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Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Who is God?”

II Cor. 13:11-13

Trinity Sunday

Paul here speaks of “the God of love and peace.”  This is the nature of God.  John puts it more directly when he says, as we have noted, “God is love” (I John 4:8).  There are many examples of this in scripture.  God is the shepherd looking for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7).  He is the father running to welcome the prodigal home (Luke 15:11-24).  He is the one who will not condemn (John 8:1-11).  He invites all, good and bad, to his banquet (Matt. 22:9-10).

God’s love in action is his grace.  Grace is mercy, forgiveness and compassion.  God the Father pronounces the message of grace.  Christ the Son gives the concrete examples of grace.  The Holy Spirit gives the power to live out his grace.  Grace is the work of the triune God, father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Grace however, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued, is not cheap.  Those who have received grace are called to show grace.  It is not enough to say after a tragedy (or the agonizing series of school shootings we have witnessed) that the victims are in our thoughts and prayers.  Without action this kind of statement is meaningless at best and deeply offensive at worst.  James makes this point clear when he says telling a poor person “Go in peace” without aiding them is the expression of a faith that is dead (James 2:14-17).

Despite our many failings and contradictions God continues to be gracious.  We see a world that has been despoiled and corrupted by sin.  However we have the assurance that as sin increases, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20).   Our confidence in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is that his love never ends (I Cor. 13:8).

Most gracious and loving God build up my confidence in your grace which is love in action.  May I have the strength to show that same love. I pray this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018

“Who is God?”

Romans 8:31-39

This is one of the most stirring passages in all of scripture.  Paul is confronting the reality of what we saw yesterday as creation being subject to “its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21).  We see this “bondage” and “decay” all too clearly in the world around us.  Paul never denies the tragic quality of life.  However in the face of that he says, “If God is for us, who is against us?”  He’s not denying the opposition that followers of Jesus Christ face.  However he is denying that this opposition can ever overcome the power of the gospel.

Paul affirms the fact that it is in the very nature of God to give gifts.  Creation itself is a gift from God.  Why does God create the universe?  He creates it because it is God’s nature to give.  As the writer of Psalm 104 rhapsodizes, God gives us the waters and mountains, the plants, bread and wine which gladdens and strengthens us (Ps. 104).

However the beauty of creation has been defaced by the sin which is not only in the world but in each one of us.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6). Yet Paul is full of hope.  All that has been lost in sin is more than reclaimed in Christ.  Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ intercedes for us.  Christ is the only perfect one who could condemn us.  However he has taken our condemnation on himself in the cross.  This is an ultimate expression of his love which is also his greatest power.  Paul is linking power and love here very dramatically, uniting the two in a way that we rarely do.  Our forms of power rarely include love.

Paul asks this bold question, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”  He proceeds to list a host of afflictions – hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword.  He quotes from one of the most desperate psalms, “we are being killed all day long” (Ps. 44:22).  Paul concludes with the triumphant affirmation that there is nothing – nothing in all creation that is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This is our confidence, hope and assurance now and forever.  Amen!

Eternal and merciful God I thank you for the power of love you have given me in Jesus Christ.  May I live in this confident hope now and forever.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

“Who is God?”

Romans 8:19-30

Paul here gives an overview of all of creation.  The creation has been subjected to futility.  It is in fact in “bondage to decay.”  We recognize this as an all too familiar picture of our world in its present state.  Paul then speaks of the one “who subjected it.”  This can only be God.  But why has God put creation in bondage to decay?  We have to read this as God’s judgment on a world that has denied him and embraced pride, injustice and deceit.  This however is not the final fate of creation.

A key theme of this passage is hope.  Even in its bondage to decay the creation lives in hope of “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  In other words God who has judged our decaying world is also the God who promises a new creation (II Cor. 5:17).  As Paul has indicated even those of us who are in Christ have not yet received the full benefits of being “the children of God.”  This is “the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

Our guarantee of this is hope.  Yet as Paul says succinctly, “hope that is seen is not hope.”  We are then in a precarious position.  In this situation we depend on the three fold reality of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Spirit lifts up our prayers even in our weakness.  Paul’s greatest statement of hope in this passage is his assertion that “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  God’s purpose has its roots in eternity but is carried out in our world of time and space.  God chooses us in Christ (Eph. 1:4) but then calls us in the unfolding context of our daily lives.  It is not that God has predestined everything that is to happen irrespective of human acts and decisions.  Our decisions do matter.  God can and does change his mind (Ex. 32:14; Jonah 3:10).  Yet we have the assurance that our hope in God will be fulfilled.  We are being prepared to share in nothing less than God’s glory.  This grounds us in hope even as we continue to face a world that is in “bondage to decay.”  All things are not good but all things, in God’s hands, work together for good for those who love God.

Eternal and gracious God as I contemplate your plan for all of creation, my head starts to spin.  Keep me focused on the hope I have in you every day knowing that all things work together for good.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“Who is God?”

Romans 8:12-18

In this brief passage Paul gives a vivid picture of the working together of the three persons of the trinity.  He begins with a warning that, as Christians, we are not to live “according to the flesh.”  The word “flesh’ here takes in more than the physical.  Flesh for Paul signifies life apart from the true God.  It is existence lived only for the moment with no thought of the Creator.  Paul had essentially described this form of life in chapter 1 verses 18 to 32.  Rome in this period was certainly focused on its own depraved pleasures, at least according to the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonous.  The answer to these temptations and distractions is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul here is not endorsing an asceticism that denies human pleasure.  In his mind this only makes things worse (Col. 2:20-24).  Paul states emphatically, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord that nothing is unclean in itself (Rom. 14:14).Paul wants us to realize that the vitality and new life of the Spirit is far greater than any of the pleasures of the flesh.

Paul contrasts the freedom of the Holy Spirit with the “spirit of slavery.”  While Paul can speak metaphorically of the slavery of sin in its deadly grip, he also must, as a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), be thinking of the social and political reality of slavery.  Israel is adopted as a child of God the Father by being brought out of slavery in Egypt (Hosea 11:1).  Slavery was an essential part of the economic and social structure of Rome.  Yet Paul in calling for the equality of slaves and masters began to lay the foundation for its eventual demise (Gal. 3:28; Philemon 1:15-16).

Paul reminds the Roman Christians that, just as in the case of ancient Israel, they have been adopted into God’s family through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, they, as well as we ourselves, are now children of God.  God is truly our Father.  We are joint heirs with Christ.

Paul then adds the sober reminder that to be part of God’s family in the power of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not so that we can enjoy special privileges.  Rather we are to share in the sufferings of Christ.  To stand for God’s truth in a world of injustice and illusion is to expose ourselves to suffering.  However he adds the hopeful note that “the sufferings of this present time” cannot be compared to the future glory we have in Jesus Christ.  We should not hesitate to stand up against the slavery of the “flesh,” the slavery that the world imposes.  We are free in Jesus Christ.

Gracious and loving God and Savior I praise you that I have been adopted into your family through Christ’s death and resurrection.  May I resist all forms of slavery and live in your freedom alone.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“Who is God?”

Ps. 29:5-11

The psalmist continues with his description of worship.  He reminds us that while God is loving and compassionate, he is also formidable.  God is gracious and forgiving but he is not indulgent.  Worship is more than offering praise.  It is also acknowledging God’s power and supremacy in all of life.  The write of the Hebrews says, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).  The author states this in the context of reminding us that acceptable worship is done with “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

God is powerful.  He breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  His voice flashes forth flames of fire.  He strips the forests bare.  People ignore God.  They disobey him.  However they cannot evade him.  God calls nations and individuals to account in the present as well as the future.  Paul reminds us, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7).  People and nations may defy God for a period.  The evil can appear to prosper.  However they will not continue indefinitely.  God’s judgment cannot be avoided (Ps. 73).

We all stand accountable to God.  Jesus says that we will have to give an account of every careless word we have ever said (Matt. 12:36).  This is more than a little frightening.  What can we do?  It is here we return to the nature of worship.  To worship God is to confess our sins before him.  If we do that we are assured of God’s forgiveness (I John 1:8-9).  That forgiveness is guaranteed in Jesus Christ.  To him along with the Father and the Spirit we are to give all praise.

Merciful and faithful God, teach me awe and reverence so that I can truly praise you for all your greatness and goodness.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Devotions

“Who is God?”

Ps. 29:1-4

This psalm is a hymn of praise to the Lord God.  The psalmist cries out that we are to ascribe glory and strength to God.  He gives the command to “worship the Lord in holy splendor.”  Psalms like this make it very clear what is to be our focus in worship.  It is to be on God.  Coming into the presence of God in worship is unlike anything else we do.  Worship is not like going to a theater, a sports event or a restaurant.  The real question is not what we feel or experience (although those are important).  The real issue however is how our attention is focused on the true God revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Worship is not about us.  It is about God.  Yet the truth is the more we focus on God in our worship the more we are transformed and encouraged.

We then read of the “voice of the Lord.”  This would seem to be the same as speaking of the Word of God which is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity (John 1:1-14).  What is striking is that we read here that he the voice of the Lord is over the waters.  However in Genesis chapter one we read that the “wind’ or “Spirit” of God swept over the waters (Gen. 1:2).  This underscores the fact, especially emphasized by Martin Luther, that the three persons of the Trinity all share together in their various emphases and tasks.  God is the creator but so is the Son and the Spirit.  Ultimately, God is one.

The voice or word of the Lord is powerful.  It is “full of majesty.”  In a world that is so often confused and conflicted we need to remember that God reigns supreme.  We need continually to ascribe glory to his name.  God’s glory is his power, presence and holiness.  It is the revelation of his goodness (Mark 10:18).  To worship him is the essential purpose of our lives.

Gracious and faithful God may I continue to worship and extol you in all that I do and say.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

“Who is God?”

Isa. 6:1-8

Isaiah has an encounter with the living God in the temple in Jerusalem.  Isaiah had no doubt been in that temple many times.  Yet something was different this day.  He states that he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty.”  This is a mystery since we are told several times in scripture that no one has seen God at any time (John 1:18).  Yet we are also told that the Lord knew Moses “face to face.”  We have to conclude that there are indirect ways of seeing God.  Moses, for example, saw God’s back (Ex. 33:23).

God’s revelation to Israel was unique.  This revelation is made perfect in Jesus Christ. (John 1:18).  Isaiah lived in a world of idols (Isa. 44:9-20).  This is no less true of our world today.  What do people think of when they speak of God?  Very often God is nothing more than a projection of their own ideas.  This applies to us as well.  People can create their own god.  This however has nothing to do with the true God.

