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Sunday, June 17, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

I John 2:12-17

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 12:36-43

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday, June 15, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:35-41

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday, June 14, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:24-34

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:18-23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9:13-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, June 11, 2018

Monday, June 11, 2018

“True Love, False Love”

John 9: 1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday, June 10, 2018

“Living in the Light”

I John 2:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday, June 9, 2018

“Living in the Light”

Ps. 22:22-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday, June 8, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:48-59

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday, June 7, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:39-47

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

 “Living in the Light”

John 8:31-38

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

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

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

 

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:21-30

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

“Living in the Light”

John 8:12-20

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

“Complete Joy”

II Cor. 4:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, June 2, 2018

Saturday, June 2, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 1, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday, May 31, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:7-12

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 “Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

“Complete Joy”

I Samuel 3:11-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday, May 28, 2018

“Complete Joy”

I Samuel 3:1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Who is God?”

II Cor. 13:11-13

Trinity Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

“Who is God?”

Romans 8:19-30

Paul here gives an overview of all of creation.  The creation has been subjected to futility.  It is in fact in “bondage to decay.”  We recognize this as an all too familiar picture of our world in its present state.  Paul then speaks of the one “who subjected it.”  This can only be God.  But why has God put creation in bondage to decay?  We have to read this as God’s judgment on a world that has denied him and embraced pride, injustice and deceit.  This however is not the final fate of creation.

A key theme of this passage is hope.  Even in its bondage to decay the creation lives in hope of “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  In other words God who has judged our decaying world is also the God who promises a new creation (II Cor. 5:17).  As Paul has indicated even those of us who are in Christ have not yet received the full benefits of being “the children of God.”  This is “the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

Our guarantee of this is hope.  Yet as Paul says succinctly, “hope that is seen is not hope.”  We are then in a precarious position.  In this situation we depend on the three fold reality of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Spirit lifts up our prayers even in our weakness.  Paul’s greatest statement of hope in this passage is his assertion that “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  God’s purpose has its roots in eternity but is carried out in our world of time and space.  God chooses us in Christ (Eph. 1:4) but then calls us in the unfolding context of our daily lives.  It is not that God has predestined everything that is to happen irrespective of human acts and decisions.  Our decisions do matter.  God can and does change his mind (Ex. 32:14; Jonah 3:10).  Yet we have the assurance that our hope in God will be fulfilled.  We are being prepared to share in nothing less than God’s glory.  This grounds us in hope even as we continue to face a world that is in “bondage to decay.”  All things are not good but all things, in God’s hands, work together for good for those who love God.

Eternal and gracious God as I contemplate your plan for all of creation, my head starts to spin.  Keep me focused on the hope I have in you every day knowing that all things work together for good.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“Who is God?”

Romans 8:12-18

In this brief passage Paul gives a vivid picture of the working together of the three persons of the trinity.  He begins with a warning that, as Christians, we are not to live “according to the flesh.”  The word “flesh’ here takes in more than the physical.  Flesh for Paul signifies life apart from the true God.  It is existence lived only for the moment with no thought of the Creator.  Paul had essentially described this form of life in chapter 1 verses 18 to 32.  Rome in this period was certainly focused on its own depraved pleasures, at least according to the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonous.  The answer to these temptations and distractions is the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul here is not endorsing an asceticism that denies human pleasure.  In his mind this only makes things worse (Col. 2:20-24).  Paul states emphatically, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord that nothing is unclean in itself (Rom. 14:14).Paul wants us to realize that the vitality and new life of the Spirit is far greater than any of the pleasures of the flesh.

Paul contrasts the freedom of the Holy Spirit with the “spirit of slavery.”  While Paul can speak metaphorically of the slavery of sin in its deadly grip, he also must, as a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), be thinking of the social and political reality of slavery.  Israel is adopted as a child of God the Father by being brought out of slavery in Egypt (Hosea 11:1).  Slavery was an essential part of the economic and social structure of Rome.  Yet Paul in calling for the equality of slaves and masters began to lay the foundation for its eventual demise (Gal. 3:28; Philemon 1:15-16).

Paul reminds the Roman Christians that, just as in the case of ancient Israel, they have been adopted into God’s family through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, they, as well as we ourselves, are now children of God.  God is truly our Father.  We are joint heirs with Christ.

Paul then adds the sober reminder that to be part of God’s family in the power of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not so that we can enjoy special privileges.  Rather we are to share in the sufferings of Christ.  To stand for God’s truth in a world of injustice and illusion is to expose ourselves to suffering.  However he adds the hopeful note that “the sufferings of this present time” cannot be compared to the future glory we have in Jesus Christ.  We should not hesitate to stand up against the slavery of the “flesh,” the slavery that the world imposes.  We are free in Jesus Christ.

Gracious and loving God and Savior I praise you that I have been adopted into your family through Christ’s death and resurrection.  May I resist all forms of slavery and live in your freedom alone.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“Who is God?”

Ps. 29:5-11

The psalmist continues with his description of worship.  He reminds us that while God is loving and compassionate, he is also formidable.  God is gracious and forgiving but he is not indulgent.  Worship is more than offering praise.  It is also acknowledging God’s power and supremacy in all of life.  The write of the Hebrews says, “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).  The author states this in the context of reminding us that acceptable worship is done with “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

God is powerful.  He breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  His voice flashes forth flames of fire.  He strips the forests bare.  People ignore God.  They disobey him.  However they cannot evade him.  God calls nations and individuals to account in the present as well as the future.  Paul reminds us, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7).  People and nations may defy God for a period.  The evil can appear to prosper.  However they will not continue indefinitely.  God’s judgment cannot be avoided (Ps. 73).

We all stand accountable to God.  Jesus says that we will have to give an account of every careless word we have ever said (Matt. 12:36).  This is more than a little frightening.  What can we do?  It is here we return to the nature of worship.  To worship God is to confess our sins before him.  If we do that we are assured of God’s forgiveness (I John 1:8-9).  That forgiveness is guaranteed in Jesus Christ.  To him along with the Father and the Spirit we are to give all praise.

