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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20

REFLECTION We are not a people who welcome interruptions. Zephaniah reminds us that through prophetic interruptions God off glimpses of a hopeful future that goes beyond getting us the morning. It frees us from fear and moves us to rejoice


Isaiah 12:2-6

REFLECTION So we too on this Third Sunday of Advent are called to sing for joy, to celebrate the ways in which God has delivered us, is delivering us, and will deliver us, until there is true peace, shalom, wholeness on earth and goodwill throughout the entire creation. “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation…. Shout aloud and sing for joy.” For, in the words of another old hymn, “Since love is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?” these: Interuptions Joys in my life PRAYER Loving God, th in my heart.


Philippians 4:4-7

REFLECTION Why can we not live in peace? Are we destined to know only that peace “which passes all understanding”? Possibly. That peace is of God and it is good. It comes to us when we need it most and, with no other options, yield ourselves to God. The only way we will ever “understand” peace is one small act of peace at a time and welcoming the one who comes to us, the One who understands.


Luke 3:7-18

REFLECTION There is no getting to Bethlehem and the sweet baby in the manger without first hearing the rough prophet in the wilderness call us to repentance. This seems the obvious and first point to take from this Luke 3 text. Trying to avoid or sugarcoat John’s words is just not possible. Faithful and fruitful arrival at the manger will be possible only after the careful self examination and recommitment called for by John.


RESPONSE For your Advent Sabbath journaling, think of your response to these:

  • Interuptions remind me…
  • Joys in my life…

PRAYER Loving God, the light of the third candle reminds me of the joys in my heart. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Luke 3:7-18

REFLECTION According to all the prophets, repentance is necessary for the entrance of the kingdom. Yes, any ethical U-turn is a desired end goal in itself in that it helps improve the personal, communal, social, and political conditions of this world-yet its “end” is yet to come. The Advent Sunday is but the beginning of God’s unending eschatological advent. That’s why church fathers such as Irenaeus spoke of two advents of the Savior, the first when Christ came as “a man subject to stripes and the second when he comes “burning the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Irenaeus, Against the Heresies 4.333.1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 1:506). The Baptist’s call for repentance lives in the dynamic of the eschatological tension. Then, and only then, bearing the fruit of repentance is of lasting value; the fruit of repentance becomes the “first fruit” of the harvest to come.


RESPONSE John speaks of Jesus who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. How have you experienced this?

PRAYER In my baptismal walk, help me see any U-turns that are required as I continue to live a life transformed by those waters. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday, December 14, 2018

Luke 3:7-18

REFLECTION A colleague always addresses the infant after he has baptized her, saying, “Little child, you belong to God; you always have and you always will, and now the mark of Christ is upon you” It is the meaning of this mark that John called his followers to embrace. John wanted to ensure that those who had followed him into the wilderness were aware of the serious life-altering consequences of being baptized. John cautioned folks truly to understand the demands placed upon them once they had been marked. And he cautioned the crowds about the one who was still to come, Jesus the Messiah, whose baptizing and call would be changing you from the inside out” (v. 16 The Message). This is what the church of Jesus Christ believes about baptism today We are cleansed, renewed, and changed forever. We believe we are sent from the font to serve.


RESPONSE How has your baptism marked your life?

PRAYER God of water and life, the waters of my own baptism are always a fresh reminder of your renewing presence in my life. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Philippians 4:4-7

REFLECTION During Advent attention is needed to the distinction between the material happiness that the commercial world promises and the abiding joy of Christian faith that cannot be bought at the mall but can sustain us, come what may. After all, Paul issues this exhortation to rejoice from the cell of a dark Roman prison (Phil. 1:13). Joy that emerges from a deep connection with our spiritual source is a far cry from the fleeting rush achieved through the acquisition of the season’s latest toy. The depth of acculturation to consumer values, however, makes this message challenging to preach in ways that are not trite and simplistic.


RESPONSE What has brought you joy this day?

PRAYER I confess that not worrying about anything is so hard to do. I have a long list. Remind me to trust and not be afraid. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Isaiah 12:2-6

REFLECTION Isaiah 12-a song of praise, shout of thanksgiving, exclamation of joy-responds to God’s goodness glimpsed in the present and assured of for the future. Both individual and community must sing, because God not only is great but also will dwell in the midst of his beloved, believing community.


RESPONSE What songs of faith are evident in the faith communities of which you are a part?

PRAYER God of my life, I will trust in you. I will not be afraid. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Isaiah 12:2-6

REFLECTION Perhaps the language of Zion-the language of grace, gift, and salvation is not so strange after all. For what is so strange about a world of winners? Where the environment is not exploited in order to make a profit? Where people don’t work for their poverty? And where the phrase “homeless person” is an oxymoron? Let us draw deeply from such “wells of salvation” and look forward to the day when homecoming will be a reality for all of God’s people.


RESPONSE What does it mean to you to say that God is in your midst? What evidence is there?

PRAYER Thank you, Lord, for gathering me close to you and bringing me home. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday, December 10, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20

REFLECTION The Advent season walks us forward toward that birth the angels sang. But Zephaniah assures us that God also comes to humanity in the community of faith. God’s presence heals, enlivens, and challenges humanity to lean into God’s promises for an alternative future. As the United Presbyterian Church affirmed in the Confession of 1967, “Already God’s reign is present as a ferment in the world, stirring hope in (women and men).” In dwelling among the people, God nourishes and makes real the promised future of peace and joy that theological hope imagines. This is a strong and hopeful message that will hearten the faithful on this Third Sunday of Advent.


RESPONSE What alternative future is God challenging you to live into?

PRAYER Like a mother feeding her child, you are always nourishing my life, O God. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday, December 9, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Mark 6:14-29

Mark’s account of the death of John the Baptist makes it clear that Herod and his wife Herodias were on opposite sides regarding John.  Herod both feared and admired John.  Herodias though had a grudge against John.  Clearly she wanted him dead because he had accused both her and Herod of having committed adultery since she had been Herod’s brother’s wife.  It’s important to note that both of them had been accused by John.  Herodias wanted to get rid of John but Herod was protecting him.  John then had become a disputed figure in their marriage. The resulting stalemate was that John was alive but in prison.

The stalemate is resolved when plans are made for Herod’s birthday.  It’s fairly easy to read between the lines.  Clearly Herod was attracted to Herodias’ daughter.  Knowing this, Herodias must have arranged for her to dance for Herod and his (all male) guests.  Herod is probably far from sober when he makes an outrageous promise to Salome (as she is known in later tradition) to give her whatever she asks up to half his kingdom.  Really!

Since this has all been orchestrated by Herodias, Salome asks her mother what she should ask for.  The answer is obvious.  She is to ask for the head of John the Baptist.  Salome then goes immediately to Herod with the request.  Herod at this point probably realizes he has been caught in a trap.  Yet he has given his word in the presence of his guests.  He has no alternative.  The order is given to have John beheaded and his head is to be given to Salome on a platter.  She in turn gives it to her mother.  Herodias’ revenge is now complete.

This whole story is a clear depiction of how evil works.  Herod at some level admires John.  He liked to listen to John.  Yet he never commits.  In effect he is playing with sin.  His wife intends to cover up the scandal of her second marriage by killing the man who has confronted both her and her new husband.  Salome is caught up in the evil web and simply acts her assigned part.

In the face of stories like this some have said, why resist evil?  The powerful are too strong.  You only end up losing your head for your efforts.

Yet this account begins with Herod’s fear that Jesus is in fact John risen from the dead.  Killing John has not silenced his message.  It is not John in this case who has been risen from the dead.  Jesus will rise from the dead.  John the Baptist, like all who believe in Jesus, will one day also rise.

The victories of the Herods and Herodiases will not last.

Loving and faithful God keep me from thinking that opposition to evil is futile.  Remind me that your Son who came at Christmas will come again and Death, Hades, Satan and all their followers will be no more.  Give me the conviction that in Christ evil can never win.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 8, 2018

Saturday, December 8, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 11:16-19

What is Jesus saying here?  He is comparing “this generation” to children playing (or mocking) in the marketplace (mall?).  This is not a positive reference.  He is not talking here about the example of childlike faith leading one to the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:1-5).  More likely Jesus is talking about how fickle children can be, how can they flit from one fad or activity to another.  Children have short attention spans.  They’re always looking for something new, an activity or a game.

Jesus then is commenting on how fickle even adults can be.  Opinions can change on  less than a moment’s notice.  A survey today can be contradicted tomorrow.  Jesus then compares reactions to himself and John the Baptist.  Jesus points out that John was an ascetic.  He did not eat or drink like most people.  So people said he was “demon possessed.”  Later they would say the same thing about Jesus.  Jesus clearly enjoyed a party (John 2:1-11).  Worse, Jesus ate with tax collectors and “sinners” (prostitutes) and he was called “a glutton and a drunkard.”

Jesus is saying we can’t base our lives or our work on other people’s opinions.  We live in a consumer culture where we are encouraged to look for the next new thing.  The underlying statement here is that we need to be concerned about the impression we give to other people.

Jesus has no patience with such attitudes.  We can’t worry what other people think of us.  We are not caught up in a competition.  Such concerns can even infect Christians.  This is not new.  Paul says those who compare themselves with one another “do not show good sense” (II Cor. 10:12).

As Christians we are not in a popularity contest.  We are not to be conformed to the world, to be squeezed into its mold.  Jesus calls us to seek first his kingdom and then everything else will be added.  Faith is not a fad.

Merciful and loving God free me from the temptation to want others to think well of me.  May I focus on pleasing you for your praise and glory.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.



Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday, December 7, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 11:7-15

Jesus quite simply is affirming the greatness of John the Baptist, He makes the astounding statement that “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”  What this means is that John may have doubts about Jesus, however Jesus has no doubts about John.

Jesus emphasizes that John does not evidence greatness in the world’s terms.  He was no royal figure dressed in “soft robes.”  Was John a prophet?  Jesus in fact is saying that he was the greatest prophet.  He was the Elijah who was to come, the messenger referred to in Malachi chapter 3.  Jesus really is affirming that there has never been a greater person than John.

We have to pause to take this all in.  Is John greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, David or Isaiah?  The truth is we know very little of John outside of his prophetic announcements of the coming of Jesus whom or identifies as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Is John in fact greater than all his predecessors? Jesus’ declaration that no one born of woman is greater than John is clearly saying this.

Jesus then goes on the make a more startling a claim.  He says that the least person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.  How can that be?  Jesus is the culmination of all of God’s promises.  He is God’s “Yes” in the face of all the negativity of the world (II Cor. 1:20).  John’s baptism was one of repentance looking forward to God’s coming in Christ.  On the other hand, baptism in Christ’s name is rebirth and reconciliation with God in the present.  Nothing prior to that, including the ministry of John, can compare with it.

