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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

“The Death of the Gods”

Ex. 8:16-19

Pharaoh’s refusal now leads to another plague.  If having frogs all through your house wasn’t bad enough, this time Moses and Aaron, again under God’s direction, unleash a plague of gnats. The dust of the ground turns into gnats.  The gnats are everywhere.  They are in the faces, on the bodies, of humans and animals alike.

However this plague is radically different from the two which preceded it.  In the case of the Nile turning to blood and the frogs emerging everywhere the magicians of Egypt were able to duplicate the signs of Moses and Aaron.  That changes here.  The magicians try to produce gnats “by their secret arts, but they could not.”

The magicians themselves now become a witness to the God of Moses and Aaron, the true God.  They cry out to Pharaoh that “this is the finger of God.”  Pharaoh however refuses to believe them.  Really?  We could understand Pharaoh’s rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  However these are his own spiritual advisers, those he would turn to in seeking the will of his gods.

Jesus himself uses the expression, “the finger of God” in describing his ministry of casting out demons (Luke 11:20).  This expression then refers to the power of God in action.  Pharaoh’s magicians can see this but he cannot.

Pharaoh’s tragedy is that all the evidence is in front of him but he still refuses to believe.  The more he rejects the less able he is to see the truth.  He has locked himself into his own self-imposed prison of disbelief.

People can make the same mistake today.  The reality of God is all around us.  Yet people choose not to believe.  However we are not called to give up on them.  Moses and Aaron will continue to go to Pharaoh.  We need to continue to witness to those who still resist God’s truth.  As Paul says, God may yet grant them repentance (II Tim. 2:25).

Gracious and loving God, may I see your finger all around me.  May I share your truth with all those I meet.   I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday, October 15, 2018

“The Death of the Gods”

Ex. 8:1-15

Seven days have passed since Moses and Aaron, following the Lord’s direction, turned the Nile River into blood.  Presumably the water has begun to return.  It is not surprising that the frogs have come out of the river.  This is the second plague.  The frogs are everywhere, in the homes even in people’s beds.  The message remains the same: “Let my people go.”  Again the request at this point is only for three days in the wilderness.

Pharaoh refuses and his refusal represents two forms of false belief.  Pharaoh in fact believes things that keep him from responding to the true God.  The first is that his own magicians seem able to duplicate Moses and Aaron’s miracles.  The magicians were able to turn water into blood.  They could turn their staffs into serpents.  Now they are also able to raise up frogs. Pharaoh’s first false belief then is that God is not unique.  If his magicians can perform the same things as Moses and Aaron, why should he listen to them?  People today question they need faith in Christ.  Their assumption is that if psychologists and therapists can solve our problems, why do we need faith?  Doctors can cure us without prayer. Science can explain the world.  Why do we need God?

The second false belief that Pharaoh has is that if he goes through the motions of faith that is adequate.  He asks Moses to pray for him, to take away the frogs.  Moses does pray and the Lord removes the frogs.  However once the danger is over Pharaoh goes back to his former position.  He hardens his heart.

Pharaoh finally is content with his magicians who substitute for him the real God.  Prayer for him is only a momentary wish.  Like many people today Pharaoh has only a very limited view of God.

Neither science, psychology nor magic can take the place of the true God.  God alone is the source and direction for all of life.  Jesus warned against counterfeit spiritual forces (Matt. 24:24).  There is only one true God who alone satisfies the human heart (Ps. 42:1).  We cannot be led astray.

Most gracious and loving God keep me from counterfeits and false teachers in my faith.  Draw me closer to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday, October 14, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Ex. 7:20-24

Moses and Aaron are the only ones opposing Pharaoh.  How can this be?  Where are the elders of Israel?  Where at least are the overseers of the people.  In the miracle or sign of turning the believed sacred water of the Nile into blood God is beginning the liberation of Israel.  This all takes place outside presumably in an open air setting.  This action is not confined to the palace.

The tragedy of all this is that the people now have broken spirits (Ex. 6:9).  They can’t appreciate the freedom they are about to receive.  Yet to keep silence in the face of oppression and cruelty only strengthens the oppressor.  The answer to their broken spirits is the fact of Moses and Aaron.  The people still are down heartened by Pharaoh’s order that they are to find their own straw in order to make bricks.  The irony is that strength and hope come from taking a stand to follow the Lord.  Is there no one in Israel prepared to stand with Moses and Aaron?  Unfortunately we don’t read of anyone.  It has been widespread in the arts and in business.  Bill Cosby is an obvious example.  It has also has occurred in the political realm.  Those who want to dismiss traumas that happened decades ago simply do not understand what these victims have suffered.

At this point only Moses and Aaron are offering hope.  They alone are confronting Pharaoh.  What about the Egyptians themselves.  All their water has turned to blood because of Pharaoh’s stubbornness.  Do any of them dare to speak out?  The blood of the Nile is a judgment on the Egyptians for throwing the Israelite male babies into the river.  Apparently however none of the Egyptians are prepared to criticize Pharaoh.  They are afraid of the consequences.  However the consequences of remaining silent are more destructive.

We are coming up on the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass).  In November 1938 in Nazi Germany the homes, shops and synagogues of Jews were smashed and burned.  Largely however the world was silent.  Christians for the most part were silent.

Silence reinforces the power of the Pharaohs of this world.

Eternal and gracious God give me the strength and courage to confront the realities of oppression and suffering in my world.  I confess that I, like Moses, wish somebody else would do it.  Give me your grace to follow you more and to experience the joy of your presence even in times of conflict and struggle.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday, October 13, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Ps. 105:26-29

This is a psalm of praise.  It extols God’s greatness and goodness.  It also focuses on the central Biblical idea of God’s “everlasting covenant” (v. 10).  As we have seen, a covenant is essentially a treaty or a legal relationship.  In the ancient world a ruler would make a covenant with members of his kingdom.  He would provide safety and protection for those under him and they, in turn, would provide him with goods and services.

It is important to remember in the Biblical use of the covenant model that God takes on both sides of the treaty or agreement.  God pledges to God’s own self that he will give Israel a land which is the prototype of all of God’s promises (Gen. 15; Heb. 6:13).  As the apostle Paul notes, this divine, one-sided everlasting covenant takes precedence over later covenants such as the law given on Mount Sinai (Gal. 3:17).

The reality of the everlasting covenant is seen in the Exodus before the law (including the Ten Commandments) is given.  We see this in the miracle of the water of the Nile turning to blood.  Blood often ratified the treaties of this period.  The actual language was “cutting a covenant.”  The two parties would cut their arms in order to seal a written pledge in blood.

Moses and Aaron being sent to the slaves in Egypt is a picture of God’s unconditional and eternal covenant.  The people have cried out to God.  However the people are unable to do anything to end their bondage.  God will do it all.  Moses and Aaron have no inherent powers.  Their only power comes through their obedience to God’s Word.

The blood of the Nile ratifies God’s covenant.  God is providing a blood sacrifice which will ultimately be Christ’s death on the cross.  The hope of this is that God does deliver us from whatever bondage we experience.  He has promised to be our Savior and Lord.  He will do it.  He will fulfill his covenant.

Loving and merciful God I praise you that you have done everything necessary for my salvation.  Build up my trust and reliance on you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday, October 12, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Exodus 7:14-19

The preliminary encounters are over.  Moses and Aaron have tried to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the wilderness for three days to worship the Lord.  Pharaoh has rejected them at every turn.  This next confrontation is not in the palace.  They encounter Pharaoh as he is about to bathe in the River Nile.  For the Egyptians the river was more than a body of water.  It was a sacred source of life for them.

This initial plague is a judgment on the Egyptians.  They had thrown Hebrew male babies into the Nile (Ex. 1:22).  The river now has turned to blood.  It is as though the blood of the murdered children has now taken over the entire river.

It is sobering at this point that Moses and Aaron are the only ones confronting Pharaoh.  The elders of Israel are not mentioned as being with them.  Since this is out in the open and not in Pharaoh’s palace they could have certainly been present.  No doubt they are afraid.  What about the Egyptians?  They now are also suffering.  God has literally given them blood to drink.  Meanwhile Pharaoh is free to enjoy his palace wine.

There is an old statement that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  Pharaoh is a tyrant.  Through his actions now he is oppressing his own people as well as the Israelites.

Moses claims that he is not a speaker (Ex. 4:10).  Yet he along with Aaron is the only one to address Pharaoh forcefully.  However Moses is not speaking for himself.  He is speaking the Word that God has given him.  In spite of the negative response of Pharaoh the Word of God will prevail.

We like Moses need to have the courage to speak that Word.

Faithful and loving God, give me the courage to speak out in the face of evil, injustice and oppression.  In so doing may I experience the power of your Word and Spirit in my life.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday, October 11, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Exodus 7:8-13

Moses and Aaron have come back into Pharaoh’s presence.  God knows what will happen.  Pharaoh will not be impressed unless he sees a sign or “wonder.”  The sign that will be given is the same one that was shown to Moses.  God had told Moses to throw his staff on the ground.  It became a snake.  God then tells Moses to grasp it by its tail which is the wrong way to try and pick up a snake because the snake could turn and bite you.  However the snake immediately turns back into a staff (Ex. 4:1-4).

Here in Pharaoh’s court Aaron throws his staff down at Moses’ command.  The staff turns into a snake.  But the Egyptian magicians do the same thing with their staffs.  However Aaron’s snake swallows up those of the Egyptians.  This is hardly decisive.  Pharaoh is not impressed.  He hardens his heart and refuses to listen to Moses and Aaron.  This is just what God said would happen.

Throughout history people have looked for “signs and wonders” to offer some kind of spiritual proof.  This text shows how problematic that can be.  The magicians of Egypt with their occult arts are able to duplicate the same “wonder” that Moses and Aaron demonstrate.  Jesus himself downplays the idea that some kind of miracle can validate the truth of God (Matt. 12:39).  The same crowds who witnessed Jesus’ miracles either abandoned him or cried out for him to be crucified.

No miracle or sign can take the place of faith.  God’s Word has its own power (Heb. 4:12). Miracles or demonstrations of power can underline the Biblical message but they cannot take the place of it.   It will take more than one or two miracles to convince Pharaoh.  In fact it will take ten.  Even so he will not remain convinced.

Our faith is grounded in God’s Word not in any miraculous displays of power.

Merciful and gracious God may I depend on your Word alone with all its promises and instructions.  Keep me from looking for false demonstrations of spiritual power.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Exodus 7:1-7

What is important to see in this passage is that God is in no way fazed by the issues and objections which Moses continues to raise.  In Moses’ eyes God has done nothing for his people.  Moses himself has no self-confidence (“why would Pharaoh listen to me?” Ex. 6:30). Moses however is looking at all this through very human eyes.  From that perspective the situation of the Israelites appears basically hopeless.

God’s perspective not surprisingly is very different.  God has a clear plan that he is following.  It is important to note that God is not asking Moses for his opinion.  One of the lessons to be learned here is that Israel’s deliverance will be an action of God.  It will in no sense be dependent on Moses, Aaron, the people of Israel or Pharaoh.