Merciful and faithful God, teach me awe and reverence so that I can truly praise you for all your greatness and goodness.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Devotions

“Who is God?”

Ps. 29:1-4

This psalm is a hymn of praise to the Lord God.  The psalmist cries out that we are to ascribe glory and strength to God.  He gives the command to “worship the Lord in holy splendor.”  Psalms like this make it very clear what is to be our focus in worship.  It is to be on God.  Coming into the presence of God in worship is unlike anything else we do.  Worship is not like going to a theater, a sports event or a restaurant.  The real question is not what we feel or experience (although those are important).  The real issue however is how our attention is focused on the true God revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Worship is not about us.  It is about God.  Yet the truth is the more we focus on God in our worship the more we are transformed and encouraged.

We then read of the “voice of the Lord.”  This would seem to be the same as speaking of the Word of God which is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity (John 1:1-14).  What is striking is that we read here that he the voice of the Lord is over the waters.  However in Genesis chapter one we read that the “wind’ or “Spirit” of God swept over the waters (Gen. 1:2).  This underscores the fact, especially emphasized by Martin Luther, that the three persons of the Trinity all share together in their various emphases and tasks.  God is the creator but so is the Son and the Spirit.  Ultimately, God is one.

The voice or word of the Lord is powerful.  It is “full of majesty.”  In a world that is so often confused and conflicted we need to remember that God reigns supreme.  We need continually to ascribe glory to his name.  God’s glory is his power, presence and holiness.  It is the revelation of his goodness (Mark 10:18).  To worship him is the essential purpose of our lives.

Gracious and faithful God may I continue to worship and extol you in all that I do and say.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

“Who is God?”

Isa. 6:1-8

Isaiah has an encounter with the living God in the temple in Jerusalem.  Isaiah had no doubt been in that temple many times.  Yet something was different this day.  He states that he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty.”  This is a mystery since we are told several times in scripture that no one has seen God at any time (John 1:18).  Yet we are also told that the Lord knew Moses “face to face.”  We have to conclude that there are indirect ways of seeing God.  Moses, for example, saw God’s back (Ex. 33:23).

God’s revelation to Israel was unique.  This revelation is made perfect in Jesus Christ. (John 1:18).  Isaiah lived in a world of idols (Isa. 44:9-20).  This is no less true of our world today.  What do people think of when they speak of God?  Very often God is nothing more than a projection of their own ideas.  This applies to us as well.  People can create their own god.  This however has nothing to do with the true God.

The point that is emphasized in this passage is that God is holy.  What does this mean?  It means first of all that God is set apart from us.  We are made in the image of God but we are not God.   God created the world but the world is not God.  Holy, however, also includes the idea of perfection.  We are not perfect.  Nothing we see or touch is perfect.  Yet God who is holy is perfect.  God also forgives our sin, our imperfection.

Isaiah goes on to say the “the whole earth is full of his glory.”  God’s glory is the manifestation or revelation of who he is.  This is to say that the signs of God are all around us.  Are we looking for them?  The world is broken by sin but God’s “eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Rom. 1:20).  Yet sin has blinded us to the reality of God.

Isaiah is overwhelmed by his vision.  Yet he still is prepared to go and serve God.  We have the benefit of knowing God through his revelation in Jesus Christ.  Christ has made God known.  Therefore we should be all the more eager to serve God because we have encountered him in Jesus Christ.

Eternal and faithful God, I thank you that you have revealed yourself to me in the person of Jesus Christ.  Let me never lose sight of your holiness and perfection.  Inspire me, like Isaiah, to pray, “Here am I; send me.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

Matthew 16:13-20

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  This is the birthday of the church.  The church comes into existence when the Holy Spirit descends upon the early disciples (Acts 2).   However the nature of the church is defined by Jesus in this passage.

If we ask the question, “What is the church?”  there are many answers.  What do we mean when we say the word, “church?”  First of all, we do mean a building.  When we say we are going “to church” we mean we are coming to a specific place and structure.  The word church also refers to the services we hold (“Were you in church last week?”, meaning “did you attend the service?”  The church also is an institution.  Churches and houses of worship in general are given special benefits under the law but they still are part of the societies in which they exist.  Yet the church is distinctive.  Meals are served in church but the church is not a restaurant.  We take up offerings and make financial donations but the church is not a bank.  The church has members, visitors and participants but it is not a social club.

What does our text say?  Jesus builds the church.  He builds it on the confession which Peter makes that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God.”  The church then is the community which Jesus creates.  All the disciples from the original apostles to the present are called to participate in the life of the church.  Yet Jesus alone builds the church.  He does not build it with Peter, James and John or any of the other disciples.  He does not build it with us.  The reason for this is simple.  All of us are too weak and vacillating to be the basis of the church.  If Jesus did not build the church it would have vanished centuries ago.

The church’s mission can be summed up in the familiar phrase from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” The church is not an escape, a refuge from the world.  The church experiences the power of its Lord as it seeks to do his will on earth “as it is done in heaven.”

As Paul reminds us the church is the body of Christ and everyone one of us is a member of that body.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you for the gift of your church.  Give me the grace to be active in the church’s task to seek to do your will on earth as it is in heaven.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

Ps. 133:1-3

There are many images of the church in scripture.  The church is the Body of Christ, the community of faith, the Bride of Christ, those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (I Cor. 12:12; Eph. 6:23; Rev. 21:2; Eph. 1:4).  To be the community we need each other.  Yes, a person can worship God on the golf course, the beach or walking in a park.  However, if this is a solitary practice, it is not worship in the full sense.  Worship, indeed spiritual life in general, must be lived in community.

This psalm is an exultant description of the community of faith.  To live together in unity is like precious oil or the “dew of Hermon.”  It is important to note the difference between unity and identity.  We are not identical.  We are not the same.  The body all has different parts yet each part is essential to the whole (I Cor. 12).

