Like us on Facebook | Contact Us
Seeking to equip people to live as Christian disciples wherever God has placed them.

Friday, January 19, 2018

“One Having Authority”

Matt. 5:21-26

Jesus in this passage is dealing with human relationships. He begins by referring to the commandment, “You shall not commit murder.” This of course is something we would never do. Jesus however then goes on to say that if we are angry at someone or if we insult them then we are liable to judgment. If we disparage them completely (calling them “you fool”) then we are in danger of hell itself! How can this be? How can Jesus be so strict? This seems to go beyond legalism.

The key to understanding the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ opening section, the “Beatitudes.” Jesus there speaks of those who are blessed or favored. The people he lists are vulnerable, indeed unprotected. They include the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn or hunger for justice. Jesus is making clear here that he is the champion, the defender of the victims of the world. We need to read his strong statements in that light.

We can easily say we’ve never committed murder. But what about anger and insults? We’ve all fallen into those traps. Jesus is making something clear that we all well know. Words can wound. They can hurt. They can kill someone’s spirit. We hear a lot today about the devastating effects of bullying. In several tragic cases this has led to the suicide of the person being bullied.

To put it in contemporary terms Jesus is speaking in defense of those who have been bullied, who have been the objects of someone’s anger or insults. Jesus is confronting us with the truth that this can be as destructive as physical assaults. The only thing worse than being a bully is tolerating that kind of behavior. Jesus by his own example is calling us to defend those who are vulnerable to verbal assaults. To do nothing in such cases is to aid the abuser.

Jesus concludes this section with giving some rare legal advice. Law suits can often be the expression of anger and even insults. He tells us that out of court settlements are much to be preferred to going to court. Jesus calls us not only to be faithful but to be practical as well.

Eternal and faithful God may I be aware of how deeply words can wound.  Give me the grace to stand up to insults, anger and bullying.  May my own words communicate grace and mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018

“One Having Authority”

Matt. 5:17-20

Jesus here is talking about the Old Testament. This is what is meant by the expression, “the law and the prophets.” Too often Christians know little about the Old Testament. In our Wednesday Bible studies we have tried to place an equal emphasis on the Old Testament along with the New (We are currently studying Lamentations). Why is the Old Testament so important? And why does Jesus warn about breaking “the least of these commandments?”

First of all, it is important to note, as we will also see in the next sections of the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus is not talking about a legalistic following of the exact letter of the law (and prophets). This kind of strict observance is what the Pharisees and Scribes had prided themselves on. Jesus however makes clear that they didn’t understand the larger purpose and message of the Old Testament (Matt. 23:1-36).

The key to understanding the Old Testament is Jesus’ summary of its message: “You shall love the Lord your God, and with all your soul and with all your mind;”  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:34-40). Jesus in fact, as he says, is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. What Jesus is really saying is that the Old Testament points beyond itself to its final accomplishment. It is the teacher that brings us to Christ (Gal. 4:23-25). Even the smallest part of the law points to Jesus. The Old Testament is part of the Bible. It is therefore the Word of God. We stand under its authority. However, that authority is provisional. The Old Testament is not complete in itself. Christ is the end, the goal, of the law and the prophets (Rom. 10:4; Luke 24:27).

The clearest example of this is one of the many times that Jesus is criticized for not obeying the commandment about keeping the Sabbath. The disciples are plucking grain on the Sabbath and eating it.  Therefore, they were working on the Sabbath in violation of the law (Ex. 20:8-10). In response to this literal, rigid understanding, Jesus quotes the great text from the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matt. 12:7; Hosea 6:6). This in effect is to say “I desire mercy, not law, not religion.” What is mercy?  It is another form of love which is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Rom. 13:8-10).  Jesus is the key to understanding the Old Testament.

Eternal and loving God I thank you for the gift of your Word, both Old and New Testaments.  Enable me to see the full witness of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.  May I learn faith from all the sections of your Word.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

“One Having Authority”

Matt. 5:1-12

This is one of the most famous passages in scripture.  It has frequently been called the “Beatitudes” meaning “blessings.” Blessing is not a word we often use. Generally, we say “Bless you!” when someone sneezes. The word really means to be favored, to be seen as something special. What this passage really addresses is, who are the people that God considers special, the people he focuses on, the people on whom he shows favor.

The list that follows includes none of the distinctions that the world holds favorable. Jesus is not speaking about wealth, social prestige, fame, political power or anything of that kind. Jesus’ favor is shown to those in need. He begins with the poor in spirit. We could paraphrase that as the broken-hearted. It certainly includes the literal poor (as Luke makes clear, Luke 6:20). The poor in spirit also include the humble, the disaffected, the unimportant. Jesus then goes on to speak of those who mourn, the meek, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and finally those who are persecuted for the cause of justice.

These are the ones that Jesus considers important. They are the ones he favors. When we look at this list we have to examine our own hearts. What are we impressed by?  What do we consider “favorable” in our world? What is our measurement for success? A critical point that all of these groups have is that they are out of step with the rest of the world with its focus on pride, conquest, domination and wealth. Jesus is saying it is not the arrogant and powerful that will inherit the world. It is the meek, the pure in spirit, those who are merciful, those who make peace.

The standards of the world never deliver what they promise. Jesus of course is different. He knows we will face opposition if we follow his way. However, in following him we should “rejoice and be glad.” Jesus offers rewards the world could never imagine. He always keeps his promises.

Eternal and loving God and Savior. I thank you for challenging me with your description of those who really matter.  May I focus in my own life on living out your favored standards.  May I especially be merciful, a seeker after justice and a peacemaker. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

“One Having Authority”

Matt. 4:23-25

Jesus’ ministry is expanding. He is going throughout Galilee. He is teaching in the synagogues. He is spreading the news that God has come into the world in a new way.  He is in fact the reality of God going back to his name given at birth, “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” Yet Jesus’ ministry is not only accomplished in words. It involves deeds. Jesus’ mission involves healing. He cures every sort of illness. He focuses not only on physical ailments. He cures those who are possessed by demons. Indeed, he cures “various diseases and pains.” Basically, Jesus is addressing every form of illness, physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.

The bottom line is that Jesus comes to make us new. The apostle Paul speaks of a resurrection body (I Cor. 15:35-55). The book of Revelation holds out the promise of no more pain (Rev. 21:4). What is emphasized in this passage is that Jesus cures every disease and every sickness. It is no wonder that his fame spread and great crowds followed him.

However, pain and disease and sickness are still very much with us. If Jesus cured every ailment in his earthly ministry, why doesn’t he continue to do so? We all pray for healing for ourselves and for others. We do see miraculous recoveries. However, many times we do not see direct healing. People become sick and die. Where is Jesus’ healing power now?

Jesus in his earthly ministry is announcing the coming of the “kingdom of heaven.” Yet the kingdom has not come yet. The events recorded here by Matthew are to assure us that the final realization of the kingdom of heaven is still coming. We look forward not only to the healing of a group in ancient Galilee, but to the healing of the entire creation (Rom. 8:19-21).  The healing has begun. However, it is not yet complete.  Knowing that there will finally be complete healing in Jesus’ kingdom assures us that healing can occur now.  However, this is only a preview.

Gracious and loving God and Savior, encourage me to continue to pray for all those who suffer.  May I also be an encouragement to others as I pray for their healing.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

“One Having Authority”

Matt. 4:18-22

Jesus doesn’t begin his ministry in the temple.  He does not function in some special religious context.  No, Jesus begins his ministry in ordinary settings with ordinary people doing ordinary things like celebrating a wedding (John 2:1-11).  Jesus comes into the world of Simon and Andrew, James and John.  None of them are doing anything “religious.”  Jesus does not promise to explain the Hebrew scriptures to them.  He does not offer some special religious experience.  He comes to them as they are, doing what they normally do on an average day.

Only this day is not average.  Jesus comes to these four.  They don’t begin by looking for him.  Quite the opposite, he is looking for them.  He offers them no detailed description of his work and ministry.  He calls them to follow him.  This is not presented as an option with dependent results: “if you follow me then I will give you such and such.”  Still less does Jesus say, “follow me and I will make you religious.”  Jesus speaks to them in their language, their frame of reference.  They fish for a living.  Jesus then says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  In other words these disciples will communicate the gospel to a frustrated and needy world.  They will be his ministers of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:18).  Their understanding of all this will come later.  For now, Jesus’ draws on their roles as fishermen.

Jesus calls all of us into his service.  Yet he calls us in terms of who and what we are.  Jesus is not asking us to serve with talents and abilities we don’t have.  He calls us in the midst of our daily routine while we are doing the things we know best how to do.  Jesus doesn’t come to us in some special religious setting.  He comes to us as we are and where we are.  Yet in every case we are called to follow him.  We need to be ready to answer his call.

Faithful and loving God and Savior I thank you that you call me as I am into your service.  May I be alert and ready to respond to your call.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Matthew 11:2-6

What’s happened to John the Baptist?  He was such a forceful preacher. He confronted the corrupt leadership of Jerusalem. He criticized the king. Now in prison John sends word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Is he kidding? This is the John who proclaimed the coming one who was more powerful than he, who would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11-12). John had baptized this one, the one whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. John had heard the voice of God the Father from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved. with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

John was there. He had seen this with his own eyes. He had heard the voice from heaven with his own ears. How then could he ask such a question of Jesus? What has happened to him? John had taken a clear stand. He was following in the tradition of the prophets. He was prepared to speak truth to power. Yet the corrupt power is still there. Herod remains on the throne.  His marital and political entanglements with his rival brother still continue. John the Baptist is not seeing the results he had anticipated. In a word, he is doubting.

Tomorrow we as a nation we will be observing the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  King, like John, spoke truth to power. King, like John, opposed corrupt leaders and false religion. King, like John, was imprisoned for his efforts. King, like John, knew his life was threatened. King, like John, also had his doubts.

