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Sunday, July 15, 2018

“God is Love”

I John 4:1-12

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

“God is Love”

John 16:16-24

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018

“God is Love”

John 16:12-15

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

“God is Love”

John 16:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

“God is Love”

John 15:18-27

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

“God is Love”

John 15:12-17

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday, July 9, 2018

“God is Love”

John 15:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

THURSDAY
Outward Incarnational Focus and Empowered Servant Leadership

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

TUESDAY
Lifelong Discipleship Formation

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - A Season of Revitalization

A Season of Revitalization

MONDAY
Pastor Margo on Revitalization

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 2 – Sunday, July 8, 2018

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sunday, July 1, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I John 3:18-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 30, 2018

Saturday, June 30, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

Romans 13:8-10

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

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

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

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

We need to love others as God has loved us.

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

Romans 13:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:11-13

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:8-10

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:4-7

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, June 25, 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018

“Love in Truth and Action”

I Cor. 13:1-3

This is one of the most famous chapters in the Bible.  Paul here is emphasizing the primacy of love.  But what does Paul mean by “love?”  There were two basic words for love in classical Greek.  The first one was “eros” which refers to romantic and sexual love (from which we get the word, “erotic”).  The second is “phileo” which refers to friendship and family love, love for a brother or sister.  Hence the name “Philadelphia” which means “the city of brotherly love.”  It can also refer to liking something (“I love ice cream.”

Paul is not referring to either of these terms for love in this chapter.  The New Testament writers (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) create a new word for Christian love.  This is the word, “agape” which has become familiar to people in general not just Greek scholars.

The root idea of “agape” is essentially respect or showing favor to someone.  It becomes used in the New Testament to express the kind of love that Jesus showed.  It then become identified with compassion and caring.  The translators of the famous King James Bible called it “charity.” Jesus told the disciples that they were to love one another as he loved them (John 13:34).  This introduces another element in the meaning of love.  Jesus’ love was not only compassionate.  It was self-sacrificing.

When Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves he is  saying we should be prepared to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor.  That is the kind of love that God showed us in sending Jesus to be our savior.

Needless to say, we are far from living out this high standard.  Yet as Paul says here, and as he will develop further, whatever accomplishments we may have are in effect nothing if we don’t have compassionate, self-sacrificing love.

Most loving God, I cannot thank you enough for your love for me.  May I focus on that love and, by your Spirit, may I have the grace to love others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday, June 24, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

I John 2:18-25

The goal of the Antichrist is simply to destroy the church.  He may seek to do this through his spirit or through his disciples who constitute the “many Antichrists.” This can include even faithful Christians who may be deceived by him.  As we have seen the message of the Antichrist is finally destructive.  We cannot be complacent because none of us is immune to his influence.  In human terms the church can often appear weak and vulnerable.  The spirit of the Antichrist promises so much especially in earthly terms of success.  If we just don’t emphasize the full force of scripture we could be more successful.  Yet what finally lurks behind all the activities of the Antichrist is a denial of the fundamental gospel truth that “Jesus is the Christ” and all that that means.

In one of his most famous sermons Dietrich Bonhoeffer contrasts what he calls the church of Moses and the church of Aaron.  It must first be noted that Moses and Aaron are brothers.  They have both been called by God.  They have both been serving God.  Yet in the terms of I John, Aaron becomes possessed by the spirit of Antichrist.  He turns to one of the gods of Egypt, the golden calf, and leads Israel into idolatry.  God is prepared to cut Israel off completely until Moses intercedes for the people just as Christ intercedes for us (Ex. 32; Rom. 8:34).

We cannot allow the Antichrist to corrupt the church.  We are not to fear him.  More importantly we’re not to fight him in human strength.  This has led to wars of conquest and witch hunts throughout history (the early Puritans claimed that Native Americans were demon possessed).  Paul reminds us that our weapons must not be “merely human” but must have “divine power” (II Cor. 10:1-6).

Why does God allow the Antichrist?  We can’t answer that question completely.  We are in a spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-17).  We face conflict.  The freedom God gave the world at creation has been turned into rebellion and sin.  Conflict and struggle, like sickness and tragedy, can either draw us closer to Christ or pull us away from him.  We need to recognize that such conflict should cause us together to grow closer to Christ, the Christ who died tragically on the cross and in doing so destroyed forever the power of Death, Hell, Satan and the Antichrist (Col. 2:13-15; Rev. 19).

Gracious and faithful God and Savior keep me from the deception of the Antichrist.  Draw me closer to you and build me up in your Holy Spirit.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday, June 23, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

II Thess. 2:13-17

As we have noted we have no reason to fear the Antichrist and its spirit.  However the warnings are real.  Peter, after giving his great confession of faith, gives in to the spirit of Antichrist when he insists that Jesus should not go to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22). The Antichrist claims to speak on behalf of Jesus.  However the message is always distorted.

Paul reminds us that God chose us “for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”  This all comes to us through the “good news,” the gospel.  What is commanded in the gospel?  Nothing less and nothing more than believing in Jesus Christ and showing love to one another (I John 3:23).

The spirit of Antichrist however says this is not enough.  We need to believe harder and pray longer (Matt. 6:7).  One of his false doctrines is that we have not fully received the “sanctification by the Spirit” through faith in Jesus Christ.  Something more is needed to receive the full impact and power of the Holy Spirit.

In order to obtain this “second blessing” or whatever else it may be called, special effort is required on the part of the believer.  Special faith is necessary.  All of this can sow doubts in the minds of ordinary believers that they are missing something extra-ordinary.  This can easily become a “stumbling block” (Rom. 14) for some who begin to think that they’re not “spiritual” enough.  Another variation on this is the so-called “health and wealth” gospel with its promise of material and physical well-being if you simply follow the right steps.

All these are marks of the spirit of the Antichrist. Every one of us is susceptible. When we begin to think that grace and faith are not enough we can fall into the trap of the Antichrist. If Aaron and Peter succumbed we certainly can. Paul’s counsel is for us “to hold fast to the traditions” that we have received from God’s Word. John warns that the Antichrist goes beyond the teaching of Christ (II John 1:9).  He (she?) follows the devil’s example of taking scripture out of its context and misinterpreting it (Matt. 4:5-7).