The church is called to be that place where everyone is welcomed and valued.  Separations based on anything from race to social standing to whatever else are a violation of the nature of the church.

The church needs to be the place where the excluded are included, where the rejected are received, where the hopeless find hope, where the lonely find friends.  We all need to live out this reality.  Gathering in worship gives us the opportunity to know those in our community that we may not have known previously.  In the church the strangers are welcomed (Matt. 25:35).  We need to embrace this reality.  Jesus is the one who alone builds the church but we are all part of his church.  When we live this out fully we experience the Lord’s blessing which is life forevermore.

Most gracious and forgiving God I thank you that you have called me into the church of Jesus Christ.  Give me the grace to reach out and know those members whom I may not yet know.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday, May 18, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

John 15:26-27

Jesus makes a promise.  He will send us an advocate (or Helper).  We are not left to our own resources in the Christian life.  Jesus here is speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate this coming Sunday as Pentecost.  This is also a picture of the Trinity.  Jesus sends the Advocate, the Spirit, who comes from the Father but testifies on behalf of Jesus.

The critical quality of the Advocate is that he is “the Spirit of truth.”  The gospel of John focuses on the reality of light and darkness (John 1:5-9; 8:12).  Truth and light are often interchangeable, “the true light” (John 1:9; 3:21).

Yet we live in a world that can be described both as lacking truth and light.  We are overwhelmed by messages that come at us from the internet, social media, cable and a host of other sources.  How do we know what’s true and what’d not?  Many times we can’t tell.

This is why the Spirit is so necessary.  The Spirit brings us the ultimate truth which is God’s truth.  That truth is revealed in Jesus Christ.  Pilate represents the attitude of the world, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  In modern terms this is simply saying, “Whatever?”

Jesus however presents the full truth.  This includes the negative truth that people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).  However, it includes the greater truth that Jesus is the light of the world.  To do what is true is to come to the light.  John gives us many pictures of people coming to that light which is Christ
the Way, the Truth and the Light (John 14:6).  The woman at the well comes to the light (John 4:7-42).  The paralyzed man comes to the light (John 5:2-9).  The woman taken in adultery comers to the light (John 8:2-11).  The man born blind comes to the light (John 9:1-41).

This is the ultimate truth.  Jesus is the light of the world.  In his light we see the greatest truth.  He gives us not only life, but abundant life, eternal life (John 10:10; 5:24).  This is the great truth which the Spirit, the Advocate, brings us.

Eternal and gracious God I praise you for bring me the truth of Jesus Christ through your Spirit.  May that truth be the light of my life  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

John 15:12-17

What is the essence of the gospel?  It is defined in the most familiar verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . .” (John 3:16).  As Paul makes abundantly clear in in the famous thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, without love nothing else matters.  One can believe all the right things, do the right things, even give up one’s life but without love it frankly is “nothing” (I Cor. 13:3).

Jesus here gives what is the essential commandment for the disciples.  They are to love one another as Jesus has loved them.  The ultimate test of love is sacrifice, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus doesn’t present a list of requirements or rules that the disciples are to follow.  The only law that ultimately matters is the law of love.

Nothing is more contradictory of the gospel message than the failure to love.  Too often the disciples of Jesus Christ have been seen as unloving.  It is important to defend the truth, to stand up for what is right, to promote justice but none of that has any value apart from love.

Jesus shows his love by calling us his friends. He treats us as equals. He chose us. We did not choose him. We can only be grateful. The best way to show our gratitude is to share the love of Christ. We bear fruit in our Christian lives when we show love one for another. We do not have to agree on everything. We do not have to have the same perspective or even the exact same beliefs in some cases. We do have to love. As the apostle Paul says so clearly, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13).

Eternal and gracious God and Savior I cannot thank you enough for your love.  Give me the grace to show that love not only to believers but to everyone so that the world comes to know the love of God in Christ Jesus.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

“I Will Build My Church”

Ps. 104:14-35

This Sunday, as we have noted, is the Day of Pentecost.  It is the birthday of the church.  The church is finally created when the Holy Spirit comes upon the early believers and they begin to speak in tongues.  Yet all of life comes from the Spirit.  This psalm attests to the power of God’s Spirit.  This is an echo of the opening chapter of Genesis where, in the midst of watery chaos, “a wind from God’ swept over the darkness and the deep. God then through his Word calls light into being.

In Hebrew the same word is used for “wind,” “breath’ and “spirit.”  God has made everything through his Spirit at the command of the Father under the authority of the Son.  Echoes of the Trinity abound in this text (Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost Sunday).  By means of God’s “breath” or “Spirit” everything comes to life at the same time that creation is in the hands of the living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:3; Col. 1:16).

Everything in creation testifies to God’s abundant Spirit.  Grass, plants and food comes from him.  God makes wine to gladden the human heart.  The trees, the mountains, the birds, all the animals, the sun and the moon, even darkness and light themselves, are the works of God’s creative hand.   God has even made the mythical Leviathan, the feared sea serpent of ancient people.  It is no threat to God.  To him it is a plaything.

When we look at the wonder of God’s creation we can only sing his praises.  The darkness is real in its thunder, lightning, hurricanes and earthquakes.  Yet we are never overwhelmed by the darkness and the chaos.  God always renews his creation.  One day we will have a new creation.  At that time there will be no more pain, suffering or death (Rev. 21:1-4).  As we await that day we should rejoice in each new day that God’s Spirit gives us.

Eternal and loving God and Savior.  May I never take your creation for granted.  I thank you for life in the Spirit, life today and throughout eternity.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

“Running Down Everywhere”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

God is a God of the impossible. God shows Ezekiel what is left of Israel. What is left?  The answer is simple. Nothing. Ezekiel sees only a valley of very dry bones. There are many of them. The glory and hope of Israel appears to lie irretrievably in the past. The days of David and Solomon are long gone. Nothing could be more devoid of life than all these “dry bones.”