Most faithful God and Savior may I through faith be brought into your kingdom.  Grant that I will experience your promises fulfilled in Christ.  I pray in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thursday, December 6, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 11:2-6

How can this be?  John the Baptist now is in prison.  He has heard what Christ is doing.  In fact these are the very things John himself predicted.  John had proclaimed Jesus as this powerful figure who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  John himself saw this when he baptized Jesus.  The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and the voice of God was heard saying “This is my Son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17).

What more could anyone ask for?  The evidence would be beyond dispute.  John saw this.  He heard the voice.  Even now in prison he is hearing what Jesus is doing.  What had Jesus been doing?  Jesus has raised the dead (Matt. 9:18-26).  He has healed the blind (Matt. 9:27-31) and the mute (Matt. 9:32-34).  These are all clearly miracles.

But here we have John asking a fundamental question, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?”  How can he ask such a question?  Given all that he has seen and heard doesn’t he know the obvious answer?

Yet is it really so obvious?  For all that was said about Jesus baptizing with fire and the Holy Spirit, for all about his judgment “at the root of the trees, Herod is still the present king of the Jews.  Rome still rules over Israel.  John, like others, may have expected a drastic overthrow of the present system.

We don’t know what it was like for John to be in prison.  It is fine to say with Paul that we walk by faith and not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).  Yet when our sight is darkened by the trauma of this world it may inevitably be the case that doubt seems to overwhelm our faith.  Actually the fact that someone of the character of John the Baptist seems to doubt should encourage us in our doubts.  Even the message of Christmas is hope mingled with despair.  The birth of Christ brings joy and salvation.  However it also leads to the murder of the infants of Bethlehem.

Advent and Christmas are designed to build up our faith.  This is necessary in a world where Herod is on the throne and John the Baptist is in prison.  That world continues to this day.  We need to affirm that Jesus is the One.  We don’t wait for another.  We live in the promise of a second Christmas when Christ will return to make all things new.  We need to be reminded of that fact again and again.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 3:11-12

We have here the real purpose of John’s ministry.  It is not actually baptism nor is it a call for repentance (as happens often in Israel’s history).  John is not so much offering a practice (baptism) as he is announcing a person.  This is the real reason for his coming into the wilderness.

John states three essential characteristics for this “one” whose coming he is announcing.  First, he will be more powerful than John.  This leads us to ask, what in fact is John’s power?  It is not a power in any political or social sense.  It is rather the power of his preaching and teaching.  Therefore what is being said here is that Jesus will quite simply be a greater prophet than John.  Second, this “one” will be more righteous, more worthy than John.  That may seem obvious to us since we know the identity of the figure John announces.  To John’s original hearers that was not the case. The final characteristic is that this “more powerful” one will bring a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit.  This in effect is a prophecy of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3).

Throughout this Advent we will be looking at the figure of John the Baptist.  Advent means coming.  Jesus comes as a baby at Christmas.  Yet even as an infant he is king.  In the words of the Wise Men he is born king of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).  He of course later will be identified in the words the Greeks used to describe Zeus as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16).

Advent is also a time of judgment.  John speaks of the wheat and the chaff.  Throughout Matthew’s gospel we see warnings of judgment focused on both the disciples and the religious leaders.  The joy of Christmas is a sober one.  Christ comes to save but that also reminds us of the basic fact that we need a savior.  To turn away from him is to face the destruction of fire, the opposite of the fire of the Holy Spirit.

John reminds us that Jesus challenges us.  Jesus does this in order to save us.  Advent tells us that we can have no illusions about ourselves.

Faithful and gracious God I pray that you would anoint me with the Holy Spirit and the fire of your presence.  Keep me focused on the fact that you will come again.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 3:7-10

John is offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Great crowds are coming to be baptized by him and to confess their sins.  All of this is part of the preparation for the coming of the Lord.  The people do not yet know it but the one whom John is announcing will take away all sin.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees are also coming for baptism.  This would certainly appear to be very commendable on their part.  They are religious leaders and authorities.  One could imagine them saying we don’t need to be baptized.  We have no sins clinging to us.  We are the righteous ones.

However that is not the case.  They are joining with the common people in coming for baptism.  Presumably they are coming also to confess their sins.  In this respect they would appear to be models for everyone else.  One would think John would commend them for what they are doing.

To the contrary John denounces them in no uncertain terms.  He calls them a “brood of vipers!”  He acidly asks, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  Why in the world is he saying this?  We might understand if they were holding back from John’s call as though they were spiritually superior.  Yet they are “coming for baptism.”

The religious leaders and throughout the New Testament, from the Pharisees to those whom Paul mockingly calls “super-apostles” (II Cor. 11:5) are examples of toxic religion  As Jesus says later they are hypocrites (Matt. 23:). We see this in our own time in the depressing record of sexual abuse in both Roman Catholic and Protestant and Evangelical Churches.

None of us is without sin.  What is so bad about these religious leaders?  We can only infer from what we see later in the gospels that, despite their coming out for John’s baptism, they are examples of spiritual pride.  They offer condemnation not grace.  They plan Jesus’ death.  They don’t bear “good fruit.”  They are negative examples for us.

We need to examine our own hearts this Advent Season.

Merciful and gracious God keep me from the sin of spiritual pride.  May I learn humility through my own failings and may I turn to the grace found only in Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 3, 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 3:1-6

Dec. 3, 2018

Just as Mark’ gospel is written to a Roman audience, Matthew’s is written to a Jewish one. John the Baptist is clearly modeled on the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah as we have noted.  John is also seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3.  Matthew’s audience would certainly recognize that.

A striking point is that the theme of the “wilderness” would have had relevance for both a Jewish and a Roman audience.  For Greeks and Romans the wilderness would have referred to places of desolation and danger.  Odysseus encountered forms of the wilderness in his journeys which included the cave of the “horrible monster,” the Cyclops, and his descent into Hades, the place of the dead.

For the Hebrews the wilderness was also a place of danger and indeed temptation.  This included false gods like the golden calf along with the gods of the Canaanites.  However the wilderness was also the place where the Israelites encountered God.  It was in the wilderness that God made his covenant with them and gave them his law.

It is therefore not surprising that John’s call for repentance takes place in “the wilderness of Judea.”  People come out to repent of their sins which is also a way of returning to the covenant God made with them in the wilderness.

John is a pivotal figure in the Advent story.  He proclaims the coming of the Lord.  At this season the world proceeds immediately to its celebrations of the “holiday season.”  Yet Advent reminds us of the wilderness.  The quality that both the Roman and Jewish views of the wilderness have in common is that it is a place of testing.  God says as much (Ex. 20:20).  Both Odysseus and the Israelites fail the test.

Jesus comes into the world not because we are doing well but because we all fail the test of obedience to God.  Advent then is a season in which we are called to come to terms with our failures, our struggles, in the wilderness.  The great promise here is that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  God comes to us not in our successes but in our failures.  That is the hope not only of Israel but of the whole world.

Gracious and merciful God I confess that I often find myself in the wilderness.  May these experiences draw me closer to you as I await your coming in this Advent Season.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sunday, December 2, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

Mark 1:1-8

Mark is probably the first gospel written.  In some sense Mark defines the whole idea of a gospel narrative.  Each of the four gospels have their own special perspective on the story of Jesus.

John Mark as we know from other New Testament accounts worked with both Peter and Paul.  When Peter was brought out of jail he went to the home of John Mark’s mother.  Paul refers to him on several occasions (Acts 12:12; II Tim. 3:11).  According to the second century Christian writer, Iraneus, Mark wrote his gospel after the deaths of Peter and Paul.

This was a crucial moment in the history of the church.  The original Christian leaders mostly had died.  Nero was the emperor.  Like all the emperors he claimed the title, “Son of God.”  Christians were a despised minority.  The Roman historian Tacitus called Christianity “a most mischievous superstition.”  Christians were blamed for the devastating fire in the year 64 A.D.  For this they were persecuted brutally.

It is in this context that Mark writes his gospel.  Subsequent editors left their hand on his work.  Fearing that his ending was too stark and almost too forceful additional endings were added to his account (see the ending of Mark in our Bible).

Yet there is good reason for how Mark wrote his gospel.  Much of his knowledge of the life of Jesus came from his relationship with Peter.  Mark’s goal is to present the gospel positively to the people in Rome that were being told that Christians hated all humanity.  Mark’s audience knew practically nothing of the Old Testament.  They had probably never heard of Abraham or Moses.  Mark has to explain Jewish customs to them (Mark 7:3-4).

Mark is writing a truthful account.  However, as recent scholarship has noted, Mark structured his gospel around the literature that essentially all Romans knew.  He draws on the writings of Homer and Vergil, especially on The Odyssey.  His ending echoes the conclusion of Vergil’s The Aeneid.

Mark’s gospel is a declaration, but a declaration made in terms that his audience could readily understand.  His is the only gospel that states from the very opening that Jesus is “Son of God” (the Romans didn’t use the article “the” in their speaking of son of God).  Mark shows that he knew the Greek and Roman stories.  This fact gave his gospel authenticity.  Mark begins the story of John the Baptist testifying to one who is coming who is “more powerful.”

Have we heard the stories of those around us?  Can we share the truth of the gospel in ways that the people in our world, who know little about the Bible, can understand?  Mark both challenges and encourages us.

Eternal and loving Lord, give me the ability to hear the stories of those around me.  Give me the openings to share the truth of Jesus Christ.  I p

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 1, 2018

Saturday, December 1, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

II Kings 1:1-10

The Book of Malachi ends with the promise that God will send Elijah “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5).  The Old Testament testifies to two cent-comings of the Lord.  We would see these as Jesus’ first and second comings.  Yet throughout history God continues to come to his people.  He continues to guide, protect and judge all of his creation.  God provides multiple examples of his coming and of his presence.  Jesus’ initial coming includes the other examples of his coming to all those he touches in his earthly ministry whether it is the disciples he calls or the people he heals.

The one who announces this coming is Elijah.  One of the reasons that the religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah was that they hadn’t seen the coming of Elijah.  They were being too literal.  John the Baptist was Elijah symbolically (Matt. 11:7-14).

This passage shows us the power of Elijah.  The king of Israel (the northern kingdom of Samaria) had fallen from a window and was in serious condition. He sends messengers to inquire of the false god Baal-zebub.

God however calls Elijah to confront the messengers and send them back.  The king then sends fifty soldiers to capture Elijah.  However Elijah calls down fire on them.  This story is referred to in the New Testament in Luke 9:51-56.

Fire is a symbol of God’s presence and power (Heb. 12:29). John the Baptist, following Elijah, calls down fire in a symbolic sense.  He is announcing the coming of one who is more powerful than he is.  This of course is Jesus Christ.  The announcement of his coming, as we saw in Malachi 3:1, is a matter of urgency.  There is no time to delay.  Jesus changes everything.  Are we ready for him?

Eternal and faithful God, as we enter this Advent season may I focus on the many ways you continue to come into my life.  Draw me closer to yourself.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

Mal. 3:1-4

Martin Luther changed the order of the books of the Old Testament so that the last book would be Malachi.  All Protestant Bibles since then have followed his example.  The reason for this change is that Luther believed that Malachi was the best introduction to the New Testament.