The point that is emphasized in this passage is that God is holy.  What does this mean?  It means first of all that God is set apart from us.  We are made in the image of God but we are not God.   God created the world but the world is not God.  Holy, however, also includes the idea of perfection.  We are not perfect.  Nothing we see or touch is perfect.  Yet God who is holy is perfect.  God also forgives our sin, our imperfection.

Isaiah goes on to say the “the whole earth is full of his glory.”  God’s glory is the manifestation or revelation of who he is.  This is to say that the signs of God are all around us.  Are we looking for them?  The world is broken by sin but God’s “eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Rom. 1:20).  Yet sin has blinded us to the reality of God.

Isaiah is overwhelmed by his vision.  Yet he still is prepared to go and serve God.  We have the benefit of knowing God through his revelation in Jesus Christ.  Christ has made God known.  Therefore we should be all the more eager to serve God because we have encountered him in Jesus Christ.

Eternal and faithful God, I thank you that you have revealed yourself to me in the person of Jesus Christ.  Let me never lose sight of your holiness and perfection.  Inspire me, like Isaiah, to pray, “Here am I; send me.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

Matthew 16:13-20

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  This is the birthday of the church.  The church comes into existence when the Holy Spirit descends upon the early disciples (Acts 2).   However the nature of the church is defined by Jesus in this passage.

If we ask the question, “What is the church?”  there are many answers.  What do we mean when we say the word, “church?”  First of all, we do mean a building.  When we say we are going “to church” we mean we are coming to a specific place and structure.  The word church also refers to the services we hold (“Were you in church last week?”, meaning “did you attend the service?”  The church also is an institution.  Churches and houses of worship in general are given special benefits under the law but they still are part of the societies in which they exist.  Yet the church is distinctive.  Meals are served in church but the church is not a restaurant.  We take up offerings and make financial donations but the church is not a bank.  The church has members, visitors and participants but it is not a social club.

What does our text say?  Jesus builds the church.  He builds it on the confession which Peter makes that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God.”  The church then is the community which Jesus creates.  All the disciples from the original apostles to the present are called to participate in the life of the church.  Yet Jesus alone builds the church.  He does not build it with Peter, James and John or any of the other disciples.  He does not build it with us.  The reason for this is simple.  All of us are too weak and vacillating to be the basis of the church.  If Jesus did not build the church it would have vanished centuries ago.

The church’s mission can be summed up in the familiar phrase from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” The church is not an escape, a refuge from the world.  The church experiences the power of its Lord as it seeks to do his will on earth “as it is done in heaven.”

As Paul reminds us the church is the body of Christ and everyone one of us is a member of that body.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you for the gift of your church.  Give me the grace to be active in the church’s task to seek to do your will on earth as it is in heaven.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

Ps. 133:1-3

There are many images of the church in scripture.  The church is the Body of Christ, the community of faith, the Bride of Christ, those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (I Cor. 12:12; Eph. 6:23; Rev. 21:2; Eph. 1:4).  To be the community we need each other.  Yes, a person can worship God on the golf course, the beach or walking in a park.  However, if this is a solitary practice, it is not worship in the full sense.  Worship, indeed spiritual life in general, must be lived in community.

This psalm is an exultant description of the community of faith.  To live together in unity is like precious oil or the “dew of Hermon.”  It is important to note the difference between unity and identity.  We are not identical.  We are not the same.  The body all has different parts yet each part is essential to the whole (I Cor. 12).

The church is called to be that place where everyone is welcomed and valued.  Separations based on anything from race to social standing to whatever else are a violation of the nature of the church.

The church needs to be the place where the excluded are included, where the rejected are received, where the hopeless find hope, where the lonely find friends.  We all need to live out this reality.  Gathering in worship gives us the opportunity to know those in our community that we may not have known previously.  In the church the strangers are welcomed (Matt. 25:35).  We need to embrace this reality.  Jesus is the one who alone builds the church but we are all part of his church.  When we live this out fully we experience the Lord’s blessing which is life forevermore.

Most gracious and forgiving God I thank you that you have called me into the church of Jesus Christ.  Give me the grace to reach out and know those members whom I may not yet know.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

John 15:26-27

Jesus makes a promise.  He will send us an advocate (or Helper).  We are not left to our own resources in the Christian life.  Jesus here is speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate this coming Sunday as Pentecost.  This is also a picture of the Trinity.  Jesus sends the Advocate, the Spirit, who comes from the Father but testifies on behalf of Jesus.

The critical quality of the Advocate is that he is “the Spirit of truth.”  The gospel of John focuses on the reality of light and darkness (John 1:5-9; 8:12).  Truth and light are often interchangeable, “the true light” (John 1:9; 3:21).

Yet we live in a world that can be described both as lacking truth and light.  We are overwhelmed by messages that come at us from the internet, social media, cable and a host of other sources.  How do we know what’s true and what’d not?  Many times we can’t tell.

This is why the Spirit is so necessary.  The Spirit brings us the ultimate truth which is God’s truth.  That truth is revealed in Jesus Christ.  Pilate represents the attitude of the world, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  In modern terms this is simply saying, “Whatever?”

Jesus however presents the full truth.  This includes the negative truth that people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).  However, it includes the greater truth that Jesus is the light of the world.  To do what is true is to come to the light.  John gives us many pictures of people coming to that light which is Christ
the Way, the Truth and the Light (John 14:6).  The woman at the well comes to the light (John 4:7-42).  The paralyzed man comes to the light (John 5:2-9).  The woman taken in adultery comers to the light (John 8:2-11).  The man born blind comes to the light (John 9:1-41).

This is the ultimate truth.  Jesus is the light of the world.  In his light we see the greatest truth.  He gives us not only life, but abundant life, eternal life (John 10:10; 5:24).  This is the great truth which the Spirit, the Advocate, brings us.

Eternal and gracious God I praise you for bring me the truth of Jesus Christ through your Spirit.  May that truth be the light of my life  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

John 15:12-17

What is the essence of the gospel?  It is defined in the most familiar verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . .” (John 3:16).  As Paul makes abundantly clear in in the famous thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, without love nothing else matters.  One can believe all the right things, do the right things, even give up one’s life but without love it frankly is “nothing” (I Cor. 13:3).

Jesus here gives what is the essential commandment for the disciples.  They are to love one another as Jesus has loved them.  The ultimate test of love is sacrifice, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus doesn’t present a list of requirements or rules that the disciples are to follow.  The only law that ultimately matters is the law of love.

Nothing is more contradictory of the gospel message than the failure to love.  Too often the disciples of Jesus Christ have been seen as unloving.  It is important to defend the truth, to stand up for what is right, to promote justice but none of that has any value apart from love.

Jesus shows his love by calling us his friends. He treats us as equals. He chose us. We did not choose him. We can only be grateful. The best way to show our gratitude is to share the love of Christ. We bear fruit in our Christian lives when we show love one for another. We do not have to agree on everything. We do not have to have the same perspective or even the exact same beliefs in some cases. We do have to love. As the apostle Paul says so clearly, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13).

Eternal and gracious God and Savior I cannot thank you enough for your love.  Give me the grace to show that love not only to believers but to everyone so that the world comes to know the love of God in Christ Jesus.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

Ps. 104:14-35

This Sunday, as we have noted, is the Day of Pentecost.  It is the birthday of the church.  The church is finally created when the Holy Spirit comes upon the early believers and they begin to speak in tongues.  Yet all of life comes from the Spirit.  This psalm attests to the power of God’s Spirit.  This is an echo of the opening chapter of Genesis where, in the midst of watery chaos, “a wind from God’ swept over the darkness and the deep. God then through his Word calls light into being.

In Hebrew the same word is used for “wind,” “breath’ and “spirit.”  God has made everything through his Spirit at the command of the Father under the authority of the Son.  Echoes of the Trinity abound in this text (Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost Sunday).  By means of God’s “breath” or “Spirit” everything comes to life at the same time that creation is in the hands of the living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:3; Col. 1:16).

Everything in creation testifies to God’s abundant Spirit.  Grass, plants and food comes from him.  God makes wine to gladden the human heart.  The trees, the mountains, the birds, all the animals, the sun and the moon, even darkness and light themselves, are the works of God’s creative hand.   God has even made the mythical Leviathan, the feared sea serpent of ancient people.  It is no threat to God.  To him it is a plaything.

When we look at the wonder of God’s creation we can only sing his praises.  The darkness is real in its thunder, lightning, hurricanes and earthquakes.  Yet we are never overwhelmed by the darkness and the chaos.  God always renews his creation.  One day we will have a new creation.  At that time there will be no more pain, suffering or death (Rev. 21:1-4).  As we await that day we should rejoice in each new day that God’s Spirit gives us.

Eternal and loving God and Savior.  May I never take your creation for granted.  I thank you for life in the Spirit, life today and throughout eternity.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

“Running Down Everywhere”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

God is a God of the impossible. God shows Ezekiel what is left of Israel. What is left?  The answer is simple. Nothing. Ezekiel sees only a valley of very dry bones. There are many of them. The glory and hope of Israel appears to lie irretrievably in the past. The days of David and Solomon are long gone. Nothing could be more devoid of life than all these “dry bones.”

What hope can the prophet take from this vision? There doesn’t seem to be any. The bones themselves testify to the fact that Israel is completely cut off. There is no hope. God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live.  Ezekiel can only say, “O Lord, God, you know.” This is in effect to say that there is no human hope.  And truly there is none. God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  He is to say, “O Dry bones, heart the word of the Lord.”

How can bones hear? The body is all gone. There are no ears to hear.  Yet what do we read?  God commands Ezekiel to call upon the “breath.”  The breath is the wind which is the same word as the Spirit.  What we see is the resurrection of a whole people.  The bones come to life.  They have bodies now and they are a “vast multitude.”

We can look around us and see a whole host of spiritual dry bones. Churches are closing at an alarming rate.  Christians can feel dried up as though there is nothing left, no energy, no strength, no movement. This however, as this text makes clear, is when God acts. The breath, the Holy Spirit, comes upon dry bones and revives them.  We are never without hope. We, like ancient Israel, can feel that “our hope is lost.”  However, it never is.  God does what is humanly impossible (Matt. 19:26).  God is still active, even among dry bones.

Gracious and faithful Lord I sometimes feel like my life has become full of dead and dry bones.  Revive me in the power of your Spirit.  Continue to give me the new life that comes only from you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

“Running Down Everywhere”

Acts 2:1-21

This is one of the greatest miracles recorded in scripture.  The disciples who have no abilities, no special importance, no social or political influence. are gathered together. All of a sudden the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They are not asking for the Spirit.  The Spirit comes upon them under its own initiative (John 3:8).  What follows appears to be more a miracle of hearing than of speaking. We read that “devout Jews from every nation” were present for the Pentecost festival. They were amazed and astonished that they could hear the disciples speaking in their native language.  Luke in writing this account makes clear that the group also includes Gentiles who had embraced the faith of Israel as proselytes (converts). This scene points both backward and forward in the whole record of scripture.