We ourselves have our doubts at times. Is Jesus really the one? Can we stake our lives, our hopes and our futures on him? Jesus doesn’t rebuke John for his doubts (as he does the disciples on occasion). Jesus’ message to John is, look at what is happening. The sick are healed. The dead are raised. The poor have good news brought to them. This is still going on. We can too easily be trapped in our own doubt. The fact is the more faithful we are, the more Satan will attack us, the more he will seek to plant doubt in our hearts. Yet the more we look at what Christ is doing in the world around us, the more we look beyond ourselves, the more we will see God at work.

John was killed unjustly. So was Martin Luther King. The cost of discipleship is high (Matt. 10:37-39). Yet it is through that cost that we experience the full power of God. The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John (Matt. 11:11). That means that we are empowered to do more not less. We should not fear our doubts. In fact, our doubts should send us closer to Jesus to experience his power.  God’s servants are given the grace to change not only themselves but the world itself. Thank God for that grace!

Loving and faithful God and Savior give me the grace to acknowledge my own doubts.  Draw me closer to yourself and empower me with your spirit.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Amos 9:9-15

This is the conclusion of the prophecy of Amos.  Throughout the book Amos has challenged Israel and Judah’s confidence in their religious practices which was not matched by their behavior, especially with regard to their treatment of the poor.  As we have seen, Amos portrays God as being fully active in human affairs and holding his people accountable.  The longed for “Day of the Lord” will bring judgment not redemption.  This concluding section opens with God’s statement of judgment pictured as the shaking of a sieve.  There is the ominous statement that “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword.”  This would turn out to be the fate of both Israel and Judah as each later went into captivity, having been defeated “by the sword” of a foreign nation.

The Lord has made clear that this is a just fate given the widespread corruption of both nations.  This then would appear to be the end of Israel, the end of Jerusalem and the end of the royal line of David.  From a purely human and historical point of view this is completely evident.  Yet the ending of the Book of Amos reminds us of two central Biblical points.  One is that human beings are seriously flawed and indeed sinful.  As the prophet Isaiah says, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades. . . . (Isa. 40:6-7).  The second is that judgment is never God’s final word.

After predicting the destruction of Israel God goes on to say that he will raise up the “booth of David.”  God will restore the fortunes of Israel.  This restoration will include creation itself.  In poetic terms God says that “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” How can this be?  This underscores that God’s new life is a gift completely.  Salvation is all of grace.  We cannot understand this fully until we see how fallible we human beings are.  We dare not use this as an excuse for our neglect of God and his justice.  On the other hand, however we can never despair.  It is God alone who rebuilds the ruins of our lives.  God promises this because God is God.  There is no other reason.  God’s way of salvation is summed up in Jesus Christ.  After the crucifixion there is the resurrection.  God be praised!

Eternal and loving God may I take your judgment seriously.  Keep me from following the injustice of the world.  Build up my hope in your grace and mercy.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday, January 12, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Amos 5:14-24

This passage demonstrates the sharp difference between religion and faith. The Israel of Amos’ time was focused on observing their traditional worship going back to God’s law given to them in the Exodus. This included their worship gatherings, burnt offerings, music and song. Far from being wrong these worship practices were not only good but they had also been commanded by the Lord himself (Ex. 23:14-30:38).  Yet as the law itself made clear, these practices were secondary to the call for justice (Ex. 23:1-9).

Religious practices have no value if they are not accompanied by acts of justice. God’s word is clear. People are to “hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.”  The people longed for God’s coming to establish his reign. This was referred to as the “Day of the Lord” in both the Old and New Testaments (Acts 5:18-20; I Thess. 5:2; II Thess. 2:2; II Peter 3:10). Amos though makes it explicit that the coming of that Day will offer no hope for those who neglected, or worse violated, the demands of justice. Amos has already made it abundantly clear that justice requires the care of the poor and the needy and their protection from exploitation (Amos 2:6-7; 5:12). Without this worship and indeed religion in all its expressions is useless.

In one of the most stirring passages in scripture God tells Amos that he hates Israel’s religious practices. What God insists on is to let “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” This is a text that Martin Luther King quoted on numerous occasions.  ts meaning is echoed clearly again in the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:6, 10, 20).

Following Christ is not a purely individual or private matter. It demands our commitment to the demands of “justice and righteousness” outlined here and throughout the scriptures. John the Baptist carried out this mandate and it ended up costing him his life. The same of course is true of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jesus said that those in the kingdom are greater than John (Matt. 11:11). This is because we have the strength and authority of Jesus Christ leading and directing us. In him we will hunger and thirst for righteousness. Fulfilling the task of justice will often seem overwhelming. Yet in trusting the Lord we will not only be guided in living out this challenge. We will also, as he promised, “be filled,” filled with him and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11).

Loving and faithful God, in your name may I ‘hate evil and love good.”  Keep me from the sins of complacency and self-righteousness.  Show me the opportunities you have for me to demonstrate justice rolling down like waters.  I thank you for examples like Dr. Martin Luther King.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, July 11, 2018

Thursday, July 11, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Amos 5:1-13

Amos sees Israel as a forsaken young woman, not because she has been abandoned by the Lord but because she herself has turned away from her God.  The word of the Lord given repeatedly in this section is to “Seek the Lord and live” (v. 6).  This apparently sounded strange to the Israelites.  In their minds they were seeking the Lord.  They visited the sacred centers of Gilgal and Bethel.  They worshiped regularly.  They believed in the Lord as their ancestor Abraham had done (Gen. 15:6).  So what then was the problem?

The issue that God raises with his people is not the content of their belief or the practice of their worship.  God’s point deals with social justice.  The Lord here is making it clear that social justice is not a result of faith, it is rather faith itself in action.  Israel in this period was prosperous.  The people would certainly be willing to thank God for their “houses of hewn stone” and “pleasant vineyards.”  Yet the driving issue here is the treatment of the poor who are being oppressed with no one to take up their cause.  The situation is more devastating that mere neglect.  God points out that the people are taking bribes and pushing aside the needy, that is, ignoring their cries for help.  James puts its bluntly. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  (James 1:27).  In Jesus’ words those in need with whom Jesus himself identifies are the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, those without clothing and the prisoner (Matt. 25:31-46).

This coming week we will be celebrating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King, perhaps more clearly than anyone else in America in the past century, reminded us how central the theme of the care of the poor is to the gospel.  His words, not to mention those of Amos, continue to challenge us.  We should not be overwhelmed by the needs around us.  We can not do everything but we can all do something.  Even a cup of water given in Jesus’ name has value (Mark 9:41).

Gracious and faithful God may I be sensitive to the needs of the poor all around me.  Remind me that to show compassion and justice is to serve you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream” 

Amos 2:4-8

Up to this point Amos’ hearers in both Israel and Judah have been in agreement with him.  One can picture them nodding their approval as he relates the sins of Israel’s neighbors.   However at this point things change drastically.  Amos now brings two additional words, one against Judah and the other against Israel.  The reactions of Amos’ listeners will now change drastically.  We can imagine them saying, “How can he say this about us?  We are God’s chosen people.  We have the law of Moses to guide us.  We have been given God’s own Word.”

Amos here, following the Lord’s instruction, is using a pattern which will later be followed by the apostle Paul.  In Romans 1:18-32 Paul lays out the considerable failings of the Gentiles in the Roman Empire.  His Jewish readers would certainly have agreed with him.  However in chapter 2 Paul in effect turns the tables on his readers.  He confronts them with the fact that they are no better than the Gentiles.  All of them have sinned and fallen short of God’s will.  All are in desperate need of God’s grace  (Rom. 3:23-24).

The failings of the people of God that Amos lists here are truly appalling.  Again this is not Amos’ personal view.  Amos is simply conveying the word of God.  Judah for all its protestations of faithfulness to God has “rejected the law of the Lord.”  They have followed the same lies as their forebears.  The situation in Israel appears to be even worse.  In their economic prosperity and their sense of being protected by the Lord,  they have neglected the demands of social justice.  They have sold the needy “for a pair of sandals.”  They have trampled “the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.  They have worshiped the fertility gods of their neighbors.  This has resulted in a celebration of immorality in which “father and son go in to the same girl.”

What are we to make of this?  Judah and Israel had trusted in their history, their heritage as God’s chosen people.  Yet rather than following the true God they had allowed themselves to be seduced by the negative practices of those same nations which they had looked down upon.   The lesson here is that faith can never be taken for granted.  The lure of the world is too strong (I John 2:15-16).  It is too easy to judge the failings of others while ignoring our own.

The good news here is that God will not allow us to live in a continuing state of self-deception.  We need to be open to his correction (Heb. 12:5-11).

Eternal and loving God and Savior, keep me from being blind to my own failings.  Discipline and correct me when I begin to wander away from you.  Bring me back into your will.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

“God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Amos 1:11-2:3

Amos here continues his denunciation of the nations surrounding Judah and Israel. In vv. 11-12 he gives a prophetic picture of Edom’s betrayal of Judah and Jerusalem.  The Edomites were relatives of the Israelites (Gen. 25:29-30).  However, when Judah faced its greatest crisis, the invasion of the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the Edomites joined forces with the Babylonians to take whatever they wanted from Jerusalem.  They were not only greedy but they actually delighted in Jerusalem’s destruction apparently feeling that a rival had been defeated (Ps. 137:7; Obadiah 1:10-14).  Amos is saying that God will not ignore Edom’s treachery and violence.  As Jerusalem was burnt so will their cities be burnt.

Amos continues with denunciations of both the Ammonites and the Moabites.  In these cases, Israel and Judah are not involved.  In fact, a major travesty on the part of the Moabites was the desecration of the remains of one of the Edomite kings. The Lord makes clear that he will impose judgment on these kingdoms and indeed on all nations. God may work through other figures without taking away their freedom but he is still carrying out a plan that is not only eternal but still responds to events in time and history (Gen. 50:20; Isa. 45:1-4; Eph. 1:11).