Paul ends this section with a benediction where he prays that we would be comforted and strengthened “in every good work and word.”  We are not to be “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.” Instead we are to speak the truth in love and continue to grow up “in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15).  We need to keep a clear focus on Christ as he is revealed uniquely in scripture (John 5:39).

Eternal and faithful God give me the grace to stand firm in faith.  Keep me from the deceit and deception of the Antichrist.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

II Thess. 2:1-12

The theme of the Antichrist is such a dramatic one that people can easily get carried away with it.  As we have noted many have asked throughout history, “Who is the Antichrist?”  The record of scripture seems to point to two realities.  First, the antichrist is a spirit that is already present with us.  It takes hold of many people, hence John’s statement that there are “many antichrists” (I John 2:18). However, in addition, we see the picture of a single individual known as the Beast (Rev. 13) or the “man of sin,” here translated as “the lawless one.”

As we have seen the origin of this figure goes back to the description of Antiochus Epiphanes in the Book of Daniel who led a desolating abomination on the temple in Jerusalem.  Paul here is saying that this “lawless one” will be part of a final rebellion where this “lawless one” will be revealed. What exactly is he referring to?

He may be describing the cult of the emperor in which the emperor was seen as “god’ or a “son of god.”  Emperors, following the example of Antiochus Epiphanes tried to introduce pagan worship into Jerusalem until finally a rebellion did occur in 70 A.D.  This was initiated by the policies of Nero in the late sixties.  Nero is the prime candidate for the first clear example of the personal Antichrist.  The numerical value of Nero’s name is the infamous 666 (Rev. 13:18).

Yet the spirit of the Antichrist has always existed.  The first real example in scripture is the golden calf.  This was initiated by Aaron, the first priest, brother and partner of Moses.  Nonetheless he leads Israel into the worship of a false god with disastrous results.

What is a false god?  Essentially it is a projection of ourselves.  Worshipping ourselves, our own wants, wishes and desires is very enticing.  The Antichrist offers us a seductive delusion.  Yet as long as we hold on to Christ and his Word we have nothing to fear from him.

Loving and merciful God, keep me from falling into the delusions and false promises of the Antichrist.  May I be guarded fully and completely by your Son who is the Word of God. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

Matthew 24:15-31

Jesus continues with a devastating picture.  As is often the case with Biblical prophecy, the prediction here refers to more than one event.  The most immediate reference would be the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred some forty years later.  People truly fled desperately from the invading Romans.  This was a time of unparalleled suffering “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

Yet how can this be?  Certainly even Roman authors like Tacitus described the events of 68-70 A.D. as being beyond description.  Yet even granting this there have been major conflicts and world wars up to the present each seemingly more devastating than the last.  This is where Jesus’ second reference comes in.  Beyond the immediate future of the destruction of Jerusalem there will be another future.  This will culminate in the “end of the age” which the disciples asked about.  This is what is referred to as the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:13-14).  These are also the “last days” which Joel prophesied  (Joel 2:10-11) and Peter saw as fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21).

How are we to understand these intense images which culminate with the return of Christ “with power and great glory?”  It is best not to see these events fulfilled in a single event.  Rather this is the pattern of history leading up to Christ’s return.  Again and again we are confronted with “great suffering” that is unique.  These times of upheaval are also the occasion for the appearance of false messiahs and false prophets.  What Jesus in effect is saying is that the last days are already upon us.  The time of unsurpassed suffering began with the cross (which included the destruction of the curtain in the temple), and in turn led to the destruction of the temple.  That time of “great suffering” includes the last two thousand years. The generation of the disciples saw the devastation which all future generations have also seen. It is an apt description that covers the cruelty of the Roman Emperors on up to present day dictators.  We are told these will continue until Christ returns.

This is a sober picture but also clearly an accurate one.  We should not be confused by the constant upheavals of history.  We should not be seduced away from Christ and his word.  We don’t know when will be the time of his precise return (Matt. 24:32).  However we can say this with equal certainty.  It will be soon (Matt. 24:33).

Loving and faithful God may I not become discouraged by the events in the world around me.  May I remember that you could return at any moment.  I pray that I am ready and waiting for your appearance.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

Matthew 24:9-14

Jesus continues with what, frankly, is a distressing picture of the future.  He addresses the disciples here specifically.  They will be tortured, hated and put to death.  Again, Jesus’ predictions are borne out.  The early Christians faced persecution practically from the beginning of their ministry.  This intensified under Nero.  Throughout history there has been a high price paid for following Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, himself one of the martyrs of the twentieth century, said, “When God calls a man he bids him come and die.”

Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if this is what it means?  The reason is simple.  Jesus is the only Savior and Lord.  He is the only one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).  He is the light of the world (John 8:12).  He is the salvation of the world (I John 4:14).  Anything less than committing ourselves to him leads to a life that is empty.  Jesus is the abundant life (John 10:10).

This passage convicts us.  What persecution, torture or death do we face?  We live in a country that guarantees freedom of worship.  We need to realize however that Christians throughout the ages and indeed many Christians in other parts of the world today face what Jesus describes here.

We cannot take our priviledged position for granted.  At the very least we have to be prepared to support those who face suffering.  In addition we need to be prepared to stand up for Christ in a world that still, in large part, turns away from him.

Eternal and loving God and Savior, may I not shrink from taking risks to be faithful to you.  Grant me your courage, I pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

Matthew 24:1-8

The disciples and Jesus are coming out of the temple.  The disciples were understandably impressed by its grandeur.  However Jesus adds a cautionary note.  He tells the disciples that “not one stone will be left here upon another.”  He is essentially foretelling the destruction of the temple.  It was not literally reduced to rubble but it was devastated and basically destroyed.  This happened forty years later (which represents a Biblical generation) in the year 70 A.D.

The disciples’ response was to ask the larger question about the future.  They want to know what will be the signs of “the end of the age.”  Jesus presents them with a grim picture.  First, there will be many false messiahs and they “will lead many astray.”  Jesus in effect is saying that there will be false gods and false prophets.  The immediate example of this was the emperor cult which was increasing in ancient Rome viewing the emperor as a “son of God.”  However we have seen such figures throughout history from Nero to Hitler to examples in our own time.

