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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

“Walking in the Truth”

Gal. 2:15-21

Paul here gives a basic summary of his view of the gospel.  He acknowledges its roots in Judaism.  The central focus of Israel’s faith was the law given to Moses both in the essential Ten Commandments and the full exposition found in the Torah, the five books of Moses which begin both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures.

Paul is emphatic that no one will be justified, made right with God, by doing the “works of the law.”  It is only belief in Christ, in his victorious death and resurrection, that we are saved, The obvious conclusion from this is that we have done nothing to earn or merit God’s favor.  Using the example of Abraham Paul makes clear that Abraham was not rewarded for anything he had done.  He could not boast of any achievement on his part (Rom. 4:1-8).  This is the meaning of grace, God’s unmerited gift.

Paul’s critics down through the ages beginning with his own contemporaries have said this is too easy.  Doesn’t our behavior, essentially our works, contribute to our salvation?  Paul’s answer is an emphatic no.  His view of works is centered in the many demands of the law.  The law only identifies sin.  (Rom. 3).  If we focus on the law we only become discouraged and disheartened.  None of us measures up (Rom. 7:7-25).

The fact that we are justified by faith “not by works” (Eph. 2:9) is not a license to indulge our sinful nature.  For Paul no one who has experienced the grace of God can ever make light of it.  Works are the sign of our salvation not the cause of it.

Paul’s teaching cannot be emphasized enough.  There is always a temptation to want to claim some merit for ourselves.  Paul himself struggles with this (I Cor. 15:10).  There is a human desire to have the clear boundaries of rules and regulations.  Yet faith cannot be reduced to a formula any more than love can.  There is a certain security in following the law.  The guide lines are clear.  Yet this is a false security.  In one of his most powerful statements Paul says, “if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

Merciful and gracious God and Savior I cannot thank you enough for the fact that Christ has done everything necessary for my salvation.  May Christ continue to live in me as you have promised.  I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

 “Walking in the Truth”

Gal. 2:1-14

Paul here stakes out his position as an apostle of Jesus Christ.  He had his own deliberate calling from God.  He was not dependent on the earlier disciples.  He speaks of two visits to Jerusalem separated by a period of fourteen years.  On this reckoning there is some seventeen years between Paul’s conversion and the beginning of his missionary career.  Prior to that Paul had been serving with Barnabas in Antioch.  He was essentially in Gentile territory bringing the gospel to non-Jewish Romans.

Yet as we know from the description of the council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts chapter 15 there was a segment of the early church that still felt bound by the Law of Moses as stated in the first five books of the Old Testament.  Paul even gives an intriguing picture of false believers who were brought in to spy on the freedom that Paul and his companions had in the gospel (was the room they were meeting in bugged?).

Thankfully, at the council of Jerusalem the freedom of the gospel was affirmed as Paul indicates here.  No one less than Peter stood up at that council and said “Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11).

Unfortunately we see Peter fall back into the trap of what we would call “legalism” when he visits Antioch.  This also introduces a racial element in that Peter did not want to be seen eating with Gentiles when other Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came.  Peter had already been criticized for associating with Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3).  He then drew back from Gentile Christians when the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived.

Paul saw all this as hypocrisy.  The gospel was not about living by any specific law beyond the law of love (Rom. 13:8-10).  Paul would not back down on that.  The freedom of the gospel was at stake.  All of us can easily try to make ourselves look better by following some accepted code of behavior.  Jesus was criticized for not following the law (Matt. 12:1-8).  So was Paul (Acts 21:27-28).

Something more important than the law was at stake.

Eternal and gracious God and Savior may I never take for granted the freedom I have in you.  May I use that freedom to show your love.  I pray for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, August 20, 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018

“Walking in the Truth”

Gal. 1:1-10

Paul gets right to the point.  He opens his letter with a thorough introduction.  He makes it clear that he is an apostle commissioned not by any human authority but by Jesus Christ himself.  He is writing not to a single congregation but to all the churches in the province of Galatia which included many of the mission sites that he visited and where he had established churches – Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

Paul then gets right to the center of his concern.  The theme of Paul’s gospel is the cross of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:18) which takes away our sins and sets us free in every sense of the word.  For Paul, freedom is the hallmark of the Christian (Rom. 5:15-17; 6:18; 8:2; I Cor. 9:19; II Cor. 3:17; Gal. 5:1).  Freedom of course has to be lived out responsibly (Gal. 5:13) but such concerns cannot be used to put limits on our freedom as Paul will soon demonstrate.

Paul is not confronting a minor problem.  He says that he is astonished that the Galatian churches are turning away from Paul’s teaching to a “different gospel.”  Paul however quickly adds that there cannot be another gospel.  He feels so strongly about this that he calls down curses on those who are perverting the gospel.

Paul’s conflict has continued throughout history.  The message of freedom in Christ has been distorted and even rejected in attempts to bring the church, and Christians in general, under some form of law, some standard of spiritual rules and obligations.  Clearly the law is central to the whole Biblical narrative but as Paul will argue in this letter the law’s function was to be our teacher, our disciplinarian until we came to Christ and experienced the great truth of justification by faith (Gal. 3:23-24).  We are saved by grace, God’s mercy, not by any accomplishments or achievements on our part (Eph. 2:8-9).

Why would anyone want to turn away from such a liberating message?  One possible reason is fear.  Freedom can be frightening.  How are we to be sure of what we should do or even believe?  Some think the answer is to have clear requirements, to have all the answers spelled out before we even encounter the real questions.  Yet fear of any kind is a denial of God’s love (I John 4:18).

There is only one gospel.  Jesus Christ has set us free from guilt, fear and death itself.  There can be no substitute for that.

Most faithful and loving God, keep me focused on the freedom I have received in your Son, Jesus Christ.  Take away my fears, I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still and Know That I am God

Be Still and Know That I am God

Selah

Thousands of years ago a psalmist wrote, “The nations are in an uproar” and “The earth melts.” The solution was for people to find their way to the refuge, the city where God was present. They waited for Messiah, and for God to take charge. Christians have met their Messiah. While we wait for “that day,” when God will complete God’s plan to fully transform all of creation, we have work to do. We still need the “selah,” the pause that can settle our inner tumult and chaos. We need the “selah” to help us experience God on a deeper level than our logical minds tend to go. When we discipline ourselves to stop, to turn our heart and mind to God, blessings happen. We can breathe, find gratitude, and rest. Our Christian tradition has a strong stream of mystics and contemplatives who invite us to the spiritual disciplines. These disciplines enhance our Bible-study, worship and prayer. They offer a refuge and haven from our tumult-filled world and inner selves. God invites us to pause, to be still, and to know God on a deep, intimate level. Will we accept the invitation?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still and Know that I am God

Be Still and Know that I am God

Psalm 46: 10-11
NRSV: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Message: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.
JPS: “Desist! Realize that I am God! I dominate the nations; I dominate the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our haven.

The psalmist uses the term Raphah, “leaving off (your own attempts),” “desisting,” with its sense of stopping motion, both internal and external, so that one thing remains. This same term is used in 1 Samuel 15:16. Samuel uses this term when he confronts Saul, who is making excuses for not obeying God’s command to him. Samuel says to Saul, “Rapha!”- “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” It could even mean, “shut up!” The psalmist seems to be saying to the warring nations-“Cut it out right now!” Eugene Peterson translates this as “Step out of traffic!” The psalmist puts the focus back on God, away from the raging nations and the chaos of creation. God claims God’s rightful place in our attention. This can be excellent advice for modern listeners.

This famous phrase “Be still and know that I am God” is an excellent prayer meditation. Richard Rohr uses this verse to create a meditative prayer that can help us enter the refuge and haven God offers us. The link below also provides a video if you need a visual prompt to help you enter into a contemplative space where we can experience the truth of God’s invitation.

Find a quiet space and say this prayer slowly as many times as you like:
“Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.”
From The Work of the People: (https://www.theworkofthepeople.com/be-still),

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still

Be Still

Psalm 46: 8, 9
NRSV: Selah. Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
Message: Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee.
JPS: Selah. Come and see what the Lord has done, how He has wrought desolation on the earth. He puts a stop to wars throughout the earth, breaking the bow, snapping the spear, consigning wagons to the flames.

Psalm 46 recalls prophesies in Isaiah, especially with its use of Jehovah Tsaba, the Lord of Hosts, a term used primarily in the prophetic books of the Bible. The Lord will put an end to war, everywhere on earth. This recalls the prophesy in Isaiah 2:1-4, when nations won’t learn war anymore and when all the nations “shall stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house,” “to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

This is the God who is with us, who comes to our aid, who is our refuge and helper. The psalmist invites us to “behold what the Lord has done,” using the poetic term chazah, “to meditate on.” We can meditate on how our God ends wars and warring. Meditating on God’s word can be a powerful companion to reading it. See what you experience.

Choose a quiet place to sit. Set a timer for at least 5 minutes. Repeat three times slowly: “You are a God who puts a stop to wars throughout the earth.” Sit quietly and experience whatever thoughts arise. Note whatever feelings arise. Ask God to be with you as your helper in anything that comes up.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still

Be Still

Psalm 46: 6,7
NRSV: The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Message: Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten, but Earth does anything he says. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.
JPS: Nations rage, kingdoms topple; at the sound of His thunder the earth dissolves. The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our haven.