Two points are critical here. God allows individuals and nations to make their own choices.  People often ask how could God allow such horrific events like ripping open pregnant women (1:13) to occur?  Yet this begs the larger question of why does God allow us the freedom to make our own choices in the first place?  To be free to choose includes the ability to choose good or evil. God did not create automatons.

Yet God is the Lord.  He will carry out his justice.  As we noted yesterday he holds individuals and nations accountable.  It may appear at times that “truth has stumbled in the public square” (Isa. 59:14).  However, that is not the case.  God insures that truth and justice, mercy and grace, will have the final word.  This is our confidence in an uncertain world.

Faithful and loving God I thank you that you are the one who determines the outcome of life and history.  May i always remember that I am accountable to you in everything I do and may I never be discouraged by the tragic realities I see all around me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, January 8, 2018

Monday, January 8, 2018

God’s Ever Flowing Stream”

Amos 1:1-10

The prophet Amos lived in a time of prosperity in Israel.  God had given Israel and Judah victory over their enemies (I Kings 14:23-27; 20:23-34).  Israel felt secure in the knowledge that they were God’s chosen people.  The fact that God had called them to be his people soon became a point of pride.

Into this situation steps the prophet Amos.  His message is direct and specific: “The Lord roars from Zion.”  What does this mean?  It means that God is not an outside observer in human affairs or history.  God acts and responds to actions and events.  It also signifies that God is Lord over all.  He is not only the God of Israel.  He is the God of all people, all nations.  Every person and group is accountable to him.

Amos then proceeds to give God’s verdict on a number of Israel’s neighbors.  Nothing escapes God’s attention.  Amos’ initial oracle would have been seen very favorably by the people of Israel.  They believed the nations around them were corrupt.  God should judge them.  God is a God of justice.  He shows no partiality (Acts 10:34).  Damascus, Gaza and Tyre all represented enemies of Israel.   Each in their own way were brutal and prideful.  These people ignored the God of Israel.  They trusted in their idols.

Yet God was not ignoring them.  The hope in these judgmental statements is that God will carry out his purpose of justice and mercy with everyone.  Evil and injustice will never have the final word.  Corrupt nations and empires may last for a while.  There is however an ultimate accounting that cannot be evaded forever.  In the final analysis it is Jesus no less who judges the nations (Matt. 25:31-46).

This is our hope in an often violent and conflicted world.  God may delay but he is neither absent nor silent.  We like Israel can find hope in this truth.  At the same time, we will need to learn a lesson that Israel also had to learn.  God holds his own people accountable.  As Peter says, “judgment begins with the household of faith” (I Peter 4:17). We are not immune.

Amos is just beginning.

Gracious and loving God, may I take hope in the fact that you have the final say in human history.  May I also remember that I am accountable to you.  May this fact guide me not only in this new year but in all years.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Christmas Devotionals

Christmas Devotionals

For the Season of Christmas, we are going to “Follow the Star” and 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 - Sunday, December 24, 2017 Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 24, 2017 Fourth Sunday of Advent

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Matt. 1:18-25

Dreams come and go. I can remember waking up after a vivid dream which almost immediately I can no longer remember. On this day people sing of dreaming of a white Christmas. In the ancient world there was a widespread belief that dreams conveyed special meanings. We see that in the Old Testament with Joseph and Daniel’s various dreams. This Joseph is having a very vivid and purposeful dream. This is a dream that he will never forget. In his dream, an angel of the Lord speaks to him and tells him of the miraculous nature of Mary’s pregnancy. Even granting that this dream was a valid message from an angel did not make it any more believable. We have here one of the key themes of Matthew’s gospel: What is impossible for mortals is possible with God (Matt 19:26).

One of the great things communicated to Joseph is that Mary’s child will be the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy. The child’s name will also be “Emmanuel” which means, “God with us” (Isa. 7:14). What does this signify? It goes beyond the idea of Jesus living as a human being in Galilee in the first century. Jesus possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). This statement occurs at the end of the gospel but we can see it being present through the entire book. This is an incredible claim. It is part of the scandal that is seen throughout the gospel. At the time of Jesus’ birth Caesar Augustus claimed to have all authority. In his ministry Jesus will challenge the authority of the scribes and Pharisees and even the high priest. He will demonstrate his authority even over demons and death (Matt. 8:28-34; 9:18-25).

Jesus has this same authority at his birth. Herod has no power over him. In his demented fury Herod will unleash murder upon the infants of Bethlehem. Even with Jesus present as “God with us,” the forces of evil fights against him.  Yet that evil will be defeated.  Jesus will destroy its power. The gates of hell cannot withstand the power he will give to his church (Matt 16:18).

All of this unfolds on Christmas. The authority of Jesus begins here. It will never end.

Merciful God and Savior I cannot thank you enough for sending Jesus into the world.  I praise you that he is Emmanuel, “God with us.”  May the joy and confidence of this truth be my hope not only this Christmas but throughout the new year to comeI pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday, December 23, 2017

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Titus 2:11-14

In Joseph’s dream as recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Joseph is told that the child born to Mary will be named Jesus because he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The name “Jesus” in Hebrew means Savior.  In the context of the first century to be a savior meant to rescue someone or something from some oppressive and controlling force. Many, even including the disciples, thought that Jesus would rescue his people from Roman occupation. We know from history that Rome was both converted and finally overthrown. Yet Jesus’ rescue mission involves far more than the political (though that certainly is not absent given that a title like “Messiah” or “Christ” had clear political implications (Matt. 26:62-69; 27:27-31).

Jesus’ “people” are not only the people of Israel.  In our text for today Paul says that “the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all.” Jesus’ people in Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy which includes non-Israelites (the four women mentioned). It goes on to include the “wise men” or astrologers from the East and ends up including “all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The gospel message of salvation is universal in scope. This does not necessarily mean that everyone will be saved. There are those who resist the grace given to them. Jesus himself warns of judgment (Matt. 5:21-30).  Paul in this same passage in Titus calls us to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly. We will see even in Matthew’s gospel this is no easy task.

Yet the fact remains that God’s grace is far broader and more inclusive than we can imagine. Instead of this making us complacent it should encourage us to speak more about our faith. Since God’s grace is universal and Christ is the light of every person (John 1:9) we should be confident in sharing our faith. The Christmas season, in spite of its mixed messages, nonetheless is an ideal time to do this since the message of Christ is all around us. That message truly is “joy to the world.”

Most faithful and gracious God I thank you that Christ is not only my savior but he is also the savior of the world. At this joyful and sacred season may I be more free than ever to share his message. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 22

Friday, December 22

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Ps. 96:7-11

The psalmist here is expressing adoration and joy in the name of the Lord. In the period in which this psalm was written every tribe and nation had their own god. These gods were local deities. They were not believed to have power or authority outside of their specific domain. The true God however is Lord of everything. He is the creator of the world. He judges all people not only his own nation. He is the Lord over “all the earth.”

We can too easily have a narrow view of God. God in his greatness is everywhere. Everything has been created by him and for him. God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Christ literally holds all things together (Col. 1:17). His coming brings God’s actual presence into the world. Jesus is the “Emmanuel,” which as we have noted means, “God with us.”

The psalmist in his praise is really celebrating two comings on God in Christ. The first which we are about to celebrate is Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In that little town, in a manger where animals fed, the very God of the universe came to dwell. Yet Jesus himself spoke of a second coming. This coming will be fully cosmic. It will not be witnessed only by shepherds and wise men. It will be seen by everyone on the earth. God will come fully into human history in the form of Jesus Christ. He will judge the earth with righteousness and the peoples with his truth. He is the judge who has taken upon himself the full judgment of broken humanity in his death on the cross.

We are still in the season of Advent. We await his coming. As the apostle Paul says, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Rom. 13:11). We need to live in the expectation of Jesus’ coming again.

Eternal and loving God I praise and thank you for Jesus’ first coming into the world to be my Lord and Savior. May I never forget his promise that he will come again. May I live daily in that hope and expectation. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Ps. 96:1-6

One of the best parts of the Advent and Christmas seasons is the music. Allowing for the multiple versions of “Frosty, ” Rudolph” and “White Christmas,” we still get to hear the carols which are some of the best expressions of the Christian faith ever written. You can be standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts and hearing the words, “Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever!”  Even on secular radio stations we can hear “O come let is adore him, Christ the Lord!” The classical music station WQXR is playing selections from Bach’s Christmas music every day.

Those of us who have grown up with this rich tradition of Christmas music can find this to be one of the most appreciated and positive parts of the whole season. Yet there is a danger in the familiarity of the carols themselves. We can become so used to them that we don’t really pay attention to what they are saying. Do we realize that “O Come All Ye Faithful” includes key passages from the Nicene Creed, the oldest Christian confession of faith?

This psalm calls us to sing. We are to sing of God’s salvation and glory “among the nations.” The psalmist tells us to “sing to the Lord a new song.” We obviously can take this to mean that new songs should be composed and sung. At the same time, we can also understand this to mean that we sing even familiar songs in a new way. We know the words to most of the most familiar carols. But do we understand them? The truth is, as many times as we hear and sing them, we cannot exhaust their full meaning. Like God’s mercies which we celebrate at this season of the year, they are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).

Gracious and faithful God, I thank you for the gift of music, especially the music of Christmas.  As I hear and sing it may I continue to discover new truths in its familiar carols and anthems.  May this season inspire me to praise you more.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Isa. 9:2-7

This prophecy emerges as a dark time in the history of Jerusalem and Judah.  The king on the throne is Ahaz, one of the worst kings in Judah’s history. We read that Ahaz “did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, his God” (II Kings 16:2). He worshiped the vilest of idols, presumably Molech, who required the sacrifice of children.  Ahaz also was involved in a war against the northern kingdom of Israel.  To assist him in the war Ahaz approached the king of Assyria.  The Assyrians finally would carry the northern kingdom off into captivity.  Many people feared that the same fate would befall Jerusalem.