God makes it clear that he will free the slaves.  However he will do it in such a way that both the Egyptians and the Hebrews will know the Lord.  God will harden Pharaoh’s heart.  This is a judgment on Pharaoh.  His refusal from the outset now indicates that even when he wants to repent, God will harden his heart.  This may seem disconcerting to us.  Yet we have to recognize that we dare not take God lightly.  It is not the case that we can come to God whenever we want.  If we resist God’s call, God is perfectly justified in condemning us.  When Moses and Aaron first came to Pharaoh, Pharaoh mockingly asked, “Who is the Lord?” (Ex. 5:2).  His question will be answered but not in the way he anticipates.

The key fact about Moses and Aaron is now they are prepared to do whatever the Lord asks them to do.  The excuses, doubts and complaints are over.  The deliverance of Israel is at hand.  We need to recognize that God’s timetable for events is not up to us.  God has his own plan.  Our responsibility is to be faithful to whatever task God has called us.

Moses and Aaron are in their eighties.  We don’t know if these numbers are symbolic or if their reckoning of years was different from ours (based on a lunar calendar rather than a solar one).  In any event they are older figures at this point.  However with the Lord age doesn’t matter.  Whatever our age, young and old, there’s a place for us in his service.

Gracious and loving God may I learn obedience to you.  Give me the grace to follow whatever commands you place before me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Exodus 6:26-30

The author has just given us a picture of the genealogy of both Moses and Aaron.  They cannot be defined as exceptional figures.  One thing and one thing alone made them special.  They had been chosen by God and had been given his message.  The Lord’s bold proclamation to Pharaoh was bluntly, “I am the Lord” (meaning that Pharaoh is not).

Yet this does not overcome Moses’ reluctance which began at the burning bush.  Moses says to God, “Since I am a poor speaker, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”  Talk about a lack of confidence!  Moses hardly sees himself in a leadership position.  Yet it is through Moses and Aaron that Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian empire will be brought to their knees.

When we look at ourselves we may ask, in the words of Moses, why would anybody listen to me?  We are no one special.  We use this too often, like Moses, as an excuse.  Wherever we are in life, we are called to witness to Jesus Christ.  We are not to point to ourselves but to Christ.

Every one of us has received a spiritual gift (Eph. 4:7-8).   We may not be the best judge of our spiritual gifts.  We each have different gifts but they all are intended to serve the same purpose of witnessing to Jesus Christ.

The answer to Moses’ question is that Pharaoh will not listen to Moses.  Eventually however he will have to listen to the Word of God spoken through Moses.

The same applies to us.

Eternal and loving Lord, keep me from trying to evade my responsibilities in your service.  Show me what my gifts are so that I may use them for your glory.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday, October 8, 2018

“There Will Be Blood”

Exodus 6:2-9

God does not address Moses’ charges against him.  God is not about to debate with Moses.  God responds by affirming who he is and what he will do.  This whole section is full of “I statements” on God’s part.

God states that he is the Lord.  He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He established his covenant with them.  This covenant was made all on God’s side.  It did not depend on Abraham or anyone else (Gen. 15:1-21; Heb. 6:13).

God goes on to say that he has heard the “groaning” of his people.  He will rescue them.  He will bring them to the land that he promised them. God will not only free the Israelites from slavery.  He will take them to himself in a special relationship.  He will be their God and they will be his people.  How can the people know this?  How can they be sure?  God repeatedly affirms the fact that he and he alone is the Lord.  His promises never fail (Joshua 23:14).

However the people are so despondent and so disheartened that they cannot absorb God’s message.  They are described as suffering because of their broken spirit and cruel slavery.  It is possible that people in extreme distress can’t hear anything positive.

This however is not the end of the story.  It is not the end of our story when we may feel like the Hebrew slaves.  God does not give us a timetable of relief.  However God is at work.  God can already speak of having freed the Israelites from the burden of their slavery.  God lifts up the brokenhearted (Isa. 61:1).  Jesus quotes this same passage (Luke 4:16-19).

Lord give me your grace in brokenhearted situations to be able to speak a word of peace and comfort to those who are suffering.  In my own suffering may I always turn to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sunday, October 7, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 5:22-6:1

Moses feels betrayed by God.  He finally was obedient to God’s call and he and Aaron went not only to the people of Israel but also to Pharaoh with their initial request to go into the wilderness for three days to worship the Lord.  The key point of Moses’ message was that God was now about to deliver his people from bondage.  The people bowed in worship and praise to the Lord for this message of liberation.

But that is not what happened.  Pharaoh mocked the message of God.  He took their request to signify that the people were lazy.  He therefore gave orders that they were to make bricks without straw.  They would have to find the straw themselves but still produce the same required quantity of bricks.  Instead of being delivered their situation has become worse.

Moses complains to God.  He even compares God to Pharaoh in claiming both are mistreating the people.  Moses’ strongest words are that God has done “nothing at all” to deliver his people.  We can all face situations similar to Moses’.  We can find ourselves in the midst of distress and turmoil.  We don’t see God doing anything to help us.  Moses’ cry is echoed by other voices in scripture including Job, Jeremiah and even Paul with his “thorn in the flesh” (II Cor. 12:7).

However Moses is wrong.  God is not doing nothing.  He is testing the faith of Moses and the people.  It is easy to trust in the Lord when things are going well.  There are lessons that can only be learned through suffering.  In suffering people either turn more to the Lord or turn away from him.  It is only when we are helpless that we can really understand that salvation is all of the Lord.  There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s favor and forgiveness.

The apostle Paul says that suffering can lead to endurance and finally to hope (Rom. 5:3-4).  This is a lesson we all need to learn.

Faithful and loving God strengthen my faith especially in times of adversity.  May I learn to depend on you more and more.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, October 6, 2018

Saturday, October 6, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 5:1-21

The expectations and hopes of the Israelite people are high.  Moses has returned to Egypt not only with his brother Aaron but with a special message from the Lord.  The God who has been silent for so long has now spoken.  Further, God has seen the misery of his people.  He has come to deliver them.  Not only will he bring them out of Egypt.  He will lead them into a promise land, “a land flowing with milk and honey.”

It is important to recognize again that Moses comes in the pattern of a hero/savior that much of the ancient world longed for and expected.  Moses fits the pattern: he almost dies in child birth; he is raised by foster parents in obscurity; he has a special destiny; he has unique powers; he will win great victories; his strength is disguised by apparent weakness.

Moses and Aaron now come to Pharaoh with God’s message of “Let my people go.”  Their initial request is not for complete liberation.  Moses and Aaron are only asking for a three day journey into the wilderness to make sacrifices to the Lord.  This would hardly seem an unjustifiable request.  However Pharaoh will have none of it.  God is trapping him in his own arrogant and cruel pride.

Pharaoh not only rejects the request.  He mockingly asks, “Who is the Lord that I should heed him and let Israel go?”  Further he is outraged.  He calls the Israelites, literally, “lazy bums.” He concludes that they have too much time on their hands.  He then orders them to make bricks without straw.  In other words, they will have to gather the straw in addition to molding the bricks.  The Israelite supervisors who had been appointed by the Egyptians to oversee their own people were beaten.  When they cried out to Pharaoh he responded again with the claim that they were lazy.

When the supervisors later encountered Moses and Aaron they lashed out at them.  Not only was God not helping them, their situation had gotten much worse.  In their minds it would have been better if Moses and Aaron had never come.

Had God failed?  It certainly appeared that he had.

However God is neither silent nor absent.  And, contrary to all appearances, he has not failed.

Eternal and gracious God strengthen my faith for those times when everything seems to go wrong.  May I never cease trusting in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, October 5, 2018

Friday, October 5, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 4:18-31

Moses is now prepared to return to Egypt.  He has been told that all those who were seeking his life are dead.  Moses gets the blessing of his father in law.  He is ready to return with his wife and his son, Gershom.  God then speaks to Moses again.  God has a detailed plan.  He will lock Pharaoh into his own pride and stubbornness.  This is God’s judgment on him for his harsh treatment of the Israelites.  God’s judgment will include the death of the first born sons of Egypt in payment for the Egyptians’ having murdered the Hebrew children (Ex. 1:22).  God then has a definite purpose.

However before this can all take place Moses will need to learn a lesson in obedience.  It seems clear that Moses has not circumcised his son according to God’s ordinance given to Abraham.  The odd statement that the Lord tried to kill Moses probably refers to a deadly sickness placed on him for his disobedience (this will also be a factor later in Moses’ life).   Moses’ living in Midian may have led him to think that God’s requirement of circumcision did not apply in a foreign country.  This however is not the case.  Moses’ wife, Zipporah understands what is at stake and proceeds to circumcise their son.  This then leads to Moses’ healing.

The important lesson in this story is that we cannot serve God partially.  If there is an area of our life in which we are being disobedient to the Lord that will have to be corrected if we are to serve him faithfully and effectively.  God’s commands apply in all areas of life.  We are not called to be perfect.  Yet we cannot maintain a position of willful disobedience and still be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Moses ignoring the circumcision of his son had to be addressed.

Moses now is confirmed in God’s service.  He meets up with his brother Aaron and the two of them prepare for the greatest undertaking of their lives.  This is nothing less than demanding the freedom of the Israelite slaves.

Eternal and merciful God may I be prepared to serve you in whatever capacity you have called me.  Take away any willful areas of disobedience in my life.  May I obey you faithfully and joyfully.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, October 4, 2018

Thursday, October 4, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 4:6-17

God becomes angry with Moses.  No matter what God proposes Moses has an excuse.  God has Moses put his hand inside his cloak and then take it out.  His hand is full of leprosy.  God then tells him to put his hand back in the cloak and this time it comes out whole and healthy.  God then foretells one of the plagues.  God will turn the Nile into blood.

Moses still isn’t convinced.  He next raises the point that he is “slow of speech.”  God is clearly growing impatient.  God then reminds Moses that he is the one who gives “speech to mortals.”  Finally Moses has run out of excuses.  He now states the real reason for his reluctance.  He just plain doesn’t want to do it.  His final word is “please send somebody else.”  At this point God has had it.  He is now angry.

God is not asking.  He is commanding. Further God will send Moses’ brother Aaron to be his speaker.  God will not take no for an answer.  Moses’ excuses have run out.  Moses seemingly is not happy.  However he is finally ready to obey the Lord.

What about us?  How many times do we make excuses about not doing something God is calling us to?  How often do we find ways to avoid stepping out of our comfort zone and doing something in God’s service?

God gets angry with Moses.  It is a sobering fact that God can also become angry with us.  The option of walking by on the other side as in the case of the Good Samaritan parable doesn’t exist (Luke 10:31-32).

God in Christ has done everything for us.  What are we prepared to do for him?

Most loving and faithful God keep me from making excuses to avoid serving you.  Give me a hunger to do your will.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 4:1-5

Moses has to be one of the most doubting persons in history.  He has heard a direct word from God out of the burning bush.  Scripture speaks of God knowing Moses “face to face” (Deut. 34:10).  This is not a literal face to face (at one point God shows Moses his back-side (Ex. 33:17-23). Yet Moses has heard the voice of God directly.  He has seen the burning bush.  He has been given God’s detailed promises for Israel.

And still he doubts.  Really?

Moses raises the question of what if the people don’t believe him or even listen to him?  God has promised to go with him but apparently that isn’t enough (Ex. 3:12).  God however is remarkably patient with Moses and his questions.