Luther saw in the promise of sending a messenger a prophetic statement about John the Baptist.  John is the voice (Isa. 40:3) that announces the coming of the Lord.  All of the Old Testament points to this coming.

Jesus coming into the world changes everything.  Jesus is the Word of God in human form (John 1:14).  His coming challenges all the presuppositions and expectations that we have.  Ironically those who are most challenged are the religious leaders. Jesus’ truth challenges all other truths.  Jesus’ coming is sudden.  It is not what is expected.  It frightens both Herod who rejects Christ and the shepherds who worship him.

Our world starts preparing for Christmas practically after Labor Day.  It’s one thing to prepare for a big festival.  It’s another to prepare for the coming of the Lord.  The fact that Jesus will be born of a virgin in a stable already questions all the expectations we would have for someone of great importance, not to mention the Son of God.

To prepare for the coming of the Lord means more than going shopping on Black Friday.  It means examining ourselves.  What are our priorities, our goals?  How are we worshiping God?  Do we show love for our neighbor?

We cannot delay in carrying out the Lord’s will.  We all face distractions and pressures.  These too easily are excuses.  There is no time to waste.  The Lord who came is coming again.  We need to be prepared.

Faithful and gracious God may I prepare myself for the fact of your coming which can occur in many ways leading up to your final appearing.  Refine me and fit me for your service.  Give me joy in obedience.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

Isa. 40:21-26

We know that God is great but do we really know what that means?  We believe that God created the world.  God is in an eternal rest as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says (Hebrews chapter 4).  God’s rest is not the same as inactivity.  God has not only created the world (the whole universe) but he continues to watch over it and sustain it.

In poetic language we read that God stretches out the heavens like a curtain.  He observes all that takes place on earth.  More to the point he “brings princes to naught and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”  Think of this.  God has numbered the stars.  He has a name for each of them.  We, more than Isaiah, have an idea of the vastness of the universe.  There are billions and billions of stars.  Yet God has a name for every one of them!

When we consider the immeasurable greatness of God we should not be overly impressed, much less in fear of earthly rulers.  God rules over all.  He directs the heart of the ruler (Prov. 21:1).

The power of rulers is real.  However that power has very definite limits and boundaries.  All earthly authorities have been established by God and are answerable to him (Romans 13:1-7).  God blows upon them and they wither.

We can never forget who is in charge of our world.  We need to be responsible in our own time.  We are to seek the kingdom of God and his justice (Matt. 6:33).  We do need to take our rulers seriously.  We need to pray for them and call them to account when necessary.  Yet we need to remember it is finally the Lord we worship and serve.  All the nations are accounted by him as less than nothing.

We are finally not in the hands of earthly rulers.  We belong to the God who created and sustains the universe.  He is our Lord now and forever.

Merciful and gracious God may I always see the world as being governed by your hand.  I thank you that I, along with all the rulers on earth, are in your hand.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

Isa. 40:12-17

When we look at the conditions of our world, even of our own nation, we have to be concerned.  We continue to face the great tragedy of gun violence.  Climate change is taking a tremendous toll.  We had a totally unexpected crippling snow storm a week before Thanksgiving.  We see unprecedented disaster in the wild fires in California.  It is the case that the nations are in an uproar (Ps. 46:6).

Yet the nations do not direct the course of history.  Empires have risen and fallen throughout the centuries.  Isaiah tells us that “the nations are like a drop from a bucket.”  It is God alone who declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10).  This in no way negates our decisions and our responsibility.

We have here an encouraging word.  No one advises God.  No one can claim to teach him or guide him.  He stands alone over all the inhabitants of the world.  We can pretend to inform God.  We can seek to question him as the psalmist does.  We ask, “why” and “how long” present conditions will continue?  Why doesn’t God stop the violence?  Why isn’t everyone healed?  Why do the wicked prosper and the just go begging (Pss.10; 73)?

We don’t have answers to these questions.  However as C.S. Lewis writes in his greatest work, Till We Have Faces, God does not give answers.  God himself is the answer.  We as human beings make real choices.  God gave us free will.  Without that we would neither be moral beings nor creatures capable of loving and being loved.

We still need to remember that God is not a spectator in human history.  God has his reasons.  He does not consult us.  Still, God is completely trustworthy.  While there are many things we do not understand we do know this.  God is love and he works all things according to his counsel and will (I John 4:8; Eph. 1:11).

Most faithful and gracious God I praise you for your greatness.  I thank you that all the nations are finally in your hand.  May this truth give me hope as I live day to day,  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

Isa. 40:9-11

This brief passage is full of the hope promised us in the Advent season.  Anyone who has ever heard Handel’s Messiah remembers these passages set to music in an unforgettable way.  These brief verses say so much.

Israel has been without hope having been in slavery for seventy years.  Yet at the end of that time Israel has no strength, no resources to enable them to be set free.  As we saw yesterday the people are like grass which withers.

Then there is this great call.  Israel is to lift up its voice.  The people are not to fear.  Why?  Because God is coming to Israel.  God will bring about their release from captivity.  This is also a prophetic picture of the ministry of John the Baptist who announces God’s climactic coming in Jesus Christ.

It is not that Israel is searching, even longing, for God.  No, God has taken the initiative.  God comes to his people.  He comes with might.  His arm rules for him.  He raises up a non-believing Gentile king to bring about the freedom of his people (Isa. 45:1-5).  Israel’s punishment for her sins is over (Isa. 40:2).

We need this message desperately.  We see so much in our world, even in our own lives, that is dark and disturbing.  God however does not wait for us to repent.  God comes to us directly.  These are the “good tidings.”  This is the irrepressible message of Advent and Christmas.  God comes to us as the shepherd who gathers us up and carries us.  It is not be enough to say that God helps us.  We are beyond help.  God carries us in his arms.  The message of this season is not primarily “Merry Christmas.”  It is “do not fear” (v. 9; Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:13, 30, 74; 2:10).

Talk about “good tidings!”

Loving and gracious God I thank you that you have come to me before I ever came to you.  May I live out your glad tidings during this Advent and Christmas season, I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

“The One Who is Coming”

Isa. 40:1-8

Throughout the Book of Exodus and beyond we have seen how the people of Israel have rebelled against God.  They even longed to return to the slavery of Egypt.  God has pardoned them again and again.  This is solely done because of God’s mercy, his “steadfast love.”

Yet Israel continued to degenerate.  They continued to go after false gods.  They fell into depraved practices.  They went from self-indulgence to neglect of the poor and needy to the point where the poor were sold for “a pair of sandals” (Ezekiel 16: 49; Amos 2:6-7).  God forgave and forgave but finally God had enough.  He brought in the Babylonians who took Judah and Jerusalem back to slavery.  This appeared to be the final destruction of Israel.  God said his anger will burn forever (Jer. 15:14).

Yet even here a note of hope was given.  Israel’s second captivity would not last forever.  It would come to an end after seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12).  This scene in Isaiah chapter 40 describes the end of that seventy year captivity.

God has judged his people.  However they have not been destroyed (Jer. 51:5).  God in fact now speaks a word of comfort.  God will once again bring Israel through the wilderness to his promise land.  This will be the “way of the Lord.”

What have the people done to accomplish this?  The answer is easy.  They have done nothing.  In fact, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers and the flower fades.”  This is sinful human nature.  It is not dependable.  Its promises and assurances all come to nothing.

How then can there be any “comfort?” This answer also is straight forward.  The word of our God will stand forever.  That is our only certainty.  What do we mean by “the word of our God?”  Certainly this stands for the full record of scripture, Old and New Testaments.  However the essence of that word (singular) is the promise of God’s grace, goodness and mercy.   Apart from that the law and all the demands of scripture only condemn us.

We are about to enter the Advent season.  Advent is not about our coming to God.  Rather its focus is on God coming to us.  This is the fulfillment of all God’s promises.  That fulfillment has a name, Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:19-20).

Eternal and gracious God I thank you for your word of comfort.  As you came into this world of injustice and suffering may I in turn prepare myself to receive you and serve you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday, November 25, 2018

“A Prophet Like No Other”

Deuteronomy 18:15-19

God promises Moses that he will raise up a special prophet.  This prophet will be like Moses and will speak the very words of God.  The prophet will not be some angelic or celestial being.  He will be someone from among the people.  Yet he will speak in the Lord’s name.  The people are commanded to heed this prophet.

Clearly this prophet will be Jesus Christ.  He will fulfill the Law of Moses.  He will reveal God the Father in a way that is greater and more complete than any of the prophets beginning with Moses and going forward through the centuries.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear that not only does Jesus fulfill the role of prophet described by Moses.  More than this, he is a greater prophet than Moses (Heb. 3:1-6).

Jesus is a prophet who is more than a prophet.  He is also a priest and, more than that, he is a king (Heb. 4:14-16; chapters 7-8). What does it mean to heed such a prophet?  It means more than simply attend to the teaching of the prophet.  This prophet who does come from among the people, born humbly in a manger, is also a priest who does away with sin not simply annually, as was the case with the priests who followed Aaron, but who takes away sin forever, “once for all” (Heb. 9:11-12).

The threefold office of Jesus is a trinity within the trinity.  We speak of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being equal.  They are distinct persons but they cannot be separated.  They constitute one God.  In the same way Jesus has three roles which are distinct but also cannot be separated.  Jesus is prophet, priest and king.

Jesus is the supreme prophet whose teaching and parables reveal the nature of God.  He is also the priest who offers himself as the final sacrifice which takes away the condemnation of sin forever.  Jesus takes upon himself the full consequences of all our brokenness, pride and selfishness.  He also breaks the power of Death and the Devil  (Heb. 2:14-15). Finally, like the obscure figure of Melchizadek, Jesus is king of righteousness and peace forever.  He is given the supreme title of the ancient world, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16).

Today is Christ the King Sunday.  Yet Christ’s role as king cannot be separated from his being both prophet and priest.  As prophet Jesus gives us the most complete understanding of God’s will.  Yet this cannot be separated from his role as the priest who is also the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  Finally he is the all-powerful king whose victory is in the cross. Following his resurrection he declares that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to him (Matt. 28:18).

We too easily can have a narrow view of Jesus Christ.  We can never forget his threefold office of prophet, priest and king.

Lord Jesus I praise you for being my complete savior, for your guidance, your forgiveness and your power.  May I lay hold of your greatness and goodness now and forever.  I pray this in your holy name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, November 24, 2018

Saturday, November 24, 2018

“A Prophet Like No Other”

Numbers 14:13-25

God is ready to do away with the people of Israel.  They have rejected him time and again.  In spite of all God’s miracles and his mighty acts, they continually complain and, worse, keep talking about going back to Egypt.  God would entirely be in the right to cut them off completely.  God is about to do just that.  At this moment Moses steps forward and even dares to challenge God.