In the midst of this war and treachery Isaiah gives a famous prophecy.  The darkness will not yet take over Jerusalem.  In this time of upheaval people certainly felt that they were living in darkness.  Yet Isaiah’s prophecy is that they would see a great light.  The heart of the prophecy is the description of the coming Messiah.  A child is promised to the people.  This child will have the extraordinary names of “Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.  He will take the throne of David and establish justice and righteousness “from this time onward and forevermore.”

Many later would think this applied to Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, who lead a great reform.  Hezekiah was described as doing “what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done.”  He purged idolatry from Judah and Jerusalem.  However as we have seen he succumbed to his own pride and foolishly showed the envoys of Babylon all the wealth of Jerusalem (II Kings 20:12-19).  This set in place the future invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

Hezekiah was not the Messianic king.  Yet he is part of the genealogy of the Messiah (Matt. 1:9-10).  The people of Hezekiah’s time thought they were seeing the best God had to offer. They didn’t realize that God had something far greater in the true Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We can easily underestimate God’s provisions.  Whatever we think we have seen of the goodness, grace and mercy of God is nothing compared to what we will see.  Advent reminds us that there is a greater coming of Jesus Christ that is yet to happen.  We live in that expectancy (I Cor. 2:9-10).

Faithful and loving God may I realize that you are doing much more that I can think or imagine.  I am only seeing the first stages of your coming reign.  Give me the grace to expand my vision of your purpose and will fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.  

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Luke 1:67-80

Zechariah had been unable to speak for the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy because of his disbelief.  That however is now all over.  Here Zechariah has a great deal to say.  He focuses on three things in this prophecy.  The first has to do with the nature of God, the Lord God of Israel.  He has looked favorably on his people and he has redeemed them.  To redeem is to bring back or restore.  God had chosen Israel twice in two distinctive historical moments.  The first choice was in God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, that his descendants would be like the sand of the sea or the stars in heaven (Gen. 22:17).   God’s second choosing of Israel had been in the exodus.  There God pledged to be Israel’s God forever (Ex. 19:1-6).  However, Israel disobeyed frequently (II Kings 21:15).  God however keeps faith with his promises.  He will redeem and restore Israel.

The second point of the prophecy is that God will carry this out through a “mighty savior” descended from David and foretold by the prophets.  This savior would rescue them from the hands of their enemies so that they might serve God without fear.  The natural understanding of this prophecy in the context of the Roman domination of Israel at the time would be that this savior would overthrow the power of the Romans.  He will indeed do that but it will not be by simple force.  The power of Rome will be broken by the transforming grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We cannot spiritualize the prophecy completely however.  Rome in fact will be destroyed.  Jesus will be a “mighty savior” overcoming even the power of death but he will also come again to establish his reign overthrowing all earthly powers.

The third point of the prophecy has to do with Zechariah’s son, John.  John will go before this might savior and will “give knowledge of salvation to his people.”  All this will be an example of the “tender mercy of our God.”  The coming Messiah that John will proclaim will guide them in the way of peace.  Caesar Augustus, the emperor had brought peace on earth.  However, his peace was the peace of conquest.  Jesus will bring the true peace of God’s love and mercy.

Christmas with its frantic pace and pressure can seem very unpeaceful at times. We need to stop and consider the peace that comes from God’s mercy and forgiveness.  This is the hope and promise of Advent.

Merciful and gracious God, I thank you for the promise of your tender mercy.  May I demonstrate that mercy even in the frustrating pressure of this season.  Grant me your peace.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 18, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

“God’s Inescapable Dream”

Luke 1:57-66

The promise of God is unfolding in concrete, specific ways in this story. Zechariah and Elizabeth have been promised a son. They regarded this as impossible given their advanced age. Zechariah voiced his doubts to the angel Gabriel. Because of his unbelief he was struck dumb. Yet his doubt could not displace God’s promise. At the appropriate time Elizabeth gives birth. There is a normal expectation that the child will be given his father’s name. Elizabeth is the first to respond and to say that his name will be John. The neighbors and relatives continue to express their doubt about the name. Zechariah adds his testimony by writing “His name is John.”  Zechariah’s speech is then restored.

This Advent story alerts us to the fact that God’s sending his Son into the world is not going to proceed along any familiar lines. John was unexpected. His birth, not to mention his name, was not anticipated. The people who witness this are amazed. This amazement then leads to fear. What is going on? Who is this child? What will he become?

Just as John’s birth was unpredictable so Jesus’ will be even more so. John is given his name presumably by the angel Gabriel. Jesus will also have a name given by the angel. He will be called Jesus because he will save his people from their sins (“Jesus” means savior) (Matt. 1:21). Throughout his life and ministry Jesus will continue to do things that are unexpected. John will become John the Baptist. Many will question him about his role (John 1:19-23). They will question Jesus even more so (Matt. 21:33). Jesus is not what people expect. If we are not being surprised by Jesus we are not reading the gospels carefully enough. Everything about Christmas defies any normal expectation of the birth and life of a leader, whether he is a prophet, hero or king. Jesus fulfills all of these but in ways that are nothing short of astonishing.

Jesus will always surprise us. His ultimate surprise is his unending love for us.

Eternal and loving God, I praise you for the promise of Jesus.  May I not only to be surprised by him but also have greater trust in him.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 17, 2017 Third Sunday of Advent

Sunday, December 17, 2017 Third Sunday of Advent

“The Heritage of Mary”

Matt. 1:12-16

We come here to the conclusion of Matthew’s genealogy. He has divided the history of Israel into three equal sections. Each section lists fourteen names. He has constructed this clearly to make a point. His genealogy is not complete. It doesn’t claim to be. This genealogy leads us to Mary the fifth woman mentioned in the genealogy. She will be the virgin mother of Jesus, the Messiah.

Several things are striking about this final section. The key person here is Zerubbabel the governor of Israel at the time of Israel’s restoration from captivity and return to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel lays the foundation for the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. The people weep in joy (Ezra 3:8-13). Zerubbabel has no way of knowing how this rebuilt temple will feature in the ministry of the coming Messiah. Jesus will speak of the temple as a symbol of himself when he says “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days” (Matt. 27:38-39). It is at the temple that Jesus gives a view of the “end of the age” (Matt. 24). Jesus begins the week of his crucifixion by casting out the money lenders from the temple (Matt. 21:12-16). Finally, in Jesus’ death on the cross the curtain of the temple is split in two (Matt. 27:51).

There is no way Zerubbabel has any idea of this when he dedicates the foundation of the temple. Unknown to him he is playing a critical role in God’s plan of salvation. As we seek to be faithful in following the Lord we also have no way of knowing the long range implications of our actions. The mother of Augustine prayed for him when he was a non-believer. At that time, she had no idea he would become one of the greatest teachers in Christian history. When Karl Barth wrote to a promising young German theology student he did not know that that student Dietrich Bonhoeffer would become one of the key leaders resisting Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.

We do not know that our small efforts may have enormous consequences. We should never think our witness to Christ is unimportant or insignificant. We may sow the seed and someone else may reap the harvest (I Cor. 3:6). The volunteer in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School does not know what fruit will be brought from their efforts ten or twenty years in the future. Zerubbabel does not only dedicate the foundation of the temple. He is an ancestor of Joseph who will marry Mary. We have no idea what spiritual descendants we may have.  The Christ born at Christmas not only encourages us. He surprises us.

I thank you Lord that you are the greatest surprise at Christmas.  May I be open to seeing you in new ways.  Remind me that whatever I do in your name will have the impact you desire.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

“The Heritage of Mary”

Luke 1:46-55

There is probably no other passage in scripture that shows the difference between popular Christian spirituality and the Bible as vividly as this one. Mary is obviously venerated in the Roman Catholic tradition. She is also a symbol of Christian devotion for many Protestants. Yet invariably the picture of Mary that has come down to us is of a passive figure holding the baby Jesus. She is usually contemplative. Frequently she is depicted as looking up toward heaven. She often appears meditative and quiet.

This is not the Mary we see in this passage known as the “Magnificat” (its opening word in Latin).  The Mary who sings this song is nothing less than a social radical. She echoes the language of the Old Testament prophets. Following the pattern, we see in Matthew she begins with a statement of God’s mercy (v. 50). However, she then goes on to say that the arm of the Lord has shown strength. This also in an Old Testament theme (Ex. 6:6; Deut. 7:17-19; Isa. 52:10). Mary then goes on to say that God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brought down the powerful, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

This is Mary’s message preparing us for Christmas. There is nothing of sugar plums and candy canes in this picture. Jesus’ coming into the world will challenge the entire world’s system.  What does this mean for us?  Mary’s song tells us something of what our priorities should be at this season of the year.  God confronts the strong and the powerful. He shows favor to the “lowly” and the poor. The powerful on their thrones are warned.

One unexpected place in American history that we can see influences of this passage is in the Declaration of Independence. The challenge there to the “powerful on their thrones” has its roots in the preaching of colonial pastors who drew on this passage. We need to ask how this passage challenges us today.

Eternal and loving God, may I see your mother as she is depicted in scripture.  May her words resonate in my life.  Especially at this season may I focus on the poor and lowly.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

“The Heritage of Mary”

Luke 1:39-45

Mary, having received the word of the angel that she will give birth to the Son of God, the son of David, now goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who has had her own miraculous pregnancy, in this case because she is advanced in age.  At the sound of Mary’s greeting the child leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. This also is a miracle. There is no natural way that an unborn infant could have any cognizance of what is taking place here. The real miracle is that God has intervened in the lives of ordinary people to bring about the birth of the Savior of the world.

Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to understand that the child in her womb is also filled with the Holy Spirit. That alone can account for the child leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice. Elizabeth pronounces a blessing on Mary. Mary is no princess, no heir to a great family or fortune. Elizabeth puts this into words when she asks regarding herself, “And why has this happened to me?” She can only stand in awe at what God is doing.

The apostle Paul tells us that God chooses what is foolish and unimportant in the world’s eyes “to shame the wise” (I Cor. 1:26-31). In any social terms Mary and Elizabeth were insignificant people even in Israel. Yet God has chosen them. Jesus tells us that he has chosen us (John 15:16). Why has he chosen us? Spoiler alert: it’s not because of any special goodness or importance that we have.

We all know that gift giving can get out of hand as we prepare for Christmas. However, we can never forget that God is the ultimate gift-giver. He has given us his grace as a gift (Rom. 3:24). We are not insignificant or unimportant. We have been chosen by God to follow his Son. This too is a miracle.

Most faithful and loving God and Savior I thank you that you have chosen unimportant people like Elizabeth and Mary, unimportant people like me, to receive the gift of your grace in Jesus Christ. Keep me from boasting but also keep me from feeling like I don’t matter. I thank you that you have come to me not because I wanted you but because I needed you. I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

“The Heritage of Mary”

Luke 1:26-38

This is one of the most familiar stories in scripture. We hear this story every Christmas. However, we cannot assume we have grasped all that there is in this most miraculous account. The story is told in a dramatic fashion. Who is Mary? Given her pivotal role in God’s plan of salvation why do we know so little about her? What exactly is her age? Is there any reason that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Savior, the Son of God? All we know is that she is favored of God? Who are her parents? What did they think of her relationship to Joseph? What did they think of her unexpected pregnancy?

All of these are questions that occur to us. However, they are of no interest to the gospel writers. Mary is a symbol of all of us. In God’s perspective (and even in the world’s) we are not people of any importance or significance. Yet we have been favored of God in that God has revealed the promise of his Son to us. We are the body of Christ (I Cor. 12).  We are born again in him (I Peter 1:3). Christ is born in us because Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20).

Yet Christ’s presence in our lives is no less miraculous than Mary giving birth as a virgin. How will Mary conceive? It will be nothing physical (The virgin birth is not based on a myth as some think because there are no myths of a virgin giving birth without some kind of physical connection). Mary conceives because the Holy Spirit comes upon her. We belong to Christ because the Holy Spirit has come upon us.

Mary’s identity from this point on is that she is the mother of Jesus. Our identity should be that we are the body of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only comes into the world; he comes into each of us. He is the light which enlightens every person (John 1:9).

Loving and gracious God I thank you that you have come into my life.  I thank you that you are my life.  May your presence be seen in me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“The Heritage of Mary”

Isaiah 45:1-7

This passage makes it abundantly clear that God and God alone determines the outcome of history. God is in no way limited to those who believe in him. Here God is addressing a pagan king who does not know the true God. Yet he has been called by God. It is striking to note the terms God uses to refer to Cyrus. Cyrus is his “anointed.” God will give him the power to subdue nations, to level the mountains (Isa. 40:4), to receive treasures in darkness and riches hidden in secret places.

At the time of his calling Cyrus did not know the Lord. This fact is repeated several times in this passage. As Cyrus receives God’s gifts he will come to know God at least in an initial way. Cyrus does appear to acknowledge the true God (Ezra 1:2). Yet God’s calling of Cyrus occurs when Cyrus has no knowledge of God. Nonetheless he is God’s instrument.

How could Israel ever be brought back to its land after seventy years in captivity? Israel had no means or ability to gain their freedom. God puts this all in Cyrus’ heart as we have seen, without taking away Cyrus’ freedom to make his own decisions. God says that he forms light and creates darkness. What does this mean? It means that God is free to work through and even in spite of human and spiritual figures to accomplish his purpose (Eph. 1:11). God doesn’t negate anyone’s ability to choose one course of action over another. Yet no decision is completely undetermined. We are all affected by our experiences, our circumstances and the limits of our own understanding. We bear responsibility for our choices. Yet ultimately God determines the outcome (Gen. 50:20).

When we look at the upheavals in history even in our present day we should never become fearful or discouraged. God remains in charge.  He is free to intervene and free not to. Yet as Isaiah says later, God declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:8-10). God’s final purpose is Jesus Christ.  All of God’s promises are fulfilled in him (II Cor. 1:20). This season of advent reminds us that God’s promises continue to be fulfilled, often in surprising ways.

Faithful God and Savior give me the ability to see your hand at work in all the events of my life and my world.  Build up my faith in this Advent season. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“The Heritage of Mary”

Isa. 40:1-11

This is one of the most comforting passages in scripture. Rebellious Israel has spent seventy years in captivity. This was because of their flagrant idolatry and perverse practices. Israel, faced with its record, had no defense. God’s judgment was valid and appropriate. Yet it is always the case that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). God’s mercy always has the last word (Rom. 11:32).

The time of judgment is now over. Israel has received double for all her sins. There is a voice calling out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Israel will return through the wilderness in more than one sense. There is the literal wilderness they will have to cross to return to their land. They are also being called out of the wilderness of their own sin. They are being freed from the wilderness of their captivity under the Babylonians. God is reversing everything. The valleys will be lifted up. The hills will be made low. The glory of the Lord will be revealed and “all people shall see it together.” This refers to more than the captives’ return to Jerusalem after their seventy- year exile.

These same verses will describe the ministry of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:3). John the Baptist is the personification of Advent. He announces the coming of the Lord. God who has come is also coming again. The Christ born in Bethlehem is coming in the clouds of heaven to establish his reign on earth (Matt. 24:30-31). This will be the end of injustice. It will be the final establishment of peace on earth. We cannot imagine anything more wonderful, more encouraging, more joyful. Even so come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).

I praise you Lord for the message of hope that you give me. During this Advent season may I live in the expectation that you could return at any time. I pray for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017

“The Heritage of Mary”

Ezra 1:1-11

Israel’s captivity in Babylon lasted seventy years as Jeremiah the prophet had foretold (Jer. 25:11-12).  In essentially every case when a people went into captivity at the hands of another nation the captive nation soon became absorbed by the conquering nation.  This was the case throughout the ancient world.  It applied to Hittites, Jebusites, the Amorites and the Canaanites.   Each of these groups vanished into the dust of history.  This however was not the case with Israel.  The deportation into Babylon was not the end of their story.

We read that God stirred up the spirit of the Persian king Cyrus.  At this point the Babylonian Empire is no more.  It has been taken over by the Persians.  Cyrus gives a decree that all the Israelites who desire to do so may return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.  As we will see later God calls Cyrus his servant even though Cyrus doesn’t know the Lord. Yet Cyrus certainly is aware of the God of Israel. He calls him “the Lord,”

This is an astonishing event. God is working through a pagan king. Cyrus is not a puppet. God is certainly sovereign over all human beings. He raises them and brings them low as he chooses (Rom. 9:19-21). Yet we are never robots or automatons. Cyrus is responding to the vision he has received just as God’s servants throughout the ages have done including, for example, the apostle Paul (Acts 26:19).

This is a key message of Advent. God promises a “future with hope” (Jer. 29:11). God is always doing “a new thing” (Isa. 43:19).  God is free to work through a Persian king as well as an Isaiah or Jeremiah.  In recent days Jerusalem has been very much in the news.  Without attempting to discern too fully what this all means it reinforces the fact that Jerusalem has been central to the faith of Israel for centuries.

God is still working his purposes out. We need always to seek to discern that purpose through God’s Word and Spirit, always remembering that it is God alone who determines the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:8-10).

Merciful and loving God and Savior give me the eyes and the understanding to discern your purpose all around me.  May I live joyfully and faithfully in the present knowing that you have promised me a “future with hope.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

Matthew 1:6b-11
As I write this we as a nation have been overwhelmed with accounts of sexual abuse on the part of powerful men in politics, the media and the arts.  Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” are the women who have come forward to name their abusers.  The question arises, “Have we become a nation of degenerates?”  Matthew’s genealogy confronts us.  The tragedies of that account are not only the powerful kings who fell into serious sin.  Matthew also confronts us with the victims.
Matthew says that David is the father of Solomon “by the wife of Uriah.”  Technically, Bathsheba at that point was David’s wife (II Sam. 12:24).  Uriah was dead.  David had officially married his widow.  Matthew however will not accept this.  As far as he is concerned Bathsheba is still “the wife of Uriah.”  David’s attempts to cover over the sin are not accepted by Matthew.  We cannot read this section without noting the four women mentioned.  They have two essential things in common.  One is that none of them is an Israelite.  The fact that the gospel will be for “all nations” (Matt. 28:19) is established right here in the genealogy.  The second is that these women in different ways have all been abused, none more so than Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.  They have done nothing to deserve their fate.  Their lives have been destroyed by a powerful man who acted only on his own impulsive desires.
When Jesus claims the title, “Son of David,” he is echoing the original son of David, Solomon.  Jesus even at his birth is taking upon himself the sin of the world.  We dare not forget this word  (II Cor. 5:21).  Yet this cannot in any way excuse the sin.  Matthew’s gospel will speak forcefully about sexual abuse and misconduct (Matt. 5:27-32; 19:1-12).  If we claim the authority of God’s Word we need to speak out as well.  We have a candidate for the senate who claims to be a Christian but has been accused of molesting teen-age girls, some of whom have presented documentary evidence.  We have a president who has boasted of his own sexual abuse and is now trying to deny his statements to that effect.  He has been contradicted by all those who were in his presence when he made those statements.
It seems like every day another man has had to step down because of sexual abuse. This gospel makes clear that there is forgiveness.  Human sin is all too evident.  Yet we need to hold our leaders accountable.  They cannot side step this issue.  We need to hold each other accountable.  Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, speaks to us.  He says, remember Tamar, remember Rahab, remember Ruth and especially remember the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba.
Gracious and loving God, give me the strength and courage to stand against sexual abuse in all of its forms  May I never forget the women that Matthew mentions.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

II Kings 24:8-17

The Greeks had their tragedies, Matthew has his genealogy. The second cycle of the genealogy ends with the “deportation to Babylon.”  This is a devastating moment in Israel’s history. When King Nebuchadnezzar conquers Jerusalem he takes everything.  He lays hold of the wealth of the temple.  He takes ten thousand captives.  He takes the best and the brightest, the artisans, the smiths as well as all “the men of valor.” Only the poorest people are left,

This could not be avoided. The last king mentioned, Jechoniah (or Jehoiachin), continues the pattern of doing evil.  We have seen even the best of the kings, David, Solomon and Hezekiah, all succumbed to serious sins. Greek dramas tended to focus on fate which mortals couldn’t change.  The Old Testament holds everyone accountable for their choices and actions.