Jesus then also gives a sobering picture of the nations which, as he describes it, will be almost continually at war.  Again Jesus’ immediate reference would be to the Jewish revolt of 70 A.D. which led to the destruction of the temple.  As a description of the pattern throughout history Jesus is remarkably accurate.  We continually have “wars and rumors of war.”  A hundred years ago this month the United States was becoming intensely engaged in the deadly combat of World War I and would continue so until the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918.  This was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.”  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

What hope can we take from such a distressing picture?  Jesus tells the disciples that the end is not yet.  What we see however is how accurate Jesus’ predictions are.  We can then have the same assurance of his promise of his return and establishing his rule on a new earth, free of suffering, pain and death (Rev. 21:1-4).  Roman writers in this period predicted a return to a “golden age.”  The record of history is clear.  They were wrong and Jesus was right.

Eternal and loving God sustain me in the upheavals of the present.  Prepare me for your coming rule.  Give me your hope, confidence and assurance.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday, June 18, 2018

“Who is the Antichrist?”

Daniel 9:20-28

The theme of the Antichrist has fascinated people through the ages.  While the figure is clearly described in scripture, both here in the Old Testament book of Daniel as well as in several books of the New Testament (the term “Antichrist “itself only appears in the epistles of John), it has often led to unhealthy speculation.  Christians throughout history have claimed to have identified the person of Antichrist.  He has been identified as everyone from Nero to Napoleon to Hitler among many others.  John actually speaks of “many antichrists” (I John 2:18).

This passage from Daniel describes the original Antichrist.  Daniel ostensibly writing from Babylon during the exile there forecasts a return to Jerusalem after “seventy weeks.”  This is conveyed from one of the chief angels, Gabriel.  We quickly learn that “week” here refers to a year.  Seventy weeks then is the seventy years of Israel’s captivity in Babylon (Jer. 25:11-12).

The prophecy that is presented here makes it clear that Israel will still face challenges and persecutions.  The specific figure named here is the Selucid King Antiochus Epiphanes.  The Selucids were a series of kings who arose out of the empire of Alexander the Great after his death.

Antiochus invaded Palestine in the second century BC.  He formed treaties which were finally broken.  His most outrageous act which became known as the “abomination that desolates” was his breaking into the Holy of Holies and offering the sacrifice of a pig on the altar.  For the Jews this was an act of total desecration, making Antiochus the prototype of the Antichrist.  Jesus refers to this event in Matthew 24:15.

The important point here is that Antiochus established a pattern.  The Antichrist would make false promises.  He would be a forceful and compelling figure.  Finally his goal is to corrupt the worship and service of the true God.  The fact that Antiochus enters the Holy of Holies is to warn us that the Antichrist offers false worship.

Throughout this week we will be looking at what Scripture teaches about this figure.

Eternal and gracious God keep me focused on you.  May I not be deceived by those who would entice me away from you and your Word.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday, June 17, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

I John 2:12-17

If John here is the “Beloved Disciple” of the Gospel of John he would be about eighty at this point.  He addresses the whole congregation as his “little children.”  Who then are the “fathers” and the “young people?”  These probably don’t refer to chronological ages.  The “fathers” may well be those who grew up in the Christian faith.  The “young people” would then be those who came to Christ later in life and are therefore more recent converts.  John is saying that both are needed in the community of faith.  The “fathers” have the advantage of experience and perspective.  The “young people” have the enthusiasm and fresh outlook of those new to the faith.  In a healthy church congregation both voices are valued and appreciated.  The great uniting fact that binds all of John’s “little children” together is the fact that their sins have been forgiven.  Therefore there is no place for guilt and condemnation in the congregation (Rom. 8:1).

John then raises what seems to be a puzzling point.  He tells all that they are not to love the world, that the love of the Father is not in those who love the world.  But the most famous verse in the Bible says unequivocally that “God so loved the world . . . .” (John 3:16).  How can we reconcile these two statements?  Some have pointed out that the word “world” is used in more than one sense.  The world can be creation, all humanity or the world under the control and influence of Satan, “the evil one” (I John 5:19).

While these are possible interpretations John doesn’t seem to ever distinguish among the various understandings of “world.”  The world is central in John’s Gospel and in the epistles.  He seems to view it as a complete, if still complex, reality.  The real key to understanding what he is saying here may relate to what is meant by the love of God.  God loves the world not as it is but as it will be.  Jesus is the savior of the world (John 1:29; 3:16-17; 4:42; 12:47; I John 4:14). God loves the world not as it is in its present state but in terms of its future fulfillment of having Christ as its savior.   That salvation has already begun (John 12:32).  The world may at present be in spiritual darkness.  Nonetheless we have this confidence: Jesus has conquered the world (John 16:33).

We need to model for the world the true meaning of love.  That demonstration of the self-giving love of Christ will finally bring the world to believe in Christ (John 17:20-21).

Eternal and loving god keep me loving the things in the world that would distract me from you.  May I show my love for my brothers and sisters so that the world will come to accept that same love in Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 12:36-43

Jesus represents the light of God, the light that overcomes the darkness.  Light and darkness are clearly spiritual realities.  The light refers to God’s truth revealed in Jesus Christ.  The darkness is whatever resists that light.  Jesus has demonstrated his truth in many ways not the least has been, in John’s Gospel, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).

Yet in spite of dramatic miracles like this many did not believe in Jesus.  John cites two quotations from Isaiah at this point which underscore this fact (Isa. 53:1; 6:9-10).  They are left in their blindness.  People choose darkness rather than light (John 3:19).  Our choices have consequences.  God can confirm people in their unbelief.  He can, in Paul’s words, give them up (Rom. 1:24-32).  Salvation is all of grace (Eph. 2:5). Yet we need to respond to that grace.  Jesus on the cross draws all people to himself but not all come (John 12:32).

The greater tragedy in this passage are those who believe in Christ but are afraid to admit it.  The judgment on them is that “they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”  In contemporary terms, they were afraid of what people would think if they became outspoken in their faith.

We are all susceptible to this temptation.  We want people to like us.  We want to be accepted.  Speaking out in the name of Jesus Christ is not welcome in every situation.  The silent disciples mentioned here faced the very serious prospect of being put out of the synagogue for their belief.  We are often hesitant to speak out facing much less serious consequences.  Jesus stated it explicitly.  Those who deny him, he will also deny (Matt. 10:32-33).  May we have the grace to pursue the glory of God rather than human glory.