God then asks Moses, what does he hold in his hand?   Moses responds, a staff (basic to caring for sheep).   God then tells him to throw the staff on the ground.  Moses does so and the staff turns into a snake.  Then God tells Moses to grasp the snake by its tail which is the worst way to try and pick up a snake.  The snake could easily turn on the person and bite them.  Moses follows God’s instructions and the snake turns back into a staff.  God offers this as clear proof that he truly is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Throughout western culture (although not in Egypt) the snake has been seen as an antagonist to the human race.  We don’t have to look further than the serpent in the Garden of Eden whom God curses (Gen. 3:14).  Ancient people had stories of snakes and sea serpents that were a threat to humanity and even to their gods.  In this demonstration God is showing his power over the snake and, by implication, every symbol of the serpent including dreaded sea serpents (Isa. 27:1).

Do we like Moses doubt God?  Do we look for miraculous signs to convince ourselves somehow?  The fact is all the signs in the world are of no value without faith.  Moses needs to learn to trust God even when he doesn’t understand him.

We need to learn the same lesson.

Eternal and loving God, increase my faith in you.  May I rely on the promises of your Word whether I see signs or not.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen,.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 3:16-22

God’s next word to Moses sounds incomprehensible to him and will sound the same to the elders of Israel.  It is important to remember here that Moses has been away from Egypt for years.  Does anyone remember him?  Do the elders even know who he is?

The promise God gives to Moses is absolutely mind-boggling. Several things are evident here. God has chosen the people of Israel just as he chose their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for no apparent reason. There was nothing special about any of them. All we can say here is that God responds to those in misery. That was not the case with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was however with Joseph who was sold into slavery and imprisoned.

What is God’s promise? God will bring them out of their slavery in Egypt. Second, God will bring them to a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Third, God will stretch out his hand and strike Egypt with his “wonders.” Finally when Israel leaves Egypt the Egyptians will give them gifts, jewelry of silver and gold and clothes.

This all sounds totally incredible. God makes the point that Moses will initially only ask Pharaoh for a three days journey into the wilderness so that they may sacrifice to God.  Yet God already knows the Pharaoh will not even grant them this small request. The stage then will be set for the slaves not only being freed but brought into a new land.

The Exodus story dramatizes the whole plan of salvation. We are slaves to sin. We have no power to free ourselves. God undertakes to free us by sending Jesus Christ who is a far greater deliverer than Moses. God hears our misery. God takes up the cause of the oppressed. All forms of oppression and domination, social, political, personal, economic or psychological, are examples of sin.

In our own struggles we may see no solution. We may not see God’s hand in action.  However as the prophet Isaiah says, “See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save” (Isa. 59:1).  God may not act according to our plans. Yet he does act. His promises never fail (Joshua 21:45). It is in those promises that we have confidence and hope.

Loving and faithful God deepen my faith in you. May I rest in your promises all of which are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, October 1, 2018

Monday, October 1, 2018

“God’s Failure””

Exodus 3:13-15

Moses is more than a little hesitant about responding to God’s call, not to mention the mission of freeing the Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh’s domination.  The larger context is that God has not spoken to the Israelites for the four hundred years they have been in bondage.  Moses then asks a fairly obvious question, what and further, who, is this God that he is to supposedly to represent.  What is his name?

God gives Moses a twofold answer.  God’s name is “I am who I am.”   Second, Moses is to say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”  Is Moses the only one who thinks this is strange?  Moses is already envisioning the prospect that the people of Israel will not believe him.  After all, what kind of a name is “I am who I am?”

The name of God is not only sacred but revealing.  God is absolutely unique.  He cannot be compared to anything else.  The title of God essentially means that God is. God exists.  God is real.  In fact God is more real than anything else.  Other gods had names, Baal, Marduk or Osiris.  Yet none of them were truly god.  There were many gods in Egypt. They however were false gods.  They were spiritual beings but they essentially were demons masquerading as god.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one true God, the creator of all there is.  All we can say about him is that he is.  His name forever testifies to his eternal existence, “I am who I am.”

Jesus Christ is God in human form.  He makes this abundantly clear by using the actual name of God and applying it to himself.  When he appears before the high priest and is asked if he is the Messiah, he answers simply, “I am” (Mark 14:61-62).  The chief priest understands exactly what Jesus is saying and cries out, “blasphemy!”  On another occasion Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58).  Again his hearers think he is blaspheming.

We have no direct access to the great “I am.”  However Jesus, who is the “I am” in human form has made him known (John 1:18).

Gracious and faithful God, great “I am”, I praise you for who you are.  I thank you for having revealed yourself in Jesus Christ, the ”I am” in human form.  Teach me to glorify and praise you in all that I do.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday, September 30, 2018

“What will Heaven be like?” Part 7: No more Marriage- Matthew 22:30   Ralph Acerno

Closing this brief series, it has been my joy to reach out to you. Today we look at what heaven is NOT like! There will be no marriage in heaven. No husbands or wives for that matter!

Marriage in Scripture serves two purposes: procreation and companionship. Both purposes also involve parenting.  But here Jesus tells us there is no marriage in heaven. This statement should leave us with deep questions if we take him seriously such as, “will the family unit be completely dissolved?”  “Will we still enjoy a special relationship with our family?” “Will physical contact and intimacy be impossible?” “How will we be like angels?” “Do I WANT to be like an angel?”

These are not trivial questions are they?  Yet most preachers never seem to speak on this even though these questions will impact on us at the deepest level. Are any real answers and assurances possible at this point in time or do we simply have to wait and see what it will be like-or not like?

This Sunday at Grace, I will be speaking on this rare but important subject. I believe you will find it very interesting and helpful. Please join us!

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday, September 29, 2018

“What will Heaven be like?”  Part 6: “Washed in the blood of the Lamb” Revelation 22:14 – Ralph Acerno

I love the invitation, “Come!” and the symbolic words of Revelation 22:17, referring to Jesus Himself.  All in Heaven share one common identity: they are washed in the blood of the Lamb, a symbol made real through our Lords substitutionary and reconciling death for our sins.

In Revelation 7:9-14, John sees a multitude no one could number from all tribes, people and nations, yet all are washed in the blood of the lamb. Here the church is composed of many cultures yet there is only one Savior and Lord. Some turn this good news into bad, teaching those who lived before Christ are lost as well as all who never heard the gospel. But the cross transcends time and space, extending backwards as well as forward –Revelation 13:9.

This tells us people can be saved outside the church, but never outside Christ.!  Heaven will see God’s promise to Abraham come to pass where “all nations will be blessed” –Revelation 21:24 and where people considered “hopeless”, such as the thief on the cross, will rejoice forever. For with God nothing is impossible!

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018

What will heaven be like? Part 5 : “Nothing Unclean”-Revelation 21:27, 22:15, – Ralph Acerno

One of the more popular unbiblical views today, even in evangelical circles, is everyone goes to heaven regardless of their belief or lifestyle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Lord himself taught not everyone will go to heaven (Matthew 25:46), as did the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6:9-19,1 Thessalonians 1:8-10.) Heaven is real. So is Hell. The words “nothing unclean”, apply to all that is contrary to God. No sin will enter heaven. We will live in complete harmony with one and another and the Lord. No crime. No jails. No hospitals. No courts. No locked doors-except one- for “nothing unholy shall enter within Heaven’s gate.”

Unlike much mythology and distorted Christian theology, Hell is a choice bound not in God’s will, but man’s. Peter states, “God is not willing any should perish, but that all should come to eternal life.” The good news is we all once deserved Hell and were ourselves, “unclean-(Titus 3:3-7), but God chose to save us-(Ephesians 2:1-10.) Hell will be filled with those who said “No” to God’s “Yes” for Jesus Christ is the Yes and Amen to all who call upon His name!

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, September 27, 2018

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ralph Acerno

Part 4 “What will heaven be like?”   No Religion- Revelation 21:24  

Imagine a world without religion! For some that would be a good thing. In John Lennon’s, “Imagine”, he sings of a world with no religion. Religion has certainly contributed to much war and misery when driven by prejudice and hatred. It can also be a means by which people are manipulated, deceived and enslaved by legalistic systems and unscrupulous people. But it can be a doorway into God when properly understood and practiced.

No one has seen God fully. For now we walk by faith and live by the Word of God. But a time is coming when this too will pass. Then, as Paul states, “We shall see face to face.” Here in Revelation 21:24, the absence of any temple, rather than signifying an atheistic existence without God, reveals the opposite. God is with us face to face!

Here we will witness absolute freedom for where the Spirit of the Lord captives are set free. One cannot get any closer to that Spirit and freedom than to witness Him face to face! As such, we shall be fully liberated of all need other than God Himself. Even our Bibles will no longer be needed since we shall have full access to the Word made flesh-Jesus Himself! No religion! “Imagine” that!

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

“What will heaven be like?” Part 3 No more tears or crying-Revelation 21:4 – Ralph Acerno

In the days when the New Testament was written, the two dominant civilizations were Rome and Greece. In such militant and “macho” cultures, men were expected to show courage and discipline. Crying was seen as weakness of character. Stoicism, a popular philosophy, viewed life as a series of pre-determined events and one made the best of them, often to the point of becoming fatalistic and dispassionate. Jewish people showed their emotions. Even Jesus-“acquainted with grief”- wept at Lazarus’ death.

God understands tears and sadness. He is not an indifferent cosmic entity, removed from our suffering and pain. Paul uses empathy in stating we are to “weep with those who weep” and Jesus reminds us , “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Paul states in Romans 8, that the whole creation presently groans. Here is Revelation 21: 4, the comfort Jesus assures us reaches its climax in a new creation forever liberated from earthly misery and heartbreak.

It’s difficult to imagine a world without tears. Eric Clapton’s, “Tears in heaven” rightly envisions such a day. The opposite of crying is not laughing. It is to recapture the long lost sense of God in whose presence is joy. We have a taste of that as believers in whom the very essence joy, God’s Holy Spirit, dwells in us causing us to echo Paul’s words, “I am convinced that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared to the joy we shall experience.” CS Lewis’ book, “Surprised by joy” is well worth reading.  May the joy of the Lord be with you!

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

“What will we be like in heaven?” Part 2: “The new heaven and Earth” Revelation 21:1 – RALPH ACERNO

Greek philosophy has often replaced biblical teachings when it comes to the concept of heaven. Plato, whose teachings continue to live on in many new age religions and Eastern religion, emphasized that physical manifestations of any type are but a shadowy illusion or reflection of a hidden deeper reality. This may sound very intellectual, but leaves one with a hazy and existential view of what heaven is. In Scripture, heaven is more than some existential, unfathomable and esoteric promise. True, it is presently unseen and something of a mystery as Paul himself acknowledged, nevertheless it is bound in Christ Himself in which the church shares a common future identity and hope-2 Corinthians 4:18.

This new heaven and earth is not Dorothy’s “Over the rainbow”, or a Star Wars’ “In a galaxy far far away”, but rather a renewed planet where both nature and a new humanity will be released into created wholeness.  In short, God has an incredible plan and place where we shall live in the abundance of life Christ has promised.  In short we have no reason to believe or expect that the God who created this universe is about to retire, leaving us a home without purpose or substance. That is not what you see in John 14:1-6!  Heaven is not only real-it is a place and a person, Jesus, where together we will dwell in the city on the edge of forever.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

“What will we be like in Heaven?”

