that had both angelic and demonic characters waging war against one another and how that war manifested itself in humanity. Whether or not we believe in angels or demons, the book was an interesting read.

I went through a period in my spiritual journey when I really wondered if demons existed and I looked for angels everywhere. It's a nice thing to believe in angels - to think we have some extra protection from the evil in the world, maybe a guardian angel that is 8 feet tall. I really don't know if any of that is real, but I have decided that whether or not angels and demons are real, it doesn't matter. What matters is God.

Paul starts out this passage by saying "Be strong in the Lord." The point isn't about some spiritual armor that some folks read literally. The point is really to be so focused in our lives on God that negative or evil influences can't really have any affect on us. If we are godly minded in all we do, if we make daily decisions to love God and love our neighbor, if we pray without ceasing, then our lives will be all the better for it. We will have the joy of the Lord in our hearts. We don't need to focus on evil or the war between good and evil. We need to keep our focus on God and our relationship with Him. That's really all that matters.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Ephesians 4:1-16

Here we are again on the cusp of a new year, a potential new beginning, an opportunity to break from the chains of the past and live into our calling in ways that we have failed to do in years past.

2010 can truly be happy, IF...I will humble myself.
IF...I will show gentleness and patience and bear with my brothers and sisters in love
IF...I make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Will you join me in this resolve?

Friday, January 01, 2010

Revelation 19:11-16

>As I write this on New Years Day the world is silent. The world outside my window lies in a blanket of snow and mist. The household sleeps. Today’s reading reminds me of a dramatic movie scene where breathless silence is interrupted by the crash of a door, opening to reveal a hero and we know relief from what threatens us.

As our new year starts, many of us wait breathlessly for salvation. We wait for God’s intervention for us, our family, our hurting friends. Many times we have seen God intervene. We go about our life, meeting God daily and seeing Him meet our needs. We go from situation to situation and He always comes to our aid.

Today’s reading describes one of the final times when God reaches down on our behalf. We have read many like accounts in Scripture, yet today in reading this, we rejoice that Scripture says, one day, it will be the final time that God comes to our aid, and our life in eternity with Him will start.