What hope can the prophet take from this vision? There doesn’t seem to be any. The bones themselves testify to the fact that Israel is completely cut off. There is no hope. God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live.  Ezekiel can only say, “O Lord, God, you know.” This is in effect to say that there is no human hope.  And truly there is none. God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones.  He is to say, “O Dry bones, heart the word of the Lord.”

How can bones hear? The body is all gone. There are no ears to hear.  Yet what do we read?  God commands Ezekiel to call upon the “breath.”  The breath is the wind which is the same word as the Spirit.  What we see is the resurrection of a whole people.  The bones come to life.  They have bodies now and they are a “vast multitude.”

We can look around us and see a whole host of spiritual dry bones. Churches are closing at an alarming rate.  Christians can feel dried up as though there is nothing left, no energy, no strength, no movement. This however, as this text makes clear, is when God acts. The breath, the Holy Spirit, comes upon dry bones and revives them.  We are never without hope. We, like ancient Israel, can feel that “our hope is lost.”  However, it never is.  God does what is humanly impossible (Matt. 19:26).  God is still active, even among dry bones.

Gracious and faithful Lord I sometimes feel like my life has become full of dead and dry bones.  Revive me in the power of your Spirit.  Continue to give me the new life that comes only from you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

“Running Down Everywhere”

Acts 2:1-21

This is one of the greatest miracles recorded in scripture.  The disciples who have no abilities, no special importance, no social or political influence. are gathered together. All of a sudden the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They are not asking for the Spirit.  The Spirit comes upon them under its own initiative (John 3:8).  What follows appears to be more a miracle of hearing than of speaking. We read that “devout Jews from every nation” were present for the Pentecost festival. They were amazed and astonished that they could hear the disciples speaking in their native language.  Luke in writing this account makes clear that the group also includes Gentiles who had embraced the faith of Israel as proselytes (converts). This scene points both backward and forward in the whole record of scripture.

At the first level this miracle is the undoing of the confusion of languages which took place at the Tower of Babel (Gen.11). God caused division and confusion among the nations because of their pride and idolatry. Here on the day of Pentecost the division of languages is overcome. Pentecost also points forward to the vision in Revelation where an innumerable gathering of people from every tribe, nation and language will join in praising the Lamb of God on the throne (Rev 7:9-10). People in Jerusalem are amazed and perplexed at all this. Yet some dismiss it outright saying, in effect, that the disciples are drunk. This is an important lesson. Whenever God’s Spirit is poured out in miraculous ways there are always those who, in spite of witnessing it directly, dismiss it altogether. We should not be surprised when we encounter such reactions.  Back in the late ’60’s and early 70’s there was an outpouring of the Spirit which became known as the “Jesus movement.” It was a genuine revival which even cultural icons like the Beatles had to acknowledge (which they did in songs like “Let it Be” and “My Sweet Lord”). Yet there were many who dismissed the whole movement. That has been true throughout history.

Peter rises to address the crowd (which we understand is hearing him in their own particular language).  Peter makes the point that the disciples are not drunk since it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  He goes on to quote from the prophet (Joel 2:28-32).  Peter notes that this is the fulfillment of the “last days.”  God’s Spirit is being poured out everywhere.  All of this is preparing us for the return of Jesus Christ which can happen at any moment.  In the meantime, we are sustained by the power of the Spirit.  We live in a world that increasingly ignores the reality of God’s Spirit.  We need to remember there were scoffers and cynics on the first Day of Pentecost.  God’s Spirit continues to be poured out “upon all flesh.”  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  This not only encourages us.  It motivates us share Christ more and more in the power of the Spirit.

Eternal and gracious God, pour out your Spirit upon me.  Encourage me and inspire me to live more and more for you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Weekly Devotionals

Weekly Devotionals

For the week of May 1st,  we are going to use the website d365.org as our devotional guide.

Click the Image Below:

the devotional steps

d365Logo_Circle_Pause

As you pause to begin your devotion, you will find a statement that will help you take time away from your busyness to center and listen to what God is saying. Stay on this screen as long as you like.  When you are ready, proceed to listen to God’s word, and then move through the rest of the devotion. Note that the Pause and Go statements will stay the same for a week.

d365Logo_Circle_Listen

Scripture has so much to say to our lives; our job is to make the space to listen. As you read the scripture for the day, read it through a few times or pray the scripture as you listen for God’s voice. Unless otherwise noted, scripture references are from the Common English Bible.

d365Logo_Circle_Think

The devotions found on this site are reflections, voices that will cause you to think. As you read the reflections on the scripture, be open to new thoughts and ideas. Do you agree? Do you disagree? How do these words encourage you or challenge you as you study the scripture? Remember, you can go back and “listen” and read the text again to help you understand what the devotion is saying to you.

d365Logo_Circle_Pray

Let your thinking about the text lead you into response through prayer. As you enter the “prayer” step, we’ve given you a few words to get you started, but don’t end there. Remember, prayer is conversation, so take the time to talk to God but also to listen for God.

d365Logo_Circle_Go

While it would be nice to find a quiet space and stay there forever, life always calls us back. There are many things to do, and we are called to go, but never alone. Guided by the Spirit, go with God’s blessing sent in the name of Jesus.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, June 1, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

“Complete Joy”

Ps. 139:13-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

“All Nations”

Matt. 28:19-20

The Risen Lord Jesus Christ gives his disciples a direct and definite command here.  There are four parts to this command.  The first is that the disciples are to go into the world.  The disciples are not to retreat into some safe and secure spiritual home.
The world is a place of sorrow, struggle, sickness and injustice.  Yet God will neither abandon nor condemn the world.  This is the message the disciples are to take into that world.

The second part of this command is that the disciples are in turn to make disciples of the nations, of all peoples.  A disciple is not only one who believes but one who follows.  Jesus calls all those who are “weary and carrying heavy burdens.”  This is the message the disciples are to bring to a troubled world.  The third command is that they are to baptize “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  Baptism joins us together with the Trinity, the God who is three in one.  The fourth command is to teach those who come to obey all that Christ has commanded.