At the first level this miracle is the undoing of the confusion of languages which took place at the Tower of Babel (Gen.11). God caused division and confusion among the nations because of their pride and idolatry. Here on the day of Pentecost the division of languages is overcome. Pentecost also points forward to the vision in Revelation where an innumerable gathering of people from every tribe, nation and language will join in praising the Lamb of God on the throne (Rev 7:9-10). People in Jerusalem are amazed and perplexed at all this. Yet some dismiss it outright saying, in effect, that the disciples are drunk. This is an important lesson. Whenever God’s Spirit is poured out in miraculous ways there are always those who, in spite of witnessing it directly, dismiss it altogether. We should not be surprised when we encounter such reactions.  Back in the late ’60’s and early 70’s there was an outpouring of the Spirit which became known as the “Jesus movement.” It was a genuine revival which even cultural icons like the Beatles had to acknowledge (which they did in songs like “Let it Be” and “My Sweet Lord”). Yet there were many who dismissed the whole movement. That has been true throughout history.

Peter rises to address the crowd (which we understand is hearing him in their own particular language).  Peter makes the point that the disciples are not drunk since it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  He goes on to quote from the prophet (Joel 2:28-32).  Peter notes that this is the fulfillment of the “last days.”  God’s Spirit is being poured out everywhere.  All of this is preparing us for the return of Jesus Christ which can happen at any moment.  In the meantime, we are sustained by the power of the Spirit.  We live in a world that increasingly ignores the reality of God’s Spirit.  We need to remember there were scoffers and cynics on the first Day of Pentecost.  God’s Spirit continues to be poured out “upon all flesh.”  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  This not only encourages us.  It motivates us share Christ more and more in the power of the Spirit.

Eternal and gracious God, pour out your Spirit upon me.  Encourage me and inspire me to live more and more for you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Weekly Devotionals

Weekly Devotionals

For the week of May 7th,  we are going to use the website d365.org as our devotional guide.

Click the Image Below:

the devotional steps

d365Logo_Circle_Pause

As you pause to begin your devotion, you will find a statement that will help you take time away from your busyness to center and listen to what God is saying. Stay on this screen as long as you like.  When you are ready, proceed to listen to God’s word, and then move through the rest of the devotion. Note that the Pause and Go statements will stay the same for a week.

d365Logo_Circle_Listen

Scripture has so much to say to our lives; our job is to make the space to listen. As you read the scripture for the day, read it through a few times or pray the scripture as you listen for God’s voice. Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from the Common English Bible.

d365Logo_Circle_Think

The devotions found on this site are reflections, voices that will cause you to think. As you read the reflections on the scripture, be open to new thoughts and ideas. Do you agree? Do you disagree? How do these words encourage you or challenge you as you study the scripture? Remember, you can go back and “listen” and read the text again to help you understand what the devotion is saying to you.

d365Logo_Circle_Pray

Let your thinking about the text lead you into response through prayer. As you enter the “prayer” step, we’ve given you a few words to get you started, but don’t end there. Remember, prayer is conversation, so take the time to talk to God but also to listen for God.

d365Logo_Circle_Go

While it would be nice to find a quiet space and stay there forever, life always calls us back. There are many things to do, and we are called to go, but never alone. Guided by the Spirit, go with God’s blessing sent in the name of Jesus.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Weekly Devotionals

Weekly Devotionals

For the week of May 1st,  we are going to use the website d365.org as our devotional guide.

Click the Image Below:

the devotional steps

d365Logo_Circle_Pause

As you pause to begin your devotion, you will find a statement that will help you take time away from your busyness to center and listen to what God is saying. Stay on this screen as long as you like.  When you are ready, proceed to listen to God’s word, and then move through the rest of the devotion. Note that the Pause and Go statements will stay the same for a week.

d365Logo_Circle_Listen

Scripture has so much to say to our lives; our job is to make the space to listen. As you read the scripture for the day, read it through a few times or pray the scripture as you listen for God’s voice. Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from the Common English Bible.

d365Logo_Circle_Think

The devotions found on this site are reflections, voices that will cause you to think. As you read the reflections on the scripture, be open to new thoughts and ideas. Do you agree? Do you disagree? How do these words encourage you or challenge you as you study the scripture? Remember, you can go back and “listen” and read the text again to help you understand what the devotion is saying to you.

d365Logo_Circle_Pray

Let your thinking about the text lead you into response through prayer. As you enter the “prayer” step, we’ve given you a few words to get you started, but don’t end there. Remember, prayer is conversation, so take the time to talk to God but also to listen for God.

d365Logo_Circle_Go

While it would be nice to find a quiet space and stay there forever, life always calls us back. There are many things to do, and we are called to go, but never alone. Guided by the Spirit, go with God’s blessing sent in the name of Jesus.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

“All Nations”

Matt. 28:19-20

The Risen Lord Jesus Christ gives his disciples a direct and definite command here.  There are four parts to this command.  The first is that the disciples are to go into the world.  The disciples are not to retreat into some safe and secure spiritual home.
The world is a place of sorrow, struggle, sickness and injustice.  Yet God will neither abandon nor condemn the world.  This is the message the disciples are to take into that world.

The second part of this command is that the disciples are in turn to make disciples of the nations, of all peoples.  A disciple is not only one who believes but one who follows.  Jesus calls all those who are “weary and carrying heavy burdens.”  This is the message the disciples are to bring to a troubled world.  The third command is that they are to baptize “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Baptism joins us together with the Trinity, the God who is three in one.  The fourth command is to teach those who come to obey all that Christ has commanded.

Jesus’ fundamental teaching in Matthew’s gospel is the centrality of mercy.  As we have noted, Jesus twice quotes from Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7).  Jesus calls us to serve those who are vulnerable (Matt. 25:31-46).  Jesus also defends victims.  When we are angry with someone, when we lust after someone, when we make money into a god we are creating victims (Matt. 5:21-30; 6:24).  Jesus is especially concerned with bad religion, the religion of superiority and pride which rather than making one fit for heaven makes one “a child of hell” (Matt. 23:15).

How can we accomplish this task?  We can only do so through Jesus’ continuing presence with us, guiding and leading us.  Here is his greatest promise: He will be with us always, to the end of the age.  This is both our hope and our joy.

Eternal and merciful God may I follow your command to disciple all nations.  May I share your grace and power both through my words and through my actions.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

“All Nations”

Revelation 7:9-12

This is a vision that John of Patmos has of the throne of God.  In this vision he sees “a great multitude which no one can count.” This crowd is from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”  In other words this is a vision that takes in all the people groups in the world.  This is the fulfillment of Christ’s great command to go and disciple all nations.  That task will be carried out.  It is clear that in the final analysis the greater number of humanity will be brought to God.  This is a heavenly Palm Sunday celebrating God’s great gift of salvation.

The apostle Paul goes even further with his vision of “all the gentiles” (Rom. 1:5) and “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26). While not denying God’s judgment, Paul repeatedly speaks of all being saved (understanding that “many” in the context here also means “all”) (Rom. 5:12-21; 11:32; Col. 1:19-20; I Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11).  Yet these assurances need to be held in tension with human responsibility and choices.

Given these pictures should we say there is no need for our witnessing?  If this “great multitude” is assured, if God will showing mercy to all finally, why must we “go and make disciples of the nations?”  Isn’t God going to accomplish this whether we do anything or not?

Yet this kind of thinking moves us from the promises of scripture into speculation.  We can be confident of the task of missions since we know that people will accept the gospel.  Yet the other side of the issue is that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).  We therefore have the obligation to call people to faith in Christ (Eph. 2: 9-10). We go out in confidence knowing that, even though some may reject, there will be many who will respond, indeed, “a great multitude.”

Eternal loving and gracious God, I praise you for this vision of the great multitude that will one day surround your throne.  May I be part of that great crowd and may there be others there because of my witness.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

“All Nations”

John 20:19-23

This scene takes place the evening of the first Easter Sunday.  The disciples have heard the report of the empty tomb and the testimony of Mary Magdalene and her friends.  Yet they have not yet seen Jesus.  The disciples are in hiding.  The door is locked.  They are afraid of the Jewish authorities.  Jesus appears to them.  He apparently passes through the door where he had earlier removed the stone that had barred the tomb.  We don’t fully understand the reality of Jesus’ resurrection body.

In the midst of their fear Jesus brings them a message of peace.  He says this to them twice.  Probably they were so amazed they couldn’t take this all in.  Jesus then makes this startling statement.  He says to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  This is no less a miracle than the Resurrection itself.  These frightened disciples hiding behind a locked door are in no position to go anywhere.  Jesus was sent by the Father with the full authority of God.  He was both Son of God and Son of Man, the Savior of the world.  How could the disciples possibly be sent as Jesus was sent by the Father?

The obvious answer is that they have nothing in themselves that could begin to fulfill this mandate.  The only way this impossible task becomes possible is the fact that Jesus breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.  This is an initial gift of the Spirit which of course will be received in its greatest measure at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Holy Spirit will transform this small frightened group into leaders who will bring the gospel to the whole world.  They will have the power of God’s own forgiveness.  They have the experience of the Risen Christ.  They now have the power that comes from the Holy Spirit.  With this power they will accomplish things they could only have dreamt of before.

That same power has been promised to us as well.

Merciful and gracious God and Savior, take away my fears.  Give me your peace and empower me to be sent out as your witness through the Holy Spirit.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

“All Nations”

Acts 1:6-11

Jesus has spent forty days with the disciples after his resurrection.  At this point they  are wondering if this now will be the end of the age.   Will Christ now establish his rule not only for Israel but for all nations?  So they ask, “Lord, is this the time . . . ?”  Jesus’ answer is probably not what they were expecting.  He tells them it is not for them to know the “the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”  This hasn’t stopped people throughout the ages from trying to decipher exactly when the end time will occur.  Jesus however could not be clearer.  We are not to know.  This is the walk of faith without sight (II Cor. 5:7).  To speculate about “the day or the hour” (Matt. 24:36) is not only pointless.  It really questions the plan that God in his sovereignty has set up.  We are not to know.