Merciful and gracious God give me the courage to speak and act in the name of Jesus Christ whenever I have the opportunity.  Keep me from the fear of human rejection.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:35-41

The blind person whom Jesus healed has been attacked by the religious leaders.  We read that he was “driven out” (John 9:34).  What does this mean?  It could signify that he has been put out of the synagogue (John 9:22).  This man has done nothing wrong.  In fact he is the recipient of a great gift, his sight.  Yet because what happened to him doesn’t fit the mindset of the religious critics he has been rejected.

Religious intolerance has plagued humanity throughout its history.  Unfortunately it has existed too often even in Christian churches.  As far back as the seventeenth century Roger Williams was driven out of Boston because he differed with some of the over strict views of his fellow Puritans.  He went on to establish Rhode Island as a settlement where freedom of the conscience was guaranteed.

Where is this healed man to turn? The answer of course is Jesus.  It is important to note that Jesus comes to him.  Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man (or Son of God).  The man understandably asks, who is he?  Jesus reveals himself and the man believes in him and worships him.

Jesus then states the obvious irony that the Pharisees who criticized this man are the ones who actually are blind.  They are spiritually blind.  They don’t recognize Jesus.  Jesus who demonstrates the true love of compassion and concern is also the one who rejects rejection and refuses to tolerate intolerance.

Paul struggled against those whom he mockingly called “super-apostles” (II Cor. 11:5).  The sobering truth is that Jesus is not religious.  He is the Son of God, the Word made flesh.  He is God’s Word to us.  That is the one Word alone that we are to heed.

Gracious and faithful god, keep me from spiritual blindness.  May I not be rigid or intolerant but give me the grace to show your love to all who are in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday, June 14, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:24-34

Bad religion is worse than no religion.  The religious leaders can’t let the healing of this blind man go unchallenged.   They are no longer simply questioning him.  They are putting him through a cross examination.  Why is this so important to them?  They have placed their confidence totally in the Law of Moses.  They cannot see that Jesus is the fulfillment of that Law.  With their second questioning of the healed blind man they say, “Give glory to God!”

But that is what the man is doing.  Jesus is the expression of God’s glory.  The irony in this story of course is the fact that the blind man now sees and the religious rulers remain spiritually blind.  There is a lesson for all of us here.  We resist change.  We don’t want to have to rethink our chosen perspectives on faith and life.  Yet the God who is always doing a “new thing” challenges us to do exactly that (Isa. 42:9).

Holding firmly to the Law of Moses in the face of Roman idolatry was not only commendable but an excellent example of faithfulness in the face of persecution.  Yet faithfulness cannot be the same as inflexibility.  Jesus tells the disciples that they will do greater works than he has done (John 14:12).  How can we recognize these “greater works?”  They have to be seen as expressions of Jesus’ love and his saving power in people’s lives.  This doesn’t mean that we automatically accept every new interpretation or idea.  Nonetheless we have to take risks in following Christ.  We always walk by faith and not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).

What is the response of the blind person to all this?  He simply says, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  The rulers want to dismiss this claim or at least invalidate it.  They in effect are trying to tell the man that he hasn’t really been healed.  In frustration they finally dive him away.  Their religion has kept them from being able to see Jesus.  We have to always remember that religion is a human response to God.  God himself continues to work in surprising ways.  We need to be open to “new things” in Christ.

Eternal and loving God keep me from clinging to my beliefs in a static, inflexible form.  Give me the grace to see you at work in surprising and unexpected ways.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:18-23

The man who had been born blind has now been given his sight by Jesus.  The religious leaders (simply called here “the Jews) feel threatened by Jesus and therefore don’t believe the blind man had received his sight from him.  In the face of such a miracle why wouldn’t these leaders accept Jesus for who he is?  They call in the parents of the man and ask them if their son really had been blind.  They question the parents about their son’s sight, “How then does he now see?”

Yet these leaders are asking an impossible question.  How can one explain a miracle?  More to the point, how can anyone explain Jesus?  The parents obviously also feel threatened.  They protest that their son is of legal age.  They say, “Ask him.”  Behind their evasion is the threat that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue which is to say, would be rejected and ostracized by their whole community.

It’s easy to identify with these parents.  None of us likes to be put on the spot.  Still less do we want to face rejection.  In reality these parents don’t want to get into a debate about Jesus.  Did he really heal their son?  Can he truly perform miracles?  Is he in fact the Messiah?  They’ don’t want to go there.

Yet questions about Jesus cannot be avoided.  Jesus invariably makes his presence felt.  Questions about him arise again and again. Peter tells us that we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15).

What emerges here is that these parents apparently haven’t formed a clear understanding themselves of who Jesus really is. They are not, at this point away, hoping and trusting in him. They basically want to avoid the question.  They already seem to know that supporting Jesus can be costly.  They don’t want to give a definite answer.  We can certainly sympathize with their feeling threatened.

However questions about Jesus can’t be avoided.  The final answer can never be, “We don’t know.”

Gracious and loving God and Savior, give me the grace and the courage to give an answer for my faith in Jesus Christ to anyone who asks.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:13-17

Jesus does not fit the expectations of the Pharisees, the religious leaders.  They are taking a narrow focus.  Everything for them is a matter of the law.  The irony of course is that Israel never followed the law faithfully (I Kings 21:15).  Nonetheless it has been true throughout history that those who are most critical and judgmental are often the most likely to betray the standards they want to impose on others.

Which is more important, healing a blind man or conforming to a strict adherence to the Sabbath?   The question answers itself.  Jesus said the Sabbath was made for humanity not humanity for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).  The Pharisees are divided about Jesus.  Yet this all comes down to Jesus quoting again from Hosea 6:6. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 12:7).  We can never show enough mercy (Rom. 11:32).

The irony here is that the former blind person is being treated as though he has done something wrong.  He cannot answer their questions about Jesus.  As far as he knows Jesus is a prophet.  That’s all he can say.

The law is not our authority.  As we mentioned in church this past Sunday the law’s benefit lies in defining the will of God.  However beyond that the law can neither empower us nor condemn us (Rom. 8:1)

You cannot define love or mercy by a list of commandments.  This is why our freedom in Christ is so important (John 8:36).  Yet we are often hesitant to live out that freedom.  Rules and commandments give us a measure of security.  Jesus however pushes the envelope.  He calls us to come out of our comfort zone.  To be faithful to God we may have to break the law.  Jesus certainly did (Matt. 12:1-5).