Jesus’ fundamental teaching in Matthew’s gospel is the centrality of mercy.  As we have noted, Jesus twice quotes from Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7).  Jesus calls us to serve those who are vulnerable (Matt. 25:31-46).  Jesus also defends victims.  When we are angry with someone, when we lust after someone, when we make money into a god we are creating victims (Matt. 5:21-30; 6:24).  Jesus is especially concerned with bad religion, the religion of superiority and pride which rather than making one fit for heaven makes one “a child of hell” (Matt. 23:15).

How can we accomplish this task?  We can only do so through Jesus’ continuing presence with us, guiding and leading us.  Here is his greatest promise: He will be with us always, to the end of the age.  This is both our hope and our joy.

Eternal and merciful God may I follow your command to disciple all nations.  May I share your grace and power both through my words and through my actions.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

“All Nations”

Revelation 7:9-12

This is a vision that John of Patmos has of the throne of God.  In this vision he sees “a great multitude which no one can count.” This crowd is from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”  In other words this is a vision that takes in all the people groups in the world.  This is the fulfillment of Christ’s great command to go and disciple all nations.  That task will be carried out.  It is clear that in the final analysis the greater number of humanity will be brought to God.  This is a heavenly Palm Sunday celebrating God’s great gift of salvation.

The apostle Paul goes even further with his vision of “all the gentiles” (Rom. 1:5) and “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26). While not denying God’s judgment, Paul repeatedly speaks of all being saved (understanding that “many” in the context here also means “all”) (Rom. 5:12-21; 11:32; Col. 1:19-20; I Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11).  Yet these assurances need to be held in tension with human responsibility and choices.

Given these pictures should we say there is no need for our witnessing?  If this “great multitude” is assured, if God will showing mercy to all finally, why must we “go and make disciples of the nations?”  Isn’t God going to accomplish this whether we do anything or not?

Yet this kind of thinking moves us from the promises of scripture into speculation.  We can be confident of the task of missions since we know that people will accept the gospel.  Yet the other side of the issue is that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).  We therefore have the obligation to call people to faith in Christ (Eph. 2: 9-10). We go out in confidence knowing that, even though some may reject, there will be many who will respond, indeed, “a great multitude.”

Eternal loving and gracious God, I praise you for this vision of the great multitude that will one day surround your throne.  May I be part of that great crowd and may there be others there because of my witness.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

“All Nations”

John 20:19-23

This scene takes place the evening of the first Easter Sunday.  The disciples have heard the report of the empty tomb and the testimony of Mary Magdalene and her friends.  Yet they have not yet seen Jesus.  The disciples are in hiding.  The door is locked.  They are afraid of the Jewish authorities.  Jesus appears to them.  He apparently passes through the door where he had earlier removed the stone that had barred the tomb.  We don’t fully understand the reality of Jesus’ resurrection body.

In the midst of their fear Jesus brings them a message of peace.  He says this to them twice.  Probably they were so amazed they couldn’t take this all in.  Jesus then makes this startling statement.  He says to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  This is no less a miracle than the Resurrection itself.  These frightened disciples hiding behind a locked door are in no position to go anywhere.  Jesus was sent by the Father with the full authority of God.  He was both Son of God and Son of Man, the Savior of the world.  How could the disciples possibly be sent as Jesus was sent by the Father?

The obvious answer is that they have nothing in themselves that could begin to fulfill this mandate.  The only way this impossible task becomes possible is the fact that Jesus breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit.  This is an initial gift of the Spirit which of course will be received in its greatest measure at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Holy Spirit will transform this small frightened group into leaders who will bring the gospel to the whole world.  They will have the power of God’s own forgiveness.  They have the experience of the Risen Christ.  They now have the power that comes from the Holy Spirit.  With this power they will accomplish things they could only have dreamt of before.

That same power has been promised to us as well.

Merciful and gracious God and Savior, take away my fears.  Give me your peace and empower me to be sent out as your witness through the Holy Spirit.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

“All Nations”

Acts 1:6-11

Jesus has spent forty days with the disciples after his resurrection.  At this point they  are wondering if this now will be the end of the age.   Will Christ now establish his rule not only for Israel but for all nations?  So they ask, “Lord, is this the time . . . ?”  Jesus’ answer is probably not what they were expecting.  He tells them it is not for them to know the “the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”  This hasn’t stopped people throughout the ages from trying to decipher exactly when the end time will occur.  Jesus however could not be clearer.  We are not to know.  This is the walk of faith without sight (II Cor. 5:7).  To speculate about “the day or the hour” (Matt. 24:36) is not only pointless.  It really questions the plan that God in his sovereignty has set up.  We are not to know.

This does not mean that we are to be passive.  Jesus has a definite plan and purpose for his disciples.  He tells them (and us) three crucial things.  First, we will receive power.  The word for this power is the same word we have for “dynamite.”  It is not a power in human terms.  If the church only had human power it would have disappeared from human history centuries ago.  Jesus is speaking about a spiritual power.  Second, the source of this power will be the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will guide and direct us.  Third, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses from their home (Jerusalem and Judea) to where they are not welcome (Samaria) on out “to the ends of the earth.”

This is a broad mandate.  There are many ways to witness.  Not all of them are verbal (Matt. 25:31-46).  The gospel message is direct and straight forward: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).   Belief itself also takes many forms.  It may be as simple as washing Jesus’ feet without saying a word (Luke 7:36-50).

After giving this mandate Jesus ascends into heaven (something we might describe as another dimension).  Two angels appear to the disciples.  They restate what continues to be the great hope of the church.  Jesus is coming again.  Jesus himself had emphatically taught this (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 24).  This hope sustains us as we seek, in whatever we are able, to witness to the new life found uniquely in Jesus Christ.