So what do we have here? God has chosen Israel. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. He gave them his perfect law. He brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey. He gave them victory over their enemies. He sent them his prophets to announce both judgment and mercy. The promise to Abraham was that all the families of the earth would be blessed in his descendants (Gen. 12: 3). Yet Israel has been faithless again and again.  As far back as Cain God warned about the power of sin “lurking at the door” (Gen. 4:6). That warning essentially has gone unheeded.

Israel’s story at this point appears to end in failure and collapse. This is what sin does in all of our lives. The faith of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the obedience of Hezekiah, the brief revival of Josiah, none of these have been adequate.  Is there any hope? We cry out when we face suffering and loss. We may see no future. Yet God always has a future. The deportation to Babylon is not the end of the story.  The prophet Jeremiah tells the people as they go into exile that God has plans for their welfare and not for harm. He promises them “a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).  That promise applies to us as well.

Faithful and merciful God, may I never underestimate the power of sin lurking at the door of my heart.  Enable me to live in the promise of your hope.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.  

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday, December 8, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

II Kings 18:1-8

In the list of names that Matthew gives us in his genealogy of Jesus there are a few that are outstanding. Yet the overall message is the same. Israel’s leaders are all tainted. They have all become faithless to one degree or another. This passage again deals with a king with great potential (as was the case with David and Solomon). Hezekiah leads a major reform in Israel. He breaks down the idols. These include the bronze serpent that God had provided in the wilderness to avert his judgment (Numbers 21:6-9). The important lesson here is that anything can become an idol, even a sacred object (or event or memory).

More important than his deeds was the fact that Hezekiah trusted in the Lord. Like David, his heart was turned toward God. God then favored him in everything he did. He followed God’s Word and kept the commandments given to Moses. Hezekiah was superior to all the other kings who preceded him. We are told he did what was right just as his ancestor David had done.

David however, as we have seen fell into very serious sin, the consequences of which plagued his family and his nation for years. Hezekiah unfortunately is not immune. After the many victories that the Lord gave him Hezekiah became proud. He foolishly welcomed envoys from Babylon and showed them all the wealth and weapons of Israel. This will be the basis for the Babylonians’ later invasion of Judah. When the prophet Isaiah learns of what Hezekiah has done he gives the king a word from the Lord that all the wealth and resources, all the people of Jerusalem, will be taken to Babylon in exile. Hearing this Hezekiah’s reaction is, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (II Kings 20:12-19). Really?

In the end Hezekiah is self-absorbed and he sets in motion the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, including the destruction of the temple itself.  Hezekiah began with so much promise. However, he goes from trusting the Lord to trusting in his own wealth and resources. Again no human leader can redeem Israel. We all face the same temptations. Without the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, we have no hope.

Eternal and faithful God, keep me focused on you in all my life and service.  I confess my own pride.  Lead me in your way.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

I Kings 12:25-33

This is a picture not only of corruption but of an implicit desire of Israel to return to the slavery of Egypt. Israel, following the death of Solomon, has basically divided into two kingdoms.  The tribes of Judah and of Benjamin are in the south where Jerusalem and the temple are located. However, the northern tribes have followed Jeroboam who led a revolt against King Solomon. Solomon, it will be recalled, ended his life worshiping idols.  God then judged him by taking his kingdom away (although not in Solomon’s lifetime).  Jeroboam’s revolt is the consequence of this.

Yet Jeroboam is hardly an answer to the problem. He’s concerned that the people of Israel will continue to go south to Jerusalem to worship in the temple.  Jerusalem at this point is being led by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. Jeroboam comes up with a ready answer. He will make not one but two golden calves for the people of Israel to worship. Jeroboam essentially quotes from Aaron in the wilderness when he says, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough.  Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (I Kings 12:28; Ex. 32:4).

The golden calves were in all probability off-shoots of the Egyptian fertility cow-goddess, Hathor, referred to by Hosea (Hosea 13:2). The division of the two kingdoms leads to a long line of idolatry and unfaithfulness on the part of both the north (Israel) and the south (Judah).  How could this happen?  As we have seen Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. How could he fall into such deception?

This is the reality that Matthew is confronting us with in this genealogy. The path from Abraham to Christ is not a straight line of faithfulness to God. More often than not it is a downward spiral. The depravity doesn’t happen overnight. David doesn’t go back into the battle and ends up eyeing Bathsheba. Solomon added one wife after another until he was seduced by the fertility cults.

The writer of the Hebrews warns about the dangers of drifting away (Heb. 10:23-25).  It doesn’t happen overnight. It begins one step at a time. We can easily rationalize not reading scripture, praying or attending church for a week or so. However, these things start to become habits. If David and Solomon could fall away how much more can we (I Cor. 10:6)?

Eternal and gracious God keep me from drifting. May I remain vigilant in my faith seeking to know and follow you better. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

I Kings 11:1-13

Surely Solomon, the son of David, will give us a better example than his father.  This would seem to be the case.  We read that “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David” (I Kings 3:3).  In a dream God offers to give Solomon whatever he wants.  Solomon asks for “an understanding mind” so that he can faithfully guide the Lord’s people (I Kings 3:9).  In response God gives Solomon “very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore” (I Kings 4:29).  Indeed, Solomon’s fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations.  Solomon is the one who builds the temple in Jerusalem.  His prayer of dedication is one of the great prayers recorded in scripture.  Three books of the Bible are attributed to him, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

Solomon offers a great deal, wisdom, dedication and commitment.  He is not only a person of wisdom.  He is also a man of prayer.  Under his rule Israel expands beyond anything the nation had ever known before.  God made him wealthy.  The Queen of Sheba came to see him and left stating that his wisdom was twice what she had been told.  Solomon was famous, prosperous and of course very wise.  Solomon could well then be an ideal model for us, right?

Wrong.  At the end of his life Solomon’s many wives lead him into idolatry.  This idolatry is so debased that it includes the sacrifice of children.  Solomon worshiped false gods.  What went wrong?  In a word his heart had turned away from the Lord.  How could this have happened?  God is of course angry.  Solomon’s expansive kingdom will eventually be divided in two, leading at times even to civil war.  David repented and was restored.  We do not read the same of Solomon.

What are we to make of this?  We need always to remember that we are in a spiritual war (Eph. 6:10-17).  As the names in Matthew’s genealogy make clear, there is no name that is not tainted with the darkness.  The greatest leaders fall into the most deadly sins. Yet it is through these people that God is preparing for the coming of “Jesus the Messiah.”

We can neither be deluded nor discouraged. Every day we have the choice to follow God’s way or not. We can never take our faith for granted. No purely human figure can save us. This is Advent. Jesus is coming.

Gracious and faithful God and Savior may I learn from the failings of even some of your most gifted servants.  May I rely on you more and more every day. Prepare me for the coming into the world of the only Savior, your son, Jesus Christ in whose name I pray, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

II Sam. 12:1-15

The good news is that God has not abandoned David as he had abandoned Saul. God however will call David to account. On a human level he is guilty of rape, deceit and murder. However, on a spiritual level he has despised the word of the Lord and done what is evil. He has in fact despised God himself. The other hopeful point here is that David has not lost all sense of justice. He has not become totally corrupt (which will be the case with some of the later kings). When Nathan tells him the story of the poor man whose lamb is taken by the rich man David respond with righteous indignation and anger. He is outraged at this injustice. It is then that Nathan confronts David with the judgment, “You are the man!”

David finally acknowledges his sin. Nathan assures David that he will not die. Yet there will be terrible consequences of David’s actions. These include rape and murder in his family, among his own children. War will arise. David will have to endure all of this. God obviously is overseeing the judgement but these consequences arise inevitably out of David’s actions. He is tragically reaping what he has sown (Gal. 6:7).

God does not play favorites. David is very special to God. God however judges him the way he would judge anyone else. David is not exempt. David will suffer and suffer greatly. While these are the consequences of his own actions David is not the one making atonement for what he has done. God has forgiven him and forgiven him freely. David will confess fully and completely in the 51st psalm. There David offers a “broken and a contrite heart.”

David could not communicate to us the grace and mercy of God. He was too flawed to do so. The same is true of everyone in the Old Testament including Abraham, Moses and Daniel. During this Advent season we need to look into our own hearts. The darkness still exists inside us. We will not be helped by moral examples. In fact, all of them are flawed. We need a Savior. This is the story that Matthew is preparing to tell in his gospel.

Loving and merciful God, I see the darkness in my own heart. May the light of Jesus Christ shine into me during this Advent season preparing me for his coming. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

“Return to Slavery”

II Samuel 11:1-27

The second cycle of Matthew’s genealogy deals with the period from the time of David’s reign as king up to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.  God is doing a new thing with his call to Abraham.  That call is based on grace.  It is an expression of God’s steadfast love which no one can merit or achieve.  There is a climax in the emergence of David as king.  Israel’s initial asking for a king was a sign of rebellion against God since God was their king (I Sam. 8:7-8).  The first king Saul does not have heart for God and even falls into blasphemy (I Sam. 13:1-15).  Saul is replaced by David who as we have seen is the person after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14). This is not an easy succession.  David finally wins the throne after a protracted civil war in which Saul finally dies at the hands of Israel’s enemies.