Psalm 46 describes God in the midst of God’s city, his holy dwelling-place. This place will not be toppled because it belongs to God and “God will come to its aid.” Earthly things topple- nations, kings, and kingdoms. But God’s presence is with God’s people; God’s presence protects God’s people. Some scholars name this city as Jerusalem, although the psalmist does not. God’s presence is not limited to an earthly place. Richard Rohr ( https://resurrectedliving.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/god-is-with-us/)
writes:

“Psalm 46 points out the contrast between an unstable world, where natural disasters can strike at any minute and where politics can make life hard, and a secure city where God is with his people…”

“God is present with his people in the middle of the city, but what city is the psalmist referring to? At first one might guess Jerusalem, since this was the city of David and the place where the temple was located, but interestingly the psalmist never names the city. For a time God dwells in Jerusalem in the temple, but eventually Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. It could refer to the city Abraham was looking for, a city of God here on earth, but I think what the psalmist has in mind is God’s presence with his people. It is not so much a physical city as it is wherever the people of God are located. God has promised he will be with his people. Even though the waters roar, the mountains tremble, and the nations are in an uproar, God is with his people and they are secure. They will not be moved.”

“Throughout the history of Israel God was present with his people. Even after the presence of the Lord departs the temple in the book of Ezekiel, God is still with the remnant, those who remained faithful even in exile. Echoes of these stories are heard in Psalm 46 that repeats the refrain ‘the Lord of hosts is with us.’ And all these stories point forward to the promise of Emmanuel, a time when God will be with his people like never before.”

Our protection is remembering, calling upon, believing in God’s presence with us, whatever is happening around us. God constantly reminds us, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Simply remembering “God is with me” means we are not alone. The same God who led and protected Jacob, who leads the heavenly host, is with us. This belief can keep us from being moved, knocked of our feet, terrified. This belief is our haven and refuge.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still

Be Still

Psalm 46: 4-5
NRSV: Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
Message: River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High. God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn.
JPS: Selah. There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holy dwelling-place of the Most High. God is in its midst, it will not be toppled; by daybreak God will come to its aid.

With “Selah,” the verse shifts to a peaceful scene. Selah is an ancient term, thought to be a pause in the sung psalm, in which the music continues but the words pause briefly (www.BlueLetterBible.com). This pause allows a shift from the terrifying chaos of verses 2 and 3 to the calming scene with flowing river and God’s presence in verses 4 and 5. This city, “the holy habitation of God Most High, is Jerusalem and would represent, to the people who first heard the psalm, Zion. [Zion represents King Davids’s city (1 kings 8:1), then Jerusalem (Psalm 87:2), itself and also God’s chosen Israel (Psalm 87:5). For Christians, it is the heavenly city in Rev 14:1 at the end of time.] It is a powerful symbol of a safe place, the refuge the psalmist seeks.

“Selah” plays a crucial role in allowing this shift from danger to safety, from chaos to calm. We need “Selahs” in our lives, especially when we our minds are roaring, our guts are in tumult, our hearts are melting. How can we experience this shift from uproar to peace in God’s presence? We must seek refuge.

A powerful tool is Ignatian lectio divina, a contemplative and prayerful method of reading scripture. “Contemplation” is the word Ignatius used to describe a type of prayer that can increase intimacy with the Lord. He invites us to “enter the scene,” using all our imaginative senses, and let it reveal God to us. Slowly read Psalm 46:1-4 (in any translation.). Allow yourself to be standing in the midst of this psalm’s chaos. Be aware of what you see, smell, hear, taste. Notice the action around you. Notice the feelings you or thoughts you have. Where are you drawn or pushed away? Where is God? Stay with your experience longer than you think you need to. Allow God to speak to you through this experience. Ask God how this relates to your life today. God promises to be with us and to help us, but God doesn’t always rescue us from trouble. We must pause and seek God’s presence in the midst of trouble.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still

Be Still

Apologies that due to a MailChimp glitch, Monday’s devotion did not go out.  Here it is!

This week Pastor Margo will examine Psalm 46 and what it offers to people addicted to activity, to motion, to distraction.

46:1
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (NRSV)
God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. (Message)
God is our refuge and stronghold, a help in trouble, very near. (JPS)

Psalm 46 describes a cacophony of activity in the universe: creation experiences earthquakes and roaring waters, while civilization experiences war and nations in uproar. Even God seems part of the chaos, melting earth with his voice. What can this psalm tell people addicted to the tumult of the news cycle and locked into schedules, to people who are “harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd?” (Matthew 9:36)

“Refuge” in Hebrew is machaceh, which connotes a shelter from danger, and in this psalm specifically- the person to whom one flees. This term is used in other psalms. In both Psalm 73:28 and 91:9 the sense is of the person making the Lord their refuge. “Strength” in Hebrew is oz, in the sense of a strong tower or high rock. Psalm 62: 7 says, “my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.” God is ezrah, “one who helps,” or in Psalm 60:12, the one “who treads down our foes.” This help is findable and obtainable, very present. God is “ready to help,” nearby. How do we activate or experience God as our protection? How do we enter into God as a refuge like the psalmists describe?

This psalm contains an answer: “Be still.” Few of us are facing the literal danger the psalmist describes. So how do we apply this to our lives today? There’s an old expression: God can only be experienced in the moment, in the present. So somehow we must “get still” inside regardless of the chaos outside. A powerful spiritual discipline to this end is from the tradition of Benedictine lectio divina.

Set a timer for at least 5 minutes and settle down in a chair. You can do this by yourself or with others. Say the phrase in 46:1 slowly and meditatively two times. It is important to hear the words, out loud or in your mind, not to read them. Ask God to highlight a word or phrase. Sit with it. Say the phrase again slowly, as if you are chewing on the words. Ask God to expand on the phrase, to “flesh it out.” Sit with it. Say the phrase again a third time slowly. Ask God, “How am I to respond to this?” If you are doing this practice with others, you can share your observations at each step.

You can find many resources on this spiritual discipline. https://www.thereligionteacher.com/lectio-divina-steps/ contains a helpful video on the practice. You can also play with this practice, as the whole idea is to let God speak through God’s word. Be still.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Be Still

Be Still

Psalm 46:2-3
NRSV: Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
Message: We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains.
JPS: Therefore, we are not afraid though the earth reels, though mountains topple into the sea- its waters rage and foam; in its swell mountains quake. Selah

Joel 3 describes a scene of war, tumult and chaos as God prepares to judge the nations, “for the day of the Lord is near (v. 14). But God speaks promises of safety to God’s people, “the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel” (v. 16). Even in this chaotic scene of God’s final judgment, God is a refuge for those who belong to him. Psalm 46 describes a similar scene, earthquakes and tsunamis, that inspire terror. But as in Joel, “ God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46: 1).

How can these words comfort us today? How can we not be afraid in the face of chaos, wars, disaster, disease, and all the pressing issues that rock us in our lives and create inner tumult, rush and roar? How can we find God’s promised refuge? God’s answer is “be still, and know that I am God (46:10). Doing a “Write” is a contemplative, prayerful way to still our thoughts, and connect with the abiding spirit of God within.

Read the entire Psalm 46. Set aside at least 15 undisturbed minutes. Use blank paper, sit upright in comfort and play music or sit quietly. Begin wherever your thoughts are, writing down whatever words are running through your mind, following them until a word “jars” or “draws” you, causing some kind of inner response. When this happens, write the question- “What does this mean? Then answer that question, and continue writing whatever comes to mind, or your emotions, or your memory. See where this goes. When the time is finished, sit in stillness, then prayerfully examine what you’ve written.
When feeling stirred up, upset, worried, or unsettled, a “write” can often help still our mind and find questions we may be wrestling with. Then we can ask God into our questions.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Grappling

Grappling

Grappling
Krypto– to conceal oneself

Jesus said all this, and then went into hiding (John 12:36b).

In John 8, Jesus is in the temple when the scribes and Pharisees bring in a woman caught in adultery, ready to punish her by stoning. Jesus confounds them by refusing to condemn her. He sends her out, cautioning her to sin no more. Then he claims to be “the light of the world.” “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life (8:12). He predicts his own death, explains his true disciples will be freed by knowing the truth, and predicts his Father will glorify him. When they start to stone him, Jesus hides himself.

The action in chapter 12 is similar. Jesus confronts crowds who are not certain who he is (but who hear God glorifying Jesus), claims he refuses to condemn the world (only the devil), and invites people to walk in the light of his life. But then he withdraws, hiding himself. John writes that the same people who had been present when Jesus gave many signs still did not believe him (12:37). Just like the poor, unbelievers will always be with us. But the darkness of unbelief will not overcome the light. F. Dale Bruner cautions, “Only where a clear witness to Jesus rings out is there a clear Light still shining.” Now that Jesus’ earthly light no longer walks the earth, we the Church follow in his footsteps. We are the light of the world, a light to be put on a lamp stand, a light that will shine so others will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

How do you feel about being given the responsibility to represent Christ’s light in the world? Do you shine your light more individually or as part of the church?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Gratitude and Grappling

Gratitude and Grappling

Gratitude

Peripateo– to walk, to make one’s way, to make progress, to make a due use of opportunities

Voices from the crowd answered, “We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light” (John 12:34-36a).

Jesus seems to ignore the crowd’s question about his identity, preferring to emphasize his important invitation and warning. Jesus is the light that will draw all people to himself. This text continues to breathe life and truth after 2000 years. These crowds and disciples saw and experienced Jesus, told others, lived differently, continued to tell his story and to walk in a new way. We are the inheritors of his invitation: walk by the light, keep on walking by the light, believe in the light. F. Dale Bruner argues Jesus is saying: “Stick close to my Apostolic community- the faithful Church- where alone this Light is plugged in and shines out and where alone people do, in fact, keep on getting this Light to pass on to others.”

Jesus warns that the darkness can still overwhelm, because the devil’s defeat does not mean the devil’s absence. That is why his church continually prays, “Deliver us from evil.” But his focus is on the invitation to become children of light, or as Bruner says, “children of the Light in the Family of Light.” Today’s disciples need to heed both the invitation and the warning. We must make good use of the opportunity to contain the light of Christ and to be his children. Then we, too, can pass along both the light and Christ’s invitation, while we are able.