This does not mean that we are to be passive.  Jesus has a definite plan and purpose for his disciples.  He tells them (and us) three crucial things.  First, we will receive power.  The word for this power is the same word we have for “dynamite.”  It is not a power in human terms.  If the church only had human power it would have disappeared from human history centuries ago.  Jesus is speaking about a spiritual power.  Second, the source of this power will be the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will guide and direct us.  Third, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses from their home (Jerusalem and Judea) to where they are not welcome (Samaria) on out “to the ends of the earth.”

This is a broad mandate.  There are many ways to witness.  Not all of them are verbal (Matt. 25:31-46).  The gospel message is direct and straight forward: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).   Belief itself also takes many forms.  It may be as simple as washing Jesus’ feet without saying a word (Luke 7:36-50).

After giving this mandate Jesus ascends into heaven (something we might describe as another dimension).  Two angels appear to the disciples.  They restate what continues to be the great hope of the church.  Jesus is coming again.  Jesus himself had emphatically taught this (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 24).  This hope sustains us as we seek, in whatever we are able, to witness to the new life found uniquely in Jesus Christ.

Eternal and faithful God and Savior.  I thank you for the promise of the Holy Spirit.  May I draw on the Spirit’s power as I witness to you awaiting the return of your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

 “All Nations”

Luke 24:44-49

This passage makes it clear that Jesus cannot be understood apart from scripture and scripture cannot be understood apart from him.  When Jesus refers to the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms he is taking in all of the Old Testament, the Torah.  The Old Testament consists of essentially three types of writings.  The first of course is the law, the first five books.  Then there are the books of prophecy which include the histories of the prophets (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) and the prophetic books themselves.  The third category is the Wisdom literature, sometime referred to as the Writings.  The preeminent example is Psalms but this also includes books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon and Job.

What Jesus is saying here is that every one of these books deals with him in some sense.  They invariably are prophetic descriptions of him and his ministry.  This of course is one of the reasons that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament so frequently.  Interpreting scripture is always a major task.  We need language tools, history and comparative literature to start.  However what we need most is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

Apart from the centrality of Jesus Christ the Bible can often be abused.  The Bible has sadly been used to justify slavery, racism, imperialism, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of women and homosexuals.  If we have only the letter of the text that can easily become destructive, even deadly, according to the apostle Paul (II Cor. 3:1-6).

However focusing on Christ brings out the good news of the Word of God.  Through Jesus in the scriptures we experience freedom, freedom from guilt, sin and death.  As Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (II Cor. 3:17).

Merciful and gracious God I thank you for the gift of your Word.  Give me your Spirit and enable me to see Jesus everywhere he is revealed in scripture.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

“All Nations”

Isa. 66:18-24

These closing words of Isaiah’s prophecy give us a breathtaking look at the culmination of God’s final plan for all people and all nations.  Here we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the world will be blessed as we saw yesterday.  We need to look at the details of this picture.

First, God is saying that he will gather all nations and tongues.  Adding the term “tongues” indicates how extensive this is.  In many nations including our own there is more than one language.  These shall come and see God’s glory.  At this point God’s glory will be declared among the nations.  This extends even to the coastlands that have not heard of God.  Second, the nations of the world then will bring all the scattered chosen people of God, the Jews, to Jerusalem.  God will even take some of those Gentiles, and make them to be priests and Levites.

Earlier in the Book of Isaiah and then also in the Book of Revelation, we see that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1).  God is not only making an ultimate promise to Israel.  This promise now is extended to “all flesh,” that is to say, all humanity.  Everyone will come to the new Jerusalem to worship the one true God.

This image is intended to give us comfort and assurance, not complacency.  We are not simply to wait for this all to be fulfilled.  We need to be part of the command to declare God’s glory among the nations.  The great encouragement here is that this mission will inevitably be fulfilled.  We are to prepare for this great scene.  We can share the gospel in confidence knowing that “all nations” will come to the Lord.  Yet the final scene in this passage is a sober warning about the task of spreading the gospel.  The last picture here is of the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against God.  Within all nations there will be exceptions.  We are given no further description than that they have rebelled.  Their worm doesn’t die.  Their fire is not quenched.  God is gracious but God also will not be mocked.  We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).  The harvest is ripe even now (Matt. 9:37-38).  God is not willing that any should perish (I Tim. 2:3-4).  We need continually to witness to the new creation revealed in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

Gracious and loving God inspire me with this promise of all nations coming to worship you.  With that hope may I play a part in declaring your glory to the nations.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

“All Nations”

Gen. 12:1-3

The plan of salvation begins to be carried out when God first calls Abraham.  This starts with God making a command.  The command though is not to perform some special function.  God tells Abraham to go to a land that God will show him.  Not even a GPS would help here.  Abraham is not told where he is going.  Much less does he have an address.  God then makes a series of promises to Abraham.  God will bless (favor) him and make of him a great nation.  God will bless those who bless Abraham and in turn God will curse any who curse Abraham.  Finally in Abraham all the families or nations of the world will be blessed.

There are many unanswered questions here.  Why does God call Abraham?  We are not told that there is anything special about him.  Abraham’s world was full of myths of great heroes who performed miraculous acts.  Nothing here indicates that Abraham is any kind of hero.  We don’t hear of any special accomplishments he has achieved.  How will be the father of a great nation (he’s already seventy five)?  How will all the nations of the world be blessed in him?

We are given no details, really, no explanations.  All we have is the Word of God given to a person about whom we know practically nothing at this point.  God’s Word presents God’s promises.  Abraham is not told that he has to do anything to receive these promises (Rom. 4:2).  As we will see it is all a matter of faith, of Abraham believing God’s Word (Gen. 15:6).  Yet God’s promises precede Abraham’s response of faith.

This text is foundational to all of scripture.  We learn several key things here that will greatly help us interpret the rest of scripture.  First, God comes to us.  We read nothing of Abraham looking for God.  God calls Abraham on a mission that is not explained at this point.  God makes promises to Abraham.  Nothing is said of Abraham doing anything to merit those promises.

The same God who called Abraham calls us.  The same God who promised to bless Abraham will also bless us in Jesus Christ.

 Merciful and faithful God and Savior I thank you that you called Abraham to carry out your will.  May I also seek to follow your will.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018

“All Authority”

Matt. 28:16-18

The disciples come to Galilee as they had been instructed.  Here they encounter the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.  They worship him.  However some doubted.  How could they doubt with the evidence staring them in the face?  There are many reasons why people doubt even in the face of undeniable evidence.  They may doubt because what they see is too good to be true in their minds.  They doubt because they can’t make sense of what they are seeing.  Finally they may doubt because they’re afraid of the implications of what they see.

To admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is to say that the world is not what it appears to be.   Death does not, indeed cannot, have the last word.  History is not in the hands of human beings no matter how much power and influence they may claim to have.  The world is ruled neither by fate nor fortune.

Jesus makes the all- encompassing claim that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  There is no boundary or limit to this authority.  Jesus’ dominion includes everything.  He is the final authority in politics, economics, education, science art and all of culture.

Finally he is our authority.  Everything we have and are belong to him. There are no exceptions.  Jesus’ authority does not depend on us.  It depends solely on God.  We cannot evade his authority.  What we can do is bend our wills to serve him.  As we embrace his authority over us we have the promise of confident joy (John 15:11).  That joy surpasses anything the world can promise us.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you that all things in heaven and on earth are under the authority of Jesus Christ.  May that great truth continually be my hope and assurance in all things.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

“All Authority”

Matt. 28:11-15

We hear accusations today of “fake news.”  That term applies to this account.  The guards have told the high priest what happened on Easter morning.  The soldiers experienced an earthquake.  They at least saw a blinding light even if they didn’t realize they were seeing an angel.   Whoever they thought this figure was they were terrified.  We are told that they shook “and became like dead men” (Matt. 28:4).  The most significant part of their story is that the tomb was empty.  They didn’t know where Jesus was.

The truth was beginning to circulate that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  The women at least had told the disciples.  Before the story spread the religious leaders were prepared to claim that the message of the Resurrection was “fake news.”  They bribed the soldiers to claim that Jesus’ body had been stolen by his disciples while they slept.  The bride clearly included protection since falling asleep on your post as a Roman soldier was an offence punishable by death.

All of this planning and deception is doomed to failure.  There have been attempts to deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ for the past two centuries.  All of them inevitably fail.  The religious leaders can make up whatever story they want.  The fact remains that “Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20).  Christ’s resurrection also insures our resurrection from the dead.  Jesus is the “first fruits.”

The world has an agenda that denies Jesus.  It denies the Resurrection.  It loudly proclaims that this life is all we have.  However God unleashed incredible power in the Resurrection of Jesus.  It was impossible for death to hold him (Acts 2:24).  We live in a hope that can never be taken away.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Gracious and merciful God and Savior I praise you for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.  May I continue to live in the hope that provides and may I share that hope with a world which too often lives without hope.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

“All Authority”

Eph. 1:15-23

Paul repeatedly refers to the power of Jesus Christ in this passage.  He speaks of the “great power” that has been manifested in the risen Christ.  This power was fully demonstrated in “Christ’s resurrection.”  The result of this is that God has not only raised Jesus from the dead, he has seated him at God the Father’s right hand.  Paul adds in exalted terms that this is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

The Roman authorities of Paul’s time would have laughed at this description.  Christianity in this era was a tiny movement with no strong social, political or cultural leadership.  How could this Jesus be over “all rule and authority and power and dominion.”  This would place him even above Caesar himself.

Paul knows that the gospel will appear as “foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor. 1:23), He calls believers to look with “the eyes of faith.”  Faith enables us to see things that reason cannot penetrate.  However Paul is not saying that faith is blind.  Seeing with faith enables us to see the triumph of the Resurrection which in truth no one witnessed directly (an Easter knock-knock joke I heard at a recent Montclair Clergy meeting: “Knock, knock,” “Who’s there?” “No one. The tomb is empty”).

The ruling authorities knew the tomb was empty but they did not see the risen Christ.  Yet Jesus’ death and resurrection unleashes incredible power.  Lives are transformed.  The sick are healed.  In some cases the dead are raised.  Christianity eventually conquers the Roman Empire.

We see struggle, injustice and indifference to the gospel all around us.  We however have to open our eyes with faith.  The power of Christ continues to expand.  We take for granted human rights that the Romans would not have imagined.  This is not to mention health care and public education.  All of these developments have their roots in Christianity.  There are more Christians in the world today than at any point in world history.

We need to be encouraged by these trends, not complacent.  Finally we must recognize that Jesus is in charge of all of history.  He is the “fullness” who fills all in all.  Everything is under him and him alone.