David would appear to be the ideal king.  He began as a shepherd so he knows how to provide nurture, care and protection.  God is with him wherever he goes and gives him victory after victory (II Sam. 7:8-9).  God tells David that he will have a great name.  God’s own son, Jesus, will be known as the “son of David”(Mark 10:46-47).  David as God’s anointed would be the ideal figure to both protect and guide the people of Israel.  But then something goes terribly wrong.  David’s marriage to Saul’s daughter, Michal, comes to an end.  She actually despises him in her heart (II Sam. 6:16).  This may be related to the death of her father, the former King Saul against whom David had fought.  Did David have unresolved anger after this rejection by Michal (I Sam. 6:20-23)?  We don’t know.  Did this rejection predispose David for what was to come?

We all know about David’s sin with Bathsheba. However, we should not let the familiarity of the story blunt its impact. In the course of what is revealed in this passage David commits crimes that even go beyond the worst of the pagans.  David essentially has raped Bathsheba (she could hardly say no to a delegation from the king).  He then compounds the crime by arranging to have her husband killed in battle.  This is after he unsuccessfully tries to arrange for her husband, Uriah, to come home and thereby give legitimacy to Bathsheba’s pregnancy. David then carries out a plan which is nothing less than murder.

Where is David, the shepherd-king, the person after God’s own heart, the faithful servant of the Lord?  David takes Bathsheba as his wife following the murder of her husband.  David’s actions are no less terrible than those which led to the flood earlier.  They are almost certainly worse.  The Greek king Agamemnon alienates his troops by stealing the girlfriend of his greatest warrior, Achilles. But he doesn’t kill Achilles.

In all of this David’s heart is no longer turned toward God. It has embraced the darkness.

Loving and faithful God may I never be complacent about the reality of sin.  Remind me that the one who thinks they stand may be the next to fall (I Cor. 10:12).  Draw me closer to you, especially in this Advent season.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Matt. 1:1-6a

Matthew divides the genealogy of Jesus into three symbolic sections, each accounting for fourteen generations. This is not an exhaustive list. Matthew is not just talking about family ties. There is an important theological lesson to each section. The first section covers the period from Abraham to King David. David and Abraham are both listed in the preamble. This is very significant. Both are examples of God’s promise. God’s first creation seemingly descended into the chaos and darkness from which it came. God did not create a chaotic world. He created a world that was very good. Yet it was a world established on its own foundation (Ps. 102:25).  Our world was created in the midst of a spiritual universe where celestial beings – angels, demons and “sons of God” -already existed.  Satan was also there (John 8:44).

God created a world in which freedom of choice existed. Human beings were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). They could choose to obey God or not.  As we all know Adam and Eve disobeyed. Chaos and corruption followed quickly after as the Book of Genesis tells us in its first eleven chapters. Adam and Eve’s son murders his brother.  Celestial beings have corrupt relations with mortal women.  Evil, greed and violence take over to the point that it becomes apparent that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Gen. 8:21). God destroys this world in a flood.  Noah and his family are the sole survivors. Yet Noah himself becomes corrupt (Gen. 9:20-23).

God then begins a new creation.  This is the new creation in Jesus Christ. It begins with the call of Abraham and leads to the person after God’s own heart, King David. Yet in this first section darkness, injustice and betrayal are all present.  Are there any signs of the coming of Christ beyond the promises to Abraham and David? The fact is there are and they come from the women mentioned in this section.

None of these women are Israelites. The first is Tamar who seduces her father-in-law in order to obtain her rightful inheritance.  Rahab the prostitute risks her life to save the Israelite spies. Then, perhaps most significantly, there is Ruth a Moabite woman who acts in a way that would be considered scandalous under ordinary conditions. Yet in so doing she pledges herself to a prominent Israelite named Boaz. They will give birth to the grandfather of David.  Each of these women show faith and courage in unconventional ways. Confronted with the darkness, they take risks which lead to their receiving mercy directly from God’s hand.

We have heard much recently of the abuse of women. Unfortunately, this is not new (nor is that fact an excuse to evade or avoid the issue). Matthew wants to remind us that without the risks taken by these women we would not have the line of the Messiah. This fact should encourage us whenever we face darkness and chaos.

Eternal and loving God and Savior I praise you that you came into this world of chaos, confusion and darkness to give me new life in Christ.  May I show courage and faithfulness in living in dependence on your promises.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 2, 2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Psalm 89:19-37

The ancient world lived in fear of chaos. The universal picture of the world before creation (including that found in the Bible) is of a “formless void” and “darkness” over the deep. It is a picture of dark formless, watery world. Many believed that sea monsters dwelt in that darkness (Ps. 74:12-17).  The mythical gods feared this darkness. They fought against it. People lived in fear of the idea that the chaos and darkness could return and life would end. The Roman myth of Mithras was based on the idea that the sun-god would be reborn annually on the shortest day of the year which for them was December 25. Otherwise the days would continue to get shorter until complete darkness returned. The true God overcame all these fears. He could be pictured symbolically as the one who kills the sea monster (Isa. 27:1). Early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ on the birth date of the Roman sun-god, Dec. 25.

As we have seen God is bringing about a new creation after the destruction of the flood.  Unlike the false gods the true God does not demand sacrifices to be appeased. The Law of Moses called for sacrifices but that was not God’s priority. The God who revealed himself to Abraham is a God of promise, a God of grace, who desires mercy not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

This is made abundantly clear in this text which focuses on David. David is the recipient of great promises. We know that he is a person after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14). That however is not the reason he is chosen. God pledges his “faithfulness and steadfast love (mercy)” to him. God will judge his descendants when they disobey. God will judge David for his disobedience. However, in the words of the apostle Paul, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). God does not dismiss the chaos as he did at the first creation. In the new creation in Jesus Christ God works through the chaos and darkness. This is an unbelievable act of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:17-18). God acts supremely through David’s greatest sin to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. Jesus will be the “son of David.” This is the God we should expect through this Advent season.  We need have no fear of chaos and darkness. God is present in them working out his plan of new life in Jesus Christ.

Eternal and loving God, may I not fear the darkness and chaos around me. May I trust always in your promises. I thank you that your steadfast love endures forever. in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Ruth 3:1-14

The Book of Ruth is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Ruth is a Moabite woman whose Israelite husband dies in the land of Moab. Her mother-in-law who has now suffered the death of both her sons plans to return to her native Bethlehem (this alone makes the story suitable for Advent). Ruth wants to accompany her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law, Naomi, tries to discourage her. In a famous response Ruth says, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). These promises have been used as wedding vows on occasion.

Naomi accepts Ruth’s promise. However, Naomi knows something that Ruth doesn’t. This is the fact that Moabites were despised by the Israelites because Moabite women had seduced the Israelites into idolatry in the wilderness (Num. 25:1-5). As a result, the Moabites were not permitted to come into the assembly of God (Deut. 23:3). Naomi knows that Ruth will face prejudice in Bethlehem. Naomi also knows that there is a distant relative of theirs who is both prosperous and prominent in the community. Naomi is thinking of the same rule that we encountered yesterday in the story of Tamar. When a woman became a widow she was to be given in marriage to the brother of the deceased or, by extension, to the closest male relative. Naomi would love to see a marriage between Ruth and Boaz because, among other things, this would provide a secure future for her. Naomi, like Tamar before her comes up with a bold plan.

She instructs Ruth to go secretly, late at night, to the threshing room floor where the men, including Boaz, would be celebrating the harvest with eating and drinking (Ruth 3:7). We need to understand what is happening here. The only women who would be present at these celebrations would be prostitutes (Hosea 9:1). Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet. However “feet” can be a euphemism for genitals. When David wants to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba he tells her husband, Uriah, to go home and “wash his feet.” (II Sam. 11:8).  David is telling him to go home and have sex with his wife to cover up David’s sin. Further Ruth would certainly have known of the Moabites’ belief (like that of many of the pagan nations) that women having open sex was a way of guaranteeing a successful harvest since the fertility of crops, animals and humans were all connected in this pagan view. This is presumably the situation we have in Numbers chapter 25.

The most reasonable scenario is that Ruth has in effect seduced Boaz while he slept. At midnight he turns over and encounters Ruth. In the words of the writer, there “was a woman!”  Ruth clearly is asking him to marry her, to “spread his cloak over her.”  Boaz actually commends her for choosing him to be her husband.  However, there is another relative closer to her husband who would have the first right to marry her. Boaz counsels Ruth to remain but adds that she must leave before it is light since “it must not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”  As it turns out the other relative happily gives up his claim so Ruth and Boaz are married. They give birth to the future grandfather of David. The story has a happy ending.

Yet once again we see God working through what, by human standards, would be called scandalous. Ruth, like Tamar, is not condemned for her actions. God does not save in spite of the scandal. He saves through the scandal. The greatest scandal of all is the cross of Jesus Christ.

Loving and faithful God and Savior I thank and praise you that you continue to work in surprising, even shocking, ways. May I never take the shame of Jesus Christ for granted. I praise you that you have chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (I Cor. 1:28). I thank you that you have chosen me. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Gen. 38:1-26

Tamar is one of four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy in the opening of Matthew’s gospel. Like Rahab the prostitute who is one of the four, she is a Canaanite woman. She is therefore not a physical descent of Abraham. She became the wife of Judah’s eldest son Er. Er however “was wicked in the sight of the Lord” and God took his life. He died childless. According to the laws and customs of the time (which will later become part of the Law of Moses) in such a case the surviving brother was to take his widowed sister-in-law as his wife. However, in this case any children born will legally belong to the former husband. This would certainly include inheritance and property rights. However, the brother, Onan, abuses Tamar and refuses to have children with her. God again is angered and judges Onan by putting him to death.