Loving and merciful God and Savior give me the grace and courage to reach out to those in need.  Keep me from being bound by anything that hampers your love and mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday, June 11, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9: 1-11

This passage begins with the disciples asking a familiar but pointless question.  Jesus and the disciples are walking along and they encounter a man who had been blind from birth.  We’re not told how they knew he had been blind his whole life but apparently this was common knowledge.  Trying to find an explanation for the man’s infirmity, they ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  This question is filled with so many problems it takes time to list them.  Yet because this type of question has been asked throughout history it bears consideration.

The first problem is the disciples are speaking about the man in the third person, “this man.”  The person is blind but he’s not deaf.  If he is along the road he is presumably within hearing distance.  When people are spoken about in the third person they are in effect being treated as objects.  Even in a hospital room with a non-responsive person who may be in a coma that person still may be able to hear.  This has been confirmed buy people who have come out of comas.

Next the disciples assume that the man’s blindness is some kind of punishment on either him or his parents.  This is further complicated by the question, what could someone have done before they were born that could result in a punishment?  Jesus dispels all this by saying that the disciples’ assumptions are all wrong.  The purpose of all this is that God’s works may be revealed in this person. This miracle is a sign of the fact that Jesus is the light of the world.

Jesus proceeds to heal the man using mud made from his own saliva.  Why Jesus uses this method we are not told.  Other people also have lots of questions.  They’re not sure this is the same person that was blind.  They want him to give them information about Jesus.  All the man says is, “I do not know.”

We want to make sense of sickness and suffering.  Why does Jesus heal some people, even people who are not specifically asking for healing (John 5:6-8)?  The fact is we are confronted here with mystery.  Sorrow and sickness are signs of sin.  Yet they cannot by seen as specific punishments for specific sins (This was the error of Job’s friends).

Jesus heals whenever and however he chooses.  The fact that he heals at all is a sign of God’s grace.  We live in hope of the day when suffering, mourning and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:1-4).  In the meantime suffering teaches us both patience and obedience (Rom. 8:25; Heb. 5:8).

Eternal and gracious God teach me patience and obedience as I face suffering.  Build up my hope in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday, June 10, 2018

“Living in the Light”

I John 2:1-11

John reminds us that we do not have to sin.  Jesus on the cross broke the power of sin, death and even the devil himself (John 12:31).  Yet the irony is that we do sin.  We choose to sin.  John them reminds us that in the struggle with sin Jesus is our advocate.  He is also our helper and our comfort.  As we have noted this letter draws on the gospel of John which may have been written by the same author.

To understand that our advocate is able to overcome our sin we need to first realize that we tend to have a narrow view of sin.  We think of sin too often as just doing “bad things.”  Sin however takes in a whole lot more.  Sin is brokenness.  It is failure.

Jesus’ first miracle in John’s gospel is turning water into wine at a wedding reception (John 2:1-11).  How is this an “atoning sacrifice” for sin since Jesus plays this role as the advocate who takes away the sin of the world throughout the gospel (John 1:29).  We might think running out of wine at a reception is a trivial matter.  Yet it is a sign of brokenness which ultimately is part of the tragic reality of sin.

Jesus reaches out to many forms of brokenness.  In John 5 he encounters a man who has been paralyzed for thirty eight years.  He asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6).  We may well ask, what kind of question is that?  Of course the man wants to be made well.  Yet he doesn’t answer Jesus’ question directly.  In fact he complains that no one has helped him in all this time.  We have to ask, did he ever ask for help?  Is that perhaps the reason for Jesus’ question?  Jesus proceeds to heal him without the man asking for healing.

Over the course of John’s gospel Jesus reaches out to a rejected woman, heals a royal official’s desperately ill son and forgives a woman caught in adultery (John 4:1-42, 46-54, 8:1-11).  All of these are examples of Jesus being the atoning sacrifice not only for us but for the whole world.  If we are to experience the full power and joy of Jesus we need to show love the way he did.

Merciful and gracious God I thank you that you have not only taken away my sins but the sins of the whole world.  Give me the grace to show the same love you showed.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday, June 9, 2018

“Living in the Light”

Ps. 22:22-26

This is the concluding section of the psalm that Jesus quotes from the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34; Ps. 22:1).  This cry has been uttered countless times throughout history as people have had to struggle with pain, suffering and tragedy.  There can well be the impressions and feeling that God has forsaken us.  The writer of the Hebrews says that Jesus had to learn obedience through suffering.  If that was true in his case how much more is it true of us who are far less inclined to be obedient to God’s will than Jesus was?  Yet this is a lesson we would rather not have to learn.

The psalmist here makes clear that suffering and pain are not the ends of human life.  God does hear us even if he doesn’t always answer us in the way we want.  We are promised that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:38-39).  However we are never told that we will be free of pain and suffering in this life.

In spite of his agony the psalmist praises God.  Having felt abandoned initially the writer then affirms that God has not forgotten the “affliction of the afflicted.”  More than this the psalmist confesses that God did not withdraw from him.  Contrary to his initial impression God did in fact hear when he cried out.  Again, the psalmist does not offer any easy answers to present suffering.  He claims that the poor shall eat and be satisfied.  However we do not see that at present.

We have to remember that the present is not permanent.  God hears us now.  He cares for us now.  He gives us mercy and grace in time of need.  Yet we are reminded that Jesus himself prayed “with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7).  We are never without God’s grace and mercy.  We are assured that one day pain and suffering and death will be no more (Rev. 21:1-4).

We may feel forsaken by God.  The truth however is that God never forsakes us (Ps. 46:1-3).

Eternal and loving God I praise you that in the distress of this life you continue not only to hear me but you also sustain me with the faith, hope and love that I have in Jesus Christ.  I pray in his name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday, June 8, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:48-59

This text give us an ultimate picture of the conflict between religion and Jesus.  As Karl Barth famously put it, religion is humanity’s attempt to find God, revelation is God finding humans.  Yet Jesus’ opponents here are the religious leaders of the Jews (the word “Jews” is essentially synonymous with the Pharisees).  The Pharisees had started out with the admirable goal of both preserving and purifying the faith of Israel.  Their tragedy however was spiritual pride.  They came to see themselves as the true voice of Israel.  They judged and indeed condemned those who did not share their views.