Moses raises the point that Egypt and indeed other nations know that God has delivered these people from slavery.  If God were to destroy them then the nations would say that God was not able to bring the people to the promise land.  God would then in effect have failed.  Moses calls God to God’s own promises.

As we have seen God’s ultimate revelation of himself and his will is not the Ten Commandments.  It is God’s “steadfast love.” Moses asks God to forgive the people not because the people deserve it or are even asking for it.  Moses appeals directly to the greatness of God’s steadfast love.  As Paul asks rhetorically, “Will their faithlessness nullify God’s faithfulness?” (Rom. 3:3).

God responds to Moses.  He will pardon the people.  Yet there will be consequences.  None of the present Israelites, including Moses and Aaron, will be allowed to enter the promise land.  The only exceptions will be the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb.  What then does God’s forgiveness mean if there will still be punishment?

We cannot confuse material blessing with eternal salvation.  The people will be saved for eternal life.  The promise land is only a material sign.  The real promise is to be in the presence of God for all eternity.  That is the final meaning of God’s forgiveness.

The psalmist speaks of Moses turning away the wrath of God (Ps. 106:23). In this regard Moses is playing the role of a priest as well as a prophet.  Moses is sacrificing neither himself nor the people.  His appeal is to God’s supreme promise of “steadfast love.”  Everything points to that ultimate goal.  That is our promise and our hope also now and forever.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you for your steadfast love that has completely and finally been given to me through your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name. Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday, November 23, 2018

“A Prophet Like No Other”

Numbers 14:1-12

Once again the people of Israel are complaining. However this time it is more serious.  They have heard the report of the spies who went into the promise land.  The majority of them give a very disturbing report.  There are giants in the land.  Their towns and villages are well fortified.  The spies said they felt like grasshoppers in comparison to the inhabitants of the land (Num. 13).

Yet two of the spies dissent from this negative report.  Caleb and Joshua assure the people that God will go with them.  Their hopeful words however fall on deaf ears.  The people have become so disheartened that they are ready to return to Egypt!  This is not idle speculation.  They have thought this through far enough to want to choose a captain to take them back to slavery.  God is slow to anger but at this point he has had enough.  God accuses the people of despising him.  How could things get this bad?

The people are evaluating everything from their own perspective.  They can’t see beyond the immediate.  They fall into the trap of thinking the past is somehow better than their present.

Paul talks about seeing with the eyes of our heart (Eph 1:18).  This is another way of saying we walk by faith and not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).   We can scratch our heads at the lack of faith on the part of the Israelites and ask, “How could they have gotten so far off the track?”

Yet we need to see ourselves in their response.  We all face “giants in the land.”  The people of Israel flat out panic at the report of the spies.  Yet don’t we tend to do the same thing when we face challenges and trials that seem completely beyond us?  We can even yearn for the past ignoring its many failures.  We prefer the struggles we know to those that are new.

The final crisis here is that the people are no longer trusting in the Lord.  Can God’s plan fail?  Will his promises break down?  The answer of course is absolutely not.  We have to see beyond the immediate crises in our life.  God can be trusted.  He will not reject us.  However the danger is we may reject him and then tragically even the Lord may turn away.

Eternal and loving Lord keep me secure in following you.  May I not lose faith.  Give me the grace to see beyond the giants that may be confronting me.  I pray that I always depend on you.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Brief Thought for Thanksgiving Day

The apostle Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:17).  Paul is not saying that we should give thanks for everything.  We may be facing circumstances that are difficult, even painful.  What Paul is saying is that whatever circumstances in which we find ourselves we can always give thanks.  We can give thanks for the morning sun, for the food we have, whether it is plenty or little, for life itself.

Most of all we need to give thanks for God’s love.  That love is finally a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.  His love has no limit or end.

May God’s love in Christ encourage and strengthen you and your loved ones this Thanksgiving Day.  Praise the Lord!

Merciful and loving God, how can I thank you for the many gifts you give me, especially the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ? Lord, make me truly and completely thankful.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

“A Prophet Like No Other”

Exodus 34:10-16

The Lord tells us that we are to worship “no other god.”  Why is this?  We are told that God is a jealous God.  In fact the Lord’s name is Jealous.  How can this be?  Jealousy is hardly a positive trait.  Paul mentions jealousy as something that is clearly negative (Rom. 13:13; I Cor. 3:3).  If God is holy and therefore sinless, how can he be jealous?

We first have to note that God’s jealousy is not the same as the jealousy found in sinful human beings.  Our jealousy is based on breaking the tenth commandment which is not to “covet” or desire what is our neighbor’s.  God doesn’t desire anything we have since he already has everything.

God’s jealousy then is not our jealousy.  God’s jealousy arises from the fact that God is a complete lover.  God loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  God then desires our love in return.  Certainly God does not need us to love him.  God however desires our love.  God will not accept the worship of false gods any more than a lover will tolerate other lovers.  We know that human love vacillates all the time.  We can easily follow after other lovers.   That is never the case with God.  As Paul says, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (II Tim. 2:13).

Yet we are prone to cheating on God.  We may not worship other gods of stone or clay.  However we can give ourselves over to our possessions, our desires, our experiences.  We can even make false gods out of other people.

How can we avoid the trap of idolatry?  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  We need to remember that all that we are and certainly all that we possess comes from God and God alone.  The apostle Paul asks the rhetorical question, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (I Cor. 4:7).  To the extent that we can be thankful to God for everything in life, we will not be drawn away to other gods.  God gives us all that we have.  “Every perfect gift, is from above” (James 1:17)

For the Christian every day should be Thanksgiving.

Loving and merciful God I thank you for your love which gives me “every perfect gift.”  May I be truly grateful each and every day.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

“A Prophet Like No Other”

Exodus 34:1-9

We have here an essential picture of God and his will.  Moses smashed the first tablets of the Ten Commandments over the idolatry of the golden calf.  He is now in effect getting another copy.  God gives him the instruction to bring two blank stones with him as he goes up the mountain alone.  God will meet him on the mountain top and give him again the Ten Commandments.

One point that this account makes clear is the Ten Commandments are not the final expression of God’s will.  Following the letter of the law alone will not benefit anyone (Mark 10:17-22).  The value of the commandments as Moses is experiencing here is that they bring us in contact with the true God.

However the commandments are a secondary revelation of God.  They are certainly valid and true but they need to be interpreted spiritually not literally (I Cor. 3).  To make this point abundantly clear God reveals his ultimate plan and purpose.  God is not first and foremost a law giver.  He is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He keeps steadfast love to the thousandth generation as we have seen.  He is a forgiving God.  He pardons iniquity, transgression and sin.  Yet he will hold the guilty accountable.  However even God’s statement that he will place the iniquity of the parents on their children to the third and fourth generation is later amended (Ezekiel 18:19-20).

There is only one person who kept all of God’s commandments perfectly.  That person, of course, is Jesus Christ.  Jesus however followed the spirit rather than the letter of the law, for which he was strongly criticized by the religious leaders of his time.  Jesus’  focus was on God’s mercy, grace and steadfast love.

We need to keep the same focus.

Faithful and loving God, keep me focused on the purpose of all your commandments.  May I follow them in the spirit of your steadfast love.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, November 19, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

“A Prophet Like No Other”

Exodus 33:12-23 (REVISED!)

This is a famous but still somewhat puzzling passage.  Moses wants to be sure that the Lord will continue to accompany Israel in their journey through the wilderness.  God agrees that his presence will go with them.  Each of us can apply this scenario to our own lives.  This world with all its traumas and temptations is a wilderness.  We don’t want to go through this life depending only on ourselves.  We want to know that the Lord is with us or, more to the point, that we are following the Lord.

Moses has a basic desire that has been expressed all through the ages.  He asks God to show him his glory.  This is basically asking God to show himself to us.  However we know that no one can actually see God (John 1:18).  God will still reveal himself to Moses.  However this cannot go to the extent of Moses actually seeing God’s face.

God will show Moses his “goodness.”  He reiterates the name of God which he gave to Moses at the burning bush, “I Am Who I Am.”  God then expresses his character and his plan.  God is gracious and merciful in a way that is utterly indiscriminate.  The gospel is being announced here in an initial form.  There is no room for human achievement or merit.  God shows mercy on whomever he chooses.  Later, as Paul notes in Romans where he quotes this text (Rom. 9:15), God will finally be merciful to all (Rom. 11:32).

God then puts Moses in the cleft of a rock.  God’s glory passes by but Moses can only see God’s back.  What can we make of this?  Among other things this scene is the inspiration for the famous hymn, “Rock of Ages.”  What we are being told is that we see God and his glory only indirectly.  We can encounter God in other people, in nature, in art, drama and music.   We can behold God in some if the most mundane and ordinary things in our lives.  We can experience God while washing dishes or riding to work.  We can’t see God directly but there are so many ways we can see him indirectly, seeing is “back” in effect.

We need to be looking for expressions of God’s glory.  They are all around us.

Faithful and loving God, show me your glory.  May I be looking for signs of your presence everywhere.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 32:11-14

Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls the Golden Calf episode an example of two closely related, but very different, churches.  He calls them the church of Aaron and the church of Moses.  The church of Aaron sets up the golden calf.  The calf is built by no one less than Aaron, the first priest and the brother of Moses.  Aaron is not substituting the golden calf for the Lord.  No, what he is saying is that the golden calf represents God.  The festival of the golden calf, in his mind, is a festival of the true God, the “I Am” who appeared to Moses in the wilderness (Ex. 32:5).

The benefits of the church of Aaron are obvious.  It is a church of gold.  Aaron’s church focuses on well-being, eating and drinking and, perhaps most importantly, self-indulgence.  We saw all of this in yesterday’s text.  The church of Aaron offers to give people their desires and wishes.  It is a consumer church.

Yet here is the fundamental problem.  We may have a list of things we ask God for.  However do we really know what we want?  Don’t we often find out that what we desired so greatly doesn’t really satisfy us or its benefits are short lived, like Christmas gifts that are forgotten in January?

The ultimate tragedy is that God is not in the church of Aaron.  God is the focus of the church of Moses.  This church lives by the Word of God alone, the Word in all its fullness, not as a series of favorite texts.

God is prepared to do away with the church of Aaron.  However Moses pleads for that church.  Both Aaron and Moses were necessary in bringing Israel out of slavery.  Moses intercedes for the church that has now been identified as a golden calf.  He reminds God of God’s essential trait of punishing to the third and fourth generation but showing steadfast love, mercy, to the thousandth generation (Deut. 5:10).  God changes his mind.  He will judge the church of Aaron but not destroy it.

The truth is that it is only in the church of Moses that we receive the real desires of our hearts (Ps. 37:4).

Eternal and gracious Lord, keep me from the false assumption that you exist simply to fulfill my wants and desires.  May I know the true delights that come only from you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, November 17, 2018

Saturday, November 17, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 32:1-10

We encounter here a major faith crisis on the part of the Israelites.  What is the occasion of this critical moment?  Are the people under attack?  Are they suffering from some serious disease?  Is a natural calamity, an earthquake or a major storm?