I praise you Lord for the power revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  May I commit myself to live in that power sharing the good news of his death and resurrection.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

“All Authority”

Col. 2:16-23

 

Paul now expands on the freedom we have in Christ.  The Pharisees with their overly zealous view of the law were quick to condemn anyone who did not follow their same rigid standard (Matt. 15:1-9).  Paul speaks of those who would condemn others in everything from food and drink (alcohol?) to religious observances.  There is a danger here of being “puffed up” by a human way of thinking.

There are two dangers here.  First, there is “self-abasement” which Paul concedes has the dubious advantage of “promoting self-imposed piety” which quickly leads to “self-indulgence.”  Paul accepts no rule for the Christian life except the rule of love (Rom. 13:9-10).    He further states that he is convinced that nothing is wrong (or in Jewish terms, “unclean”) in itself.  He further states that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving” (I Tim. 4:4).   Second, Paul adds that the primary reason for refraining from indulging in practices that are not the obvious “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21) is the concern for weaker believers who may not be ready or able to experience their full freedom in Christ (I Cor. 8).  A recovering alcoholic may be offended by seeing other Christians indulge in drinking.

Paul calls us to stand firm in the freedom we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1).  The rule of love is a very broad one.  Christianity throughout its history has suffered from a condemning legalism.  This turns many people away from the gospel.  Freedom is not to be used for self- indulgence.  Yet freedom is still truly free (John 8: 36).

Gracious and loving Lord, may I live in the freedom you have given me to enjoy with thanksgiving all that is part of your creation.  Give me the grace to act in love especially with others who may not yet be ready for the full freedom you provide.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

“All Authority”

Col.  2:6-15

Paul again in this section is making great affirmations about Jesus Christ.  He warns against “philosophy and empty deceit.”  He is not dismissing valid questions and reasonable concerns.  The Colossians were in danger of falling into speculative arguments and fantasies.  Paul insists that all things belong to Christ.  However there is a danger in wandering away from Christ and following “human tradition.”  Paul sees these tendencies as threats to the church.  He, of all people, is certainly not anti-intellectual.  Yet he realistically understands that there are false alternatives to the gospel which even Jesus had warned against (Matt. 24:5).  There are many forms of ‘spirituality” in our world that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Paul then gives us a summary of the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.  Too often the view has been presented that Christ died to fulfill the demands of the law, that his death somehow satisfied a need in God’s justice.  Such a view is itself speculative and theoretical.  It is not what the New Testament essentially teaches.  Jesus did not die to fulfill the demands of the law (as was the case with the Old Testament sacrifices).  In his death he freed us from the law’s demands, “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside nailing it to the cross.”

Because of sin we were captive to death and the devil.  Christ on the cross took all these forces on to himself, these “rulers and authorities” and disarmed and conquered them (Heb. 2:14-15).  Paul conjures up what would have a familiar image to his readers.  A Roman centurion would return dragging his defeated adversaries behind him, chained to his chariot.  This is Paul’s image of the victory of Jesus Christ.  He has made a public example of sin, death, hell, the law and the devil “triumphing over them” in the cross.

This means we are free of guilt, fear and failure.  Christ has won the victory for us.  The power of the cross, which to human eyes appeared as shame and weakness, is fully revealed in the triumph of the Resurrection.  We can now live out the frequent command, “Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:10).  Amen!

Gracious and faithful God I praise you for the victory Jesus won on the cross and revealed in the Resurrection.  May I continue to live in that victory.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“All Authority”

Col. 1:15-20

This is one of the most exalted pictures of Jesus Christ in the entire New Testament.  Note the many claims that the apostle Paul makes.  First, there is Christ’s equality with the Father.  Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”  In him “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Beyond that he is the “firstborn of all creation.” In him “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.”  For Paul the invisible world probably meant the world of the Spirit.  In our time when we are aware of the magnitude of creation and its incredible intricacy there is much more that we are aware of that is “invisible” from distant galaxies to sub-atomic particles.  The formerly atheistic philosopher Anthony Flew came to the conclusion that there had to be some kind of creator to account for the universe in which we live.  To see the world in all its diversity and to claim that it all can about by some random or chance event strains credulity.

Paul goes on to say that in Christ all things hold together.  In addition Jesus is the head of the church.  He is the firstborn from the dead as we celebrate this Easter season.  He has first place in everything.  As Martin Luther reminded us, we see God’s presence and activity everywhere from the smallest flower to the innumerable stars in the sky.  Christ is present in everything.  Everything belongs to him, from baseball games to the latest fashion to the complexity of the arts and all science.

Finally Paul brings us one of his most crucial themes which was grasped by several in the early church but was subsequently lost.  This is the doctrine of universal salvation.  Paul affirms here that God is reconciling all things whether on earth or in heaven to himself “making peace through the blood of the cross.”  This should give us immeasurable confidence.  The paradox is that individual persons can reject this reconciliation and thereby face an ultimate separation from God.   Such decisions cannot override God’s ultimate decision in Christ to reconcile all things to himself.

Given all this we should be the most confident and optimistic people on earth.  This is our testimony in word and deed.  Everything belongs to Jesus Christ.  He has come to reconcile us to God, to show us our true identity and true hope. This is a gift we need to share with the world.

Gracious and faithful God I praise you that in Christ you are reconciling all things to yourself.  May I continue to have faith in Christ and be drawn more and more closely to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

“All Authority”

Phil. 2:5-11

This is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament.  In all probability it was an ancient hymn that Paul is quoting.  Paul is concerned about the presence of ‘”selfish ambition” in the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:17).  His purpose in referring to this hymn is to call the Philippians to an attitude of humility.  Jesus is the supreme example of humility.  This is why Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was equal with God the Father.  Here we have an explicit statement about the deity of Christ.  The hymn however goes on to say that Jesus “emptied himself.”  He took upon himself the role of a slave.  His humility led to nothing less than his death on the cross.  It was for this reason that God exalted him.  This exaltation was his resurrection.  We are currently in the Easter season and we do well to meditate on what that means.

Jesus has been totally exalted to the point where he has been given a name “that is above every name.”  At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  The picture here admits of no exceptions.  Pilate will bow.  Herod will bow.  Nero will bow.  Hitler will bow.  The demons in hell will bow.  Satan himself may be forced to bow just as he tempted Jesus to bow before him (Matt. 4:9).

To be humble is to make ourselves vulnerable. In our aggressive world this is usually the last thing we want to do.  However we should have no fear in becoming vulnerable. Everything is under Jesus’ authority.  Whatever suffering we experience will not last.  Jesus now and always has the final say.

Gracious and faithful God may I truly have the mind of Christ and be free to be humble knowing that I, like everything else, is under Jesus’ sole authority.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

  1. Context
    1. Jews and Samaritans – “Jews do not share things with Samaritans” – John 8:48- “Samaritan” = “Demon”
    2. Single men and women did not interact socially by themselves – 4:27
    3. Both Jesus and the woman want water

 

  1. Jesus is the Mesiah/the Savior – 4:26, 42
    1. Jesus begins speaking about things that are important to the woman – 4:10
    2. Jesus uses symbolism for life in the Spirit – John 3:8
    3. The woman brings up her own religious views – 4:12
    4. Jesus introduces the water of “eternal life” – 4:14
    5. The woman only partially understands at best – 4:15 – 20 – “Has Jesus failed as a communicator?”
    6. The woman’s background – true but also irrelevant – 4:15-19
    7. Jesus does not condemn or call the woman to repentance– John 8:11
    8. Jesus reveals himself – 4:24-26
    9. The disciples are “astonished” but quiet – 4:27

 

  • The woman as evangelist – 4:29
    1. Jesus ‘ food is to do the will of the Father – 4:34
    2. “the fields are ripe for harvesting” – 4:35
    3. Many Samaritans believed in him – 4:39
    4. “the Savior of the world” – 4:42

Questions for Reflection –Who first told you about Jesus Christ?

  1. What lessons can we take from Jesus’ example of evangelism in this passage?
  2. What keeps us from sharing the gospel with people we encounter?
  3. How does Grace Church equip you to share your faith?

 

Next Study – Reaching Out to the “Other” – Matt. 25:31-46

Grace Presbyterian Church - Reaching Out to the “Other”- Bible Study – Matt. 25:31-46

Reaching Out to the “Other”- Bible Study – Matt. 25:31-46

Reaching Out to the “Other”- Bible Study – Matt. 25:31-46

  1. Context
    1. Apocalyptic Parable (“Wow! What is that?”) – symbolic depiction of the end time to challenge things in the present – Matt. 13:47-50; 24;  Ezekiel 1; Daniel 7-8; Revelation 4-22
    2. Jesus’ parables in Matthew are both a warning and a summons to action usually with a very specific focus
      1. For the community of faith – Matt. 13:10-17
      2. The Parable of the Sower – Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23
      3. The Weeds and the Wheat – Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43
      4. The Mustard Seed – Matt. 13:31-32
      5. The Yeast – Matt. 13:33
      6. The lost sheep – Matt. 18:10-14
      7. The end of the age – Matt. 13:47-50

 

  1. A Picture of the Last Judgment
  1. Jesus as the Son of Man – the final judge – Daniel 7:13-14; John 5:25-29
  2. The nations (the world) – 25:32
  3. Sheep and goats – 25:25:32
  4. Those who are blessed – Isa. 58:6-9
    1. “you gave me food” – 25:35
    2. “you gave me something to drink”
    3. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”
    4. “I was naked and you gave me clothing” – 25:36
    5. “I was sick and you took care of me”
    6. “I was in prison and you visited me”
  5. The question of the righteous – “When. . . ?” – 25:37-39
    1. “the least of these” – 25:40
    2. “brother or sister” – 25:40; 5:21-24; 18:35
    3. “little ones” – Matt. 10:42; 18:10-14; 19:13-14; cf. 5:1-12
  6. “you did it to me” – 25:40
  7. “you did not do it to me” – 25:41-45
  8. eternal life vs. eternal punishment – 25:46

Questions for Reflection –

  1. How have we as a congregation extended care to the “other?”
  2. In what ways are we blind to or ignore the needs of others?
  3. What needs could we add to Jesus’ parable?
  4. What can we do to increase our awareness of those in need?

 

Next Study – Healthy Church Life – Matt. 15:1-9

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

GOOD NIGHT, GOOD DAY

the pain inside his palms
less than the piercing of the betrayal
of poison dripping from disciples’ tongues
when fear compromises faith

look up and see
not a king
or a god
but a dying man
whose blood drowns out
a shame we do not see

we breathe
he bleeds
we sing
he screams

as tight lips deny prayers
and offerings are scorched in sin
as doubt and denial join hands
the darkness of a vacant tomb
becomes a comfort we can’t comprehend

as our palms begin to shake
and our prayers become pleas
the light we never knew
the grace of everlasting
the conquest of love

not a man
but a son
rolls away the stone of our sorrow
and shines into the promise of forever

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - April 1, 2018 EASTER

April 1, 2018 EASTER

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

We didn’t know what else to do.