How can we, the Grace Family of Light, shine the light of Christ and pass on the light of Christ?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Grace, Gratitude and Grappling

Grace, Gratitude and Grappling

Grace
Ekballo– cast out of the world (be deprived of the power and influence exercised in the world)

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.” The listening crowd said, “Thunder!” Others said, “An angel spoke to him!” Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death. (John 12: 28b-33, The Message)

This is the only time in John when God speaks out loud from heaven to Jesus. So let us pay attention to this voice! God says he has glorified himself (in Jesus’ ministry) and will glorify himself again (in Jesus’ upcoming death, resurrection, ascension and church). Knowing this we might pray more soberly, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” In Jesus’ case glorifying God means Jesus’ crucifixion. Strangely, the listening crowd hears different things. So Jesus clarifies the message, since he desires this crowd would understand what they are hearing and pass God’s words into the future.

Jesus clarifies that “now” something momentous is happening: Satan is being cast out of the world, “thrown out from over us,” or as F. Dale Bruner explains: “exorcised.” Bruner argues that although the devil still roams about, this “should not figure anymore as a central reality in believers’ lives” as the devil has no ultimate power or supremacy over believers. We still puzzle over 1 John 5:18-19:
“We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.” Bruner argues that there are both a rebel world of unbelievers and false believers, and a world of believers. The devil still tempts believers, but from below, having been cast out from over them. Now- all human beings are now drawn in to Jesus’s cross, and the entire human race has been reconciled to God. This is grace. And now Jesus’ disciples can live for the glory of God and glorify God’s name.

How can believing in this amazing grace, that the devil can no longer dominate believers, release Jesus’ disciples to gather around him and his gospel?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Grief
Tarasso– to agitate, trouble (a thing, by the movement of its parts to and fro) (www.BibleGateway.com)

Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’ (John 12:27-28a, The Message)

Jesus is “troubled,” “depressed,” “storm-tossed.” The Greek term tarasso is used by the writer of John to express Jesus’ grief over the weeping of Mary and the crowds at the death of Lazarus (11:33), at the table with his disciples as he announces one of them would betray him (13:21), and in his beautiful advice to his disciples in chapter 14. There Jesus tells them that the solution to their troubled heart is to believe in him and in the God who sent him. Jesus promises them that the Father has a plan that involves making a space for each of them in heaven. Jesus promises to personally come to take them there. He concludes his advice the way he begins it- “do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” and “receive my peace”.

Jesus is depressed and overtaken with emotion that roils his guts with anxiety. This is how human Jesus is. He feels anxiety, terror, and depression- just like all of us. Jesus’ followers must continually re-remember Jesus as fully human, along with fully divine. Many followers find it easier to know Jesus as equal to God the Father, than to know Jesus as equal to themselves in their humanity. But some find this comforting knowledge.

When faced with an impossible choice, betrayal or loss, would you rather follow a leader like Jesus, who is familiar with terror and anxiety, or one who exhibits no emotions?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Grit, Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Grit, Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Grit
Akoloutheo– “to cleave steadfastly to one, conform wholly to his example, in living and if need be in dying also” (www.BlueLetterBible.com)

“Follow me.” This is a hard command from Jesus. We might envision meals of wine and bread, parables and teaching, one-on-one time with this charismatic figure. But Jesus dispels this fantasy in Matthew 10, telling his disciples about coming persecutions, betrayals, floggings. He instructs them to follow him by taking up their cross, and by loving him more than kin. “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (10:39). If we follow Jesus, we will be where Jesus is, “ready to serve at a moment’s notice” (John 12:26). The Father honors and rewards these disciples. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are with Jesus, serving him, although the high priests are plotting to kill both Jesus and Lazarus! High risks and high rewards.

Merrimack-Webster.com defines grit as “firmness of mind or spirit : unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” This is the quality Jesus exemplifies as he rides into Jerusalem and tells himself, “The time has come.” The disciples will not exhibit grit when hardship and danger comes. Most people don’t. MacArthur grant recipient Angela Duckworth defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance, but her TED talk and book describe grit as a means to the end of success. This is not how Jesus would define grit. The apostle Paul exhibits grit: “as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (2 Corinthians 6:4,5). Paul is not seeking worldly success but losing his life for Jesus’ sake, being where Jesus is and serving there. This is our challenge as today’s disciples of Christ.

Can you think of a time when you stood up as Christ’s servant like Paul? Or when you slunk away quietly like the disciples before Jesus’ crucifixion?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Grains, Grit, Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Grains, Grit, Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Pastor Margo’s devotions this week come from John 12: 20-36 (The Message).  See below.

Grains
Apothnesko– “of seeds, which while being resolved into their elements in the ground seem to perish by rotting” (www.BlueLetterBible.com)

This Greek word for death is used throughout the New Testament. But in John 12 it specifically references seeds that are sown but which rot instead of flourishing. Jesus uses this term to describe how his life resembles a grain of wheat that will perish by rotting in the ground. This single grain of his life will die, buried in the darkness and the unknown, but instead of rotting, God will transform it and bear much fruit from it. Jesus teaches that our lives can matter if, instead of remaining “just a single grain,” we release it to God’s transforming power. The power of each life, like a grain, lies in its potential to root, to grow and to bear a harvest. Planted in good soil by a patient sower, a seed will fulfill its purpose to multiply, just like Jesus’ followers.

Jesus taught that “anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life” and called his disciples to follow him, ultimately through death. But here Jesus is not calling his followers to die but to abandon their lives to God in the same fashion he does, “reckless” in love, so that they receive “real and eternal life,” and so their lives can be a blessing to others. Like Jesus, if we sacrifice our will to the will of God, God will bear fruit from our lives. Jesus was obedient to God’s plan and invites us to follow this path. Jesus says, “Follow me” to his disciples, so we must all follow this life-unto-death service.

Does following Jesus as disciples sometimes feel like being planted as a seed that will simply rot instead of flourishing? What are we afraid of?

John 12:20-36

There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?” Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

“Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’” A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.” The listening crowd said, “Thunder!” Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

Voices from the crowd answered, “We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.” Jesus said all this, and then went into hiding.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Greeks, Grains, Grit, Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Greeks, Grains, Grit, Grief, Gratitude, Grace, and Grappling!

Pastor Margo’s devotions this week come from John 12: 20-36 (The Message).
There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?” Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

“Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’” A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.” The listening crowd said, “Thunder!” Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

Voices from the crowd answered, “We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.” Jesus said all this, and then went into hiding.

Greeks
All the major players are in Jerusalem for the Passover: Jesus, the disciples, the crowds, the religious leaders, the Romans. Jesus has ridden into town on a donkey amid the crowd’s welcoming Hosannas and the religious leaders are lamenting that “the whole world is going after him” (12:19). Now the Greek pilgrims who’ve come to worship in Jerusalem are seeking to meet Jesus. Jesus’s response is strange: “It has arrived! The hour for the Son of Man to be glorified!” What do the Greeks have to do with the culmination of Jesus’ ministry? It’s unclear whether Jesus even meets the Greeks or whether they are in the crowds who hear his following message. They contact the only two disciples with Greek-sounding names, Philip and Andrew.

John’s only other mention of “the Greeks” is in chapter 7, which sets a similar scene to chapter 12. Jesus had come up from Galilee to Jerusalem in secret for a Jewish festival. His brothers were urging him to “go public” with his message but Jesus responds that it was not yet his time. The Pharisees were threatening to arrest or kill him since he was causing division among the crowds and claiming to be sent from God. Jesus tells the Jews he will not be around forever and they respond: “Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (7:36).

“Dispersion” in Greek is diaspora, a term used for the scattering of Israelites among foreign nations and, later, for the scattering of Jewish Christians among the Gentiles. The Jews in chapter 7 are really asking the rhetorical question, “Is he going into the non-Jewish world and teaching them about God?” The answer is clearly “Yes.” Something about the Greeks asking to see Jesus in chapter 12 spurs Jesus to announce that now is the time- for him to be “hoisted up,” and for everything else that follows.

Do we fall into the same trap as these Jews, assuming Jesus only came to save a select group, nation or religious denomination?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018

“Final Victory”

I John 5:14-21

Pilate asks Jesus the question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  That question has been debated throughout the ages.  There is a branch of study known as the sociology of knowledge.  This discipline focuses on the fact that our perception of truth is invariably affected by our social context, our experiences and perceptions.  Simply put, no one is neutral.  We all have our biases and prejudices.

Yet this Is not to say that truth doesn’t exist.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but we are not entitled to our own truth, our own private set of facts.  John in concluding this epistle focuses on the reality of truth that is in Jesus.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).  John uses the word “true” three times in his closing verses.  Jesus Christ is the “true God and eternal life.”  To know him is to know the one who is true.  As John has emphasized, “God is love” (I John 4:8, 16).  Everything else flows from this.  Without this love even the facts of the gospel don’t really matter (I Cor. 13:1-13).

The alternative to the truth in Jesus Christ are the lies of the evil one.  His power is expressed through the many idols he places before us.  Pilate’s Rome was a center of idolatry including the emperor himself who was known as a “son of god.”  We are to warn each other of the traps of the evil one (the “mortal sin” mentioned here may be giving oneself over to the Anti-christ or “the evil one”).

Because we are in Christ we have the boldness to come before God with any requests or needs.  His love has taken away our fears, giving us even “boldness on the day of judgement” (I John 4:17).  In Christ all the idols of this world have been unmasked.

Gracious and loving God keep me from the idols of this world and may I focus on your Son, Jesus Christ who alone is true.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, July 28, 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018

“Final Victory”

I John 5:1-13

John is reminding us here that we are in the midst of a spiritual conflict which spills over into all areas of life.  We still face “many anti-Christs” (I John 2:18).  The world continues to be a distraction (I John 2:15).