Actually the problem is none of these.  The issue is that, in the people’s minds, Moses is delayed in coming down from Mount Sinai where he has gone to receive the tablets of the Ten Commandments.  The people simply say that they don’t know what has happened to him.  They’ve received no word that he is not returning or that he is somehow injured or even dead.  He is simply “delayed.”  Really?

Are the Israelites all New Jersey drivers?  Do they have any patience at all?  The answer is, apparently not.  So they come to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and they say “Come, make gods for us.”  Aaron incredibly agrees to their request.  What is he thinking?

He makes them a golden calf.  Cows were divine figures in Egypt.  A golden calf would fit right in.  The people apparently have already forgotten that on the night of the Passover God judged all the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12).  Israel finds itself in a totally unnecessary crisis.  They are not in any serious trouble.  They simply are tired of waiting.

How about us?  How good are we in waiting on the Lord as scripture puts it (Ps. 62:5)? Yet the dilemma of having to wait recurs throughout scripture.  Job grows tired of waiting for God’s response.  Jesus delays when he hears that Lazarus is sick (John 11:5-6).  Jesus tells the disciples they will have to wait for his kingdom (Acts 1:6-7).

Waiting is a spiritual discipline.  It is designed not only to test our faith but to strengthen it (Ps. 27:14).  This is not something that comes easy to us.  We want instant answers.  We are impatient if we have to reboot our lap tops.

This is unfortunate.  There is much to be learned in spiritual waiting and in the patience that it requires.  The fact is that waiting for the Lord brings us closer to God’s justice and mercy (Isa. 30:18).  This is a lesson we all need to learn.

Gracious and loving God I confess that I am often impatient.  I want your response to my prayers right away.  Teach me to wait on you.  I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen



Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday, November 16, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 25:10-22

We have here a description of the Ark of the Covenant.  This is where God’s covenant including the stones bearing the Ten Commandments is placed.  The measurements are in “cubits,” which are roughly a foot (the length of a man’s elbow to the tip of his fingers).

What is most important here is the covering of the ark.  This is described as a “mercy seat” made of pure gold.  It is here at the mercy seat that God will meet with his people.  This theme of the “mercy seat” is referred to several times in the New Testament.  The Greek word translated “mercy seat” is used by the apostle Paul to describe the salvation we have in Christ.  He says that God put forward “a sacrifice of atonement,” actually a “mercy seat.”  The writer of Hebrews speaks of the mercy seat as a forerunner of Christ’s role as the ultimate high priest, in this case sacrificing himself.  The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the “holy of holies.”   This was the special place of sacrifice once a year for all the sins of the people.

God states that he will meet with the people “from above the mercy seat.”  Jesus’ offer of himself is the ultimate meeting place of the “mercy seat.”  It is no small point that the mercy seat was the cover that stood over the Ark of the Covenant containing the Law..

God’s commandments are under his mercy seat.  The mercy seat covers the ark.  God’s mercy in Christ covers our sin.  This is Paul’s argument in his letter to the Romans.  In God’s plan for the sanctuary from the very beginning the mercy seat covers the commandments.  The gospel is here already in the very building of the sanctuary  long before there is a temple in Jerusalem.

We can never take this for granted.  Nonetheless we need always to maintain the priority of God’s mercy over the Law in any and all of its forms.  Paul concludes his whole extensive description of God’s plan of salvation with these words: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”  We are imprisoned in sin.  In that scenario the Law is our jailer.  Yet God’s mercy for all is over everything else.  That mercy is revealed in Jesus Christ and is summarized in his quote from Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 12:7). Mercy is the last and final word. That fact is our hope and assurance now and forever.

Eternal and loving God, I praise you that your mercy seat covers the Law and  all its demands. May I live forever in that mercy revealed in Jesus Christ. I pray this in his name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 24:9-18

This is an amazing picture.  Moses and the elders are called up to Mount Sinai to be in God’s presence.  They eat and they drink.  They behold God, obviously not directly, but still they are with God in some definite sense.

The theme of eating as a sign of welcome and acceptance in the ancient world is obviously present here.  Yet the elders can only go so far.  Moses and Joshua go on by themselves.  God is about to give them his written word.  These will be the Ten Commandments written by the very finger of God (Ex. 31:18).  Finally only Moses is called into the very presence of God.

We read that the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a “devouring fire on the top of the mountain.”  We are not told what Moses’ reaction was to all this.  No wonder the people witnessing all this from below were fearful and trembling (Ex. 20:18-21).

The true God is fearful.  Who can stand before him?  Yet this is also the God of “steadfast love.”  How can we reconcile these two?  The God who loves us still desires that we serve him.  We cannot worship God and at the same time betray him.

Yet this is Israel’s dilemma as it is for all of us (Rom. 3:10-18). We cannot get past the fire on the mountain top.  Yet this is why Jesus came.  He came in humility.  Yet he is the same God in the fire on the mountain.  We see this after his resurrection (Rev. 1:12-16).  John, like the people of Israel, is overwhelmed by the sight.

It is Jesus’ grace and truth that keeps us from fear (John 1:17). The Law was given through Moses but that was not enough.  However even before the Law was given God had invited his people to his special feast (Isa. 25:6). We too through Christ will share in that feast.  Every time we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion we both remember the feast and look forward to its final celebration when Christ’s kingdom fully comes (Luke 13:9).

The invitation has been given.  God calls us (Matt. 22:9)!

Merciful and loving God I thank you that you have invited me to your banquet.  May I come eagerly with gratitude.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 24:1-8

This text portrays the giving of the covenant between the Lord and the people of Israel.  Moses gathers the elders first and then calls on all the people.  Moses has written down all the words of the Lord.  How many words were these?  At least they would have been Exodus chapters 20-23 which include the Ten Commandments as well as other instructions for living faithfully.

In preparation for this Moses takes the blood of sacrificial burnt offerings and oxen.  Half of the blood he places in a basin.  The other half he throws against the altar.  Moses then reads the “book of the covenant.”  The people pledge themselves to fulfill their part of the covenant (or treaty) by pledging to do all that God requires.  Moses then dashes the blood on the people.

In the ancient world treaties or agreements, what are called a covenant, were ratified in blood. Often the two parties would cut their arms and mingle their blood as a sign of each party’s promise to fulfill their part of the covenant.  These covenants could be made between parties that were not equal.  A prince could pledge to protect his subjects and they, in turn, would agree to give him their taxes or the results of their labor.

Clearly God and Israel are not equal.  God has initiated the covenant.  He has brought Israel out of slavery and has given them his law.  They promise to be obedient to God’s demands.  All of this is ratified in blood as was the ancient custom.

However it soon becomes evident that Israel will break its agreement, not once but many times.  They will break all of the commandments, again not once but many times.  So is all this a futile gesture?  This is a testing of the people.  What assures them that they will endure is not their failed attempts to abide by God’s covenant.

In fact there is an earlier covenant that God made with their ancestor Abraham, This covenant God made with himself (Heb. 6:13).  Abraham was the beneficiary, not the partner (Gen. 15).  Paul later asks the rhetorical question, “Will their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?”  He answers with an emphatic “By no means!” (Rom. 3:3-4).

This is not to excuse Israel’s unfaithfulness nor our own.  The blood that covers the people finally covers their sins.  All of them.  We have not been cleansed by the blood of bulls and goats.  The blood that frees us is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:11-14).  We therefore are under no obligation.  We are free to serve our God revealed in Jesus Christ.  This is our greatest freedom.

Eternal and gracious God I cannot thank you enough for the blood you shed that fulfills the covenant that I could never fulfill.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 23:10-13

Here we have an early mention of the sabbatical year which leads up to the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25), the fiftieth year following seven cycles of seven years.  This is the principle of seven times seven.  It is rooted in the same emphasis found in the Ten Commandments’ focus on the Sabbath day.  At the basis of this observance is the theme of care for the poor.  Whatever has grown and is available the seventh year will be for the “poor of your people.”  Whatever they leave will remain for the wild animals.

This principle of both the Sabbath day and the Sabbath year were intended to provide relief and rest.  This principle did not only apply to the people.  The animals as well as the crops themselves would benefit.

Unfortunately the observance of the Sabbath degenerated into a legalistic list of restrictions.  Rather than being a day of rest and renewal, it became a day when virtually nothing could be done.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ time in particular presented a broken view in which even healing someone on the Sabbath was prohibited (Luke 13:10-17).

The Year of Jubilee was a time of re-birth and renewal, building on seven cycles of seven years.  The Sabbath was a statement of freedom.  It was not right for people to work every day as the Hebrews had done in their time of slavery.  The Sabbath Day was a guarantee of rest not only for the people of Israel but for their servants and the resident alien in their midst as well as even their animals.

In our world a day of rest seems less and less likely.  In an age of e-mails, texts and computers the work week becomes a 24/7 proposition.  As we can see here this is not God’s intention.  The idea of the Sabbath goes back to creation itself when God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2).

It is the false gods, mentioned here, that demand work without limit or break.  Those gods are still with us today.  Following God’s Word these gods are to be rejected.  Their names are not even to be mentioned!

Jesus calls the disciples to rest.  He calls us to do the same (Mark 6:30-31).

Gracious and faithful God, teach me to practice the Sabbath rest and to help provide that rest for others.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday, November 12, 2018

“The Revenge of the Gods”

Exodus 23:1-9

When we read the Book of Exodus we understand quickly that the Ten Commandments are an initial summary of God’s will.  God’s justice takes in much more.  It extends into every area of life.

In this passage we are introduced to God’s standard for legal proceedings.  God states that we are not to spread a false report nor follow a majority in wrongdoing.  Nor is partiality to be shown against the poor.  Later the theme is picked up that the poor and the innocent are not to be mistreated.  There are very specific requirements warning against taking any bribes.  The Lord makes it clear that he will not acquit the guilty.

The final statement here deals with the treatment of “resident aliens.”  They are not to be oppressed.  Israel is to remember that they were resident aliens in Egypt where they were oppressed for over four hundred years.

These statements all deal with the real meaning of faith in the one true God.  Private and personal spirituality have their place but they are not the primary focus of serving God.  These commands are both social and political.  Any Christian who doesn’t want to face up to these responsibilities is not following the commands of scripture.

God is calling us to be active in both the public and the social sphere.  We need to be active regarding abuses in our legal system, especially with regard to the poor.  The issue of immigration is a major topic in our country.  The point is made abundantly clear that resident aliens are not to be oppressed.  They are to be treated with the love that summarizes God’s law (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:9).

To drive the point even further God requires us to care for the property of those who are our enemies, who, to put it bluntly, hate us.  This is not the model of the false gods who sought vengeance on their enemies.  What the Law finally reveals is not a list of obligations. Instead we are given the picture of a God of steadfast love.

This steadfast love, this mercy is Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law.