Jesus did not fit their categories.  Hence they referred to him as a Samaritan and a demon.  This showed both their prejudice (against Samaritans) and their intolerance of anyone who disagreed with them.  Jesus simply responds with the plain statement that he did not have a demon.  Of course.

Jesus then establishes his role as the faithful servant of the Father to be “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).  He links himself with Abraham.  The religious leaders mockingly ask him, how could he have known Abraham?  Jesus’ climactic answer is “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus here unmistakably is identifying himself with God.  The name of God is “I Am” (Ex. 3:14).  The religious leaders are horribly offended.  Jesus quite simply is not their view of God.  They take up stones to throw at him.

We can see how wrong the Pharisees are.  However we have to ask, what’s our view of God?  Does our view match the reality of Jesus?  Jesus is not a super hero.  He is not a genie who grants our desires.  He is not a ruler in any ordinary sense.  He is the true God in human form.  We may not want to admit it but we can be offended by Jesus.  He is all too often not what we expect.  If we are honest we have to admit that Jesus changes our whole idea of God.  This chapter began with the familiar story of the woman taken in adultery.  Jesus takes her side and challenges the righteous and respectable religious leaders.  From a human perspective this is an offensive Jesus.  Yet his greatest offense is that he came not to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17).

We need to thank God every day for this offensive Savior.

Most merciful and loving God I thank you that you sent Jesus to be may Savior.  May he lead me to understand you as you truly are.  Free me from my own delusions about you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday, June 7, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:39-47

The conflict between Jesus and his critics has become more tense.  Jesus confronts them with their intention now to put him to death (John 5:18; 7:1).  This fact underscores the continuing theme in John’s writings between light and darkness.  No one can be undecided.  There is no neutrality.  Jesus contrasts these Jewish leaders with Abraham.  In effect Jesus is saying that Abraham was open to receiving God’s Word even when God did not make sense to him.  Jesus’ opponents however have rejected everything but their own understanding.

By opposing Jesus they have identified themselves as children of the devil.  Once again we have to note that these texts have been twisted to promote animosity and indeed hatred of the Jews.  This is completely unjustifiable.  As Paul says, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?  By no means!” (Rom. 11:1).

Jesus confronts his critics with the fact that they are under the leading of the devil.  The same thing happens with Peter (Matt. 16:22-23).  The origin of Satan remains a mystery.  Jesus says that he was a murderer from the beginning.  There is a Jewish myth that Satan once was an archangel in heaven who fell because of pride.  However this is not found in scripture (Isaiah chapter 14 is dealing with the King of Babylon not a celestial or spiritual figure),

Yet Satan is real and he is “the father of lies”  On the other extreme Jesus is the truth.  In Christ we need not fear the devil.  At the same time we need to be aware of him and his continuing efforts to deceive us.  He disguises himself as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:15).   Our assurance lies in the fact that “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).  We are not caught in the devil’s lies.  We have the truth that is in Jesus (Eph. 4:21).

Merciful and gracious God may I, like Abraham, have a strong faith in you.  Free me from the power of Satan and keep me in your truth.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

 “Living in the Light”

John 8:31-38

This passage begins with a startling statement.  Jesus is addressing “the Jews who had believed in him.”  Yet Jesus goes on to say that these people are trying to kill him (v. 37).  What has gone wrong here?  These apparently were earlier followers of Jesus who had perhaps been attracted to the Sermon on the Mount and to his teaching about the law.  Now however as they were witnessing Jesus’ increasing claims to divinity they were becoming disturbed.  In their minds Jesus was beginning to speak blasphemy (John 10:33).

What happens when Jesus doesn’t live up to our expectations?  Have we felt disappointed with Jesus at times?  If we are honest we have to acknowledge that we have all had these thoughts.  The bottom line is that often Jesus is not what we imagine him to be.

Yet look at what Jesus offers us.  He presents the truth which will set us free.  What is this truth?  It is finally the truth about Jesus as well as the truth about ourselves.  We live in a sea of illusion.  We are confronted daily with doubts and fears.  Yet Jesus who is the truth reveals both our need of him and his desire to be our Lord and Savior.  We have been slaves to sin.  Jesus reveals the truth that he overcomes the power of sin and frees us from its domination.  We are free from everything that binds us.  Because the Son makes us free we are free indeed.

 

Eternal and faithful God I praise and thank you for the freedom I have in Christ.  May I use that freedom to serve him more faithfully and more joyfully.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:21-30

Jesus once again is talking to his critics.  These are identified as “the Jews.”  In reality they are the Jewish leaders.  These texts unfortunately have been used throughout history to justify forms of Anit-Semitism.  Such readings are invalid because they isolate passages such as these from the larger context of scripture.  Jesus earlier had said that salvation comes from the Jews.(John 4:22)

What is most challenging in this passage is that Jesus throughout it is making his claim that he is God.  He has not said this directly but the fact that he uses the expression “I am” multiple times prepares him and his readers for what will be an unequivocal claim.  He calls on his critics here to believe in him as the “I am” (vv. 23, 24, 28).

Do we really believe that Jesus is God?  God’s name, as told to Moses, is “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:13-14).  We certainly say that Jesus is fully God as well as fully human.  It is part of all our creeds.  However try and imagine what this means.  Everything comes from Jesus.  Everything exists for Jesus.  All power and authority belong to him.  He is always with us.  The people described in this text can’t understand what Jesus is saying.  How could they?  Even we with the complete scriptures and the presence of the Holy Spirit only dimly understand it.  Jesus represents the Father even as he is equal with the Father (John 1:1).

The real meaning of Jesus’ divine nature is that his love can never fail (Rom. 8:38-39).  As Jesus makes his divine claim many believe in him.  We need to share this Jesus with a world that was made by him and for him, a world that desperately needs to know him.

Eternal and loving God teach me to know your Son more fully and completely.  May I experience his divine presence every day.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:12-20

Jesus makes many amazing claims in the Gospel of John.  One of the most foundational of these is his claim to be the “light of the world.”  This is set off over against the darkness.  To say that Jesus is the light is also to say that he is the true light which enlightens everyone (John 1:9).  He is the light of all people (John 1:4).  He is the light at the dawn of creation (Gen. 1:3; John 1:2).  He is the bright morning star which shines forever (Rev. 22:16).