Part 1: Not flesh and blood-I Corinthians 15:50

I recall vividly as a kid watching a Sci Fi Roger Corman film, “Not of this Earth.” An alien, disguised as a human, invades the earth. I was really scared!  I Corinthians 15:50, on the surface, seems to imply we will become aliens, losing our flesh and blood bodies. If that sounds weird, consider that such a transformation has already occurred spiritually –2 Corinthians 5:17. As such, we are in the world, but not of it.

Scripture speaks of an eternal city free of death and temporal limitations. –Revelation 21:1. To live there forever, humanity must undergo a radical break from its present flesh and blood dependency restricted by time and space and receive a new transcendent human body. What will that body be like? Scripture is not explicit in defining this, but we do have a coming attraction in the resurrected body of Christ.

Some envision in heaven no longer having human bodies but rather becoming “spirits”-whatever that’s supposed to mean! Not so. The risen body of Christ, if anything, was MORE than human in every way. This is the very body we will receive-1 John 3:2. We will not be Jesus, but we will be like Him in fulfilling our destiny for God’s new humanity.

In Christ, God’s perfect intention has been fulfilled and in glory will be forever enacted through His people. Emotionally, physically and spiritually, we will have finally made that elusive, “One Giant step for Mankind.”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday, September 23, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Exodus 3:1-12

As far as Moses is concerned, Egypt belongs to his distant past.  He is now married, with a son, living in the land of Midian.  He has taken on the role of a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks.

Moses is leading a normal, presumably satisfactory life.  Then one day everything changes.  An ordinary day becomes extraordinary.  He sees a bush on fire but the bush isn’t burnt.  An unseen voice calls to him out of the flames.  The voice identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  After many years of silence God now speaks.

God is calling Moses into a very special service.  God is sending him to Pharaoh to demand that the people of Israel be set free from their slavery.  This is a turning point not only for the Israelites but for all the world.  God has given humans the freedom of choice.  Even when this is being abused God allows us to do what we choose.

Yet God will not hold back forever.  Even though God has been silent he is not absent.  God has seen the misery of his people.  He says, “I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.”  Moses will be God’s chosen instrument to accomplish all this.

We would think that Moses would rejoice at this news.  However Moses responds with a number of objections.  He has no training or ability to carry out such a task.  Even if he goes he thinks the people won’t believe him (Ex. 4:1).  He doesn’t speak well (Ex. 4:10).  Finally Moses just doesn’t want to do it.  He says, Lord please send somebody else (Ex. 4:13).

Moses in many ways is just like us.  God calls us to serve him.  God promises to go with us.  Yet we have a whole host of excuses why we can’t do it.  Yet these excuses are just an evasion.  God’s service is the greatest experience in life.

God calls each of us in one way or another to serve him.  We can never do this alone.  We need to depend upon the Lord.  The only valid response to God’s call is “Here am I, Lord, send me” (Isa, 6:8).

Loving and gracious God may I remember that you take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.  Give me the grace to be prepared to serve you in whatever task you call me to. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday, September 22, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Exodus 2:15b-24

Up to this point in the story of Moses God has been silent.  God remains silent.  Yet out of an unpredictable, seemingly random series of events a pattern is beginning to emerge.

Moses has fled Egypt after killing one of the Egyptians who had been oppressing a Hebrew slave.  Moses comes to the land of Midian. There he encounters seven daughters of the “priest of Midian.”  One of our first questions would be, what kind of priest is this?  The true God was not known at this point.  He had been and remains silent.  We can only presume that this priest represented one of the ancient gods of this period.  The text does not really address this question.

The daughters have been driven away from a well by some shepherds.  Moses intervenes and apparently drives away the shepherds so the women can draw water.  In this small event Moses is revealed as a hero.  Moses’ pattern of being a hero has been followed countless times.  Joseph Campbell wrote a famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  C.S. Lewis spoke of God giving the human race “good dreams.”

Moses establishes a pattern that speaks to a longing that human beings have had throughout history for a hero/savior.  Moses’ characteristics of almost dying in infancy, being raised in obscurity by foster parents, having a special mission, having great powers, achieving a great victory suffering a tragedy that he brings upon himself (his disobedience at the waters of Meripah) and in death being reconciled to God has had an attraction for the human race for centuries, from Hercules to Superman.

The hunger is there.  Moses’ pattern is finally fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  He is the goal of all human desire and searching.  He alone fulfills Moses’ pattern perfectly.  This is a point we need to raise in communicating the gospel.

Moses is brought into the home of this priest.  He marries one of his daughters.  Yet the full direction of Moses’ life is just about to begin.  God hears the groaning of his people.  They, like all of humanity, cry out for someone to deliver them from their pain and distress.

There is only one who can fulfill the longing of the human heart, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Loving and faithful God, I thank you that you have sent your Son, Jesus Christ to be my protector and deliverer.  May I live in the confidence that comes from trusting in him.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday, September 21, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Exodus 2:11-15a

Moses has lived a privileged life.  He was adopted into the Princess’ family in direct violation of her father’s order to drown all the Hebrew male babies.  He was not a slave.  He probably never had to work.  He was part of the royal family.

Yet Moses never forgot his identity.  He was a Hebrew.  On a particular day he saw one of the Egyptians beating a Hebrew slave.  Thinking that no one was looking he proceeded to kill the Egyptian and hide his body.  Shortly thereafter he realizes that he was seen.  The account of Moses’ action reaches Pharaoh and he plans to kill Moses.  Moses has to flee for his life.

Was what Moses did wrong?  Even before the giving of the Ten Commandments people knew that killing, particularly murder, was wrong.  It is interesting to read Stephen’s account of this event in the New Testament.  Stephen describes Moses’ action as defending the oppressed slave who was being beaten (Acts 7:23-24).

In any event Moses’ flight into the wilderness was no chance event.  It is in the wilderness that Moses hears the voice of God.  It is in the wilderness that Moses is given the task of bringing his people out of slavery in Egypt.  Yet there was no way that Moses could have known all this when he first fled Egypt.  It is clear from Stephen’s account that Moses was motivated in his killing of the Egyptian by his desire to defend the slave.

Moses’ attempt to carry out justice was a purely human effort.  The result was Moses’ exile.  Yet God had greater plans for Moses.  God would not only overthrow the Egyptians.  He would also defeat their gods (Ex. 12:12).

God has greater plans for us than we could ever imagine.

Loving and faithful God I am distressed by the injustice and cruelty that I see around me. Increase my faith in you so that I can be assured that evil will surely end because Christ is coming.  He is coming soon. May I testify to his justice. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Ps. 107:23-32

This passage is a picture of God’s providence.  The picture of distress on the open sea was a familiar one to people in this era.  The sea was primarily the means of transportation.  It was also an economic source.  Fishing was a standard way of earning a living as we see in Jesus’ disciples.

Yet there were always risks on the sea.  The boats of this period would appear tiny to us.  The power of the sea could well melt anyone’s courage as the psalmist says here.  As I write this, hurricane Florence is ravishing the Carolinas and is moving further in land with devastating results

In a prediction of Jesus’ ministry we read that God stilled the storm and brought those affected to “their desired haven.”  In the account in the gospels Jesus is asleep in the disciples’ boat in the midst of surging waves. Both he and they are on the verge of sinking. They rouse Jesus with the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).  Jesus of course does care and, in the words of the psalm, “the waves of the sea were hushed.”

However the waves of Florence have not yet been hushed.  By the time this is read the storm will hopefully be over.  However the recovery will continue for months.  Those who have been affected will need to receive God’s steadfast love.  That will have to come from us.  We need to pray and be prepared to take whatever action we can to demonstrate God’s love for the victims of the hurricane.

Gracious and merciful God and Savior I pray for all those affected by the devastation of this hurricane.  Show me how I can demonstrate your love for the victims.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

In this section Paul is reflecting on the opposition that he faces in proclaiming the gospel.  This same kind of opposition is being faced by the Philippians.  Paul then is offering them encouragement.  The purpose of his life and ministry is that “Christ will be exalted.”  Nothing more, nothing less.

Chapter 1:15-30 – “Christ will be Exalted”

 

  1. “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry” – 1:15-18a

Paul faces conflict in virtually every phase of his life and ministry.  Here he is talking about other Christian missionaries who proclaim Christ out of “selfish ambition.” Corruption came into the church early on.  There is a twofold problem in this situation.  The first is that some people are proclaiming the gospel out of false motives, out of envy and rivalry.  The accusation of their “selfish ambition” may reflect an attitude that wanted exorbitant payment or special privileges for communicating the message of salvation.

Paul’s response seems puzzling.  He takes an open ended attitude saying at least these selfish people are in fact proclaiming Christ.  They have the message right even if their lives aren’t consistent with what they preach and teach.  One still would think that such messengers would be more detrimental to the gospel than helpful, “practice what you preach.”  Yet Paul has such confidence in the overwhelming power of the gospel that it will still have an impact in spite of the character of those who proclaim it.

The second problem is more personal.  These other missionaries are apparently attacking Paul himself.  They are intending to increase his suffering in his imprisonment.  Taking the general view that Paul here is under house arrest in Rome he then is limited in where he can go and he can only interact with those who come to see him (Acts 28:30).

Paul is the author of no less than thirteen books of the New Testament.  He is the major figure of the apostolic era.  Yet he was often criticized not only for what he said but how he said it (II Cor. 10:10).  Even other Christians were wary of him (Acts 21:17-26).  Beyond that, Paul’s powerful message of salvation by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9) has always had a mixed reaction among Christians who invariably gravitate toward some form of law despite what Paul has said (Rom. 3:20).

It would be very understandable if Paul became discouraged.  Yet that is not the case at all.  Paul rejoices in the fact that Christ is “proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true.” Paul’s confidence is boundless because it is centered in Christ alone.  It is not based on himself, his personal circumstances or the attitudes and actions of those around him.

II. Living is Christ and Dying is Gain – 1:18b-26

Paul goes back and forth in his thoughts at this point.  He maintains his attitude of rejoicing which is a key theme of this whole letter (Phil. 4:4).  Initially he expresses confidence that he will be delivered.  He bases this partly on the prayers of the Philippians but also on the work of God’s Spirit.  Paul still had some confidence in Roman justice.  He was not leading an insurrection against the emperor.  He had done nothing wrong.  He therefore could count on being acquitted.

In any event Paul here reflects on the possibility of his death.  In doing so he makes the great affirmation, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (v. 21).  Paul then goes on to say that death is actually preferable to continuing in this life.  Death, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later say, is the gateway to life.  Death leads to being with Christ.  He says that is far better than anything in this life.  However, he then turns to the fact that his earthly ministry needs to continue for the benefit of the Philippians and his other churches.  He wants to support them in their “progress and joy in faith.”

Paul’s thoughts then come full circle.  He expresses his confidence that he will come to see them again.  There will be a favorable outcome to his appearance before the emperor.  Paul poses the same question to all of us.  Do our lives reflect the gospel of Christ, a gospel that for Paul is sheer joy?

He reminds them that the gospel is a matter of faith.  They are to stand firm in this faith which in other places he has so often identified with freedom (Gal. 5:1).  Without this freedom there is no gospel.  By the same token the “freedom of the Christian” (a favorite phrase of Martin Luther) should reflect the reality of the gospel (good news).

Paul now goes on to describe the very stark reality that there are those who oppose the gospel.  This is far more than other Christians acting out of “selfish ambition.”  We are not sure who these opponents were.  They may have been followers of the cult of the emperor or those who worshipped other spirits such as that which Paul and Silas encountered when they first came to Philippi (Acts 16:16-24).