We were overwhelmed with grief.

I’ve never been so sad.

I didn’t sleep.

The Sabbath came and went.

I felt numb.

If I felt at all.

So we got up early.

We wanted to do something.

We brought spices to anoint the body.

We didn’t know how to enter the tomb.

There was a great stone

and a guard.

I was worried.

I was afraid.

How would we go on without him?

Then it all changed.

An earthquake

An angel

The guards shaking

Then He was there.

Unbelievable.

We touched him.

Felt his feet.

He said, “Do not be afraid”

And I wasn’t.

And I’m not now.

Still,

Joy can be terrifying

Faithful and loving God give me the same compassion that Jesus had.  May I truly see him in those who are in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 31, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 27:55-66

 

From a human standpoint this appears to be a moment of complete despair.  Jesus is dead.  There are many women (obviously very few men and none of the disciples if one doesn’t take the “Beloved Disciple” of John’s gospel as being one of the twelve).  They can only look on “from a distance.”  They can’t really do anything.  In fact, what could be done?  This scene is similar to depictions in classic literature of women looking on helplessly as their men are killed.  An example is the Trojan Women who have to endure the death of their husbands and sons as well as the destruction of their city.  These are pictures of finality.  All women in these situations can do is look on from a distance.

Joseph of Aramathea does what little can be humanly done.  He asks for the body of Jesus and places it in his own new tomb.  He rolls a great stone across the tomb presumably so no one will enter it and desecrate the body.  The following day, Saturday, the chief priests and the Pharisees ask Pilate for a guard to secure the tomb from any attempt to steal the body and claim that Jesus has risen.  Pilate grants their request.  The guard then seals the tomb and makes it secure.

All of this effort from placing the stone and then sealing it is pointless.  The calm of this Saturday is an illusion.  The spiritual world is in turmoil.  The gates of hell have been broken open (Matt. 16:18).  Sin, Death, Hell and Satan have been disarmed and dragged behind Christ’s triumphal procession (Col. 2:15), Christ has taken captivity captive (Eph. 4:8).  Death has been abolished (II Tim. 1:10).

The earth is quiet.  Jerusalem is quiet.  The disciples still are in hiding.  The women look on and mourn.  The soldiers stand guard.  What none of them know at this point is that fearful Hades, the place of the dead, lies in shambles, smashed and broken forever.  The Devil has lost his power because Death has been destroyed (Heb. 2:14-15).

This furious conflict and incredible victory is about to break through into the physical dimension of earth (I John 3:8).  All the soldiers in the world wouldn’t be able to prevent that from happening.

Gracious and triumphant Lord Jesus Christ, I praise you for the victory you won on the cross taking my place for all my sin and failure.  Prepare me for your greatest triumph.  May I obey your command, “Do not be afraid.” I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Good Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday, March 30, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 27:1-54

Good Friday

The Roman soldiers who witnessed Christ’s death were terrified.  The whole event is terrifying.  There is Judas who betrayed Jesus.  He repents but goes and commits suicide.  The crowds cry out for Jesus’ blood.  They want a criminal released instead of the Son of God.  This has all been designed by the religious leaders.  In their minds this is necessary to preserve their guilt inducing law.

The soldiers mock Jesus. They put a crown of thorns on his head.  They spit on him.  They beat him.  Then they lead him out to be crucified.  The mockery continues even as Jesus hangs dying on the cross.  He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Then he dies.  The chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees breathe a sigh of relief.  The trouble maker is gone.  He will disturb them no more.  Pilate no longer has to think about him despite his wife’s strange dream.   Satan has won his victory.  Darkness pervades the land.  The darkness appears to have taken over everything.

But then, the curtain of the temple is torn in two.  There is an earthquake.  The earth shakes and the rocks split open.  The Roman centurion and his soldiers are truly terrified.  The centurion can only say, “Truly, this man was God’s Son!”

But it doesn’t matter.  Jesus is dead.  He is truly dead.  The one who raised others from the dead is dead.  The one who calmed the wind and the waves is dead.  The one who fed thousands of people is dead.

The demons in Hades prepare to celebrate.

If they only knew.

Their party will have an unexpected guest. . . .

 

Merciful and sovereign God, how can this be?  How could Jesus die for an undeserving world?  How could he die for me? I cannot grasp love this great.  Build up my faith in You and your love, I pray this in Jesus’ name.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 29, 2019

Thursday, March 29, 2019

“Fear and Great Joy”

Maundy Thursday

Matthew 26:17-56

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus doesn’t want to be my savior.  He certainly doesn’t want to be the savior of the disciples whom he knows will desert him in his hour of greatest need.  Time and again he rebuked them for their faithlessness.  Why save them?  Why die for them?  Why be confronted with not only the fury of human enemies but, far worse, the full power of Sin, Death, Hell and Satan?  Why indeed?

When Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me . . . .” he is saying he does not want to die for the disciples.  He does not want to die for the world.    He doesn’t want to die for me.  I am certainly no better than they were.  In fact, I am far worse.  I have been faithless and perverse (Matt. 17:17).  I have taken Satan’s side against Jesus (Matt. 16:22-23).  Why would Jesus die for me?

If Jesus had ended his prayer with that single statement, “Let this cup pass from me,” what would God the Father had said?  He well could say, “You have done enough my Son.  They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them” (Luke 16:29).  Jesus then could have walked out of Gethsemane.  He could have returned to Nazareth and lived out his years in peace.

But he didn’t.  The words are scarcely out of his mouth when he adds, “yet not what I want but what you want.” When I begin to think of all Jesus did for me, all my excuses for not doing more for him seem incredibly pitiful.

Loving and gracious Lord I take so much for granted.  I can understand why you didn’t want to be my savior.  I will never understand why you then chose to die for me.  I cannot thank and praise you enough.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matt. 25:31-46

This is Jesus’ final parable in Matthew’s gospel.  As is the case with most parables there are parts that are reassuring and parts that are disturbing.  We have here a picture of the last judgment.  The judgment is on all the nations and indeed the people of those nations who will be separated by Jesus, the supreme judge.  Jesus begins by commending those who he says fed and clothed him, welcomed him, cared for him and visited him.  However this group, referred to as “the righteous,” ask him, “Lord, when did we see you and do all these things?”  Jesus responds that when they cared for “one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Who are “the least of these?”    They are the nameless brothers and sisters who suffer abuse (Matt. 5:21-24) as well as those who need forgiveness (Matt. 18:35).  They are the “little ones” who are lost sheep (Matt. 18:10-14), who are thirsty (Matt. 10:42), who, literally, are children (Matt. 19:14).  Essentially Jesus is talking about anyone in need (Matt. 5:1-12).

This parable shows that Jesus has more followers that we might know.  These “righteous” were serving Jesus without knowing it.  They are ushered into the joy of heaven.  They are not being saved by their works.  Rather they are saved because they were in their way reaching out to Jesus.  As Paul says we are saved “for good works” (Eph. 2:10).  The sober warning here is for those who have neglected the needy. In so doing they have rejected Jesus and face the terrifying prospect of “eternal punishment.”

We need to remember that when we encounter the hungry, the sick, the poor and the stranger in the land we are coming face to face with Jesus.

 

Faithful and loving God give me the same compassion that Jesus had.  May I truly see him in those who are in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 24:1-44

This is Jesus’ final extended teaching in the gospel of Matthew.  Jesus is responding to a question from the disciples regarding the future and his second coming.  Jesus’ answer is a sobering one.  The picture he paints is multi-faceted and even appears contradictory at times.  Before we look at the specific things Jesus reveals we need to remember a key point of Biblical prophecy.  Prophecies in scripture refer to more than single events.  Often they refer to a pattern of events usually beginning with something in the relatively near future and then extending that out to a more distant future fulfillment.  Isaiah prophesizes about the return of Israel to Jerusalem following their seventy year captivity in Babylon.  When Isaiah talks about this he is initially focusing on a soon to occur event, even mentioning the Persian king, Cyrus, who will bring this about.  However his prophecy then extends to the end of history when all nations will accompany Israel to Jerusalem.  This of course has not yet happened (though Israel’s rebirth in 1948 could well be a step toward this).

In the same way Jesus’ discourse here includes things that will happen in the disciples’ Biblical generation of forty years (“this generation will not pass away until all these things have been fulfilled”).  Yet Jesus is not describing a single event.  He is detailing a pattern.  Each unit of that pattern contains a summary of the whole.  In this sense the generation of the disciples could see it all but that doesn’t negate the pattern’s continuing fulfilment in future events.

So what does Jesus teach here?  First there will be opposition to the gospel including even spiritual counterfeits pretending to be a “messiah.”  There will be wars and rumors of wars.  There will be unprecedented suffering.  Yet this will culminate in the coming of Jesus “the Son of Man” “with power and great glory.”  In the immediate sense this is a picture of the upheaval in the Roman Empire in the years 68-70 AD.  Yet clearly this is a pattern that continues throughout history.  Each war seems to get worse (Contrast Jesus’ teaching with the view that World War I would be “the war to end all wars.”  In fact it led to a far worse World War II).

We have not seen Jesus’ full return yet but we see the power of his presence in the expansion of the gospel which goes to “all the nations.”  There is a dual reality.  Jesus says that we will not know the time of his coming, yet we can still see signs of that coming.  The Lord is near but we don’t know exactly when he will come.

The hope in this chapter is first of all, the fact that Jesus’ prophecy certainly is an accurate one as history tragically illustrates (as opposed to the Roman view that the emperor would bring about a restored “golden age” on earth).   We know Jesus is a reliable prophet.  The second hope is that Jesus will return and will bring in his kingdom completely.  Jesus determines the ending of history.  We are not lost in a maze of chaos and confusion.

Jesus first fulfilment of “power and glory” will be his resurrection.  He is not done however.  He is coming.  In his words we need to “keep awake.”

Eternal and gracious God keep me awake and alert as I await your coming.  May that promise spur me on to share your truth and your love every day.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday, March 26, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matt. 22:15-22

The religious leaders come to Jesus again with a test question.  When we read such passages (like the question about divorce in 19:3) we need to remember that these are not honest questions.  They are intentional traps designed to catch Jesus.  Therefore we must always remember to interpret them with this in mind.  In this case they are asking Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not.  If Jesus says it is lawful he can be accused of collaborating with the oppressive Roman authorities (which is exactly what these leaders were doing).  On the other hand if Jesus says it is not lawful he can be accused before those same authorities.