On the other hand Jesus warns of the darkness. The darkness represents evil, fear, ignorance and chaos.  These forces existed before creation and they still exist today (Gen. 1:2).  We don’t have to look far to find them.  Yet we have this assurance that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

While there is a sharp division between light and darkness we do not always see that distinction so clearly.  Who are the representatives of the darkness in this passage?  They are not Roman soldiers or magicians or even greedy and uncaring people (Luke 16:19-31).  No, the figures who represent the darkness here are the religious leaders, the Pharisees, who saw their task as purifying the faith of Israel.  However they had turned the mercy of God into a condemning law.  Therefore they could not recognize Jesus or even God the Father.  This needs to remind us that the darkness is not only obscure.  It is deceitful.  We dare not mistake the darkness for light.

Eternal and gracious God I praise you that Jesus is the light of the world.  Give me the grace to walk in his light.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

“Complete Joy”

II Cor. 4:1-12

Paul here is describing the struggles of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  In spite of these difficulties he does not lose heart.  The essence of the gospel message is mercy.  This mercy applies to all of us who have faith in Christ.  Paul at this point in his ministry is facing opposition from others who claim to have been more successful in presenting the gospel than he was.  Even Paul’s physical appearance has been mocked (II Cor. 10:10).  Paul calls these critics, “super-apostles” (II Cor. 11:5).

Paul also contends with those who have rejected the gospel.  This would include his Jewish brothers and sisters (Rom. 9:1-5).  Paul could easily become discouraged.  Yet he understands that none of what is happening is about him.  His task is to proclaim Jesus as Lord (a direct contradiction to the Roman cult where Caesar was Lord).  In a striking additional note he calls his ministry team “slaves for Jesus’ sake.  For Paul the gospel goes all the way back to the beginning of creation.  When God said, “Let there be light” that light was nothing less than “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Paul emphasizes the fact that all of us are “clay jars.”  Yet God has given us “extraordinary power”   The origin of this power is spiritual but its impact is felt in every area of life.  As Paul says elsewhere, Christ is before all things and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).

Paul lists the struggles he has undergone climaxing with the statement that while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake.  To put it bluntly, following Christ is not easy.  We are not promised peace and prosperity in this life.  The only certainty and hope we have is in Christ.  If it were not for him we would be like sheep led to the slaughter (Rom. 8:36).  Our goal is that the life of Jesus would be made visible in our lives.  This is what sustains and upholds us.

Faithful and loving God and Savior I acknowledge that there are times when I feel afflicted and perplexed.  Keep me from despair and keep me focused on you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 2, 2018

Saturday, June 2, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:13-18

The psalmist reasserts his point that all of life comes from God.  He uses highly symbolic and very evocative language.  He speaks of his mother’s womb as “the depths of the earth.”  This continues his theme of how God knows so much more about us than we do ourselves.  The writer can only conclude that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

He then goes on to say that in God’s book (the Book of Life?) all the days of his life were written.  Earlier theologians had taken such expressions to the extreme of saying that all the events of our lives were predetermined before our birth.  This is the Classical Greek understanding of fate which can never be changed (Oedipus will marry his mother and murder his father no matter what he tries to do to avoid this fate).

Yet this is certainly not the Biblical view.  Our actions and our decisions all matter.  We are not pawns who simply act out a foreordained pattern.  Time and again Jesus calls the disciples to account for their actions (There is the mystery of Judas but even here scripture is very clear that this is Judas’ decision even though ”the Son of Man is going as it has been determined,” Luke 22:22).

Scripture certainly uses poetic and symbolic language.  The message being conveyed is clear enough.  We are always under God’s watchful care.  The thought here is similar to Jesus’ statement that his disciples are all in the Father’s hand and nothing can take them out of that hand (John 10:27-29).

The ways of God cannot be numbered.  They are more than the sand on all the shores in the world.  God is supremely in control.  Therefore we can rely on Him for everything.

Most gracious and loving God I praise you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  May I learn to trust you in everything.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 1, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:13-18

The psalmist reasserts his point that all of life comes from God.  He uses highly symbolic and very evocative language.  He speaks of his mother’s womb as “the depths of the earth.”  This continues his theme of how God knows so much more about us than we do ourselves.  The writer can only conclude that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

He then goes on to say that in God’s book (the Book of Life?) all the days of his life were written.  Earlier theologians had taken such expressions to the extreme of saying that all the events of our lives were predetermined before our birth.  This is the Classical Greek understanding of fate which can never be changed (Oedipus will marry his mother and murder his father no matter what he tries to do to avoid this fate).

Yet this is certainly not the Biblical view.  Our actions and our decisions all matter.  We are not pawns who simply act out a foreordained pattern.  Time and again Jesus calls the disciples to account for their actions (There is the mystery of Judas but even here scripture is very clear that this is Judas’ decision even though ”the Son of Man is going as it has been determined,” Luke 22:22).

Scripture certainly uses poetic and symbolic language.  The message being conveyed is clear enough.  We are always under God’s watchful care.  The thought here is similar to Jesus’ statement that his disciples are all in the Father’s hand and nothing can take them out of that hand (John 10:27-29).

The ways of God cannot be numbered.  They are more than the sand on all the shores in the world.  God is supremely in control.  Therefore we can rely on Him for everything.

Most gracious and loving God I praise you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  May I learn to trust you in everything.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:7-12

God is everywhere.  Do we really believe that?  That is what the psalmist is affirming here.  There is nowhere where God is not present.  We can never hide from God.  Adam and Eve thought they could hide from him after they ate the forbidden fruit.  Moses thought he had left his God behind in Egypt when he fled.  Jonah tried to run away from God.  All of these efforts failed.  Of course.

The fact that God is present with us always should be encouraging.  What do we hope to gain by running away from God?  The age of the internet gives us the illusion that whatever we do or see on line is a secret.  However we’re told that nothing could be farther from the truth.  This is even more true when we think of God.  We can have no secrets from him.