Whatever the opposition Paul is convinced that it will not prevail.  These opponents are quite frankly facing destruction.  This is not a call for Christians to defend themselves.  God is in charge and he alone is the one who will do away with the opponents.  God alone is the source of the Philippians’ salvation and safety.

III. Standing Firm

Paul’s final words here deal with suffering.  Paul makes the straightforward statement that God has graciously granted us the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well.  Paul then refers to the common struggle in testifying to the gospel that he shares with the Philippians.

Paul here is not saying that all suffering is suffering for Christ.  Suffering embraces many dimensions.  Why was Epaphroditus suffering from illness (Phil. 2:27)?  Paul himself endured suffering over his pride (II Cor. 12:1-10).

The suffering Paul is referring to is the opposition to the gospel (Acts 5:41).    Testifying to the gospel requires more than simply telling the gospel story.  It means standing up and following Jesus in his defense of the rejected and the despised, bringing good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:16-21).  It is in living out the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ that we encounter true joy.

Questions for Us –

  1. Does Paul’s comments on those who proclaim Christ out of “selfish ambition” apply to present day scandals in the church?  Following Paul’s example how should we react?
  2. How can we interpret Paul’s statement that living is Christ and dying is gain?  Would you agree with that statement?   Why?
  3. Have you ever had to suffer for your faith in Christ?

Next Study – Phil. 2:1-23 – “Jesus’ Model”

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Ps. 107:10-22

Is this a picture of hell?  The striking description the psalmist gives here is of people suffering terrible torment for their sins.  Those in “darkness and gloom” have rebelled against the words of God.  Others are sick “through their sinful ways.  In their case they drew near “to the gates of death.”

This may also describe people on the verge of hell.  Because of their iniquities they are enduring affliction.  In their desperation they “loathed any kind of food.”

But don’t these people deserve their fate?  They are rebels against God’s words (This suggests specific commands rather than the general word of God).  They are suffering because of their “sinful ways.”  We struggle with the question of why innocent people suffer.  The example of Job quickly comes to mind.  However that is not the case here.  We know that evildoers will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).  There is therefore no injustice in the suffering of this group.

Yet that is not the full story here.  These rebel prisoners cry out to the Lord and the Lord responds.  He brings them out of their darkness and gloom and frees them from their bonds.  The problem for us is that nothing is said about these people repenting.  Of course they cry out.  After all they are in “misery and in irons.”  This also applies to those suffering because of “their sinful ways.”  Again they are described as crying out to the Lord.  Abraham’s response to the rich man in Hades who cries out is that it’s too late (Luke 16:25).

The people described here may still be on the brink (“near the gates of death”).  The amazing thing is that God responds to their cry for help.  He saves them and delivers them from destruction.  All of this testifies to God’s amazing “steadfast love.”  The Pharisees no doubt would object.  These people don’t deserve God’s steadfast love.

That however is exactly the point.  No one deserves God’s love.  Yet if we cry out to the Lord, even in our sinfulness, he not only hears us.  He rescues us and gives us new life.

Eternal and gracious Lord I cannot thank you enough for your steadfast love.  May I continue to tell of your deeds with “songs of joy.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Ps. 107:1-9

This is a psalm that focuses on God as the supreme caregiver.  As was the case with Ps. 106 yesterday we are to give thanks to the Lord and remember that “his steadfast love endures forever.”  This psalm then refers to the idea of redemption: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”

What does it mean to be redeemed?  Redemption has the idea of bringing something back to its original form.  It carries the idea of buying something back, restoring it to its original owner.

We all come from God.  We all belong to him.  We are all made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).  Yet as we know we have all turned away from God (Isa. 53:6).  This has had tragic results.  In reality we all have wandered in “desert wastes” with our souls fainting within us.  Even those who would claim they have not faced such dire circumstances have to acknowledge that many people around them certainly have.

God seeks us out in the midst of our needs, our “trouble.”  He delivers us from our distress.  The psalmist here is painting a broad outline.  God has not promised to deliver us out of each and every adversity we may encounter.  However the direction of our lives has been shaped by him.

God’s steadfast love focuses on all “humankind” (Rom. 5:18).  He does not leave us in a wandering, desperate way permanently.  He has come to rescue us.  He is redeeming us back to himself.  This is not an effort based on us.  The final picture is the redemption we have in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7).  Through him the entire world is being reconciled (or redeemed) back to God (II Cor. 5:19).

When we look at our world we don’t see this.  We have to say that such a thing would take a miracle.  That however is what God has done in the miracle of the cross and the resurrection.  That is the pledge of God’s never ending “steadfast love.”

Most faithful and merciful God, give me the grace to follow you in all that I do.  I praise you for having found me and redeemed in Jesus Christ.  I thank you for this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday, September 17, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Ps. 106:1-5

This psalm is a song of praise to God.  It serves as a model for prayer.  It says a number of critical things about the nature of God.  The first statement of the psalm is an imperative.  We are to give thanks to the Lord.  This simple phrase acknowledges the fact that God is not only our Lord, he is our creator.  He is the very source of our life.  We depend on him for everything.

The psalmist now adds that not only is God good, his steadfast love endures forever.  Another way of saying this is that God’s mercy continues forever (Rom. 11:32).  We can never presume on God’s mercy.  However statements like this provide an ultimate hope not only for ourselves but for the entire human race.

The psalmist now continues with a rhetorical question, “Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord?”  The answer clearly is none of us.  We know a great deal more about God’s “mighty doings” than did people in Biblical times.  We have some idea of the vastness of space as well as sub-atomic particles.  God’s hand is in all of this.  We can barely grasp the extent of creation

The psalmist then gives a unique view on happiness.  The writer says, “Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.”  Happiness is not found in wealth, possessions or pleasure.  Our happiness is bound up with our commitment to justice, to the care of the poor, the oppressed, the rejected, the strangers in our land. Jesus says the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:6) The Bible’s view of spirituality is not an abstract idea.  It calls us to care for all those in need everywhere around us.  This is living out the praise of God.

Gracious and faithful God, may I praise you in all that I do trusting in your steadfast love.  Give me the grace and happiness of doing justice and righteousness.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ex. 2:1-10

Pharaoh now becomes even more ruthless.  The pursuit of power leads to an insatiable desire for more and more power.  He has become obsessed with the fear that the slaves will somehow rise and revolt against him.  He then instructs the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children at birth.  They are to spare the Israelite girls who presumably will be forced into a form of slavery worse than that of hard labor in the fields.

It is at this point that we encounter the first heroes in the Exodus story.  Their names are Shiphrah and Puah.  Those names should be far better known than they are.  They defy Pharaoh’s order and deceive him by saying that the Hebrew women, because of their strength and fortitude, give birth before the midwives have time to arrive.  These two courageous women are taking a great risk.  If Pharaoh finds out they are not being truthful it would cost them their lives.  However these two women fear God more than Pharaoh.

Pharaoh will not pull back from his murderous plans.  He orders all the people of Egypt  to assist in throwing all the Hebrew male children into the Nile.  His orders are followed out.  This foreshadows Herod’s killing of the male children at the time of Jesus’ birth.

In today’s text we read of a woman who takes a desperate chance to save her son.  She puts him into a basket (the word for “basket” in Hebrew is the same as “ark”).  As we all know the basket is set adrift with only the baby’s sister watching its progress. The basket is found by Pharaoh’s daughter who defies her father by taking the child and raising him as her own.  At the suggestion of the baby’s sister the child’s own mother is called upon to nurse him.  The baby of course is named Moses.

At first it looks like Pharaoh has all the power in this story.  However he is defied by a group of courageous women including his own daughter.  He has no way of knowing that this child Moses will bring about the downfall of Egypt.  The Egyptians who drown the Hebrew children will one day suffer the deaths of their first born children.

The word of God is never heard in this story.  However God is active.  Pharaoh’s plan, as deadly as it is, cannot prevail.  God and God alone rules and overrules.

Merciful and loving God, give me the courage to take risks in your service knowing that you and you alone have the last word in everything that happens.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ex. 1:1-22

Joseph had been sold into slavery.  In spite of his outstanding service to his Egyptian master he was falsely accused by the master’s wife.  Joseph languished in a prison cell for more than two years.  However Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams brought him to great prominence in Egypt.  Joseph organized a plan to deal with a coming famine which benefited the whole nation. Joseph became second in command to the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

In this situation Joseph was able to provide for his family.  His father and brothers and their families were invited to come to Egypt.  They were given the land of Goshen in Egypt as a new home.  Joseph’s father, Jacob, also Israel, was overwhelmed with joy to have his family reunited and to have a safe and secure home.  It seemed that everything was ideal for Joseph and his family.

However that was not the case.  We read here that a new king arose over Egypt wo did not know Joseph.  This statement cannot be taken at face value.  How could he not have known of Joseph given his prominence as second in authority in Egypt?  What is really being said here is that the new Pharaoh chose to ignore Joseph.  The new Pharaoh looked at the growing population of Hebrews in Goshen and saw them as a potential threat.

More than this, Pharaoh saw the Hebrews as a source of wealth.  By forcing them into slavery and making them work to build cities for him Pharaoh was able to reap financial benefits from this source of free labor.  The Egyptians then became ruthless task masters.  This forced labor became an institution which existed for 400 years.

While this was happening God remained silent.  In despair some of the Israelites turned to the gods of Egypt for solace (Joshua 24:14).  There are times of distress in our lives when we may call out to God and seemingly receive no answer.  We see this situation in the Bible on multiple occasions.

God however is not absent.  Out of the suffering and struggle of Israel God is about to reveal himself in a new way. In our deepest distress we can never think that God is not active.  We will soon see that Pharaoh does not have the final power.  Only God does and God has a purpose in which even Pharaoh will be forced to play a part (Rom. 9)

Whatever our thoughts and feelings we are never cast off by the God who makes all things new.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday, September 14, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:26-36

Here the psalmist is stating that Egypt’s oppression of Israel will not go unpunished.  The people of Israel were suffering.  Time and again they had cried out to the Lord.  It seemed that God did not hear them.  Yet God was listening.  God had not abandoned them.

The psalmist now gives a capsule account of the events leading up to Israel’s release from slavery.  God sends Moses and Aaron “whom he had chosen.”  An enormous amount is communicated in those brief words.  Moses was in no way seeking to be the deliverer of Israel.  In fact he asked the Lord to send somebody else (Ex. 4:13).  Aaron’s leadership skills come into question in the issue of the golden calf.  The call of Moses and Aaron brings out basic concerns in the whole area of leadership.

What this section makes clear is that God is the author of the Exodus.  It is God who brings darkness out of light, who turns the Nile into blood, who gives hail for rain and strikes down the Egyptians’ vines and fig trees.  It is finally God who strikes down the firstborn in the land.

While this may all seem severe to our ears we have to remember that God’s focus in all this is not primarily on the people of Egypt or even Pharaoh.  This is finally a spiritual battle.  God is passing judgment on all the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12).

We tend to divide life into compartments.  There is ourselves as individuals.  Then there are our family, our friends, our work place, school and also our church.  We often try to separate our intellect from our emotions, our perception from our experience.