Eternal and faithful God and Savior.  I thank you for the promise of the Holy Spirit.  May I draw on the Spirit’s power as I witness to you awaiting the return of your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

 “All Nations”

Luke 24:44-49

This passage makes it clear that Jesus cannot be understood apart from scripture and scripture cannot be understood apart from him.  When Jesus refers to the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms he is taking in all of the Old Testament, the Torah.  The Old Testament consists of essentially three types of writings.  The first of course is the law, the first five books.  Then there are the books of prophecy which include the histories of the prophets (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) and the prophetic books themselves.  The third category is the Wisdom literature, sometime referred to as the Writings.  The preeminent example is Psalms but this also includes books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon and Job.

What Jesus is saying here is that every one of these books deals with him in some sense.  They invariably are prophetic descriptions of him and his ministry.  This of course is one of the reasons that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament so frequently.  Interpreting scripture is always a major task.  We need language tools, history and comparative literature to start.  However what we need most is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

Apart from the centrality of Jesus Christ the Bible can often be abused.  The Bible has sadly been used to justify slavery, racism, imperialism, anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of women and homosexuals.  If we have only the letter of the text that can easily become destructive, even deadly, according to the apostle Paul (II Cor. 3:1-6).

However focusing on Christ brings out the good news of the Word of God.  Through Jesus in the scriptures we experience freedom, freedom from guilt, sin and death.  As Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (II Cor. 3:17).

Merciful and gracious God I thank you for the gift of your Word.  Give me your Spirit and enable me to see Jesus everywhere he is revealed in scripture.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

“All Nations”

Isa. 66:18-24

These closing words of Isaiah’s prophecy give us a breathtaking look at the culmination of God’s final plan for all people and all nations.  Here we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the world will be blessed as we saw yesterday.  We need to look at the details of this picture.

First, God is saying that he will gather all nations and tongues.  Adding the term “tongues” indicates how extensive this is.  In many nations including our own there is more than one language.  These shall come and see God’s glory.  At this point God’s glory will be declared among the nations.  This extends even to the coastlands that have not heard of God.  Second, the nations of the world then will bring all the scattered chosen people of God, the Jews, to Jerusalem.  God will even take some of those Gentiles, and make them to be priests and Levites.

Earlier in the Book of Isaiah and then also in the Book of Revelation, we see that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1).  God is not only making an ultimate promise to Israel.  This promise now is extended to “all flesh,” that is to say, all humanity.  Everyone will come to the new Jerusalem to worship the one true God.

This image is intended to give us comfort and assurance, not complacency.  We are not simply to wait for this all to be fulfilled.  We need to be part of the command to declare God’s glory among the nations.  The great encouragement here is that this mission will inevitably be fulfilled.  We are to prepare for this great scene.  We can share the gospel in confidence knowing that “all nations” will come to the Lord.  Yet the final scene in this passage is a sober warning about the task of spreading the gospel.  The last picture here is of the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against God.  Within all nations there will be exceptions.  We are given no further description than that they have rebelled.  Their worm doesn’t die.  Their fire is not quenched.  God is gracious but God also will not be mocked.  We reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).  The harvest is ripe even now (Matt. 9:37-38).  God is not willing that any should perish (I Tim. 2:3-4).  We need continually to witness to the new creation revealed in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

Gracious and loving God inspire me with this promise of all nations coming to worship you.  With that hope may I play a part in declaring your glory to the nations.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

“All Nations”

Gen. 12:1-3

The plan of salvation begins to be carried out when God first calls Abraham.  This starts with God making a command.  The command though is not to perform some special function.  God tells Abraham to go to a land that God will show him.  Not even a GPS would help here.  Abraham is not told where he is going.  Much less does he have an address.  God then makes a series of promises to Abraham.  God will bless (favor) him and make of him a great nation.  God will bless those who bless Abraham and in turn God will curse any who curse Abraham.  Finally in Abraham all the families or nations of the world will be blessed.

There are many unanswered questions here.  Why does God call Abraham?  We are not told that there is anything special about him.  Abraham’s world was full of myths of great heroes who performed miraculous acts.  Nothing here indicates that Abraham is any kind of hero.  We don’t hear of any special accomplishments he has achieved.  How will be the father of a great nation (he’s already seventy five)?  How will all the nations of the world be blessed in him?

We are given no details, really, no explanations.  All we have is the Word of God given to a person about whom we know practically nothing at this point.  God’s Word presents God’s promises.  Abraham is not told that he has to do anything to receive these promises (Rom. 4:2).  As we will see it is all a matter of faith, of Abraham believing God’s Word (Gen. 15:6).  Yet God’s promises precede Abraham’s response of faith.

This text is foundational to all of scripture.  We learn several key things here that will greatly help us interpret the rest of scripture.  First, God comes to us.  We read nothing of Abraham looking for God.  God calls Abraham on a mission that is not explained at this point.  God makes promises to Abraham.  Nothing is said of Abraham doing anything to merit those promises.

The same God who called Abraham calls us.  The same God who promised to bless Abraham will also bless us in Jesus Christ.

 Merciful and faithful God and Savior I thank you that you called Abraham to carry out your will.  May I also seek to follow your will.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018

“All Authority”

Matt. 28:16-18

The disciples come to Galilee as they had been instructed.  Here they encounter the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.  They worship him.  However some doubted.  How could they doubt with the evidence staring them in the face?  There are many reasons why people doubt even in the face of undeniable evidence.  They may doubt because what they see is too good to be true in their minds.  They doubt because they can’t make sense of what they are seeing.  Finally they may doubt because they’re afraid of the implications of what they see.

To admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is to say that the world is not what it appears to be.   Death does not, indeed cannot, have the last word.  History is not in the hands of human beings no matter how much power and influence they may claim to have.  The world is ruled neither by fate nor fortune.

Jesus makes the all- encompassing claim that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  There is no boundary or limit to this authority.  Jesus’ dominion includes everything.  He is the final authority in politics, economics, education, science art and all of culture.