It is all the more important that we act out the implications of the great truth that God is love (I John 4:16).  If we believe in Jesus Christ we have to acknowledge that we need to live out his love.  John says that the love of God is to obey his commandments.  As we have seen, John is not thinking of the specifics of the demands of the Law of Moses.  He has already summed up the commandment which is the two fold requirement to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and to love one another (I John 3:23).  John says that the commandments are not burdensome.  Again he is not thinking of the letter of the law.  As we receive God’s love we are free to show that love to everyone.

This love convicts the world with its self-centered preoccupations.  Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world.  We do not overcome through physical force and intimidation.  As the apostle Paul says, we have “divine power” to destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God” (II Cor. 10:4-5).

Our victory is seen in our freedom from the false illusions and preoccupations of the world.  We also have the strength to expose the world with its Anti-christs for what they are, idols that can never satisfy.  On the other hand Jesus is the sole figure that brings abundant life (John 10:10).  Water and the blood here refer to baptism and the death of Christ on the cross which is symbolized by the cup in the communion service.

The gift of eternal life in Christ is not simply a life of endless duration.  It is the live lived in the presence of God.  As we saw yesterday this is the life that takes away all tears, pain and sorrow.  This truly is the victory that conquers the world.

Merciful and loving God may I live in the power of your love and in the name of your Son may I expose the illusions of the world around me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018

“Final Victory”

Revelation 21:1-5

Following the destruction of evil we have a prophetic picture of all things being made new.  Jesus Christ’s coming into the world initiates a new creation (II Cor. 5:17).  The world of sin and rebellion has passed away.  The promise of a new creation goes all the way back to the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 65:17-19).  The centerpiece of this new creation will be the New Jerusalem.  Yet this is Jerusalem the spiritual home not the present existing city (over which there continues to be great conflict).  This New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth.

The new creation is marked by three “no mores.”  First of all, there will be no more sea.  Why is this?  The sea was originally the symbol of chaos before creation (Gen. 1:1-2).  It was thought to be the abode of monsters like the Leviathan (Isa. 27:1; Matt. 12:38-40).  The Beast or Antichrist arises out of the sea (Rev. 13:1-4).  No more sea then signifies no more chaos and destruction.

The second “no more” is no more Death.  In the famous poetic language of John Donne Death has died by this point.  Death and its grim god Hades have been thrown into the lake of fire, the ultimate destruction (Rev. 20:14).  The final “no more” is no more “mourning and crying and pain.”

The positive point of this is that God will now dwell with mortals.  This is Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).  God himself will wipe away all tears.  We will see him face to face (I Cor. 13:12).  The God revealed in Jesus Christ will then be fully revealed.

These words are “trustworthy and true.”  When we struggle in a difficult and painful world we need to lay hold of the promise presented in this passage.    We look forward to the day when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15). Amen!

Gracious and loving God I thank you for the promise of your new creation.  May I live in terms of that new creation even now.   I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, July 26, 2018

Thursday, July 26, 2018

“Final Victory”

Revelation 20:7-15

This passage depicts the end of history.  Once again we have numerous symbolic elements.  Satan is loose after the thousand year period in which he was chained (“1000” being a number that symbolizes completeness).  There is a reference to “Gog and Magog” which are quotes from the Book of Ezekiel chapters 38-39).  More critically we have here the final destruction of evil.  The Devil, Death and Hades all will be destroyed.  There will be a final accounting of human history.  The dead are judged according to their works.

Yet we must ask, how does this scene relate to the gospel?  No mention is made here of justification by faith or salvation by grace.  Who is the one seated on the great white throne?  It may be God the Father or Jesus Christ.  If it is Christ he is in the role of judge.  This is consistent with Jesus’ warning that we will have to give an account for “every careless word” we say (Matt. 12:36).  Paul reminds us that our deeds will be evaluated before the judgment seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10).

We should not be distressed by these statements.  They are not intended to disturb basic believers in Christ.  They are however addressed to the self-righteous and those whom Paul calls the “super-apostles,” those who focus on the letter which kills, not the Spirit which gives freedom (II Cor. 3:1-6; 11:5).  However we need to be careful that these traits of spiritual superiority don’t come to describe us.  Christians are too often seen as judgmental and intolerant.

This chapter is one picture among several in scripture, even among several in the Book of Revelation, of the destruction of evil.  This is a profoundly encouraging image.  What does it mean to be written in the book of life?  It means all those who have been motivated and encouraged by the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  There are not degrees of life.  There is only the life that reveals the love of God.  This love, as we have seen, takes away any fear of punishment (I John 4:18).   God’s love triumphs over evil.

Gracious and loving god I thank you for your victory of Satan, Death and Hades.  Keep me in your love which alone gives true life both now and forever.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

“Final Victory”

Revelation 20:1-6

This passage has been debated for much of history.  Like many of the images and visions in Revelation it needs to be interpreted symbolically.  These events may refer to what will take place after Christ’s second coming.  They can also refer to events in the present.  Biblical prophecy has this twofold effect, between the “now” and the “not yet.”

The image we have here is of the binding (not the destruction) of Satan.  The world has not yet come to the end of its history.  The nations are still present.  Yet there are also the dead who are not part of what is described here as “the first resurrection.”  Those who come to life include those who were executed for their faith in Christ.

In a sense this is a picture of the ‘last days” which began with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Over the past two thousand years the gospel has gone forth in power and authority.  We see this even in our secular age.  In what sense can we say that Satan is bound in this period which includes “wars and rumors of war” (Matt. 24:6)?  Evil certainly exists.  Yet the power of Satan is limited.  The fact that we live in a so-called post-Christian world should not blind us to the fact that the gospel still transforms lives and indeed continues to spread throughout the world.  The witness of those who have given their lives still is very much with us.  To mention only two examples, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. continue to have an impact on our world.  More recently the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1980 galvanized a generation of Latin American Christians.

We would not describe ourselves as reigning with Christ.  Yet in a sense this is true.  To be in Christ is to have an assurance, a hope, a faith and a love which is missing from the world.  We often underestimate the power of belonging to Christ.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is our entry into a new world, a new creation which has already begun (II Cor. 5:17).

Eternal and loving God may I live in the promise of your new creation.  Keep Satan chained as your Word goes forth sustained by those who gave their lives in Christ’s service.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

“Final Victory”

Revelation 19:17-21

This is a sobering passage.  It is essentially an allegory.  By the time the Book of Revelation was written the emperor cult in Rome was well established.  Essentially the emperor was seen to be a “son of god” who therefore had divine authority.  The emperor essentially is the “beast.”  The “false prophet” would be any of the priests that supported this cult.  The “kings of the earth” would be all those nations which were part of the Roman Empire.

Persecution has already begun under Nero.  This would continue for several hundred years essentially until the appearance of the emperor Constantine who would claim to be a Christian and supported the church.   Other persecutions would follow sporadically but Christianity soon became the religion of the empire.

The picture we have in this passage is of the continuing conflict between the powers of the world and the followers of Jesus Christ. This conflict has existed throughout history beginning in ancient Rome.  John’s description in this passage is of a final conflict at the moment of Christ’s return.  Yet we know the last days begin at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21).  We are then already in the “last days.”

The beast, otherwise known as the Anti-Christ, is present throughout history as we have seen (I John 2:18).  This image of his and the false prophet’s final destruction is intended to encourage and strengthen Christians in the face of opposition and persecution.  Jesus will return.  The beast and the false prophet will be destroyed forever.

We can never lose faith or hope in the face of evil.  This is John’s message for us as we await the return of Christ.

Merciful and loving God and Savior I thank you for the fact that opposition to your truth will not prevail.  The forces of evil will be destroyed.  May this truth give me hope and confidence as I seek to live for you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, July 23, 2018

Monday, July 23, 2018

“Final Victory”

Revelation 19:1-16

This is the original Hallelujah Chorus.  The word “Hallelujah” literally means to praise God.  John in this passage is giving us a picture of God’s final victory over all the forces of evil, physical and spiritual.  This will lead into the culmination of the ages in the new heaven and the new earth.

The first statement of praise here refers to the judgment on the “great whore.”  This is the goddess Cybele whose worship was reinstated in Rome by Caesar Augustus to get away from reliance on the Greek gods and goddesses.  As such, Cybele, who was officially known as the “great mother”, was a symbol of the imperial power of Rome.  She also symbolized the raw power of nature.  She was a fertility goddess whose worship often included sexual immorality.  In other words she represents the world system which first crucified Christ and then led to the persecution of Christians under Nero and others.

Over against Rome we see the final victory of Jesus Christ.  In the place of the immorality of the Roman goddess we have the picture of the “marriage of the Lamb.”  As will be made explicit in Revelation chapter 20 the Lamb is Christ, the Bridegroom and the church is his Bride.

John now describes symbolically Jesus’ second coming.  He is pictured on a white horse, a symbol of a conquering Roman general.  He is given the title of Zeus, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  His most important title however is “The Word of God.”  This is represented as a sharp sword coming out of his mouth.  John’s message is clear.  The true God will conquer and expose all the false gods.  His Word stands over all.

This is an incredibly encouraging picture for all Christians.  The world will not continue endlessly in its present form.  Jesus will return in triumph both to rescue his Bride, the church, and to establish his rule over all nations and peoples.  In spite of all the turmoil of the present we need to remember that Jesus finally is the one who conquers the world (John 16:33).

Gracious and faithful God and Savior may I live hopefully and expectantly in the anticipation of your coming again.  Take away my doubt and uncertainty and inspire me with the hope of this great truth.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sunday, July 22, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

I John 4:13-21

John here repeats the astounding fact that God is love.  As we have seen this goes beyond the simple statement that God loves us.  God is love in his very being.  John here makes other critical affirmations.  The first is that God has given us the Holy Spirit.  The second is that the “Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”  The third is that God abides in us when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  It is vitally important to note that God takes the initiative in all this.  He sends us both his Son and the Holy Spirit.  Can we even comprehend the depths of his saying that God abides in us, literally, that God makes his home with us?