Eternal and gracious God, remind me that I am called to live out your will in every aspect of life.  Give me the grace to focus on the needs of the poor and those who are “resident aliens.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

SUNDAY 2 Kings 2: 23-25

This week our devotions will center around the transition from Elijahs’s ministry to Elisha’s in 2 Kings 2, which culminates in the strange text in 2 Kings 2:23-25. This story brings up a difficult issue for Christians: Sometimes God does not make sense! These devotions come primarily from .

Commentators have struggled for thousands of years to make sense of this passage. Many have twisted themselves into knots to preserve God’s reputation as a God-Who-Makes-Sense. Maybe there are times when we cannot make sense of what God does, or allows, or doesn’t allow. We can wrestle with how the Bible has been handed down recorded, and translated. We can wrestle with whether we will continue to follow, to trust, or to love this God. For some reason this strange story was never edited out of the scripture so we must continue to ponder, to argue and to puzzle over it. Maybe God isn’t concerned about whether God makes sense to us!

2 Kings 2:23-25
Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. Then he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

a. Some youths came from the city and mocked him: The ancient Hebrew word translated youths here means young men in a very broad sense. This term applied to Joseph when he was 39 (Genesis 41:12), to Absalom as an adult (2 Samuel 14:21, 18:5), and to Solomon when he was 20 (1 Kings 3:7).

i. These youths were from Bethel, and their mocking presence shows the continuing opposition to a true prophet in Bethel, the chief center of pagan calf-worship.” (Wiseman)

b. Go up, you baldhead: This both mocked Elisha because of his apparent baldness, and because of his connection with the prophet Elijah. The idea behind the words, “Go up” was that Elisha should go up to heaven like Elijah did. It mocked Elisha, his mentor Elijah, and the God they served.

i. “Go up; go up into heaven, whither thou pretendest that Elijah is gone. Why didst not thou accompany thy friend and master into heaven? Oh that the same Spirit would take thee up also, that thou mightest not trouble us nor our Israel, as Elijah did!” (Poole)

ii. “The lack of hair was not a result of old age; since he lived about fifty years after this incident, he was at the time a relatively young man. Elisha’s baldness must have been in striking contrast to Elijah’s hairy appearance.” (Dilday)

c. So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD: Elisha knew these young men mocked his ministry, Elijah’s ministry, and the God they both faithfully served. Yet he left any correction up to God by pronouncing a curse on them in the name of the LORD.

d. Two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths: In response to the curse of Elisha, God sent two female bears and they mauled (literally, cut up) the young men.

i. “Bears are attested in the hill ranges until mediaeval times.” (Wiseman)

ii. “Since forty-two of the boys were struck by the bears, the group may have been quite large and therefore dangerously out of control. Elisha may have needed miraculous intervention to escape.” (Dilday)

iii. “Verse 24 does not say that the victims were killed. The Hebrew word translated ‘mauled’ might indicate less serious injuries. The ultimate outcome of the miracle was to break up the gang, frighten the offenders and the entire village.” (Dilday)

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

SATURDAY 2 Kings 2:19-22

This week our devotions will center around the transition from Elijahs’s ministry to Elisha’s in 2 Kings 2, which culminates in the strange text in 2 Kings 2:23-25. This story brings up a difficult issue for Christians: Sometimes God does not make sense! These devotions come primarily from . The devotions will set the stage for this difficult text on which Melanie Ciccalese will preach next Sunday.

Nothing in this passage makes logical sense. Since God’s word spoke a good creation into existence, why does God allow Jericho to have a terrible water supply that causes death and barrenness? How would I feel if God healed the water the day after my loved one died? Or if I had labored for years to eke out a living from the barren land? Why salt? Why Elisha at this moment? Do you have questions like this?

2 Kings 2:19-22
Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren.” And he said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’” So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.

a. The water is bad, and the ground barren: At this time Jericho had a poor water supply. This made agriculture impossible and life very difficult.

b. Thus says the LORD: “I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness”: The miracle did not happen because Elisha wanted to impress others or because he thought it would be good to do it. This was a work of the LORD, and it was a word from the LORD that announced the healing of the water.

i. “If God casteth into our hearts but one cruseful of the salt of his Spirit, we are whole.” (Trapp)

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

FRIDAY 2 Kings: 2:16-18

This week our devotions will center around the transition from Elijahs’s ministry to Elisha’s in 2 Kings 2, which culminates in the strange text in 2 Kings 2:23-25. This story brings up a difficult issue for Christians: Sometimes God does not make sense! These devotions come primarily from . The devotions will set the stage for this difficult text on which Melanie Ciccalese will preach next Sunday.

Why does God make sense to some and not to others? Why doesn’t God just convince everyone the same? Elisha knows the servants won’t find Elijah but finally allows them to suit themselves. Was there some benefit to the three day search? Did Elisha accomplish something important in Jericho during the search? We simply don’t understand why God allows us the individual freedom to do as we please.

2 Kings 2:16-18
Then they said to him, “Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send anyone.” But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send them!”Therefore they sent fifty men, and they searched for three days but did not find him. And when they came back to him, for he had stayed in Jericho, he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”

a. Please let them go and search for your master: The sons of the prophets wondered if the chariot of fire had not merely taken Elijah to another place in Israel. Elisha knew that it had carried him to heaven, so he was hesitant to give permission for what he knew would be a futile mission.

b. Did I not say to you, “Do not go”: Elisha knew that the mission would be futile and it was. Elijah was carried up to heaven, not some other place on this earth.

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

THURSDAY 2 Kings 2:14-15

This week our devotions will center around the transition from Elijahs’s ministry to Elisha’s in 2 Kings 2, which culminates in the strange text in 2 Kings 2:23-25. This story brings up a difficult issue for Christians: Sometimes God does not make sense! These devotions come primarily from . The devotions will set the stage for this difficult text on which Melanie Ciccalese will preach next Sunday.

How God works rarely makes sense to us. Why did God take Elijah away and not continue to use him? Why take Elijah in a whirlwind and not just let him die peacefully? Why does God sometimes use drama and miracles (1 Kings 18:38) and other times show up in sheer stillness (1 Kings 19:11-12)? Our “Why?” gets few answers. Elisha’s “Where?”gets a miraculous response.   We need to be careful about our questions when God does not make sense.

2 Kings 2:14-15
Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.

a. Where is the LORD God of Elijah: Elisha knew that the power in prophetic ministry did not rest in mantles or fiery chariots. It rested in the presence and work of the Living God. If the LORD God of Elijah were also with Elisha, then he would inherit the same power and direction of ministry.

i. This was a great question to ask. If God expected Elisha to continue on the ministry of Elijah, then He must be present for the junior prophet in the same ways He was for the senior prophet.

b. When he also struck the water, it was divided: This shows that Elisha immediately had the same power in ministry that Elijah had. He went back over a divided Jordan River the same way that he and Elijah first came over the river.

i. “And when you have got their mantle, do not waste precious time in lamentations about them any more; get to your business. There is a river in your way; what then? Well, go to the Jordan as the prophet Elisha did, and try to pass it. Say not, ‘Where is Elijah?’ but ‘Where is the Lord God of Elijah?’ Elijah is gone, but his God is not; Elijah has gone away, but Jehovah is present, still.” (Spurgeon)

c. The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha: The succession of Elisha to the power and office of Elijah was apparent to others. Elisha didn’t need to persuade or convince them of this with words. God’s blessing on his actions was enough to prove it.

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

WEDNESDAY 2 Kings 2:11-13
In 1 Kings 19:19, Elijah interrupts Elisha and his plowing by throwing Elijah’s mantle over him. Elisha runs after him and becomes his servant. We don’t know why he leaves his former life to follow Elijah but his abrupt switch is reminiscent of the disciples who respond immediately to Jesus’ call: Follow me.
God’s call rarely makes sense at the time, and requires us to leave our former lives and to take on the great responsibility of choosing God’s will over our own.

2 Kings 2: 11-13
Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan.

a. As they continued on and talked: “What sublime themes must have engaged them, standing as they did on the very confines of heaven, and in the vestibule of eternity! The apostasy of Israel and its approaching doom; the ministry just closing, with its solemn warnings; the outlook towards the work upon which Elisha was preparing to enter – these and cognate subjects must have occupied them.” (Meyer)

b. Suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven: This was a strange and unique miracle. As the two prophets walked, some fiery object separated the two of them and then carried Elijah up to heaven.

i. “It was meet that a whirlwind-man should sweep to heaven in the very element of his life… What a contrast to the gentle upward motion of the ascending Saviour!” (Meyer)

ii. “Elijah was taken up to heaven in the whirlwind, not in the chariot of fire and horses of fire which merely ‘came between the two of them’ (Hebrew) and cut him off from human sight. These chariots and horsemen symbolized strong protection as well as the forces of God’s spiritual presence which were the true safety of Israel.” (Wiseman)

c. My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen: With these words Elisha recognized the true strength of Israel. “Elisha saw that the strength of Israel had been that of the presence of the prophet of God. It is more than a coincidence that when presently Elisha himself passed away, Joash, the reigning king, uttered the same exclamation (13:14).” (Morgan)

i. “Who by thy example, and counsels, and prayers, and power with God, didst more for the defense and preservation of Israel, than all their chariots and horses, or other warlike provisions.” (Poole)

ii. This was the end of a remarkable ministry, one that was in many ways similar to the ministry of Moses. Both Moses and Elijah:

· Stood alone for righteousness.
· Were associated with fire upon mountains and the desert.
· Met God on Sinai.
· Were chased out of their countries by pagan rulers.
· Knew God’s miraculous provision for food and water.
· Wandered in the desert for a period measured by 40 and fasted for 40 days.
· Were powerful examples of praying men.
· Parted waters.
· Had close associates who succeeded them and successors who parted waters also.
· Had mysterious or strange deaths.

d. And Elisha saw it: This fulfilled the requirement mentioned in 2 Kings 2:10. Elisha would indeed inherit the prophetic ministry of Elijah. Yet Elisha wasn’t happy when this happened; he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces as an expression of deep mourning.

e. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him: Since the mantle was the special mark of a prophet, this was a demonstration of the truth that Elisha truly had inherited the ministry of Elijah.

i. Think of what it was like for Elisha to pick up that mantle. The mantle did not fall from heaven and rest on his shoulders; he had to decide to pick it up and put it on. He had to decide: Do I really want to put this on? Elijah’s ministry was one of great power, but also of great pressure and responsibility.

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

TUESDAY 2 Kings 2:8-10
This week our devotions will center around the transition from Elijahs’s ministry to Elisha’s in 2 Kings 2, which culminates in the strange text in 2 Kings 2:23-25. This story brings up a difficult issue for Christians: Sometimes God does not make sense! These devotions come primarily from . The devotions will set the stage for this difficult text on which Melanie Ciccalese will preach next Sunday.