In the Exodus God deals with the totality of life, the individual, the communal, the political and the spiritual.  We can distinguish these aspects of life but we can never separate them.  We need to recognize God at the center of our lives.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you that you are the determining force not only in history but in all of my life.  May I seek to glorify you in all that I do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday, September 13, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:26-36

Here the psalmist is stating that Egypt’s oppression of Israel will not go unpunished.  The people of Israel were suffering.  Time and again they had cried out to the Lord.  It seemed that God did not heart hem.  Yet God was listening.  God had not abandoned them.

The psalmist now gives a capsule account of the events leading up to Israel’s release from slavery.  God sends Moses and Aaron “whom he had chosen.”  An enormous amount is communicated in those brief words.  Moses was in no way seeking to be the deliverer of Israel.  In fact he asked the Lord to send somebody else (Ex. 4:13).  Aaron’s leadership skills come into question in the issue of the golden calf.  The call of Moses and Aaron brings out basic concerns in the whole area of leadership.

What this section makes clear is that God is the author of the Exodus.  It is God who brings darkness out of light, who turns the Nile into blood, who gives hail for rain and strikes down the Egyptians’ vines and fig trees.  It is finally God who strikes down the firstborn in the land.

While this may all seem severe to our ears we have to remember that God’s focus in all this is not primarily on the people of Egypt or even Pharaoh.  This is finally a spiritual battle.  God is passing judgment on all the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12).

We tend to divide life into compartments.  There is ourselves as individuals.  Then there are our family, our friends, our work place, school and also our church.  We often try to separate our intellect from our emotions, our perception from our experience.

In the Exodus God deals with the totality of life, the individual, the communal, the political and the spiritual.  We can distinguish these aspects of life but we can never separate them.  We need to recognize God at the center of our lives.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you that you are the determining force not only in history but in all of my life.  May I seek to glorify you in all that I do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:23-25

We now get a picture of God’s overriding purpose.  Israel comes to Egypt.  This is Israel in the twofold sense of Israel, the person, the former Jacob, and Israel the people whom God had chosen for himself.  We read that God made the people very fruitful.  In other words, their numbers were growing.  God made them stronger than their foes.  We should then expect that Israel’s time in Egypt would be one of success and prosperity.

However we read that God turned the hearts of their foes, the Egyptians, to hate his people and “to deal craftily with his servants.”  The result was 400 years of slavery.  Why would God do such a thing?  There really are two reasons for this.

The first is that God is going to demonstrate his saving power from all evil, sin and destruction.  He has not abandoned his people in their suffering any more than he had abandoned Joseph in his trials.  God however has a greater purpose.  Sin, Satan and Death all have to be judged and eliminated.  This however must take place without the  destruction of God’s people.  From the earlier history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we have seen that sin already exists even (one could say, especially) among God’s chosen ones.  Sin invariably leads to suffering.  We are content many times to choose the sin but we don’t want the consequences.

The second point is that God is not forcing anyone to do anything contrary to their will.  God allows Pharaoh to oppress his people because God will use Pharaoh as an example to show his power (Ex. 9:16).  Yet God is not making Pharaoh to be an oppressor.  Pharaoh is acting according to his own desires and choices.  Pharaoh on his own wants to enslave the people of Israel.

Yet without denying human actions and responsibilities God still has a higher and greater purpose than we can often discern. All of us can remember times in our lives which seemed to be difficult and trying, but nonetheless finally resulted in a good outcome.

God certainly can and does work in spite of us.  However it is also the case that God also works through us.  He often brings about an outcome that we could never have imagined.  This is because he is the true God who works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11).

Faithful and loving God I praise you that, whatever my circumstances, you have a purpose and plan for me which I may not understand at the moment.  Give me the grace to depend on you in all things.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:12-22

The psalmist now is going to discuss the various ways that God acted out his everlasting covenant in history.  His first example is that of Joseph.  We know from the Old Testament the trials that Joseph had to endure (Gen. 37, 39-41).  His brothers were jealous of him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph was falsely accused by his Egyptian master’s wife and sent to prison.  He befriended one of the prisoners who was released.  Joseph asked him to mention his case to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.  However upon release the servant promptly forgot about Joseph.  Joseph languished in prison for two whole years.

During this time Joseph would have had no idea that he was a descendant of God’s everlasting promise.  To all extent and purpose it would appear that God had forgotten about him.  This however was not the case.  The psalmist tells us that “the word of the Lord kept testing him.”  Joseph in fact was to have a great future.  The Pharaoh was haunted by a dream he couldn’t understand.  It was at this moment that the servant who had formerly forgotten about Joseph suddenly remembered him as one who could interpret dreams.

Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dream as a warning of an impending famine.  Joseph’s prediction is found to be true.  The net effect is that Joseph is made the prime minister of all of Egypt.  But why did Joseph have to endure such hardship before he was rescued and favored?

The psalmist reminds us that Joseph had to be tested.  This is an essential part of our discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ.  None of us likes the idea of being tested.  However Joseph would not have shown the compassion and leadership he did if he had not had to endure suffering.

We need to recognize that not all suffering is testing.  Some of it is the just the random effects of living in a sinful world.  Faithful people become ill and suffer tragedy for no apparent reason (Phil. 2:25-27).  Yet God finally takes up all our suffering and works it into his own purpose (Rom. 8:28).  However part of that suffering could well be God’s testing of us.  We cannot grow in faith without being tested.  God however will not test us beyond our strength but will give us grace to endure it (I Cor. 10:13).

Eternal and loving God prepare me for whatever testing I may face.  I pray that I may be sustained and upheld by your promises.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:1-11

This is a song of praise to “the Lord, our God.”  The opening is an exultant series of praises to God.  A critical affirmation here is the call to “Remember the wonderful works he has done.”  God has not only been active in the past.  He continues to be active in the present and on out into the future.

We are then introduced to one of the most central themes in the Bible, that of covenant.  The psalmist states that God is “mindful of his covenant forever.”  He refers to the covenant that God made with Abraham and reaffirmed to his descendants Isaac and Jacob.  This covenant ultimately is forever.

So what is a “covenant?”  A covenant is essentially a treaty between two parties in which each pledges to uphold their half of the agreement.  Covenants were fairly common in the ancient world.  They were often the kind of treaty made between two rulers or between a king and his nobles.  God made a covenant with Israel in the wilderness after the exodus.  The terms of the covenant, in which Moses represented the people, was the Law that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai and later expanded on in the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses.  As we will see Israel failed to live up to its terms of the covenant.

Yet the covenant with Moses was not God’s primary covenant.  As Paul would later argue (Romans 4, Galatians 3) God’s original covenant was with Abraham not Moses.  This is an everlasting covenant.  In reality it is not actually a treaty made with Abraham.  Abraham is a witness to the covenant.  He and all his descendants are the beneficiaries of the covenant.  The everlasting covenant is a promise that God makes to himself that God will be Abraham’s God (Gen. 15:1-19).  The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way, “When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.”  The promise land was a sign of this covenant but the covenant itself was lodged and established in God’s word.

Through Jesus Christ we are all heirs of this everlasting covenant.  Our destiny and purpose is established now and forever.  The consequences of the brokenness of the covenant was borne by Jesus on the cross.  The covenant is finally God’s promise to Jesus Christ confirmed by the witness of the Holy Spirit.  Our faith then never depends on us.  In Christ we truly are the heirs of God’s covenant promise.

Most faithful and gracious God I praise you that I have been grafted into your covenant by what Christ did on the cross.  May I live always in this confidence and assurance.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 23:5-7

David here appears to be talking about opposites.  David initially speaks as one who has been favored by the Lord.  God dwells in David’s house.  Dave is the recipient of God’s everlasting covenant, a covenant that goes all the way back to Abraham (Gen. 15:1-6)   David here is not saying (as he suggested earlier) that God’s favor is a reward for his good deeds (II Sam. 22:21).  However he is emphasizing the fact of his having been chosen by God and indeed anointed as king.  He asks the rhetorical question, “Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desires?”

David then changes to talk about the godless.  They in turn “are all like thorns that are thrown away.”  David then adds that “the are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.”  This of course is a symbolic statement.  The wicked do not perish in the act of evil or injustice.  Yet this is their final outcome as Psalm 73 stresses so clearly.

In reality both these descriptions apply to David as we have seen.  There is what we can call a dialectic that runs throughout scripture.  This is a logical term that refers to dealing with opposites.  This is at the base of much Biblical revelation.  We constantly see what appear to be logical contradictions but which are still true.  God is three persons in one being.  Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  We are all of us even as believers in Christ a mixture of flesh and spirit, rebellion and righteousness.

David is a supreme example of these tensions.  He is the man after God’s own heart.  He is the ancestor of the Messiah who will be known as “son of David.”  At the same time he falls into grievous sin.  Yet he repents.  As the prophet Nathan points out in II Samuel 12 he is both just and unjust.  This applies to each of us as well.  We are simultaneously sinners and saints.

Therefore our hope is never in ourselves.  God and God alone is the rock of our salvation (II Sam. 22:47).

Gracious and loving God I thank you that you are both just and merciful.  Lead me to follow your ways.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 8, 2018

Saturday, September 8, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 23:1-4

In a few succinct verses David expresses the basic concept of leadership.  Leadership is not based on power, influence, fame or wealth.  Anyone who “rules over people” has the responsibility to rule justly in the fear of the Lord.

Leadership can take many forms.  It is not only political figures who rule.  Anyone who exercises authority or responsibility over others is a ruler.  This can apply to parents, teachers, police, military leaders or even those who hold office in the church.

The critical point to remember here is that leadership should always be exercised under God’s authority.  Paul reminds us that there is no authority except that which comes from God (Rom. 13:1).  This is what it means to rule “in the fear of God.”

There is a basic temptation which all rulers face.  This is the temptation of pride.  Jesus laments the fact that earthly rulers abuse their authority over others.  Jesus reminds the disciples that in their case the leader must be the one who serves others (Luke 22:24-27).  Jesus gave the most dramatic example of this theme at the Last Supper when he washed the disciples’ feet.  Jesus is the ultimate example of humility.  This is a hard lesson for all of us to learn especially for any who exercise authority.

Whatever our responsibility or calling we are never ultimately the ones who are in charge.  There is one Lord, God alone and he rules over all and in all.

Most faithful and gracious God may I recognize that you have the final say over my life in all that I say and do.  As I may be called to lead, teach me humility and the fear of you that is respect and awe.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, September 7, 2018

Friday, September 7, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 22:44-51

David is praising God not only for delivering him from his enemies but also for exalting him among the nations.  Under David’s leadership the kingdom of Israel expanded dramatically.  David could then say people he had never known had served him.   He goes on to say that foreigners came cringing to him as “as soon as they heard of me, they obeyed.”  God quite frankly has exalted David above his adversaries.

David then can only sing praises to God who is his “tower of salvation.”  Everything at this point in David’s life is going well.   The Lord was with David (I Sam. 16:13).  David then was in an ideal place to carry out God’s standard of ruling over people justly in the fear of the Lord (II Sam. 23:3).

We of course know that this was tragically not fulfilled as David’s later actions (in which according to the prophet Nathan David despised the word of the Lord (II Sam. 12:9)).  David in his great success become increasingly isolated.  Finally he refuses to listen to the counsel of his own generals and he brought increasing calamities on himself and on Israel (II Sam. 24:1-17).

Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris after Germany’s surrender and acceptance of an Armistice in 1918  A crowd of two million people extoled him.  He was at that moment the most powerful man in the world.  His triumphal parade surpassed that of Caesar or Alexander the Great.

Wilson did not fall into grievous sin as David did.  Yet he allowed himself to become isolated and refused to listen to other voices in congress.  His hope for a lasting peace based on a League of Nations led by the United States would remain unfulfilled.

We are more and more isolated person for all our technology and social media.  We try to survive on glimpses of information.  When we separate ourselves off from others we finally end up separating ourselves from the Lord.

Merciful and gracious God give me a humble spirit.  May I always be open to the advice of others.  May I in dependence on you seek to know your will for my life.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thursday, September 6, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 22:32-43

This next section reminds us that David is a warrior.  He is in fact leading an insurgency movement against the King of Israel, Saul.  God however has called David to this task.  David’s victories are all due to the Lord.  The reference to the “shield of your salvation” points forward to the “shield of faith” in Paul’s description of spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-17.  However what David is describing here is not only a spiritual battle (it is certainly that) but is also a very real war of combat deaths and casualties.  David is pursuing real flesh and blood opponents.  He speaks of pursuing his enemies and destroying them.  This text is a very real description of a very real battle.

The question has been raised over the centuries, is it legitimate for Christians to participate in war?  The Jesus who calls us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44) seems to give little justification for going to war.  However the consensus of most of the church throughout its history is that in a fallen world war may in fact be necessary.  However as Christians we have to be careful that the motives for engaging in war are as just and necessary as possible.

This month marks the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of America’s bloodies battle.  This was what has become known as the battle of the Meuse-Argonne Forest in France in 1918..  This was a thick forest bordered by the river Muse.  It was a difficult and treacherous landscape.  President Wilson had given General Pershing, the commander of the American Army in World War I, the authority to do whatever was necessary to win the war at a time when America’s French and British allies were on the point of exhaustion.

The causalities of this campaign, worse than Gettysburg, D-day, the Battle of the Bulge or any other American battle, were beyond belief.  Over a period of 47 days American deaths averaged over 500 a day.  Reports of the enormity of the carnage shocked Americans at home.

Wilson had wept at his desk in the Oval Office over the prospect of such massive destruction.  Alvin York, also a committed Christian, had resisted being drafted but then came to believe the war was necessary to avoid greater evil and went on to be a war hero in the Argonne Forest battle.  Wilson believed the reason for the war was to make the world safe for democracy and indeed that it would be the “war to end all wars.”

Ironically the easiest way for contemporary Americans to get some sense of this battle is in the movie Wonder Woman.  In spite of being a comic book fantasy the film does give some sense of the devastation of World War I.

Jesus warned that there would be “wars and rumors of wars” before his return (Matt. 24:6).  We are called to be peace makers (Matt. 5:9).  Yet the tragedy of war continues.  We need to dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of peace recognizing that war is an inevitable sign of human sin.

Gracious and faithful God, may I be, in the words of Francis of Assisi, an instrument of peace.  I pray for our national leaders and indeed the leaders of the world.  I pray for veterans who struggle to return to normal life.  Finally I pray for those families who have lost loved ones in military battles.  I continue to pray that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

Paul here is writing to a church that he established by God’s grace and one for which he had a special fondness (Acts 16:1-40).  Paul is writing from prison probably from Rome (Acts 28:16,30-31) and he is then facing the possibility of execution at the hands of Nero.  The Philippians are concerned about him.  They also would be concerned for themselves.  The fact that they had the privilege of Roman citizenship would normally have given them security.  Yet Paul was a Roman citizen.  If he could be executed for his faith in Christ so could they.  The whole situation appears to be an anxious one.  However, Paul in the midst of this is joyful and he wants to encourage the Philippians to be joyful too.

Chapter 1:1-14 – “Greater Boldness and Without Fear”

 

  1. Paul’s Prayer – 1:1-11

This letter is from Paul and Timothy.  Timothy himself was an early convert who accompanied Paul on his ministry to Philippi along with Luke and Silas.  We can presume that Timothy was staying with Paul during his house arrest in Rome.  (Acts 28:30).   Paul presumably has heard from Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:19-30) of the Philippians’ concerns about him and invariably their own vulnerability if Nero proceeds to hunt down Christians and kill them (which of course he does).

Paul wants to do more than encourage the Philippians (who also have internal conflicts).  He wants them to share his joy.  How can Paul be joyful under arrest in Rome awaiting possible execution?  Paul has several reasons for his joy.

The first is that he wants to remind the Philippians that they are saints.  He has a similar greeting to his other churches (I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1).  They are saints solely through the grace of God. They have been made saints in Christ by Christ and for Christ.  It is not an accomplishment on their part.  Karl Barth called grace God’s “Nevertheless.”  In spite of who and what we are, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Paul then adds that he not only thanks God for them but prays for them “with joy.”  They have shared with Paul in his ministry from the beginning when he first brought the gospel to them.  Paul uses the word “koinea” here which is often translated “community”.  However, Paul’s view of “koinea” is the idea of not only getting together for fellowship but is also the idea of sharing in a common goal.  This is a unity born of a shared goal and purpose.

Paul then states that his joy in based on a confident hope.  The God who began a good work in them will bring it to completion on the “day of Jesus Christ.”  This is an incredible statement of assurance.  Our salvation, our relationship to God is not our work.  It is God’s work.  God has called us to himself in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4).  We are not passive in this call.  However, the call does not depend on us.  The God who works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11) is the one who is bringing us to the full goal of life in Christ.  The day of Jesus Christ is nothing less than the victory of Jesus Christ.

Focus on Christ has changed the whole tenor of Paul’s situation.  He is not looking on his present status as a prisoner in Roman captivity.  Instead he is talking about the victory of Jesus Christ.  Paul certainly is no ordinary prisoner.

Paul rejoices in the fact that the Philippians hold him in their heart.  This is not a formal relationship.  It is deeply personal and also emotional.  Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is that their love may overflow more and more.  Paul sets before them no law, no set of rules or code of conduct.  He presents them as he does all his churches with the focus on love.  This is not love as a vague concept.  It is a love that in the Spirit overflows with knowledge and full insight.  The goal of this love is to enable the Philippians to “determine what is best.”

We should not read over this statement too quickly.  This “knowledge and full insight” is no small thing.  We will see later in this letter that there were those in this church as in many others who wanted to return to the Law, to the original controversy of the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1).  Love demands risks.  Faith also requires risks.  As we apply Christ’s love to the many difficult and complex issues of life we have to have the confidence that we already have a “harvest of righteousness.”  This comes from Jesus, not from us.  This harvest comes through him.  This is why faith and prayer are so important.  What is supremely important is the opening statement of grace (1:2).  Grace, God’s undeserved mercy, defines everything else.

Finally, the goal of our actions is not for our benefit, not even for the benefit of the church.  The goal quite simply is the “glory and praise of God.”  This goal then guides our knowledge and insight.   We don’t always have a clear understanding of how we are applying God’s love to particular situations.  We are sustained by Paul’s statement of confidence.  The work has already begun in us.  It will be completed as part of the final victory of Jesus Christ.  God has begun it.  God will complete it.  God will not fail.

  1. The Freedom of Imprisonment – 1:12-14

Paul now adds that his imprisonment, instead of being an obstacle, has in fact turned out to help spread the gospel!  Paul’s accusers had intended the exact opposite.  They wanted to eliminate Paul and silence his message.  However, the opposite was the result.

To say that Paul’s case was known by the “whole imperial guard” is an astonishing statement especially if we’re speaking of Rome with its thousands of troops.  This may be a generalization although Paul usually isn’t given to overstatement.  Certainly the idea of a Roman citizen being imprisoned over a message about the death of what in Rome’s eyes was an obscure carpenter would have received attention.  The Roman historian Tacitus refers to Christianity as “a most mischievous superstition.”  Clearly the message was spreading.

Since this is Paul’s basic goal he does not lament the fact of his imprisonment.  What is even more striking is that the Christians of Rome were in fact more confident to spread the gospel (This however would not last.  When Paul’s situation became more desperate he was abandoned by the other Christians, II Tim. 4:16).

For the moment he is encouraging the Philippians (and us) with his hopeful attitude.  This attitude is not based on his circumstances as serious as they appear to be.  It is based instead on the promise of the One who already began a good work in them.  Because of this they should be prepared to speak God’s Word “with greater boldness and without fear.”  That should be true of us as well.

Questions for Us –

  1. Why is it so important that we all share together in the work of the gospel?
  2. How can we develop greater knowledge and insight in showing Christ’s love?
  3. What are some of the ways we can maintain confidence in the midst of trouble and adversity?

Next Study – Phil. 1:15-30 – “Christ will be Exalted”

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 22:26-31

David’s tone here changes from the previous section.  He is no longer congratulating himself for his righteousness and blameless conduct.  He turns his focus now to God.  He makes the initial point that God responds to what we do.  God both rewards and punishes.  Our actions do matter.  David here seems to be struggling with two views of himself.  On the one hand he insists that he is following “the ways of the Lord” (v. 22) consistently and completely.  On the other side, as reflected in this passage, he expresses his dependence on the Lord.  God is the lamp that lightens his darkness.  It is in the Lord that he can win his battles.  God clearly favors the humble and resists the proud (even a proud David).

David shows himself to be a two-sided figure.  All of us in different ways are a Jekyll and Hyde or, in Biblical terns, we struggle with the flesh and the Spirit.  Therefore what we see here in the same psalm is David defending himself to the point of boasting and then expressing his reliance on the Lord.  This section concludes with a great affirmation of faith:

“. . . the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”

How can David both be the person after God’s own heart and a brutal murderer and adulterer at the same time?  We are reminded of Paul’s lament, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18).

This coming Sunday we will be looking at the life of Woodrow Wilson who was probably America’s most Christian president.  The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was deeply committed to Christ.  He practiced an unbroken routine of daily prayer and Bible study.  Yet he also promoted racism and spoke well of the hate-filled film, The Birth of a Nation.  He could be vindictive and uncompromising.

We are all of us mixtures of grace and sin.  We need to learn from the examples of both scripture and history that God’s way alone is perfect. He alone is the shield for all who take refuge in him.

Most merciful and loving God may I depend on you more and more.  Keep me from the temptations which continually arise from my sinful nature.  May I rejoice more and more in your way.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 22:17-25

David in this passage exults in the deliverance which God brings him.  He praises God for having heard him in his distress.  He describes his deliverance in terms of someone who was drowning but then was rescued.  He says that God brought him into a “broad place.” According to David God delivered him because God delighted in him.  That is to say God placed his hand of mercy and strength on David because God chose to favor him.

However then David goes on to say why God has favored him.  He says it is because of his righteousness.  David declares that his hands are clean.  He has kept “the ways of the Lord.”  He has not “wickedly departed” from God and his statues.  He says he is blameless and that is why God has delivered him according to his own righteousness and “cleanness.”

This whole section reeks of spiritual pride.  What David says here is simply wrong.  A later psalm not attributed to David asks, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).  David himself later would write, “There is no one who does good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3).

David at this point in his life, before he became king, was clearly caught up in spiritual pride.  This pride would come back to haunt him both in his abuse of Bathsheba and her husband Uriah and his taking a census in disobedience to God (II Sam. 11:1-27; 24:1-17).