He then goes on to make an important claim.  This is the fact that love casts out fear.  There are so many things we can fear.  We have concerns about our health, our families, our finances, even our nation.  Yet there is no need to fear.  As we have observed the most repeated command in all scripture is “Do not fear.”  John here gives the reason why.  We have no need to fear because we know that God is love and that he loves us.  We are all sinners but we are not threatened by any prospect of judgment because we know that God’s love has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world (John 4:42).

John however adds a warning.  If we claim to love God we also have to love our brothers and sisters.  John asks the rhetorical question, how can we claim to love God whom we haven’t seen if we don’t love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen?  A failure to love is a sign of fear.  We need to lay our fears before the God of love who casts out fear.

Eternal and loving God, give me the grace to acknowledge my fears and bring them to you.  May I lay hold of the promise of your perfect love which casts out fear.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday, July 21, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

John 17:25-26

Jesus throughout his high priestly prayer has made a sharp distinction between the world and the role of the disciples.  They do not belong to the world but their mission nevertheless is to the world.  This tension is an inherent part of the Christian life.  How can we live in this tension effectively?

Jesus states that not only has he revealed the Father to the disciples.  He will continue to make the Father known to  them.  This means that to grow in faith is also to grow in knowledge.  This is not only knowledge about God.  It is personal knowledge, truly knowing that God is our heavenly Father and that we are his children.  We can come to him with any concern, any request, any problem (John 16:13).

Jesus then makes an astounding statement.  He will reveal to us the love which the Father has for him to us, his disciples.  God’s love then will be in us.  This love of course is a gift.  Yet it is a gift that we need to claim.  As Paul makes so abundantly clear, if we don’t have this love we have nothing (I Cor. 13).

This is the love in Paul’s terms that never ends, that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  It is the love, as we have seen, that sacrifices for the benefit of others (I Cor. 13:4-8; John 15:13).

We need to ask that this prayer of Jesus be fulfilled in us.

Faithful and loving God, I cannot imagine the depths of your love for me.  Give me your special grace to show that love so that the truth of the gospel may be seen in my life.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

John 17:20-24

Jesus’ opening statement in this section now includes us explicitly.  Jesus makes it clear that he is not only praying for his present disciples.  He is also praying for those “who will believe in me through their word.”  This then includes disciples down through the ages up to the present day.

The focus of this part of the prayer is on the unity of all those who believe in Christ.  Jesus prays that we would all be one.  The practical effect of this unity would be that the world would then believe that God has sent Jesus to be its savior (I John 4:14).  This then is the purpose of the unity of the believers.  Further, the unity of Christians should parallel the unity between the Son and the Father.

We have to acknowledge that this part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer remains tragically unfulfilled.  There have been deep division in the body of Christ throughout the past two thousand years.  Christians have not only differed in beliefs and practices.  They have engaged in outright hostility and have even persecuted each other.

Much of this has mercifully changed in the past century.  This began with greater unity on the mission field and has extended into ecumenical relationships among different Christian denominations.  The chief separating point of justification by faith between Protestants and Roman Catholics was resolved at the end of the twentieth century.  Yet divisions tragically continue even within denominations.  When the world sees these divisions they are rightly skeptical about the claims of new life in Christ.

Our softball team plays in an inter-church league.  This league is an outreach in that it is open to anyone who wants to play.  Through these games different churches come together.

If we can play softball together can’t we also do mission and ministry together?  That quite simply is what Jesus is asking for in this prayer.

Loving and gracious God and Savior may I demonstrate your unity in reaching out to other Christians.  May the world see the love we have received from you and be led to believe in your Son.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday, July 19, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

John 17:15-19

Jesus here makes it clear that the world is the disciples’ mission field.  They are not sent only to Jerusalem or to Israel.  They are not even sent only to the Roman Empire.  They are sent to the world (It is worth remembering that their concept of the world was much less than it actually is.  Yet their mandate is still the world).  Jesus continues to pray for protection from “the evil one.”  Is this a prayer we pray regularly?  It is part of the Lord’s Prayer (“Deliver us from evil”) but practically many of us don’t take seriously the spiritual conflict that Jesus is clearly referring to.

Jesus is not praying that we be taken out of the world.  He does pray for our protection.  Our strength is the truth of God’s Word.  The disciples do not belong to the world but their mission is still the world.  This concept gave rise to the famous summary that we are to be in the world but not of the world.  Too often the church has gotten this backwards.  The church in various ways has tried to hide itself from the world.  This can be done in many ways beginning with monasteries and following with attempts to carve out a unique Christian culture of not only churches but schools, businesses and even the arts.  Yet too often the same greed, animosity and lust that is in the world has been seen in the so-called “Christian” world.  The evil one is all too pleased when this happens.

Jesus prays that we be “sanctified in truth,” the truth of his Word.  To be sanctified is to be set apart for a special purpose.  We need to be faithful in following the scriptures.  Satan and his false prophets continually try to distort God’s Word.  Recently the Attorney General tried to justify America’s immigration policy by an appeal to Romans 13.  The president’s spiritual advisor has sought to do the same.  Such efforts make a mockery of Scripture’s focus on the “stranger in the land” and the fact that Jesus and his parents were political refugees (Matt. 2:13-15).

Jesus prays that we be set apart to follow his truth, the whole revelation of God’s Word.  Jesus prays for us.  We need to pray for ourselves.

Gracious and loving God may I truly be set apart in your truth.  May I neither fear the world nor be dependent on it.  Give me your grace to carry out whatever mission you have called me to.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, July 18, 2018

Thursday, July 18, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

John 17:11-14

Jesus at this point in his high priestly prayer acknowledges that he will soon no longer be in the world as a physical human person.  Yet the disciples are to remain in the world.  Why?  Why can’t believers ascend directly into heaven once they have expressed their faith in Christ?

One obvious answer is missions.  The disciples will be given the task of bringing the message of salvation in Christ to the world.  We are not to love the darkness of the world.  Yet we are to love the world in the sense of both the human race and the created order.  Just as the Samaritan woman in John chapter four was sent out to proclaim the truth about Jesus the disciples will be called to do the same.

Jesus next prays for the protection of the disciples.  He states that he has been protecting them throughout his ministry.  What does this protection mean?  Will the disciples be spared suffering, pain and even death?  The answer has to be a resounding no.  Jesus will not avoid these things.  Neither will the disciples be exempt.

Jesus’ protection applies to their faith.  The one who is “lost” is of course Judas who betrays Jesus.  The faith of the other disciples will be weak and wavering.  Peter will deny Jesus.  The others will abandon him.  Yet Jesus after the resurrection will reaffirm their faith.  They will face the same suffering as their Lord.  Yet their faith will be protected.  This is Jesus’ prayer for the disciples.

It is also his prayer for us.  This prayer includes the promise of joy.  This is not a joy based on external circumstances.  It is rather the joy of Christ’s indwelling presence.  Faced with a death threat early in his ministry, Martin Luther King Jr. was prepared to give up and abandon his calling (a ministry which Billy Graham had maintained was a work of the Holy Spirit).  Yet according to King the Lord spoke to him in the middle of the night in his kitchen.  King was revived.  He had the joy of Christ’s presence which overcame his fears.

Merciful and loving God protect my faith from all the forces that would undermine it.  Give me greater confidence in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

John 17:6-10

Jesus now places his emphasis squarely on his disciples.  “Those” he refers to are certainly more than the twelve disciples.  It includes all of us who have faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Jesus here makes it clear that those who belong to him have been given to him by God the Father.  Earlier Jesus had said that no one could come to him unless they have been drawn by the Father (John 6:44).  Jesus has already affirmed that we have not chosen him.  He has chosen us (John 15:16).

This breaks down and eliminates any and all pride we might have.  We can take no credit for having faith in Christ, much less for serving him.  All of this has come from God (II Cor. 5:18).  All that separates us from anyone else is God’s grace.  Therefore while we are called to discern the spirits (I John 4:1) we are not called to judge or condemn anyone (Matt. 7:1).  Yesterday we spoke about the meaning of the word, “glory.”  Jesus here is saying that he is being glorified in us.  We are in the position of revealing Christ to the world.  All of our lives should be a song of praise to him.

It is striking at this point that Jesus says that he is not praying for the world.  The world is the adversary for the Christian.  Its love turns us easily toward idols (I John 2:15; 5:21).  Jesus is making a clear distinction.  He supports, strengthens and maintains us.  Therefore he is not on the side of the world which, frankly, is out to get us in so many ways.  After the resurrection Jesus will send the disciples into the world (John 20:21).  However this is not the moment for that.  As we will soon see, Jesus’ goal is to guard and protect us.  Jesus promises us his peace.  In that peace we rest secure (John 14:27).

 Loving and merciful God I praise you that you have called me to faith in your Son, Jesus Christ.  Give me your peace and may I bring that peace to others.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

“No Fear in Love”

John 17:1-5

The 17th chapter of John’s Gospel is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  Jesus here is praying for the disciples and by implication, all of his followers throughout history including ourselves.  These few verses are the opening of the prayer.

A key word that occurs throughout this section is “glory.”  Jesus will glorify the Father.  God the Father in turn will glorify him.  Jesus has glorified the Father throughout his earthly ministry and now the supreme glory will be the result of Jesus “finishing the work.”  That finished work is Jesus’ death on the cross which, in spite of the pain, suffering and humiliation, will be the moment of Jesus’ triumph in which he will drive out the “prince of this world” (Satan) and draw all people to himself.  This is an expression of God glorifying Jesus (John 12:28-33).