Sometimes God tests his people and it doesn’t make sense to us. Think of Abraham asked to sacrifice Isaac! Why are we tested? Sometimes God wants to know what is in our hearts or to humble us (Deut. 8:2). Or God wants to refine us (Jeremiah 9:7). James 1:3 says the testing of our faith produces endurance. Elisha is tested several times in this passage. Will he remain with Elijah? What will he ask for from Elijah? What would you do in his shoes?

2 Kings 2: 8-10
Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.”

a. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground: This was a strange and unique miracle on a day of strange and unique miracles. Elijah walked in the steps of Moses and Joshua as ones whom God used to miraculously part waters.

b. Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you: This was a big invitation, but Elisha had demonstrated his tenacity by refusing to leave his mentor.

i. “It was with the object of testing the spirit of his friend that the departing seer had urged him again and again to leave him. And it was only when Elisha had stood the test with such unwavering resolution that Elijah was able to give him this carte blanche.” (Meyer)

c. Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me: When invited to make a request, Elisha asked for a big thing – a double portion of the mighty spirit of Elijah. Elisha saw how greatly the Spirit of God worked through Elijah, and he wanted the same for himself.

i. He could have asked for anything, but he asked for this. “He sought neither wealth, nor position, nor worldly power; nor a share in those advantages on which he had turned his back for ever.” (Meyer)

ii. The idea of a double portion was not to ask for twice as much as Elijah had, but to ask for the portion that went to the firstborn son, as in Deuteronomy 21:17. Elisha asked for the right to be regarded as the successor of Elijah, as his firstborn son in regard to ministry. Yet Elisha had already been designated as Elijah’s successor (1 Kings 19:19). This was a request for the spiritual power to fulfill the calling he already received.

iii. It is worthwhile to consider if this was generally a good or a bad thing. Normally we don’t think of one person inheriting the ministry of another. The relation between Elijah and Elisha – and God’s apparent blessing on their ministries – shows that at least sometimes God intends one person to inherit the ministry of another.

d. If you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be for you: Elijah tested the devotion of his mentor by seeing if he would persistently stay with him through these last remarkable hours. If the devotion of Elisha remained strong through the testing, his request to be the successor of the first prophet would be fulfilled.

Grace Presbyterian Church - When God Does Not Make Sense

When God Does Not Make Sense

This week our devotions will center around the transition from Elijahs’s ministry to Elisha’s in 2 Kings 2, which culminates in the strange text in 2 Kings 2:23-23. This story brings up a difficult issue for Christians: Sometimes God does not make sense! These devotions come primarily from . The devotions will set the stage for this difficult text on which Melanie Ciccalese will preach next Sunday.

MONDAY 2 Kings 2:1-7

1. (1-3) The awareness of Elijah’s coming departure.
And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they went down to Bethel. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent!”

a. When the LORD was about to take Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind: Apparently, this was somewhat common knowledge. Elijah, Elisha, and the sons of the prophets each knew that Elijah would soon be carried into heaven by a whirlwind; presumably there was a prophecy announcing this that at least some knew.

b. As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you: Elijah seemed to test the devotion of Elisha. Since it was known that Elijah would soon depart to heaven in an unusual way, Elisha wanted to stay as close as possible to his mentor.

2. (4-7) The awareness of Elijah’s departure at Jericho and the Jordan.
Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they came to Jericho. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” So he answered, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So the two of them went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan.

a. Elisha, stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Jericho: Elijah continued to test the devotion of Elisha, and Elisha continued to stay with his mentor until his anticipated unusual departure.

i. Elijah knew that God had a dramatic plan for the end of his earthly life, yet he was perfectly willing to allow it all to take place privately, without anyone else knowing. “The prophet’s evident desire to die alone shames us, when we remember how eager we are to tell men, by every available medium, of what we are doing for the Lord.” (Meyer)

b. The two of them went on: Elisha would not leave his mentor until God took him away in the dramatic way promised.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday, November 4, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

Exodus 20:1-21

God’s giving of the Ten Commandments is one of the great events in Biblical history.  The commandments are on two tablets, the first are specific requirements regarding both the worship of God and the honoring of parents.  The second table sets boundaries for interaction with our neighbor.  These are the famous “thou shalt nots.”

God calls his people to keep his commandments (Ex. 19:5).  Keeping the commandments is the gateway to a free and productive life.  Yet as we all know, we break the commandments daily.  The real question is what does it mean to keep the commandments?  The rich young ruler claimed to have kept all the commandments from his youth (Luke 18:31).  The Pharisee praying in the temple claims to have kept them as well (Luke 18:11-12).  Yet Jesus sees neither of these as being justified.

The danger here is to see the commandments as literal instructions, statements of an exact duty we owe to God.  Jesus makes it clear that the specific requirements of the Law are not enough.  The attitude of the heart is what is most important.

Jesus also makes it clear that the fulfilling of the Law is demonstrating the “steadfast love” of God.  This may require a breaking of the exact requirements of the Law to follow what Jesus said was to do good, not harm and to save life, not destroy it (Luke 6:9).

Jesus himself does not follow the letter of the Law (II Cor. 3).  He breaks the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8), forgives a woman who’s committed adultery (John 8:1-11), disregards his mother (Mark 3:31-35) and welcomes a tax collector who was reputedly a thief (Luke 19:1-10).

The Ten Commandments are an important word but they are not the last word.  Their goal is to bring us to God’s steadfast love (Ex. 34:6-7).  The Law’s main purpose is to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:23-26).  He and he alone is the fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 5:17).

Most merciful and gracious God teach me to live out the full truth of your Law in loving you with my heart, mind and soul and my neighbor as myself.  I pray this in Jesus’s name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, November 3, 2018

Saturday, November 3, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

Exodus 19:1-15

Israel is being prepared for a critical encounter.  The people have journeyed through the wilderness to Mount Sinai.  It is there that they will meet God in a unique way.  From Mount Sinai God will give them his Law the basis for their covenant or relationship with him.

God reminds the people that he brought them out of Egypt “on eagles’ wings.”  God is not a territorial deity limited to a particular place (as was the case with the false gods).  God affirms the fact that “the whole earth is mine.”  In other words God is not limited.  His grace and mercy, his “steadfast love” given to Israel will benefit the whole world as he promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).

Moses poses a crucial question to the people.  They are to obey the voice of God.  God has initiated his covenant with them.  They are now to respond to what God has done.  The people then say, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”  Really?

It’s no big spoiler alert to point out that Israel will not live up to that basic demand. They are about to receive God’s Ten Commandments which they will break frequently.  God eventually will lament the fact that Israel has disobeyed him since the day they came out of Egypt (II Kings 21:15).

So is this all an exercise in futility?  Is Israel just going through the motions of pledging faithfulness to God?  Yet more is going on here that simply Israel’s initial pledge to obey the Lord.  God is preparing the people to come into his presence.  The people are to be consecrated to the Lord.

However there is a crucial word here that points well beyond the revelation at Mount Sinai.  The ritual Israel is to keep focuses on “the third day” which is mentioned several times.  They are told to prepare for the third day.

The law will not save Israel.  Nor will it save us.  We are too broken, too self- centered.  We can’t keep the Law.  There is however much we will need to learn through even our failure to keep the Law.  Yet God’s final answer to Israel and indeed the whole world will take place “on the third day,” the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  Jesus fulfills the Law for us.

From the beginning this is our hope.  We can never take that fact lightly.  We need to understand all of God’s commandments in the light of “the third day.”

I praise you Lord for your fulfilling of all your promises through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  May we depend on your Law to lead us to Christ.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, November 2, 2018

Friday, November 2, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

Exodus 16:1-12

Israel now is free in a way they could not have imagined only a short time earlier.  They are free of Egypt, free of bondage and slavery, free of the fear that the Egyptians may yet pursue them.  Yet how do they exercise this freedom?  The easy answer is, very poorly.

Once again the whole congregation is complaining against Moses and Aaron.  So what’s their problem this time?  They are hungry.  Don’t they realize that the God who brought them through the Red Sea on dry land will be able to feed them?  Their difficulty is they don’t see any food source around them?  They are in the wilderness.

What is their immediate reaction?  They say they would rather have lived out their lives in the slavery of Egypt where they had “fleshpots” and ate their full of bread.  Are they kidding?  What about all their groaning and misery in the days of their slavery?

The people of Israel have a remarkably brief attention span.  In addition to that they, like little children, opt for instant gratification.  They want their needs met now.  They’re hungry now.  They are in no mood to wait.

We have to admit that we can often be like the Israelites.  We can long for things in the past while complaining of present troubles.  We can view the past with nostalgia as the Hebrews are doing right here.  We select out the positive memories and conveniently forget the bad experiences.

What Israel needs to learn is that the same God who brought them out of slavery is the same God who will lead them into their future, the promise land.  It’s easy for us to act as though God is no longer active in our time the way he was in previous eras.  This is where Israel for all their complaining is a helpful example (I Cor. 10:1-6).  We don’t take disappointments well.  We want our difficulties taken away immediately.  The fact is God will supply them with food, as much as they can eat.

However God doesn’t automatically give us what we want or need in the moment we ask for it.  God is testing Israel to see if they will be obedient to him.  He tests us in the same way.

Gracious and faithful God, keep me from impatience as I face the struggles of life.  Help me not to dwell on a past that may never have existed.  Give me the grace to continue to look forward to the new things you are doing.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 1, 2018

Thursday, November 1, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

All Saints’ Day – Heb. 11:29-40

From the perspective of the apostle Paul every believer is a saint (I Cor. 1:2).  So when we speak of today being All-Saints’ Day we are really speaking of all of us.  The hallmark of a saint is the demonstration of faith.  We recently looked at the crossing of the Red Sea.  The writer of Hebrews attributes this to Israel’s faith.  Yet as we have seen that faith was very fragile when they first encountered the Red Sea.  To walk into the sea even with the waters separated certainly required a measure of faith.  Who knew when those walls of water would come crashing down.

The writer celebrates the reality of faith in a host of figures from the Old Testament.  Yet some of these people would, according to human standards, appear to be less than outstanding examples.  The writer mentions Rahab the prostitute, Gideon who needed not just one but two signs from the Lord, Samson who succumbed to the temptations of Delilah and, of course, David who committed rape and murder.

Yet the author includes them among a general grouping of those of whom the world was not worthy.  We need to remember what Jesus said about faith the size of a mustard seed (Matt. 17:20).  A simple amount of faith can change the world.

We can’t help being intimidated by the description of the faithful who suffered often to an extreme degree for their faith.  Are we prepared to suffer for our faith?  How much are we willing to sacrifice for Christ?  The truth is that Christians have suffered throughout history and many still suffer today.

We should never take our freedoms for granted.  We also need to remember that to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).  On this All Saints’ Day we need to ask ourselves, how much are we willing to surrender for the cause of Christ?

Gracious and faithful God increase my faith and, in so doing, increase my service for you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

Ps. 91:1-16 – Halloween

Halloween is not a Christian festival but its observance should have a Christian element.  Originally Halloween, which is really “All Hallows Eve,” meant the evening before All Saint’s (“Hollows” is old English for “Saints”) Day.  Initially it was one of the fall or harvest festivals of the ancient world.  It was also believed to be the occasion when dead spirits roamed abroad.