So why is this prayer of David’s in scripture?  It is here because we learn from negative examples as well as positive ones.  The Holy Spirit has recorded David’s words faithfully (as the Spirit does with all the characters of scripture).  However the Spirit would not endorse David’s prideful attitude.

If David fell into spiritual pride how much more can we fall into the same temptation?  We may not use the words of the Pharisee who prayed, “God I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11).  However we can easily fall into the same attitude without explicitly saying so.

We have no claim on God.  However, fortunately, God has a claim on us.  We haven’t loved God but the great truth is that God loves us in spite of our sin (I John 4:10).  This is our confidence and hope.

Merciful and loving God, keep me from the sin of spiritual pride.  I praise you for the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ in whose name I pray, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 3, 2018

Monday, September 3, 2018

“100 years Later: America’s Most Christian President”

II Samuel 22:1-16

This is a psalm of deliverance prayed by David when he was in battle with King Saul.  David would go on to become the greatest political leader in history in spite of his flaws.  Yet in his description here he is in a desperate situation.  In dramatic terms he speaks of the waves of death surrounding him.  He talks about being caught up in “the snares of death.”

David’s experience parallels that of anyone in a desperate situation.  This may be the result of illness, family conflicts or problems in work or school.  Human life especially in the sinful world which, in various ways, each of us has chosen is vulnerable to tragedy and distress.  Job says “human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).  It seems that trouble and difficulty are unavoidable.

David has nowhere to turn except to the Lord.  It is here that David gives a great expression of hope.  God faces none of the limitations that confront us.  When God takes action the earth shakes and the foundations of the heavens tremble.  Yet God emerges in “darkness” and “thick clouds.”  This is to emphasize the fact that God’s ways are not always clear to us.  God himself however appears in “brightness.”

We can identify with David’s description of distress.  However there are times when we don’t encounter the presence of God in spite of our calling out to him.  In those times we need to remember that God always hears.  However he may delay in responding.  Jesus himself acknowledges that God doesn’t always intervene in human tragedy (Luke 13:1-5).  The tragedies of the world are not God’s fault.  The world has chosen to rebel against God in many ways.  We are not exempt.  Jesus calls all of us to repent because we are all like sheep who have gone astray (Isa. 53:6).  Yet as Jesus indicates we can’t account for why some people suffer more than others.

David’s confidence in the midst of his deep distress is in God who does hear and who finally acts in justice and mercy.  We need to trust in Him more and more.

Merciful and loving God build up my faith in you.  May I not be discouraged or disheartened when I face trouble and turmoil in my life.  Speak through the darkness  and reveal yourself to me more and more.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sunday, September 2, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:11-15

Paul counsels his friend Gaius not to be overly upset by the negative behavior of Diotrephes which we discussed yesterday.  John gives Gaius the basic advice to imitate what is good not what is evil.  We cannot shy away from conflict and controversy.  However we don’t need to be defined by the upheavals and failures around us.  Having discussed the negative example of Diotrephes John now turns to a positive one.  He mentions the example of Demetrius who stands for the truth.

We encounter many examples around us.  Some are clearly good and others are not.  We cannot avoid the different extremes we face in life.  However we have to ask ourselves what are the models we want to follow.  Obviously our primary model is Jesus Christ.  Yet there are people in the concrete present who can either bring us closer to Christ or push us away from him.  We need to choose the examples we wish to follow.

John ends this brief epistle on a personal note.  He wishes that instead of communicating by letter they could see each other “face to face.”  We live in a world when face to face communication is less and less common.  We have texts, tweets, I pods, e-mails and social media in more forms than we can count.  We can contact anyone anywhere anytime.  However that doesn’t mean that we are fully communicating with them.  There is no substitute for face to face interaction.

One day we will see Jesus face to face (I Cor. 13:12).

Faithful and loving God I thank you for the positive examples you bring into my life.  May I imitate what is good.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 1, 2018

Saturday, September 1, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:9-10

Last month we heard a number of reports of serious scandals in churches.  Particular attention was focused on the Roman Catholic Church with a long series of accusations of priests sexually abusing young boys.  Claims were made that these actions were covered up even by the Pope himself.  An archbishop has even called for the pope to resign in the face of the scandal.

We also heard of a major scandal at the evangelical mega-church Willow Creek which led to the resignation not only of the pastor but of the entire pastoral staff and the board of Elders.  This was hardly the only example of such serious actions on the part of evangelical Christian leaders.  All of this contributes to an essentially negative image of the church, one in which the church appears to be morally bankrupt.

As distressing as all this is it is hardly new.  In this passage we read of warnings against a church leader named Diotrephes who according to John, likes to put himself first, doesn’t acknowledge authority and spreads false accusations.  To put it mildly this is the picture of a very disruptive person.  Two issues that emerge here that are still with us in the present scandals are those of church leaders who focus on themselves more than their ministry or congregations and, second, do not have adequate supervision.

We are obviously shocked by all this.  These situations cry out for justice and accountability.  Yet we need to recognize that all of us struggle with the ongoing conflict between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).  None of us is without sin.  We cannot cast the first stone (John 8:1-11).

As we learn from positive examples we need also to learn from negative ones such as Diotrephes

Eternal and loving God keep me from the temptation to focus on myself and avoid supervision.  I pray for justice and mercy for all those affected by church scandals which scar the Body of Christ.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday, August 31, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:5-8

John speaks of friends being strangers.  How can this be?  The point at issue here is that in Christ we are not only friends but brothers and sisters.  These friends who are strangers, in other words believers in the same Christ, appear to be missionaries.  John states that they began their journey for the sake of Christ.  John adds, “You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God.”

Missions changes its form over the years and centuries but not its basic character.  It is all about communicating the truth of Jesus Christ.  People in the United States today see little more than the trappings of Christian faith.  What needs to be discovered is the vital, abundant life in Christ (John 10:10).  People today know less and less about the true gospel in all its force and power.

Regarding those who go out in whatever manner John enjoins us “to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.”  How do we support the efforts to communicate the gospel?  Each one of us has a talent that can be used in the Lord’s service.  We can’t pray for everyone perhaps but we can pray for some whether they serve in the church, the Salvation Army or student ministries like Inter-Varsity and Cru as well as those who may be called to serve overseas.

Our support clearly also includes our financial resources.  Ministry is costly in many ways, spiritually, physical and emotionally.  It is also costly in terms of monetary expenses.  We can’t support the Lord’s work in a half-hearted or superficial way.  Because truth is finally found only and completely in Jesus Christ we need to support the communication of that truth with our time, talents and finances.

Eternal and gracious God and Savior may I make the spread of your good news a priority in my life.  May I give of all my resources to support the message of new life in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:1-4

John here appears to be writing here to a specific individual.  Other than his name, Gaius, we know little about him.  The context here is that some mutual friends have arrived with a good report about him testifying to the fact that he is faithful to the truth.

John picks up a theme here from his previous letter about walking in the truth.  He refers to this no less than three times in a few short sentences.  The report which leads to John being overjoyed is that Gaius is faithful to the truth and walks in it.

Truth, as we have seen for John, is personified as Jesus (John 14:6).  Yet to say this is to invoke truth in all its fullness.  Truth relates to every aspect of human life whether it be history, economics, politics as well as the personal expression of truth in our own lives.

We think in terms of knowing the truth or being accurate about the truth.  Yet for John the critical idea that he presents several times is the whole idea of walking in the truth.  Truth in effect then is a way of life.  Truth involves honesty, integrity and openness.  The final form of truth of course is Jesus Christ who was the most truthful person that ever lived.

In addition to factual truth there is moral truth.  Truth never exists in isolation.  In order to accurately reflect reality it must be related to justice.  The apostle Paul harbored a fugitive slave Onesimus while he was under house arrest.  He had to hide the factual truth that Onesimus was a runaway slave both for his own benefit and to save Onesimus’ life (Acts 28:30; Philemon).

Finally there is spiritual truth.  When the woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus her accusers say that according to the Law of Moses she should be stoned.  This is true.  However there is a higher truth which is Jesus’ forgiveness.  This is the great spiritual truth that we all deserve condemnation but Christ came to save us (John 8:1-11; Rom. 5:8).

Faithful and loving God may I walk in your truth in the fullest sense.  May I continue to encounter truth in your Son in whose name I pray. Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

Acts 13:4-12

The opposition to the gospel is real.  Paul and Barnabas have set out on their first missionary journey.  They are being led by the Holy Spirit.  They have come to the island of Cyprus.  They begin proclaiming the Word of God in the Jewish synagogues.  After going through the entire island they encounter a figure named Bar-Jesus who is described as both a Jewish false prophet and a magician.  More significantly he is a close associate of the Roman proconsul on the island.

The proconsul is intrigued by the ministry of Paul and Barnabas and invites them to come speak to him.  However they are opposed by the magician and false prophet, Bar-Jesus.  Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, denounces the false prophet as a “son of the devil” and states they will be blind “for a while.”  The proconsul, seeing all this, believes the message of salvation.

There is no common ground between Paul and Barnabas and this magician or false prophet.  Paul doesn’t attempt to initiate a discussion with him.  Paul doesn’t even try to share the gospel with him.  He can only denounce him and basically place a curse on him!

What are we to make of this?  Shouldn’t Paul be presenting this magician with the gospel of God’s love and at least trying to call him to repentance and belief?  Paul makes no such effort.

We see here is the reality of evil.  This magician in effect is a demonic figure.  He can only be opposed.  While this is an extreme picture it needs to remind us that there can be no compromise or even engagement with genuine evil.   Evil here is revealed in its complete opposition to the gospel.  Satan is real and he has his disciples as well.  We have no reason to fear him but we need to be aware of him and recognize both his deceit and his destructive power.  We have the assurance that our faith gives us the victory that conquers the world (I John 5:4).

Faithful and merciful god and Savior I echo your Son’s prayer that I be delivered from evil.  Give me the grace to recognize it even when Satan disguises himself as “an angel of light.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

Acts 13:1-3

This is a concise picture of how the mission of Jesus Christ begins in a specific setting.  Paul (Saul) has been serving with Barnabas in the church in Antioch.  There were prophets and teachers in the church but no apostles.  Nor was there any written scripture beyond the Old Testament at this point.

In the context of worship the church (which had been growing notably, Acts 11:24) hears the voice of the Holy Spirit calling Saul and Barnabas into a new mission.  The church (probably the whole congregation) lays hands on them and sends them off.

Several things are noteworthy here.  The first is that the church does not initiate this new mission.  Still less do Saul and Barnabas volunteer for it.  The mission is not the result of some project or study which the church has undertaken.

The Holy Spirit calls Saul and Barnabas by name.  However the Spirit doesn’t speak only to them.  The Spirit speaks to the whole congregation.  The congregation then validates the call.  The mission begins with the Spirit and will continue at the direction of the Spirit.

Much of the church’s ministry is sustained by volunteers.  However following the pattern in this text we finally believe that people are called by the Holy Spirit in specific ministries.  That call never comes to a single individual.  It is always validated by the community.  Even Moses’ call was confirmed by his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam.  Saul’s conversion was confirmed by Ananias.

It can also be the case that the community presents the call initially to the person.  This is our pattern of calling leaders in the church whether they are pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, musicians or a host of other roles.

We need to thank God that the Holy Spirit continues to call people into ministry and service.

Gracious and loving God may I be ready to respond whenever you call me into your service.  Give me your strength and assurance.  I pray for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.