Jesus will not fall into their trap.  He asks for a denarius which was the equivalent of one day’s wage for a common laborer.  Jesus then asks whose image is on the coin.  They answer obviously, the emperor.  Jesus then gives the famous answer, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

It needs to be noted here that Jesus is not offering a great deal to the emperor.  He is stating in effect that the emperor is worth one day’s wage.  The emperor in fact demanded much more.  Beginning with the death of Caesar Augustus the emperor was officially viewed as a god.  Therefore he was to be worshipped (“Caesar is Lord!”).  The emperor demanded “fides,” loyalty from his subjects.  This included devotion to Rome and service in her army.

Jesus is willing to give the basic tax.  We should be willing to do the same (Rom. 13:6).  What belongs to God?  The answer is absolutely everything, all that we have and all that we are.  The authority of the emperor cannot override God’s authority (Acts 5:29).  Jesus makes this plain to Pilate when he says, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).  It is God alone who is all-powerful and to whom we owe everything.  “For God is the king of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).

Loving and merciful God I thank you that you are Lord of all.  May I fulfill my duty to the government but give my total allegiance to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matthew 21:1-11

 

The whole of Jerusalem is in turmoil.  Why?  Jesus is coming.  He is not an ordinary visitor, a pilgrim taking part in the Passover festivities.  He comes as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah’s prediction of Israel’s king entering Jerusalem riding humbly on a donkey (Zech 9:9).  As king, Jesus comes to confront the oppression and injustice of Jerusalem where the religious leaders have made common cause with the Roman authorities to lay “heavy burdens” on the people (Matt. 23:4).  Jesus comes to challenge all this.  Yet he comes as a servant as well as a king.  His goal is to serve not to be served (Matt. 20:28).

What does it mean to serve?  For Jesus it means showing mercy to those who are in need (Matt. 12:7).  It means welcoming those who are rejected (Matt. 9:10).   Jesus’ humility cannot be mistaken for weakness.  He protects those who are the objects of mercy.  His being merciful gives him this authority.  It is an authority from God the Father himself (Matt. 11:27).  Jesus makes it clear that there is no mercy in hatred, anger, adultery or revenge (Matt. 5:21-30).  There is no mercy in judging others or making wealth into a god (Matt. 7:1; 6:24).  Jesus as the merciful servant-king calls us to care for the hungry, the naked, the sick, the prisoners and the stranger in the land (Matt. 25:35-36).

How are we to do all this?  It seems impossible.  Yet what is impossible for us is possible for God (Matt. 19:26).  Jesus alone gives us the power.  We receive that power through faith and prayer.  We need to step out determined to serve as Jesus served, to be compassionate as he was compassionate, to be merciful as he was merciful.  It is only when we are stepping out in faith, out of our comfort zone, that we receive his power.

 

Gracious and faithful God may I receive Jesus this Palm Sunday as the servant-king who comes to change the world.  Give me the grace to follow him and thereby experience his power.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

“Who is This?”

John 12:37-43

In spite of all that Jesus does there are still those who don’t believe in him.  John cites a passage from Isaiah 6:9-10 that is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament.  This verse is really a statement of judgment.  In its original context Isaiah is witnessing Israel’s turning away from God (Isaiah chapters 1-2).  God in his judgment locks them up in their unbelief.  This is the same as God giving people up as Paul says in Romans 1:24, 26, 28.

Does God give them up permanently?  We have to trust in God bringing about the salvation of the world.  God finally will show mercy to all (Rom. 11:32). After all the judgments recorded in the Book of Revelation there is still the open invitation, “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift” Rev. 22:17.   This however does not absolve us of our present responsibility.  This text gives evidence of the fact that people may finally reject God, reject Christ, reject life itself.

More tragic than outright rejection are those who believe in Christ but do not openly confess that belief for fear of what others might think.  John makes this sobering assessment, “for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

We should not judge these too harshly.  This judgment can well describe us.  We can be dazzled by the “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matt. 4:8).  That splendor is very fleeting.  Jesus alone remains the light (John 8:12).  To all those who have wandered away Jesus gives this promising affirmation, “for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

We are about to begin Holy Week where we see the cost of Jesus’ saving the world.  We can never exhaust the depths of his love for the world (John 3:16-17).  This is the message we need to share.

Eternal and gracious God may I remain fixed on you.  Keep me from the fear of speaking about my faith in you.  Prepare me for Holy Week.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday, March 23, 2018

“Who is This?”

John 12:27-36

Jesus is troubled.  We don’t like to think about that.  We want Jesus to be super-human.  Our whole culture from Hercules to Superman focuses on heroes who are super-human.  In Paul’s day there were those he called mockingly “super-apostles” (II Cor. 11:5).  We are the ones who are troubled.  We want Jesus to take away our troubles, solve our problems.

Yet it is important to remember that Jesus is just like us except that he was sinless (a big “except”), Heb. 4:15.  He would experience disappointment, uncertainty and doubt.  That is all what is happening to him here.  As divine he would fill out a perfect bracket for March Madness.  However as human he would be just as confused as the rest of us.

Jesus however is something much greater than super-human.  He is divine, the Word made flesh (John 1:1-14).  Therefore he is driving out Satan, the ruler of this world.  In his crucifixion he will draw all people to himself.  We don’t know how that is being accomplished.  Jesus is saving the world (John 1:4, 9; 3:35; 4:42; 12:47; 13:3; I John 4:14).  Yet there are those who still choose the darkness (John 3:19).  This is the great paradox.

Jesus draws us to himself.  We need to come.  We need to follow.  He alone is the light.

Faithful and loving God I thank you that you in your humanity you experienced everything I experience.  Continue to draw me closet to yourself.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

“Who is This?”

John 12:20-26

A critical encounter takes place in this passage.  Jesus’ ministry has emphasized his role as the Messiah, the Son of God, even the somewhat mysterious Son of Man figure referred to in Daniel 7:13-14.  However if the gospel is going to fully penetrate its original world it must do so by reaching the Greek speaking (or Hellenistic) world.   Hebrew and Aramaic were the languages of Israel.  Latin was the language of Rome.  However Greek was the language of the Empire.  It is no accident that the New Testament is written in Greek.

In this passage there are some Greeks who come to Philip and ask to see Jesus.  Were they speaking Greek?  If so, how much Greek would Philip had known?  We don’t know the precise answer to these questions.  However one of the most important themes of the New Testament is the universality of the Gospel.  Jesus is not only the Messiah of Israel.  More than this, he is “the savior of the world” (John 4:42; I John 4:14).

When Jesus hears that these Greeks have been inquiring about him, he responds by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Why does he say this?  Obviously he is preparing for the climax of his life in going to the cross.  Yet the presence of these Greek seekers is a testimony to the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice will be for the whole world not only for his followers or Israel in general (I John 2:2).

As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week in a few days we need to remember that Jesus came for all of us and for each of us.

Gracious and faithful God and Savior may I seek you as these Greeks did.  In seeking you may I also serve you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matt. 20:29-34

This is a perfect description of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus is followed by a large crowd..  However he responds to two blind who cry out to him for mercy.  The crowd orders them to be quiet.  However the men cry out even louder.  Jesus asks them “What do you want me to do for you?”  This is a striking question.  Isn’t it obvious that, being blind, they want to have their sight restored? Jesus wouldn’t need divine knowledge to understand that.  So why does Jesus ask?

On one level Jesus may be asking for a demonstration of their faith.  The two men in fact do call him both “Lord” and “Son of David,” Both titles refer to the Messiah.  Jesus asks for the most minimal faith.  When he sees the paralyzed man being lowered through a roof he acknowledges their faith.  Yet neither the paralyzed man nor his friends carrying him say anything (Matt. 9:1-8).  The father of a demon possessed boy cries out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Yet this faith is sufficient.  Jesus heals the boy.

In this situation Jesus is moved with compassion.  He restores the sight of both men.  The Jesus presented in Matthew’s gospel presents major demands for discipleship.  Yet he can do this because he is primarily merciful.  Having received mercy we have no fear of the call to “take up our cross” (Matt. 10:38).  We have already experienced Christ’s mercy so we have no fear of anything else, even our own failings.  The threat of hell is a warning to those who are proud or indifferent (Matt. 5:21-30; 25:41-46).  It is no threat to those who, like these blind men, cry out for mercy.  Jesus’ basic response always is compassion (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32).  It is because of that compassion that he heals the brokenness of our lives.

Merciful and loving God I thank you for your compassion.  May I in turn show compassion to others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matt. 20:17-19

Jesus in this passage gives a straight forward description of his mission.  He will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes who will condemn him to death.  They in turn will give him over to the Gentiles (the Romans).  They will mock him, whip him and crucify him and on the third day he will be raised from the dead.  When Jesus had previously said this Peter tried to talk him out of it (Matt. 16:21-23).

The difficult issue for the disciples and anyone else in Israel is Jesus’ identification with the “Son of Man.”  The disciples would have known this figure from the Book of Daniel (7:13-14).  This is a glorified person who will judge the living and the dead at the end of history (John 5:25-29).  How then can it be that this “Son of Man” could become such a victim?

The key is that the Son of Man is giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).  The conventional meaning of a ransom is a payment to secure the release of a captive.  Jesus however is no captive.  As he makes plain in this passage he freely gives himself up.  The religious leaders, much less the Romans, are not capturing him and dragging him forcibly to Jerusalem.  Jesus is going by his own choice.

We will witness a great reversal.  The captive will become the conqueror.  The victim will become the victor.  Out of his suffering Jesus will create new life.  We share in his suffering (II Cor 1:3-7).  We will also share in his victory (I Cor. 15:57).

Loving and merciful God, I praise and thank you for Jesus’ sacrifice which gives me new life now and forever.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matt.+20%3A17-19&version=NRSV

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday, March 19, 2018

“Who is This?”

Matt. 20:1-16

This passage reminds me of trying to negotiate a disagreement between two children arguing over a toy or a piece of candy.  Invariably, the response you get to whatever final decision is made, is “It’s not fair, it’s not fair.”  Many of Jesus’ parables can be read that way.  It’s not fair that the prodigal son gets a big banquet (Luke 15:11-37).  It’s not fair that the dishonest manager is able to falsify his master’s records (Luke 16:1-9).  It’s not fair that the Pharisee who kept the Law is rejected and the sinful tax collector is justified (Luke 18:9-14).

