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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Ps. 107:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday, September 17, 2018

“The Unseen Voice”

Ps. 106:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday, September 16, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ex. 2:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ex. 1:1-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday, September 14, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:26-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday, September 13, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:26-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:23-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:12-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

“What Will Happen”

Ps. 105:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday, September 9, 2018

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

II Samuel 23:5-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 8, 2018

Saturday, September 8, 2018

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

II Samuel 23:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, September 7, 2018

Friday, September 7, 2018

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

II Samuel 22:44-51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thursday, September 6, 2018

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

II Samuel 22:32-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Paul’s Prayer – 1:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Us –

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

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

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

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

II Samuel 22:26-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

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

II Samuel 22:17-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, September 3, 2018

Monday, September 3, 2018

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

II Samuel 22:1-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sunday, September 2, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:11-15

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, September 1, 2018

Saturday, September 1, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:9-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday, August 31, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:5-8

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

III John 1:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

Acts 13:4-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

Acts 13:1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday, August 27, 2018

“Imitate What is Good”

Acts 12:20-25

The gospel encounters opponents wherever it goes.  Jesus taught this explicitly.  He said, “In the world you face persecution.  But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).  King Herod in this text is an example of that opposition.  His whole family had opposed Jesus from the time of Jesus’ birth.  It was his grandfather Herod the Great who ordered the death of the children in Bethlehem.  Herod’s son, Herod Agrippa, had ordered the death of John the Baptist.  The Herod in this account, Agrippa, was the grandson of Herod the Great.

This Herod had no hesitation in persecuting the early church.  He killed the disciple James, the brother of John and one of the inner circle of disciples that had accompanied Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration.  He had Peter imprisoned (but an angel brought him out of prison).

We see in this passage the extent of Herod’s pride.  Dressed in his royal robes he is being extoled by the crowd and called a god.  It is at this point that an angel of the Lord strikes him dead.

There are several sobering lessons here.  The first is that opposition to the gospel can be widespread and intense.  However the second lesson is that this opposition will not prevail.  The angel of the Lord strikes him down.  Sooner or later this is the fate of all who try to overcome the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This takes place in an instant.  That is not always the case.  Think of examples from Nero to Hitler.  Yet this opposition can never succeed.  We read here that the word of God continued to advance.

Despite the upheavals of history and the inevitable seduction of the world the word of God can only advance.  It is the two sided sword that cuts across all falsehood, injustice and opposition (Heb. 4:12).  We can never be discouraged about God’s Word and for that matter, the church of Jesus Christ, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail.

Eternal and gracious God may I never be intimidated in sharing your Word.  I thank you that no opposition can stand against your truth.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday, August 26, 2018

“Walking in the Truth”

II John 1:12-13

John indicates that there is much more he could write to this congregation.  That is probably the meaning of “elect lady” and here “elect sister.”  These are names for churches.

John could have elaborated on his quote from the Book of Ruth in verse 8 (Ruth 2:12).  This would only have been clear to a Jewish audience.  The wording that is a quote from Ruth specifically is “may receive a full reward.” “What you worked for” is the same essentially as “reward you for your deeds.”

This quote cannot be accidental.  John is therefore citing Ruth as an example of his theme of walking in the truth.  Ruth is a striking figure.  She was a Moabite woman.  Moabite women had been cursed and no Moabite could enter the assembly of the Lord because of their seduction of Israelite men (Num. 25:1-9; Deut. 23:3-4). Ruth coming into the threshing floor to be with Boaz was scandalous.  He tells her she must leave while it is still dark so no one knows she had been there (Ruth 3:14).

What does all this have to do with “walking in the truth?”  While the history of the Moabites and their interaction with Israelites were certainly true, Ruth is acting on a higher level of truth.  Her actions both with her mother-in-law Naomi and Boaz are fulfilments of the central command to love.one another (v. 5).  The Ten Commandments are certainly true.  However these need to finally be applied in the demonstration of love.  Love cannot be reduced to a formula or a code.

Ruth took risks.  Walking in the truth involves risk.  However it is as we face these risks that we grow in God’s grace.  Ruth is not remembered according to what the law says about Moabite women.  On the contrary she is remembered as the great grand-mother of David and one of the ancestors of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).

While not having John face-to-face this explicit reference to Ruth gives us a model of walking in the truth.

Eternal and loving God I thank you for the many examples in scripture that illustrate what it means to love one another.  May I show that love.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday, August 25, 2018

“Walking in the Truth”

II John 1:7-11

Walking in the truth is not without serious challenges.  John here warns about deceivers who “have gone out into the world.”  He refers again to the anti-Christ.  The basis of this deception is the denial that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”  This repeats a theme from John’s first letter.  Why is this so central?  We would tend to think that a denial of Jesus being the Messiah or the divine Son of God, equal with the Father (John 1:1) would be a more serious concern.