Finally he is our authority.  Everything we have and are belong to him. There are no exceptions.  Jesus’ authority does not depend on us.  It depends solely on God.  We cannot evade his authority.  What we can do is bend our wills to serve him.  As we embrace his authority over us we have the promise of confident joy (John 15:11).  That joy surpasses anything the world can promise us.

Merciful and gracious God I praise you that all things in heaven and on earth are under the authority of Jesus Christ.  May that great truth continually be my hope and assurance in all things.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

“All Authority”

Matt. 28:11-15

We hear accusations today of “fake news.”  That term applies to this account.  The guards have told the high priest what happened on Easter morning.  The soldiers experienced an earthquake.  They at least saw a blinding light even if they didn’t realize they were seeing an angel.   Whoever they thought this figure was they were terrified.  We are told that they shook “and became like dead men” (Matt. 28:4).  The most significant part of their story is that the tomb was empty.  They didn’t know where Jesus was.

The truth was beginning to circulate that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  The women at least had told the disciples.  Before the story spread the religious leaders were prepared to claim that the message of the Resurrection was “fake news.”  They bribed the soldiers to claim that Jesus’ body had been stolen by his disciples while they slept.  The bride clearly included protection since falling asleep on your post as a Roman soldier was an offence punishable by death.

All of this planning and deception is doomed to failure.  There have been attempts to deny the Resurrection of Jesus Christ for the past two centuries.  All of them inevitably fail.  The religious leaders can make up whatever story they want.  The fact remains that “Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20).  Christ’s resurrection also insures our resurrection from the dead.  Jesus is the “first fruits.”

The world has an agenda that denies Jesus.  It denies the Resurrection.  It loudly proclaims that this life is all we have.  However God unleashed incredible power in the Resurrection of Jesus.  It was impossible for death to hold him (Acts 2:24).  We live in a hope that can never be taken away.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Gracious and merciful God and Savior I praise you for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.  May I continue to live in the hope that provides and may I share that hope with a world which too often lives without hope.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

“All Authority”

Eph. 1:15-23

Paul repeatedly refers to the power of Jesus Christ in this passage.  He speaks of the “great power” that has been manifested in the risen Christ.  This power was fully demonstrated in “Christ’s resurrection.”  The result of this is that God has not only raised Jesus from the dead, he has seated him at God the Father’s right hand.  Paul adds in exalted terms that this is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

The Roman authorities of Paul’s time would have laughed at this description.  Christianity in this era was a tiny movement with no strong social, political or cultural leadership.  How could this Jesus be over “all rule and authority and power and dominion.”  This would place him even above Caesar himself.

Paul knows that the gospel will appear as “foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor. 1:23), He calls believers to look with “the eyes of faith.”  Faith enables us to see things that reason cannot penetrate.  However Paul is not saying that faith is blind.  Seeing with faith enables us to see the triumph of the Resurrection which in truth no one witnessed directly (an Easter knock-knock joke I heard at a recent Montclair Clergy meeting: “Knock, knock,” “Who’s there?” “No one. The tomb is empty”).

The ruling authorities knew the tomb was empty but they did not see the risen Christ.  Yet Jesus’ death and resurrection unleashes incredible power.  Lives are transformed.  The sick are healed.  In some cases the dead are raised.  Christianity eventually conquers the Roman Empire.

We see struggle, injustice and indifference to the gospel all around us.  We however have to open our eyes with faith.  The power of Christ continues to expand.  We take for granted human rights that the Romans would not have imagined.  This is not to mention health care and public education.  All of these developments have their roots in Christianity.  There are more Christians in the world today than at any point in world history.

We need to be encouraged by these trends, not complacent.  Finally we must recognize that Jesus is in charge of all of history.  He is the “fullness” who fills all in all.  Everything is under him and him alone.

I praise you Lord for the power revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  May I commit myself to live in that power sharing the good news of his death and resurrection.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

“All Authority”

Col. 2:16-23

 

Paul now expands on the freedom we have in Christ.  The Pharisees with their overly zealous view of the law were quick to condemn anyone who did not follow their same rigid standard (Matt. 15:1-9).  Paul speaks of those who would condemn others in everything from food and drink (alcohol?) to religious observances.  There is a danger here of being “puffed up” by a human way of thinking.

There are two dangers here.  First, there is “self-abasement” which Paul concedes has the dubious advantage of “promoting self-imposed piety” which quickly leads to “self-indulgence.”  Paul accepts no rule for the Christian life except the rule of love (Rom. 13:9-10).    He further states that he is convinced that nothing is wrong (or in Jewish terms, “unclean”) in itself.  He further states that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving” (I Tim. 4:4).   Second, Paul adds that the primary reason for refraining from indulging in practices that are not the obvious “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-21) is the concern for weaker believers who may not be ready or able to experience their full freedom in Christ (I Cor. 8).  A recovering alcoholic may be offended by seeing other Christians indulge in drinking.

Paul calls us to stand firm in the freedom we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1).  The rule of love is a very broad one.  Christianity throughout its history has suffered from a condemning legalism.  This turns many people away from the gospel.  Freedom is not to be used for self- indulgence.  Yet freedom is still truly free (John 8: 36).

Gracious and loving Lord, may I live in the freedom you have given me to enjoy with thanksgiving all that is part of your creation.  Give me the grace to act in love especially with others who may not yet be ready for the full freedom you provide.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

“All Authority”

Col.  2:6-15

Paul again in this section is making great affirmations about Jesus Christ.  He warns against “philosophy and empty deceit.”  He is not dismissing valid questions and reasonable concerns.  The Colossians were in danger of falling into speculative arguments and fantasies.  Paul insists that all things belong to Christ.  However there is a danger in wandering away from Christ and following “human tradition.”  Paul sees these tendencies as threats to the church.  He, of all people, is certainly not anti-intellectual.  Yet he realistically understands that there are false alternatives to the gospel which even Jesus had warned against (Matt. 24:5).  There are many forms of ‘spirituality” in our world that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Paul then gives us a summary of the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross.  Too often the view has been presented that Christ died to fulfill the demands of the law, that his death somehow satisfied a need in God’s justice.  Such a view is itself speculative and theoretical.  It is not what the New Testament essentially teaches.  Jesus did not die to fulfill the demands of the law (as was the case with the Old Testament sacrifices).  In his death he freed us from the law’s demands, “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside nailing it to the cross.”