So what does glory mean in this context?  It essentially has two meanings.  First, to glorify is to reveal, to make clear, to demonstrate.  What is Jesus revealing in his death?  It is his fulfilling the mission his heavenly Father gave him.  He will do nothing less than save the world (I John 4:14).  How this will finally take place we do not know especially in the context of a present world that rejects Christ.  The second meaning is to offer praise and honor to someone.  The one finally who is being praised here is God the Father.  This praise also includes Jesus himself of whom the Father said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

To an outside person Jesus’ suffering and death is simply another example of inhumanity and cruelty.  It is certainly that.  Yet in the midst of it all Jesus is both being glorified and is himself glorifying the Father.  To understand this is to see with what Paul calls the “eyes of your heart” (Eph. 1:18).  The glory of God is all around us (Ps. 19:1-4).  Are we able to see it?

Loving God may I glorify you in my life.  May I reveal to others your love and your saving power.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday, July 15, 2018

“God is Love”

I John 4:1-12

There is no greater truth in scripture than the simple statement, “God is love.”  It is not enough to say that God loves (which is certainly true).  God is love just as God is light and God is a Spirit (John 1:5; 4:24).  God loves because he chooses to love because love is of the very essence of God (Deut. 7:7-8).

God loves each one of us individually.  The fact that we are loved by God is the assurance of our own worth and value. We are each one of us unique in his eyes and he loves us as we are.  Second, God loves us indiscriminately.  God’s love is not based on any quality or characteristic that we possess.  There is nothing we could do or not do to deserve God’s love.  As John makes clear in this passage, it is not that we loved God but rather that God loved us and sent us his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  As Paul puts it, it was while we were sinners that God demonstrated his love for us (Rom. 5:8).

God is the supremely faithful lover.  He cannot not love because that is who he is.  God’s love is neither sentimental nor passive.  God defends and protects those whom he loves (Ex. 15:1-13).  This kind of love is not only inspiring.  It is empowering.  Knowing that God loves us solely because he chooses to love us gives us the ability to love those around us, those whom scripture calls “neighbor” or “brother” (“sister”) (Luke 10:25-37; I John 2:10).  As we love God lives in us.  We are called to demonstrate love in a world that is all too unloving.

Loving and faithful God I stand in awe of the fact that you are love.  I cannot thank you enough for your love.  May your love inspire me with love for others.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

“God is Love”

John 16:16-24

Jesus is preparing his disciples for his impending crucifixion.  He speaks about the fact that they will cry and mourn. He tells them that they will have pain but their pain will turn to joy.  On an initial level it seems clear that Jesus is speaking about his death and resurrection.  Yet in a larger sense this will be the situation of the disciples after Jesus has left them.  They will see him no more in a physical sense.  Their witness to him will involve weeping and mourning.

Jesus gives the illustration of a woman in labor.  The pain is intense but joy follows the birth of a baby.  This image of giving birth to God’s new creation is found several times in scripture.  Paul speaks of the whole world being in labor pains awaiting the redemption which will be signaled by the revealing of the children of God.  In other words the world is awaiting what Jesus called “the reign of God” (Rom. 8:18-23; Matt. 4:17).

We live in the tension between pain and joy.  We obviously prefer the latter to the former.  Yet we need to realize that pain is part of the equation.  We cannot have Jesus without the cross.  The cross is the only way we can come to the resurrection.  This is why Paul says that the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us (II Cor. 1:3-5).

As we live in this tension we are encouraged to pray.  Jesus gives us the promise that if we ask anything in his name God will give it to us.  The key point here is asking in Jesus’ name.  This means more than just mentioning his name.  We certainly should ask for whatever our needs may be (“Give us this day our daily bread”).  Yet we also need to pray that we are following God’s will.  That path will include suffering but it finally will end in joy.

Merciful and gracious God give me the grace to accept the pain that comes from following you.  Fortify me with your promises and lead me into your joy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018

“God is Love”

John 16:12-15

Why is the Holy Spirit so essential?  For one, without the Holy Spirit we would not come to faith in Christ (I Cor. 12:3).  The Holy Spirit creates the new birth in Christ.  The Spirit is an example of God’s sovereign freedom.  It blows where it wills (John 3:8).  We depend on the Spirit but we can neither control it nor do we ever deserve it.  It is part of the gift of God giving himself to us in the promise of “God with us” (Matt. 1:21-22).

The Spirit complements God’s Word.  Everything in the Bible is true but not all truth is in the Bible.  Yet all truth is dependent upon the Spirit.  Jesus here makes the bold statement that the Spirit will lead us into all truth.  Does this include the truth of history, science and economics and everything else?  In principle we have to answer yes.  If Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together then Jesus if finally the focus and center of “all things” (Col. 1:15-20) Yet how can we know that?  The answer is through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The fact that the Spirit will guide us into all truth means we don’t have the complete truth in the present.  We see puzzling reflections in a mirror (I Cor. 13:12).  We are to add nothing to the written text of scripture.  Yet we will never exhaust its full meaning in this life.  Jesus makes the promise that through the Spirit we will do greater works that even he did (John 14:12).

As we deal with the difficult questions of life we need to depend on the guidance of the Spirit.  The letter of the law is never the final answer to our questions (still less are fragmentary quotes from scripture).    The letter kills but the Spirit gives life (II Cor. 3:6).  Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (II Cor. 3:17).  We need to live in that freedom depending on the guidance of the Spirit.

Eternal and loving God, I thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May I seek to be guided by his leading in following you in all that I do.   I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

“God is Love”

John 16:1-11

Jesus in this passage is preparing the disciples for the opposition they will face as his followers.  We don’t often think of the fact that people throughout history have given their lives for their faith in Christ.  In the first century those who worshipped the emperor thought they were offering true worship by attacking Christians.

Jesus presents these warnings in the context of telling the disciples that he will soon be leaving them.  His crucifixion and resurrection awaits.  It is no surprise then that the disciples are sorrowful.  Jesus however consoles them with the promise that he will send the “Advocate.”  This obviously is the Holy Spirit.  Advocate here suggests a legal role, someone who defends another in court.  A court trial should be about trying to discern the truth.

This is exactly what he Holy Spirit does.  The Spirit aids us in giving us the truth about life in a hostile world.  The Spirit will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.  The world is a place of moral confusion.  The Spirit will expose the delusions of the world.  The Spirit makes abundantly clear that racism is wrong, that pride and wealth can never be identified with true success, that children cannot be separated from their parents as a matter of policy.

The Spirit bears witness to Christ through the scriptures (John 5:39).  The Spirit also condemns the “ruler of this world.”  This of course is Satan who also works through his many antichrists (I John 2:18).  All of this is to say that we should not be fearful nor should we retreat from the world.  John reminds us that the one who is in us in greater than the one who is in the world (I John 4:4).

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, both clarifies and condemns.  We need to follow him as he in turn leads us more and more into scripture.

Faithful and merciful God and Savior give me the grace to see your Spirit at work exposing the truth of the world around me.  Give me the confidence and hope that comes from you alone.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

“God is Love”

John 15:18-27

Why does the world hate Christ?  Christ is God’s love for the world (I John 4:10).  Where does this hatred come from and why does it exist?  Jesus here appears to be speaking of the world’s system, what the devil calls “the world and its splendor” (Matt. 4:8).  The world that will crucify Jesus is a combination of Roman power and religious intolerance.  The Roman soldiers mock Jesus, spit on him and beat him (Matt. 27:27-31; Luke 22:63-65).

Jesus confronts the world with its injustice and intolerance.  Jesus’ comments on “the world” of his time is echoed in the work of Roman contemporary historians.  They chronicled the depravity of the Roman Empire in the first century.  Jesus also condemns the toxic religion of his time which was both exploitative and abusive.  Jesus spoke forcefully against the religious leaders who said long prayers and devoured widows’ homes (Mark 12:40).

Jesus’ comments on the world here are not directed at the world in the sense of total humanity. This is the world that God loves and that Christ comes to save (John 3:16-17).  The world here is used in the sense of the world’s system, its structure and its values.  Jesus is a threat politically to that world.  We see this right from his birth when Herod orders the death of the children in Bethlehem.  The world of Jesus’ time made no distinction between the religious and the political.  They were tied together.  Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is an overtly political as well as religious act.  Following that the chief priest and the scribes who were both religious and political authorities make plans to kill Jesus because they are afraid of him (Mark 11:18).  Jewish law was under the authority of Rome, hence the cry at Jesus’ trial, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) (The oft repeated phrase “My kingdom is not of this world” is not a retreat from the world.  What Jesus more accurately is saying is that his kingdom does not come from this world (John 18:36).

We should not be surprised when our Christian testimony brings us into conflict with the world.  We are the servants of Jesus.  If he was rejected we will also be rejected.  We should not fear this outcome.  We have the promise of the Holy Spirit who leads us and guides us in our testimony.

Eternal and loving God, may I not be intimidated by the world.  Enable me to be your clear and compelling witness in the world with its many distortions and illusions.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

“God is Love”

John 15:12-17

Jesus here is affirming the absolute centrality of love in Christian life.  Jesus himself is the model for that love.  He reveals a number of critical aspects of “agape” love.  Jesus makes it explicit that true love is sacrificial.  He states, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This is the meaning of Jesus going to the cross.  It is an act of love on behalf not only of his disciples but of the whole world (I John 2:2).

Jesus goes on to affirm that true love creates equality.  The disciples are not merely servants.  Neither are we.  We are friends.  This comes from Jesus himself.  It is a powerful reminder that love cannot be present in hierarchies or situations of dominance.  Parents of necessity have authority over children.  Rulers have authority over their subjects.  Yet despite these roles the final goal of the relationship has to be one of equality.