In this parable Jesus tells of an employer who contracts with workers for a full day’s work with the appropriate wage.  The workers agree to the terms.  Over the course of the day the owner sends other workers into his vineyeard.  Finally he sends a group to work for only the last hour of the day. At the end of the day he pays everyone the same wage.  The earliest workers are outraged (“It’s not fair”).  They worked all day and yet they received the same wage as those who only worked one hour.  It’s hard not to sympathize with them.

The employer counters by noting that he paid them what they both had agreed to.  How he paid others really is not their concern.  His final question is, “are you envious because I am generous?”  Jesus adds that the first will be last and the last first.  The tax collectors and prostitutes will go into heaven ahead of the religious leaders (Matt. 21:28-31).  Is this fair?  Certainly not?

First and foremost the gospel is not fair.  God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21). “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Our whole salvation depends on the fact that God is not fair.  What would become of us if he were?

Eternal and loving God may I never forget that you have brought me salvation when I didn’t deserve it in any way. Teach me therefore to be truly humble. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Matt. 19:16-26

The story of the Rich Young Ruler illustrates all that Paul has said in his Letter to the Romans.  This young man is both moral and spiritual.  He wants to know what he can do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus however seems to suspect something about him.  He asks, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.”  Obviously the only one who is good is God and of course Jesus as the Son of God.  The young ruler sees Jesus as a “teacher.”  Is that the limit of his understanding?

Jesus answers him in terms of the law, the Ten Commandments.  This should make clear how far this young person and indeed all of us are from fulfilling God’s perfect standard.  To the contrary the young man says that he has kept all the commandments.  Really?  Jesus then illustrates what is truly meant by loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18).  He tells the young man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor and come and follow him.  Not surprising, the young man goes away grieving.

What alternative does he have?  Jesus’ requirement is impossible for any of us.  Yet that is precisely the point.  Keeping the commandments is any impossibility for each one of us.  This is why Paul insists that we cannot be saved by our works.  We all fall short (Rom. 3:23).  The disciples then ask the critical question, “Then who can be saved?”

Jesus’ answer is direct and to the point.  With mortals it is impossible (not just difficult) but for God all things are possible.  This is why it is so important for us to realize that our salvation comes from nothing in us.  It is all from God revealed in Jesus Christ.  If we take hold of this truth we will not judge others, we will condemn neither them nor ourselves.  We will be merciful to all.  That is the inevitable result of believing the gospel.

Merciful and loving God may I never lose sight of the fact that my salvation comes completely from you.  Give me the freedom to live in that mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 11:25-35

Paul now comes to the climax of what is his complete statement of God’s plan of salvation.  He began his discussion in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans.  Beginning with chapter 9 through this passage he has focused on the broadest questions regarding God’s plan of salvation.  These include how human choices relate to God’s choices.  What is the role of God’s promises and, especially, what is the role of Israel in God’s overall plan and purpose?

Paul’s final description of salvation is presented as the unfolding of a “mystery.”  The “hardening” of Israel will not be permanent.  It will only continue until “the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”  Paul then adds this climactic statement, “And so all Israel will be saved.”  Paul sees this as the fulfillment of the promise which he quotes from Isa. 59:20-21.  This is God reaffirming his covenant with Israel.  He will take away their sins.  Paul is calling us to a wider vision.  At the present it appears that the Jews are the enemies of the gospel.  However they are still beloved because of the promises God made to their ancestors going back to Abraham.  This is the real meaning of election.  It is God who chooses, not us.  It does not depend on us (Rom. 9:16).  How after all their rejection going back to the golden calf can Israel be saved?  Paul’s decisive answer is “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”  Both Jew and Gentile have been disobedient.  This disobedience however, rather than leading to God’s condemnation, actually is the prelude to his mercy.

Paul summarizes his position with the concluding statement that God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.  Who is this “all?”  They are “all the Gentiles,” (Rom. 1:5), “all who have sinned and fallen short” (Romans 3:23), all who receive justification through the abounding grace in Jesus (Romans 5:12-21), all of us for whom Christ gave himself up (Romans 8:32).  In Christ God has reconciled all things to himself making peace through the blood of the cross (Col. 1:19-20).  All things are all things, including all to whom God is merciful.

The warnings of judgment in scripture must be taken with total seriousness.  God judges sin.  That however is not the final word.  The hope of the entire human race lies in the hands of the God whose gifts and calling are irrevocable.  Paul then can only praise God to whom belongs “all things.”  Amen!

Eternal and faithful God, I am overwhelmed by the reality of your mercy.  May I never take that for granted.  May your mercy strengthen, guide and direct me in all that I do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 11:13-24

Paul’s discussion in this section appears puzzling.  He seems to be working with two inter-related ideas.  On one side he seems to be saying that the remnant of Israel that has existed throughout history, remaining faithful from the time of Elijah to the present day, is a guarantee for the salvation of Israel as a whole.  He speaks of them being brought back like “life from the dead.”  He uses examples like first fruits of dough being holy then the “whole batch” is holy.  Also “if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.”  His “life from the dead” reference conjures up the famous image of the dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37.  God asks Ezekiel, “mortal, can these live?” (v. 3).  Ezekiel answers “O Lord God, you know.”  We then have the miracle of the dry, dead bones being brought back to life.

Paul is insisting that Israel is not lost in spite of their disbelief.  God has not rejected his people (Rom. 11:1).  They have not stumbled to the point of falling away (Romans 11:11).  Some have asked, who does Paul mean by “Israel?”  He has pointed out that he true descendants of Abraham are those who have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:6).  However in this passage in Romans Paul is clearly talking about the physical, historical Israel.  We know this for two reasons.  First, Paul would not be saying that Christians have stumbled, that they are those that have eyes that cannot see.     Second, Paul is distinguishing Israel from the Gentiles.  This only makes sense if he is talking about the historical Israel.  These are those whom Paul calls his own people according to the flesh (Romans 9:3).  So Paul then seems to be saying that Israel’s rejection is only temporary.  Their rejection of Christ in the present will not lead to their being permanently rejected by God.

Paul then seems to take a digression.  He addresses Gentile Christians.  He cautions them (us) not to be proud.  We have not replaced Israel.  We are “wild branches” that have been grafted into the olive tree which is the symbol of Israel.  There is no place of privilege here for either Israel or the Gentile believers.  What Paul stresses is that both stand under God’s grace.  Whether it is the remnant of Israel (those who have believed in Christ) or the Gentile converts, all have been “chosen by grace” (Romans 11:6).  Yet Paul calls both to continue in their life in Christ “otherwise you also will be cut off.”  Paul sees no contradiction.  The reality of grace will express itself in faithful living and “good works” (Eph. 2:8-10).

Paul ends with the image of the “natural branches” being grafted back into the olive tree, which stands for Israel, God’s chosen people.  Both the “wild olive shoot” and the “natural branches” will then be part of the tree which symbolizes Israel in its fulfillment as God’s chosen people (Hosea 14:6).

As Christians we can never forget our dependence on the promises God made to Israel.

Faithful and gracious God and Savior may I never forget the debt I owe to Israel.  Give me the grace humbly to share my faith with my Jewish brothers and sisters.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 11:1-12

 

The logic of what Paul is saying in Romans would seem to be that the Gentiles who have believed in Jesus Christ have now replaced Israel as God’s people.  This is because Israel rejected the gospel.  That is a conclusion which many have drawn.  As we noted, it is certainly logical.

It is also wrong.

Paul comes back to a fundamental theme.  God’s promises finally are dependent on God alone (Hebrews 6:13-14).  They do not depend ultimately on us.  So Paul then says in this passage, “has God rejected his people” (the original people of Israel)?  Paul answers with a resounding, “By no means!”  God has not rejected his people.

Paul draws on the Old Testament example of Elijah.  Elijah thought he was the only faithful follower of God left.  God however responds that he has kept seven thousand from bowing before the idol, Baal.  Paul says that this remnant, these seven thousand, are the guarantee of the fact that God’s promises to all Israel remain in effect.

How can we know this?  It all comes down to grace, God’s unmerited favor and mercy.  Since it is all of grace it is not based on works, on anything that we do or don’t do.  Paul then makes the comment, “otherwise grace would not be grace.”  Nevertheless Israel has been in rebellion against God.  God’s judgment on them is that God seals them in their unbelief (Isa. 29:10; Ps. 69:22-23).

Again the logical question surfaces, has Israel fallen away from God?  Paul’s answer is the same, “By no means!” Through their temporary “stumbling,” the door has been opened for all the Gentiles.  Israel has been rejected while the Gentiles have received the riches of the gospel.  Paul then makes the startling statement, “how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

The meaning of grace then is that no one is beyond hope.  Paul is about to expand on this theme in a way that is nothing less than mind-blowing.

Eternal and loving God and Father, may I never cease to depend of your endless grace.  May I also never take that grace for granted. May your grace enable me to serve you better.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - March 14, 2018

March 14, 2018

“Who Can Be Saved?”

Romans 10:5-21

 

Paul is continuing to struggle in this passage between God’s promises and Israel’s response to those promises.  He begins by referring to the “righteousness that comes from the law.”  He has already established that no one can be righteous, acceptable to God, by keeping the law since everyone, Jew and Gentile, breaks God’s law (Rom. 3:1-31).  Our only hope is the gift of righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-26).

Faith in Jesus then is all that is necessary for salvation.  This faith is defined in more than one way.  One obvious example is confessing Christ and believing in him with our heart (Romans 10:9-10).   In very broad terms Paul quotes from Joel 2:32, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Paul then goes on to another question. “How can they call on one in whom they have not believed?”  This question applies to both Jew and Gentile.  Paul’s next quote is from Isa. 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”  Paul then has to acknowledge the tragic fact that Israel has heard.  The whole Old Testament has prepared them for Jesus.  The irony is that Gentiles who did not seek God have been found by God.  God has shown himself to people who were not looking for him, vv. 19-20 (Isa. 65:1).  Israel, on the other hand, have been a “disobedient and contrary people.”

In effect Paul is saying that the Gentiles who were not looking for God have come to him through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Israel, however, who knew God, who had experienced his promises, turned away from their own Messiah in Jesus Christ.

Paul then is describing a perplexing and contradictory reality.  He goes from those who have not heard to asking about those who’ve heard but still reject.  How then is God’s grace which is for “all the Gentiles” (Rom. 1:5) a fulfilment of God’s plan for Israel whom he insists God has not completely abandoned (Rom. 3:3-4)?  We face the same question, why do some people believe in Christ and others do not?  Wouldn’t Paul have to admit that salvation in some important sense does in fact depend on us (Rom. 9:16).

Paul will continue this discussion in his next chapter.

Eternal and loving God, I thank you that you have called me by your grace and have enabled me to find you.  May I rejoice and live in your goodness, love and mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.