Because of sin we were captive to death and the devil.  Christ on the cross took all these forces on to himself, these “rulers and authorities” and disarmed and conquered them (Heb. 2:14-15).  Paul conjures up what would have a familiar image to his readers.  A Roman centurion would return dragging his defeated adversaries behind him, chained to his chariot.  This is Paul’s image of the victory of Jesus Christ.  He has made a public example of sin, death, hell, the law and the devil “triumphing over them” in the cross.

This means we are free of guilt, fear and failure.  Christ has won the victory for us.  The power of the cross, which to human eyes appeared as shame and weakness, is fully revealed in the triumph of the Resurrection.  We can now live out the frequent command, “Do not be afraid” (Matt. 28:10).  Amen!

Gracious and faithful God I praise you for the victory Jesus won on the cross and revealed in the Resurrection.  May I continue to live in that victory.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“All Authority”

Col. 1:15-20

This is one of the most exalted pictures of Jesus Christ in the entire New Testament.  Note the many claims that the apostle Paul makes.  First, there is Christ’s equality with the Father.  Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”  In him “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Beyond that he is the “firstborn of all creation.” In him “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.”  For Paul the invisible world probably meant the world of the Spirit.  In our time when we are aware of the magnitude of creation and its incredible intricacy there is much more that we are aware of that is “invisible” from distant galaxies to sub-atomic particles.  The formerly atheistic philosopher Anthony Flew came to the conclusion that there had to be some kind of creator to account for the universe in which we live.  To see the world in all its diversity and to claim that it all can about by some random or chance event strains credulity.

Paul goes on to say that in Christ all things hold together.  In addition Jesus is the head of the church.  He is the firstborn from the dead as we celebrate this Easter season.  He has first place in everything.  As Martin Luther reminded us, we see God’s presence and activity everywhere from the smallest flower to the innumerable stars in the sky.  Christ is present in everything.  Everything belongs to him, from baseball games to the latest fashion to the complexity of the arts and all science.

Finally Paul brings us one of his most crucial themes which was grasped by several in the early church but was subsequently lost.  This is the doctrine of universal salvation.  Paul affirms here that God is reconciling all things whether on earth or in heaven to himself “making peace through the blood of the cross.”  This should give us immeasurable confidence.  The paradox is that individual persons can reject this reconciliation and thereby face an ultimate separation from God.   Such decisions cannot override God’s ultimate decision in Christ to reconcile all things to himself.

Given all this we should be the most confident and optimistic people on earth.  This is our testimony in word and deed.  Everything belongs to Jesus Christ.  He has come to reconcile us to God, to show us our true identity and true hope. This is a gift we need to share with the world.

Gracious and faithful God I praise you that in Christ you are reconciling all things to yourself.  May I continue to have faith in Christ and be drawn more and more closely to you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

“All Authority”

Phil. 2:5-11

This is one of the most famous passages in the New Testament.  In all probability it was an ancient hymn that Paul is quoting.  Paul is concerned about the presence of ‘”selfish ambition” in the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:17).  His purpose in referring to this hymn is to call the Philippians to an attitude of humility.  Jesus is the supreme example of humility.  This is why Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was equal with God the Father.  Here we have an explicit statement about the deity of Christ.  The hymn however goes on to say that Jesus “emptied himself.”  He took upon himself the role of a slave.  His humility led to nothing less than his death on the cross.  It was for this reason that God exalted him.  This exaltation was his resurrection.  We are currently in the Easter season and we do well to meditate on what that means.

Jesus has been totally exalted to the point where he has been given a name “that is above every name.”  At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  The picture here admits of no exceptions.  Pilate will bow.  Herod will bow.  Nero will bow.  Hitler will bow.  The demons in hell will bow.  Satan himself may be forced to bow just as he tempted Jesus to bow before him (Matt. 4:9).

To be humble is to make ourselves vulnerable. In our aggressive world this is usually the last thing we want to do.  However we should have no fear in becoming vulnerable. Everything is under Jesus’ authority.  Whatever suffering we experience will not last.  Jesus now and always has the final say.

Gracious and faithful God may I truly have the mind of Christ and be free to be humble knowing that I, like everything else, is under Jesus’ sole authority.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

GOOD NIGHT, GOOD DAY

the pain inside his palms
less than the piercing of the betrayal
of poison dripping from disciples’ tongues
when fear compromises faith

look up and see
not a king
or a god
but a dying man
whose blood drowns out
a shame we do not see

we breathe
he bleeds
we sing
he screams

as tight lips deny prayers
and offerings are scorched in sin
as doubt and denial join hands
the darkness of a vacant tomb
becomes a comfort we can’t comprehend

as our palms begin to shake
and our prayers become pleas
the light we never knew
the grace of everlasting
the conquest of love

not a man
but a son
rolls away the stone of our sorrow
and shines into the promise of forever

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - April 1, 2018 EASTER

April 1, 2018 EASTER

“Fear and Great Joy”

Matthew 28:1-10

We didn’t know what else to do.

We were overwhelmed with grief.

I’ve never been so sad.

I didn’t sleep.

The Sabbath came and went.

I felt numb.

If I felt at all.

So we got up early.

We wanted to do something.

We brought spices to anoint the body.

We didn’t know how to enter the tomb.

There was a great stone

and a guard.

I was worried.

I was afraid.

How would we go on without him?

Then it all changed.

An earthquake

An angel

The guards shaking

Then He was there.

Unbelievable.

We touched him.

Felt his feet.

He said, “Do not be afraid”

And I wasn’t.

And I’m not now.

Still,

Joy can be terrifying

Faithful and loving God give me the same compassion that Jesus had.  May I truly see him in those who are in need.  I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.