Jesus also affirms that love takes the initiative.  It does not wait to be asked.  Jesus says clearly that the disciples did not choose him.  Rather he chose them and gave them their ministry.  The same applies to us.  Jesus’ love reaches out to each one of us.  As we have noted none of us deserves to be loved.  Jesus loves us because he loves us.  This was the case with God and Israel.  Israel was nothing special.  In fact Israel was always a disobedient people.  God loved Israel because he chose to love them (Deut. 7:6-8; 9:6).

Jesus again repeats his commandment.  We are to love each other as he has loved us.  Jesus says this over and over.  It needs to be repeated.  We can easily turn back into our own concerns and pursuits.  Yet if we are to have the joy that Jesus promises we need to live out the reality of his love.

Loving and faithful God I cannot thank you enough for the fact that you chose to love me.  Give me the grace to show that same love to others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday, July 9, 2018

“God is Love”

John 15:1-11

To believe in Jesus is to be connected to him.  As he says here he is the vine, we are the branches.  We all know that a broken branch cannot bear fruit.  Jesus confronts us here with the sharp difference between believing things about Jesus and abiding in him.  What does it mean to “abide?”

Dale Bruner says the essential idea here is “to make your home with me.”  This is what it means to abide.  What if Jesus were with us all the time?  What if he went where we go, experienced all that we experience?  In fact this is the case.  Jesus said, “I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

If we really took this fact seriously, how would it affect our daily lives?  For John obeying Jesus is not a matter of following a set of rules.  The law, the specific instructions we encounter in scripture, are just starters.  Jesus is our example.  The Holy Spirit is our guide.

If we abide, are at home, with Jesus, he tells us that we can ask for whatever we wish and it will be given to us.  Yet all too often our prayers focus only on relief from pain and suffering.  This is intercessory prayer and it is important and valid.   Yet we must always remember that if we are truly at home with Jesus we share in his life.  That life included “loud cries and tears” (Heb. 4:7).  This is to say that suffering may be something we’re called to.

Yet even more we’re called to experience God’s love.  That love never wavers or changes.  It is our source of complete joy.

Gracious and loving God and Savior may I truly be at home with you.  Remind me that I can do nothing apart from you.  Increase my sense of your love and give me your joy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

SUNDAY
Ecclesial Health
2 Co. 3:1-3 (MSG)
Does it sound like we’re patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we’re not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.

We might be tempted to see ourselves, Christ followers, as irrelevant today. Our world is a mess. The church in Corinth might have thought that too, since their world was a mess. But Paul is reminding them and us of who we are and why we matter. God is making God’s appeal to the world through us, the followers of Jesus Christ. That fact alone makes us very relevant. But also very responsible.

Paul says we are a “letter of Christ” to the world. We are called to embody and to offer God’s love to all. Who wants to open a letter from a church that is a mess and divided, self-concerned, or worldly? Or a church that presents a stony face of the law to the world instead of the glowing face of Christ’s love? Our neighbors need to see a congregation as imperfect but honest, struggling but authentic, diverse but unified. An important mark of revitalization is our health as a church body. We need to examine how we solve our disagreements, whether we speak the truth in love, and how we forgive one another. Then we will look like the new community God is making his appeal through. Then we will glow with a vitality that comes from our Living God, and be a letter of love most people want to open.

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

SATURDAY
Caring Relationships
2 Corinthians 3: 3
Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.

We all long for caring relationships. Maybe we experienced that with our parents, or siblings, or friends, or teachers or coaches. Or maybe we didn’t. We at Grace Church are called to be in caring relationships with one another. This fulfills the greatest commandment: to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This involves a three-part relationship that is inter-related. We love God because God first loved us and because we need God’s love. We love ourselves because God loves us. We love our neighbor because we see ourselves and/or God in our neighbor.

We never know when a simple stop to ask how someone is doing, or a simple meal, or an offer to pray, or an awareness of someone’s demeanor communicates caring and love. Jesus’ earthly ministry is full of these moments of caring. God wants to communicate to every person. Paul explains to the church in Corinth and to Grace Church that God writes his letter of love and caring to others using us. We are that letter.

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

FRIDAY
Spirit-Inspired Worship
John 4:22-24
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Does Grace Church worship in spirit and in truth? One mark of revitalization is Spirit-Inspired worship. Every week the Grace staff plans worship and prints a bulletin. I wonder what would happen if we just came together and allowed the Spirit to lead! Maybe chaos but perhaps freedom. Jesus tells the woman soon her worship won’t be limited by location and she’ll experience greater freedom in worship.  Jesus also tells her the truth, about herself as a sinner. He tells her everything she has ever done, but instead of being offended or hurt, she shares her experience with others. She seems set free by this truth.

What would worship be like if we truly believed we were in the presence of someone who knew everything [bad] we had ever done? If we worshiped in the freedom of being fully exposed, fully known and fully loved? Before God and before one another. METS baseball star Mike Piazza speaks a lot about getting out of our comfort zone when we want to grow. How might the Spirit inspire our worship if we agreed to go beyond our comfort zone?

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

THURSDAY
Outward Incarnational Focus and Empowered Servant Leadership

This mouthful of words can be summed up as “Jesus-Ness” and “Jesus-Ability.” They describe 2 of the 7 marks of revitalization we hope Grace Church seeks to embody. A season of revitalization invites us as a congregation to examine how we measure up to the mission Jesus Christ calls us to. We are grounded in a strong theological foundation, and we must ensure our theology includes a “theology of the heart,” which emphasizes an experience of the Holy Spirit. The only way we can have “Jesus-Ness” and “Jesus-Ability” is through the indwelling of God’s living Spirit. Humans cannot manufacture the love of Jesus Christ, but are dependent on an outside source- the Spirit. Augustine’s favorite New Testament passage was Romans 5:5- “And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Theology can be like as a dusty tome sitting on a library shelf if it’s simply written with ink, but a theology written by the Spirit of the Living God on human hearts is alive. In 1783 John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, described his heart being “strangely warmed.” He later taught about the “means of grace,” explaining the importance of putting ourselves in God’s way in order to receive grace, individually and corporately, by worship, prayer, Bible study, meditation, receiving the sacraments, serving the sick, or doing justice. We need to open our imaginations and step out of our routinized motions as we seek and serve God. We are making incarnate the love of Jesus Christ and being powered by the Holy Spirit. We are part of God’s transformation and restoration of creation. There is more to our congregational life than meets the eye!

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

WEDNESDAY
Intentional Authentic Evangelism
I confess I get leery about the term “evangelism.” (My leeriness came long before the political evangelical movement.) I recall my teenage cousins’ passionate fervor to get me “to get it,” this Jesus-love they were explaining in a formulaic way. But the one thing that stuck with me was that Jesus loves me and, after lots of time, this bore fruit.

Part of Grace Church’s mission/ reason-for-being is to embody and share the gospel at the corner of Grove and Tuxedo. I‘m eager to recover the kind of evangelism Jesus modeled, exemplified in the story of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman in John 4. I want people who visit Grace to connect the love they see in us with the love Jesus described in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I like this website’s invitations: (https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-evangelism/ ).
• We must not confuse the gospel with the fruit of the gospel.
• A healthy church displays the gospel in its worship, music, prayer.
• We must teach AND model the gospel.
• We need to ask, “Are we all helping our non-Christian friends understand the gospel?” rather than “Who has led the most people to Jesus?”

A season of revitalization invites us to reconsider how to best offer the message: Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves the world. We are invited to demonstrate a genuine curiosity about what people believe and how they are empowered. We are invited into mutual relationship. We are invited to interpret the Bible to a new generation and a new culture. We are invited to follow the Spirit of God doing something new at Grace and in the world (Isaiah 43:19).

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

TUESDAY
Lifelong Discipleship Formation

If Grace Church was in a season of revitalization, how would we know? We can look for signs, evidence or marks of renewal and revival in our common life. Is Grace Church excited about discipleship? Our congregation gathers for the purposes the risen Christ gave to us recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 (The Message): “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” Our congregation’s purpose is to form cradle-to-grave Christ followers, to excite people about daily (not just Sunday) discipleship, and to accompany those awakened to Jesus’ call: “Follow me!” Jesus intended lifelong discipleship formation to be exciting!

I recently listened to a TED talk by Bernie Dunlap on being lifelong learners. He describes the energy generated by insatiable curiosity and by encountering new ideas. We, as disciples, are called to curiosity about one another and our world, and about God! Not to understand God but to experience and live alongside God. That’s one reason I love a variety of spiritual disciplines, from stillness to corporate chanting, since each offers me a new experience of God.

I also love discussing challenging books, like Kendra Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian. She argues that “Christian formation- the patterning of our lives and our communities after Christ’s self-giving love- requires grace, not determination.” Jesus-disciples are called to Christ-sharing, always imperfectly and always in community. We should exhibit a “Jesus-ness”- a resemblance to Jesus. We are called to embody Christ’s love in the world, and to exhibit this love in hopes of training everyone we meet, “far and near, in this way of life.”

Today’s Question: How would an outsider grade Grace Church’s discipleship efforts? More grace or more determination?

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

MONDAY
Pastor Margo on Revitalization

Colossians 2:6-7 (The Message)
My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

This week I‘ll be exploring revitalization, both individual and corporate. Revitalization is the act of injecting new life and energy into people and into their activities. What does it mean to excited, empowered, motivated both as people and as God’s people? The Bible offers a repeating record of people corporately being revitalized by the Living God, only to slowly (or quickly!) “lose steam” or go their own way.

Paul is writing to the young Christian community in Colossae, a town known for its mercantile trade and a rich collision of religious influences, including Jewish, Gnostic and pagan beliefs. One group worshiped an angel! Paul cautions the community to remain “deeply rooted” in Christ, to have Christ as their foundation, to recall Christ’s teachings. They don’t need to add anything else to what they’ve been given by Christ. Why would they worship an angel when everything, including angels, “got started by [Christ] and finds its purpose in him” (1:15)? They have what they need to move forward. What is stopping them from “living Christ”?