The fact that God is present everywhere should be a great comfort to us.  The tragedy is we may not realize that we are always in God’s presence.  When the prodigal son is in the pig sty God is present with him.  Indeed it could well be the presence of God that gives him the idea to return home (Luke 15:16-17).  The rich man in Hades is tormented by thirst.  He cries out to Abraham.  However according to this psalm God is present there with him in Hades (“Sheol” is the Hebrew name for Hades).  If he only knew, he could have called to God directly.  Yet even here his self-centeredness kept him from perceiving God’s presence (Luke 16:19-31).

This passage is both challenging and comforting.  The fact that God is always present with us may be a little disconcerting.  Yet God is not with us to humiliate or frighten us.  God is with us as the “good shepherd” who accompanies us even when we have to go “through the darkest valley” (Ps. 23:1-4).  With God even the darkness is as bright as the day.

Faithful and gracious God and Savior I thank you that you are always with me wherever I go.  Give me this assurance in whatever I face.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 “Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:1-6

We have to ask, how well do we know ourselves?  How often have we said something that sounded strange even to us?  It just came out.  Often at such times, we are embarrassed, especially if we have said something offensive.  We want to say that what we said “was not us.”  We hear this often as people are confronted with having made inappropriate statements.  Usually the defense we invoke at such times is that we really don’t believe the disturbing thing we may have said or done.  We protest, this is not who we really are.  The problem with this is, if what we say and do doesn’t reflect what we think and believe, what does?

The psalmist says, “But who can detect their errors?  Cleanse me from hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12).  This statement seems to acknowledge that we don’t really know ourselves A classic expression of Greek philosophy was “Know yourself.”  But how do we do that?  When we are surprised by our own actions or statements we face the fact that we don’t really know ourselves as much as we may think.  William Shakespeare said that we are often a mystery to ourselves.

However the one who truly knows us is God.  The psalmist in this passage from Ps. 139 states that the Lord has searched and known us.  God is acquainted with “all our ways.” God knows our words before we ever say them.  God is not surprised by anything we say or do.  God may be distressed by our thoughtless or even hurtful expressions but he is hardly surprised.  Before God we have no argument, no defense.

Yet God continues to love us.  This is an incredible statement.  God who is love and who loves the world (I John 4:8; John 3:16) loves us in spite of our many failings and imperfections.  The God who knows us completely also loves us completely.  We can live confidently knowing this great truth.

Merciful and loving God I confess that your complete knowledge of everything about me is “too wonderful.”  Continue to sustain me in your never ending love.  I thank you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

“Complete Joy”

I Samuel 3:11-20

This is a sobering passage.  Samuel, as we saw yesterday, has heard the word of the Lord.  Now that he realizes that it is the Lord who has called him, he tells God that he is listening.  God’s message is a very disturbing one.  God is about to judge the household of Eli.  God will punish Eli and his family “forever.”

Why is this?  Eli himself has been faithful in the Lord’s service.  Indeed it was he who advised Samuel that he was being called by God.  However Eli’s sons were doing nothing less than blaspheming God by their corrupt conduct.  God is not saying that Eli took part in their “blasphemy.”  Eli however will suffer the judgment along with his sons because he did not restrain them.

This is a lessons we all need to hear.  When we look at problems and conflicts all around us we can easily say that we’re not doing these things.  In the midst of school shootings, racial oppression, poverty and violence we can say we haven’t done anything wrong.  However Eli himself hadn’t done anything wrong.  His failure is he did not take action against the corruption around him.  He did not do what he could have done.  Eli could not have corrected all the evils in Israel at that time.  However he could have restrained his sons.  He said what they were doing was wrong (I Sam. 2:23-24).  This was not enough.  God already had them marked for judgment (I Sam. 2:25).

The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable who pass by the man half dead on the road haven’t done anything wrong (Luke 10:25-37).  They didn’t attack the man.  However their inactivity is itself an action.  They didn’t do what they could have done.  We can’t solve all the problems around us.  However we can do something.  We are responsible for what we could change.

Perhaps the saddest part of this account is that when Eli hears the word of judgment he still does nothing.  His comment that the Lord can do whatever he likes is both fatalistic and hopeless.  It is Eli’s inactivity in the face of all that he knows that is the greatest offense.

Eternal and gracious God, keep me from fatal inactivity.  Show me what I can do to address the problems around me.  Keep me from passing by those in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday, May 28, 2018

“Complete Joy”

I Samuel 3:1-10

Samuel was a young boy who had won favor with God and the people he served (I Sam. 2:26).  Samuel lived however in a time that was corrupt.  He was being tutored by Eli, Israel’s prophet at the time.  Eli was assisted by his sons.  However the sons were corrupt.  They were exploiting and sexually abusing the people, even those who served with them in the tent of meeting.  They frankly had no regard for God or their duties as priests.  This was a period where the word of the Lord was rare and visions were not common.

How did Israel get this bad?  The corruption described in the first two chapters of I Samuel sounds like pagan idol worship at its worst.  Eli protested against what his sons were doing but they ignored him.

What did young Samuel think of all this?  Sexual misconduct was taking place between the priests and the women who served in the tent of meeting (I Sam. 2:22).  This being the case, how could Samuel not know what was happening?  What did he think of all this?  We are not told.  Samuel was living in the midst of toxic religion.

Yet the Word of God can cut through all this.  Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord.  God calls to him.  However Samuel doesn’t recognize that God is the one who calls him.  He goes to the priest Eli thinking the call came from him.  Eli says he did not call and sends Samuel back to bed.  The third time this happens Eli realizes that it is the Lord who is calling Samuel.  He tells Samuel to respond by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

There are several lessons to be taken from this story.  The first (and sad) truth is that religion can easily become corrupt.  Sex and money are the principal forms this corruption takes.  Second, however, is the fact that God’s Word can penetrate any situation.  As we have seen throughout history, the Word of God has time and again been the basis for the renewal of the church.  Third, God can speak to us anytime, anywhere.  We need to be listening.  Someone else may have to point out to us that we are truly hearing the voice of the Lord.  Our only answer can be the same as Samuel’s, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

Eternal and loving Lord, may I realize that your Word can speak even in the most desperate situations.  Give me the grace to hear your voice when you call.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Who is God?”

II Cor. 13:11-13

Trinity Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018

“Who is God?”

Romans 8:31-39

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

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

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

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

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