In so far as it has that connotation, the text of Ps. 91 addresses the festival.  This psalm affirms the fact that God delivers us from any and all spirits or evil forces’  It is ironic that Satan quotes this psalm in his attempt to tempt Jesus.  He suggests that Jesus throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple trusting that God’s angels will bear him up (Matt. 4:5-6; Ps. 91:11-12).  We get a sense of the devil’s boldness here that he is willing to quote the psalm that is most used to oppose him.

Under Christian influence Halloween lost its threatening character.  As scripture so clearly makes evident, the dark powers, the rulers and authorities of this world have been conquered by Christ in the victory of the cross (Col. 2:15).  The ancients remained indoors on Halloween afraid of the spirits that were thought to be abroad.

However in a Christian context the night holds no such terror.  The day became a time of fun and make-believe.  Children dressed in costumes and went out “trick or treating,” getting candy not curses.   As such Halloween could be a celebration of the confidence and hope that we have in Christ’s victory over the powers of evil.  It is a time for celebrating the protection we have in the Lord.

However as we all know, the celebration of Halloween has changed over recent decades.  For one thing it seems to be catering more to adults than to children.  Its original context of dark spirits abroad (seen in the many Halloween films) has unfortunately been revived.

Rather than lament that fact we need to make clear the meaning of a Christian Halloween.  This should be a night of fun and enjoyment.  This coming Friday, Nov. 2, at church we will be celebrating Halloween the way it should be.

Come and join us.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you for the victory Jesus has won over all the spirits of captivity (Eph. 4:8-10).  I claim the promise that no evil can befall me (Ps. 91:10).  May I celebrate all of life in the terms of the redemption achieved in Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

Exodus 15:22-27

We have a sharp reversal from what we just saw in the Hymn of Praise which preceded this section.  In that hymn Israel was celebrating the strength and steadfast love of the Lord.  Israel should be overflowing with gratitude for God’s deliverance.  They came through the Red Sea on dry land.  The Egyptians were drowned in the water that came crushing in on top of them.  In addition to all the signs that were given in Egypt the miracle of the Red Sea was the most dramatic of all.

Three days later the Israelites are without water.  They come to a pool where the water  is bitter and therefore they can’t drink it.  What do they do?  They complain to Moses.  Don’t they realize that the God who enabled them to cross the Red Sea can certainly provide them with water in the wilderness?

The most disturbing thing about the Israelites is how much they remind us of ourselves.  How often do we take God’s goodness and his gifts for granted?  How quickly do we complain the minute something goes wrong?  Moses cries out to the Lord.  The Lord gives him a piece of wood and Moses throws it into the water.  All of a sudden the bitter water becomes sweet.  Surprise, surprise.

In all this God has been putting Israel to the test.  God sets before them his standard.  If they follow God’s commandments then God will protect them from all the adversity that came upon the Egyptians.

This should not be hard.  God’s commandments are clear and plain enough.  However there is a fundamental problem that we all have and that is the matter of sin.  God’s commands thankfully are not the final statement of his will.  God’s promises take precedence over his law (Gal. 3:16-18).  All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20).

Gracious and faithful God keep me from complaining rather than trusting in you.  Sustain me by your promises guaranteed in Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, October 29, 2018

Monday, October 29, 2018

“The Freedom of the Law”

Exodus 15:1-21

This is nothing less than a glorious hymn of praise.  Moses leads the Israelites in the song which is then followed by the dancing of his sister, the prophet Miriam.  The hymn opens with the powerful statement, “The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation.” This opening is designed to remind us that we have no strength in ourselves.  We can easily frustrate ourselves by depending on our own resources and abilities.  This is not to deny the reality of those resources and abilities.  We each of us have gifts given by the Lord.  But that’s precisely the point.  Whatever strengths we have are gifts from the Lord (I Cor. 4:7).  The gifts can never take the place of the giver.  We have no strength apart from the Lord.  The sooner we learn that truth the better off we are.

This song goes on to elaborate events that the writer has not yet told us. We hear of the conquest of the promise land, the victories over “the inhabitants of Canaan.”  God defeats them as he defeated the armies of Egypt.  This is God’s just judgment on a corrupt and unjust world.  God will hold the people of Israel to the same account.

God led his people by “steadfast love.”  This is the same as grace, God’s unmerited and undeserved favor and goodness.  This is the week of the celebration of the Reformation (Oct. 31 which is not just Halloween).  That concept of grace is the basis of justification by faith apart from works (Eph. 2:1-10). This was re-discovered in the Reformation of the sixteenth century.  This reality of grace, of God’s “steadfast love,” needs to be re-affirmed in every generation.

A final point to note here is the reference to Miriam, Moses and Aaron’s sister.  She is referred to as a “prophet.”  She clearly had a leadership role.  One of the great historical mistakes of the church was denying that role to women for so long.  Fortunately that has been corrected in many churches.

All of these are reasons to “sing to the Lord.”

Loving and merciful God and Savior may I join in singing your praises for your strength and your steadfast love.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday, October 28, 2018

“The Lord Will Fight for You”

Exodus 14:21-31

This now is the greatest miracle that Israel has witnessed. Moses had told the people not to fear, to stand firm and to see the deliverance of the Lord.  The Red Sea doesn’t part in an instant (like in the movie version).  We read that the Lord drove the sea apart by a strong east wind that blew “all night.”  We don’t read of the reactions of the Israelites at this point.  They are very much in a holding pattern.  The pillar of cloud separates the Egyptians from the Israelites.  The sea is still there.  The people of Israel have to wait.  Quite simply their faith is being tested.  Even when God delivers us he doesn’t necessarily do it in an instant.  We may have to wait, watch and hope.

With the coming of the dawn Israel is able to cross through the sea on dry land.  The sea is divided into two walls of water, one on their right and the other on their left.  The Egyptians now are thrown into a panic just as the Israelites were initially.  The Egyptians now realize that the Lord is fighting for Israel.  They foolishly try to pursue.  The walls of water cave in on them.  The entire army of the Egyptians is drowned.  This is the first example of God’s salvation of his people.

This whole event points forward to Christ’s death and resurrection.  The disciples, like the Israelites, were thrown into a panic.  There was darkness in the land.  The enemies of God, human and spiritual, were united in opposition to God’s chosen servant, Jesus Christ.  God performed an incredible miracle in bringing Christ back from the dead, conquering over his opponents (Col. 2:13-15).

In salvation God does it all.  Yet we still need to respond.   It required faith for Israel to go into what had become a cavern of water.  We also need to remember that salvation, God’s deliverance, is a final deliverance from defeat and despair.  God rescued the Israelites from physical as well as spiritual death.  However we are not promised deliverance from physical death.  Samson died.  John the Baptist died.  And of course Jesus died.  Yet God’s ultimate salvation was seen in each case.

Our God does deliver us finally and completely.  This is Reformation Sunday.  In Martin Luther’s paraphrase of Ps. 46, “A mighty fortress is our God.”

Merciful and loving God, I thank you for your deliverance from the despair and defeat that I see so often in the world.  Build up my confidence in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, October 27, 2018

Saturday, October 27, 2018

“The Lord Will Fight for You”

Exodus 14:15-20

God’s question to Moses at first seems odd.  The Lord asks, “Why do you cry out to me?”  Who else should Moses and the people be crying out to?  Yet God seems to be commenting on the small faith which Israel is showing at this point.  God has brought them through the ten plagues ending on the first Passover where the blood of the lamb protected them from the death sentence which the Egyptians had placed on themselves.

All that has happened is in God’s hands.  God is carrying out his own purpose which the Israelites seem unable to grasp at this point.  God is manifesting his glory in these events.  Pharaoh is in the hand of the Lord whether he knows it or not (Proverbs 21:1).

God now tells Moses something that sounds impossible.  He is to stretch out his hand over the sea.  The sea will divide and Israel will cross over on dry ground.  Surely this is impossible.  Of course from the standpoint of the angels, nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37).

The angel of the Lord now enters the scene.  He places a pillar of cloud between Israel and the advancing Egyptian army.  The cloud is also part of a pillar of fire.  The whole night is illuminated.  The Egyptians are incapable of advancing at this stage.

Israel has been in a panic.  That is often our response when things appear to break down all around us.  Yet God is very much in control.  His plan and purpose may well be, initially at least, beyond our understanding.

There is no reason to fear.

Most loving and faithful God teach me to rely on you always especially when my world seems out of control.  May I remember that you are always in charge of all that takes place.  Since you watch over the sparrows I know you watch over me (Matt. 10:29-31).  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday, October 26, 2018

“The Lord Will Fight for You”

Exodus 14:5-14

At long last the day off freedom has come.  Pharaoh has consented to let the Israelites leave.  The Egyptians themselves are giving their gold and silver to the Israelites begging them in effect to leave.

The momentous struggle has come to an end .  At first things had gotten worse after the arrival of Moses and Aaron.  The Hebrews had been compelled to get their own straw to make their bricks.  Hopes of deliverance were initially tempered by the fact that the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the miracles of Moses and Aaron.  However that soon changed.  God gave sign after sign sending plagues upon Egypt.  Finally there was the Passover with the fulfillment of the promise of freedom.

The events of the Exodus narrative symbolize the life of the Christian.  In first committing ourselves to Christ we see obstacles and difficulties.  We are overburdened.  The demands of discipleship may appear overwhelming, like making bricks without straw.  When we see rival gods and different expressions of faith we may well wonder, is the gospel really true?  We see those who seem to be able to duplicate the Christian faith with their own “magic.”

Yet as we grow in faith we become more confident, more assured in our belief.  Christ really has forgiven our sins.  He has given us the promise of new life (John 10:10).  We can hope and trust in him.

However as we see in the Exodus story there may be a sudden reversal, an unforeseen crisis, a major upheaval in our lives which plunges into doubt and even despair.  This is the situation of the Israelites.  All of a sudden they learn that Pharaoh has once again hardened his heart.  He and his chariots are bearing down on the suddenly liberated Israelites.  Israel’s backs are to the sea, literally.  They are no match for the armies of Pharaoh.  They cry out in despair.

We can face these same moments in our lives. It can seem that everything is collapsing around us.  Our faith feels hopelessly inadequate to the challenges we face.  Israel in the moment of panic is on the verge of wanting to return to Egypt.  They appear to have lost faith.  This type of situation recurs in scripture in such examples as Samson, David, Esther, Jeremiah and John the Baptist.

Yet in these moments God is not absent.  Nor has he been defeated.  Moses calls for three responses from the people: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”

God will not allow us to be defeated or destroyed.  In Moses’ words, “The Lord will fight for you.”

Eternal and gracious God, fortify my faith in those times when I face complete upheaval in my life.  Lead me through the valley of death if need be.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.