The issue here has to do with our walking in the truth which is essentially the main theme of this short epistle.  John is concerned about a faith that is only an abstract spirituality, a personal devotion that cuts itself off from the issues of the world.  Jesus confronts all areas of life.  In his ministry he deals with tax collectors, disease, sex, politics and economics.  Spiritual life cannot be divorced from the concrete issues of ordinary life.

The early church was confronted with two divergent misunderstandings.  On one side there were those who only saw Jesus as a spiritual savior promising eternal life but not an authority for life in the here and now.  Pushed to an extreme this view saw the material world as unimportant leading to the attitude that one’s personal life was not decisive and in effect a Christian could live any way they wanted provided they believed the right things.  These people then saw no conflict between loving God and loving the things of the world (I John 2:15).  The other misunderstanding saw the Law of Moses as being a requirement for Christians (Acts 15:1).  In this case faith degenerates into legalism.

These views are examples of going beyond the teaching of Jesus.  They really are false substitutes for the genuine challenge of walking in the faith.  That walk is by faith not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).  A walk requires movement and change.  We do not walk as isolated individual Christians.  We walk as a community.  We need each other. Yet as we walk in faith we are called to deepen our understanding in the teaching and example of Jesus.
Loving and faithful God and Savior keep me focused on Jesus.  Keep me safe from deceptions and distortions of his gospel.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, August 24, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

“Walking in the Truth”

II John 1:4-6

John describes the Christian life as a walk.  Specifically here he speaks of walking in the truth.  John quotes Jesus’ statement that we are to walk in the light (John 12:35; I John 1:7).  This is in contrast to the apostle Paul who speaks of running a race or straining toward the finish line (II Tim. 4:7; Phil. 3:12-14).  Each image is valid in its own ways.  What’s the difference?  Paul focuses on the final goal of being recreated in the image of Christ.  John however focuses on the journey, the walk, the path or pilgrimage that leads to the final goal.  Both are different emphases of the same idea of following a path that directs us to Christ.

John certainly is right in talking about a road or a pathway that deepens our relationship in Christ.  This pathway expresses truth in its totality.  Jesus himself is the truth.  He in turn guarantees all other truths.  We hear voices today which seem to echo Pilates’s “What is truth?” (John 18:38) with statements like “Truth isn’t truth.”  We have just seen two of the President’s closest advisors having been found guilty of major falsehoods in their lives.

As Christians we should be completely truthful.  It is not only that “truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21).  The Bible presents us with the truth of God.  It also reveals the truth about ourselves.  We are not faithful or true, “not even one” of us (Rom. 3:10).

Those who practice deceit and lying want to avoid the truth at all costs.  Even so, the truth about ourselves can be painful.  The greatest truth is that Jesus came not to judge us but to save us (John 12:47).  Given this truth we are free to walk in integrity and honesty.  Rather than suppressing the truth we need to remember that truth and grace come from Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

Faithful and loving God I thank you for the truth that is in Jesus.  May I not be led astray by deceit and deception.  May I live out your truth.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, August 23, 2018

Thursday, August 23, 2018

“Walking in the Truth”

II John 1:1-3

The concept of truth is central to John’s writings in the New Testament.  Truth is identified with Jesus Christ (John 1:14-17; 14:6).  The truth sets us free (John 8:32).  On the other hand, Pilate asks sarcastically, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

We have a letter here from “the elder” who is probably the older John, the “Beloved disciple” to “the elect lady.”  This could be a person but it also could be a symbolic name for a congregation.  In I John the writer calls the congregation, “my little children” (I John 2:1).  The term “elect lady” could be a reference to the church John is addressing.

In this opening section John refers to the truth no less than four times.  Truth for John as we have seen is not simply a matter of correct facts and information.  The truth is the essential reality of Jesus Christ which exposes deceit and reveals the actual state of all human beings before God.  Truth is not only something you believe.  Truth is something you do (John 3:21).

Truth like love abides forever.  We hear a great deal today about “fake news.”  This would refer to reporting that is not true, not factual.  As the saying goes, it is important that we get our facts straight.  We cannot depend on rumor or second-hand information.  The truth that John refers to is completely accurate because it not only comes from Jesus Christ, it is Jesus Christ.  We have to struggle with the idea that Jesus is the truth (as well as the way and the life; John 14:6).

Jesus is our ultimate standard of truth.  We need to believe in him fully and completely.  We then have the promise that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13).

Most faithful and gracious God and Savior may I walk in your truth and thereby know the freedom that only comes from you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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.