Colossae could be today’s Montclair-area with its rich collision of beliefs. Pauls words continue to caution us. How do we at Grace Church get distracted by what others believe or how they worship? Do we put off “living Christ?” The vitality we receive from our Living God is precious fuel for the mission we’ve been given in the Montclair-area. We are engaged with other churches in Newark Presbytery in seeking renewal, revitalization, revival. We must not “lose steam,” get distracted by our crazy culture, or keep studying a subject we should be living.

Today’s Meditation: Where do you feel vitality in your personal life? In our Grace Church life?

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, July 2 – Sunday, July 8, 2018

Monday, July 2 – Sunday, July 8, 2018

For the week of July 2-July 8 we are going to use the website d365.org as our devotional guide.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sunday, July 1, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I John 3:18-24

John here is reminding us that the definitive mark of Christian faith is love.  It is not enough to talk about love.  Love must be demonstrated in “truth and action.”  We are to love others not because they (like us) deserve to be loved.  We love others because we all need to be loved.

Expressing the sacrificial love of “agape” is the way we demonstrate thankfulness to God for the love that he has given us in Jesus Christ.  To love Christ is to love those in need (Matt. 25:31-46).  How do we show that kind of love?  Jesus himself gives us multiple examples throughout the gospels.  He welcomes tax collectors, prostitutes, the rejected and the despised.  We need to remember that Jesus was roundly criticized for showing this kind of love (Luke 19:7)

The love that Christ shows is neither sentimental nor weak.  Jesus can sound very strict and indeed appears to verbally attack his opponents on occasion (Matt. 23; John 8:44-47).  Yet what Jesus is attacking here is the lack of love on their part.

We are called to obey Jesus’ commandments.  These come down to believing in Jesus Christ and showing love.  There are two terms used in the New Testament for the idea of obedience.  The first is the idea of a strict, literal following of the law.  This is the position of the scribes and the Pharisees (there were a total of 613 commands in the Old Testament).  Yet this adherence to the letter of the law often leaves out the reality of love.   This can present a legalistic understanding of the gospel which unfortunately does away with the full reality of love.  The second is a more general term.  That is the one found here.  This is analogous to the love of husbands and wives or parents and children.  This love cannot be reduced to a formula or a list of rules and regulations.

This is the love which the father shows to the prodigal son (a love which the older brother finds objectionable (Luke 15:11-32).  Yet this is the love that we are called to show.  This love comes from the Holy Spirit not any list of written commandments.

Loving and faithful God I cannot begin to thank you for the love you have showed me in Jesus Christ.  Give me the grace to love in truth and action.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 30, 2018

Saturday, June 30, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

Romans 13:8-10

Paul sums up the whole Christian life in this one simple phrase: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  The commandments are summarized by the simple mandate, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Paul then adds the comment, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

This is a radical statement. Jesus and Paul’s Pharisee opponents would have regarded this as much too general.  The scribes had determined that the Law as defined in the Old Testament contained some 613 specific commands.  To reduce all this to a general statement of love fulfilling the law would not have seemed adequate. Throughout the Gospels, as we have seen, the Pharisees claimed Jesus was breaking the commandments (Matt. 9:10-11; 12:2; 15:1-2).

There are two words in Greek which are translated “obey.”  One is the idea of strict adherence to the specific nature of the commandments, doing exactly what the commandments dictate.  This is the word used by the rich young ruler when he says “I have kept (obeyed) all this these from my youth” (Mark 10:20).  However there is another word which refers to obedience in a more general, less literal sense.  This is the concept found in texts like I John 3:24.

One can obey the letter of the law in a way that is condemning and rejecting of others (John 8:3-5).  This is the antithesis of what Paul is saying.  Obedience here is in the context of a relationship like being married.  Marriage cannot be defined by a list of rules and commands.  Marriage is a lifelong commitment.  A married person lives constantly in that commitment even in those moments when they are not physically with their spouse.  The love defined as agape calls us to care and be compassionate, to do no harm.  Paul’s (and Jesus’) opponents obeyed the law but in the end they disobeyed the will of God.

We need to love others as God has loved us.

Merciful and loving God, teach me to be truly loving.  Free me from attitudes that condemn others rather than demonstrate God’s love.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

Romans 13:1-7

Paul here is talking about the Christian’s role in society.  This is a way of showing love to our neighbor.  He begins by pointing out the value of government and the authority that it has.  Paul emphasizes the fact that all authority is ordained of God and rulers, even without knowing it, are “God’s servants.”

This passage has been abused throughout history.  It has often been used to give an unconditional support to government in any form and under any circumstances.  This has been seen in everything from supporters of slavery to “German Christians” who pledged themselves to the cause of Nazism.  Nothing Paul says here gives support to those mistaken views.

Several things need to be noted about what Paul says and what he does not say.  First of all, he does not offer unconditional support to human government.  It is not only that rulers are under the authority of God.  They are God’s servants for our good.  Their responsibility is to punish wrongdoers.  Second, the Christian is called to give respect and honor to those to whom it is due.

Tyrants and dictators cannot hide behind these assertions.  If rulers become corrupt they place themselves under the judgment of God (Pharaoh for example).  If evil is rewarded rather than punished we have the image of government as a rapacious beast (Revelation 13).

Paul probably wrote these words in the early period of Nero’s reign.  Nero initially appeared to be a very favorable figure.  Paul was confident that he could receive justice from him so he appealed his judicial case to him (Acts 25:10).  It was only subsequently that Nero’s true character was revealed and probably Paul was beheaded by him.

God created government to be a loving influence in the world, to provide for justice and mercy, to defend the poor and the needy, as David states in Ps. 72:1-7.  There is no authority apart from God.  When government forgets its sacred origin it tends to fall into injustice and corruption.  The priority is clear.   As Peter says, “Fear God.  Honor the Emperor” (I Peter 2:17).  The order is crucial.

Gracious and loving God, I pray for all the earthly rulers that have been placed over me.  May they fulfill the mandate you have given them and may I show proper respect and obedience.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:11-13

Paul now raises another point about the limits we have in our perspective.  There is an important difference between being child-like and being childish.  The first is an example of faith as Jesus makes plain (Matt. 18:1-3).  However the other suggests willfulness and a narrow outlook.  Children often cannot see beyond their immediate wants and wishes.

Paul here is lifting up the image of maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:13).  In a provocative image he says that our perception in this life is like seeing dimly in a mirror or, in the classic expression of the King James Version, “through a glass, darkly.”  In other words there is much that we do not know.  Paul says that we now know things “only in part.”

What does this have to do with his discussion on love?  To talk about love is to encounter the question, why do we see so little love in our world?  A related question is, if God is love why is there so much hate in the world, so much tragedy?  This forces us to face the reality that our perception is both limited and distorted.  Paul however gives us the confidence that one day we will fully know even as we are fully known.  The truth is we really don’t know ourselves all that well.  However in Christ we await the day when we will see God face to face.  Then all questions will come to an end.  In the meantime we need faith, hope and love.  And, of course, the greatest of these is love.

Merciful and gracious God help me to accept the limitations of my own vision.  There is much I do not see and much I do not understand.  Strengthen my love in you until I know fully and I am fully known.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:8-10

Paul says that “Love never ends.”  But is this true?  Don’t we witness the tragedy of love ending too many times?  The love of husbands and wives ends too often in divorce.  The love of parents and children, not to mention friends, also can come to an end.  How then can Paul say that love never ends?

Again it is crucial to note what Paul is talking about.  He is not talking of human love in the sense of the romantic (“eros”) or the love of family and friends (“phileo”).  Those kinds of love do unfortunately come to an end.  Paul here is speaking of the agape love which in the final analysis is the love of God.

Paul is saying that God’s love never ends.  He affirms this explicitly in the closing verses of Romans 8:38-39 where he proclaims the fact that nothing in life or death, nothing in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  This is the love that never ends.  God’s love overrides all obstacles.  Confronted with the recurring disobedience of Israel God cries out, “How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over O Israel . . . my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hosea 11:8).  In this context “compassion” is another name for God’s love.

Paul reminds us that everything else will come to an end.  These include prophecies, speaking in tongues (spiritual gifts) and knowledge.  Everything we have now is only partial.  We do not yet see the full reality of God’s love.  However one day we will.

Loving and merciful God I cannot thank you enough for your unending love.  May I live daily in that love.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:4-7

In these few verses Paul gives a remarkable picture of the nature of love.  As we noted yesterday this is the unique love modeled on the example of Jesus Christ, the love of “agape.” Paul lists essential characteristics of this kind of love.

The first point Paul makes is that love is patient.  This would probably not be most people’s initial view of love.  Paul here is not talking about affection or attraction.  To say that love is first of all, patient is to acknowledge that love faces obstacles.  What does patience involve?  It presupposes waiting (“Be patient, I’m coming soon”).  It also suggests tolerance and forbearance.  It has the idea of putting up with something, enduring something (“Please be patient with me”).   We can sense that this is one of the unique characteristics of God’s love for us.  God is patient with us as we struggle and indeed often fail.  This conjures up the idea of the waiting father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  The father endures the son’s absence with patience until the son finally returns home (Luke 15:11-24).

Paul goes on with a whole list.  Love is kind.  It is not envious.  It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful.  “It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.”  When we read this we have to be confronted with the lack of love we show in our own lives.  Paul goes on to say that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  To say all this is to say that love is the most powerful force in the world.  When Paul speaks of “all things” he doesn’t imagine any exceptions (Rom. 3:23; 8:28, 37).

All of us want to experience this kind of love. We want this love to be shown to us.  That means however that we must be prepared to show this same love to others.  This is what it means to show love to our neighbor (Matt. 22:39).

Loving and gracious God and Savior I thank you for the gift of love.  May I show this love to everyone, whoever they are.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.