There is a third son, Shelah, who by rights should be Tamar’s next husband. However, Judah delays the marriage because apparently he thinks Tamar is bad luck. This is a classic case of blaming the woman-victim. Tamar has done nothing wrong. Her two husbands were judged because of their own evil behavior. Tamar at this point is a widow in her father-in-law’s house awaiting her rights to her next husband. As time goes by it becomes apparent that Tamar will never receive her rightful inheritance. To safeguard her interests, she decides on a bold plan.

She hears that her father-in-law is going to have his sheep sheared. Knowing the route he will take she takes off her widow’s garments, puts on a veil and sits provocatively alone on the side of the road. Judah thinks she is a prostitute. He negotiates for her favors and gives her several personal belongings as a pledge of his payment when he returns. Upon his return Tamar is nowhere to be found.  Judah has no idea that he has had sex with his daughter-in-law.

Later Tamar is found to be pregnant by her encounter with Judah. Judah, acting out of a self-righteous double standard orders her to be burned as a whore.  It is at this point that Tamar produces the personal effects that Judah had given her thinking she was a prostitute. Judah acknowledges that she was more in the right than he was. Duh!

What are we to make of this story especially as it is part of Jesus’ genealogy? We are being overwhelmed by accounts of powerful men in the media, the arts and in government who have taken advantage of women. Looking at this story this is nothing new. On an initial level Tamar’s behavior is scandalous (though certainly no less so than that of Judah). Tamar however is fighting for her own survival. Her only strength is her sexuality. This unfortunately has been true throughout the ages. A woman’s sexuality is both her strength and her vulnerability. Tamar is caught in a male dominated society that is neither equal nor fair. She takes the only option she has. Nothing in this story condemns her.

Jesus would be soundly criticized for his open dealings with prostitutes and “fallen women.” Yet in so doing he is validating his own earthly line. Jesus’ mercy arises from his own identity as Joseph’s adopted son. Is this mercy scandalous? Absolutely. But then so is the gospel (I Cor. 1:23).

Merciful and gracious God I thank you that you identify with those who have been marginalized and abused.  May I see the truth of your mercy which is always greater than any law.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Heb. 6:13-20

God does not only make a promise to Abraham and to his descendants. He swears a solemn oath. We have this picture in Gen. 15:7-21. God is making a covenant. This was a common practice in the ancient world. A covenant was a binding agreement between two parties. In this strange scene (for us) animals are cut and the two parties would pass between the animals. Symbolically they would be saying, may I be cut in pieces like these animals if I do not abide by the terms of this treaty. Many years later God would make a covenant with the people of Israel. The terms of that covenant was the Law of Moses. This covenant was also ratified in blood (Ex. 24:1-8).

Yet the covenant with Abraham was different. God does not make a covenant with Abraham. In reality as the author of Hebrews puts it, God made a covenant with himself. God could not swear by anything higher than himself so he swore by himself. Abraham is the beneficiary of this covenant but he is not the party with whom the promise is made. In terms of classic Reformed Theology, God the Father makes a covenant with God the Son which is witnessed and ratified by God the Holy Spirit. The promise of the land is the first manifestation of this eternal covenant.

What is most important in all this is that God has pledged to be our savior. The salvation God provides is entirely free. It is free because God has taken the burden of the covenant that establishes it on himself. The covenant of the Law that God made later with Israel is broken not once but many times. But as Paul says a covenant could not be made that would annul the promise of God established in the covenant for Abraham (not with Abraham) made four hundred and thirty years earlier (Gal. 3:17-18).  The writer of Hebrews could not be clearer. The assurance of our salvation could not be greater. It is impossible for God to lie just as it is impossible for God’s promises to fail. There is a warning that we, once having received this promise, could turn away from it (Heb. 2:1-4; 10:19-39).  That, however, is no failure on the part of God’s promise which Paul will insist remains in the face of any and all obstacles (Rom. chapters 8-11).

God’s secured promise gives us a hope that can never be taken away, “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  We need always to live in that hope.

Merciful and gracious God may I focus on the hope I have in you knowing that you have sworn by yourself that I have the certainty of eternal, abundant life in Jesus Christ.  I cannot praise you enough for this, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Gen. 15:1-6

We saw yesterday how Abraham was the recipient of God’s great promise that in him all the nations of the world would be blessed.  As we saw, nothing in the text says that Abraham had somehow merited this promise.  As Paul insists later on in the New Testament, God’s promises come to us as gifts.  They are not any kind of a payment for what we have done (Rom. 5:15-17).

God comes to Abraham a second time.  God tells him, “Do not fear.” Fear was a major motivation for serving the false gods Abraham had grown up with.  Offending any of them (and there were many of these gods) led to serious consequences, the most extreme of which was sacrificing children to appease the gods. The true God does not need to be appeased.  He makes promises based on himself.  He calls Abraham to believe in the promise that he alone will make.

God shows Abraham the stars of the sky and asks him to count them. Of course this is impossible.  Abraham believes God and, in a critical line which Paul quotes several times, this belief is “reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:6-9).  God comes to Abraham with promises not threats.  This is the mark of the true God.  God promises Abraham a great reward.  Reward for what?  Again there is nothing here about earning salvation.  It is all about receiving a gift.  Abraham’s faith will be tested when God asks of him the same sacrifice which the false gods demanded, the offer of one’s first born.  Yet even in that God provides what he requires.  In all of this Abraham learns dependence on God.  We need to learn the same lesson.

Eternal and loving God may I have the same belief and trust in your promises that Abraham had.  Take away my fear of the false gods of this world that can so often threaten me, the false gods of insecurity, despair and hopelessness.  Grant me assurance in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

“The Promise of David”

Genesis 12:1-3

This is one of the most foundational stories in all of the Bible. God calls Abraham out of his home and to a land that God will show him. Abraham will be the fountain head of God’s relationship with the whole human race. Abraham, growing up in Ur of the Chaldeans, would have learned stories of how the sole destiny of human beings was to be slaves to the gods.  These gods could be both angry and capricious.  It was necessary to appease them by performing acts of service and sacrifice.  Yet the true God is not like that as Abraham discovers.  In the words of scripture, the God who made heaven and earth does not begin with demands.

To the contrary, God begins with promises. God tells Abraham that he will make of him a great nation, that God will make his name great and in Abraham he will favor all the families of the earth. These are all promises that God makes. But why should he bless Abraham?  Is Abraham anyone special?  Does he wield a mighty sword with which he could kill “the dragon in the sea”(Isaiah 27:1)?  Has he won great battles. Has he defeated giants or monsters?  Is he any kind of a hero (Gen. 6:4)?  Is he a prophet who can interpret the future?

The answer of course is that Abraham is none of these. Why then does God make such extravagant promises to him?  What has he done to merit God’s rich goodness?  Paul will argue that he has done nothing to deserve any of this. Paul asks, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Rom. 4:2). But as we will see Abraham is justified solely by faith. There is nothing in him that deserves God’s favor.

This is nothing less than the story of the Bible. God makes promises not demands. God will present us with commandments but they are the result of God’s promise, not the cause of it and as Paul also argues, the commandments, which come later, cannot nullify the promise (Gal. 3:17).  God comes to us with promises.  He does not respond to us.  Rather we are called to respond to him.  He has taken the critical first step.

Tomorrow we will see what response God wants from Abraham.

Faithful and gracious Lord and God, I thank you that you have come to me, as you did to Abraham, with gracious promises not requirements.  As the recipient of your greatest promise in Jesus Christ may I live out m\y gratitude in following you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, November 26, 2017 Christ the King

Sunday, November 26, 2017 Christ the King

“This Power”

Eph.1:15-23

This text is one of the most breath taking passages in scripture. Paul is setting before the Ephesians the full reality of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. He begins by talking about their faith. His use of faith here goes beyond the simple point of belief and trust. Paul prays that the Ephesians (and ourselves) may truly know Jesus and the hope to which he has called us. Paul wants us to know Jesus in a personal, indeed even intimate, way. This needs to be a focus in our lives. Any human relationship needs to grow and intensify. This is true of friends and even more so of families. Without cultivating a relationship people even in the most intimate relationships can begin to drift apart. Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened. To focus on Jesus goes beyond prayer and reading scripture (as important as those are). We need to focus our thoughts and minds on Christ. We should seek to follow him in every aspect of our lives.

This is important because Jesus has supreme authority over everything in the world. All authority, rule, power and name is under him. Paul is not making abstract claims here. As we saw earlier this week, the political and social aspects of these claims about Christ are extremely important. We need to remember that Christ doesn’t lead us out of this world but rather sends us into it to testify to his truth.

The phrases that Paul uses here would have been unmistakably clear to people living in the first century Roman Empire. The language of power, rule and authority would inevitably conjure up the image of the Roman Caesar. Yet even the most powerful forces in the world are included in the “all things” that are under Christ. That being the case, why doesn’t Jesus simply eliminate all those who practice oppression, greed, cruelty and injustice. Yet if he did wouldn’t we also be included? Jesus referred to his own disciples as a “faithless and perverse generation” (Matt. 17:17).

God has a larger purpose. He is patient “not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). Yet this patience in ways nullifies Jesus’ supreme authority even now. This assurance gave the early Christians hope as they faced persecution at the hands of the Romans. We should be no less inspired.

Most faithful and gracious God I praise you that Jesus has supreme authority over all the rulers and authorities of the world.  Knowing this may I be bold and courageous in his service.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

“This Power”

Matt. 25:31-46

We know that no one is saved by works (Rom. 3:28).  Yet this passage reminds us how important works are.  James makes a statement with which the apostle Paul would certainly have agreed which is that we show our faith by our works (James 2:18).  This text is a cosmic picture of the Last Judgment (we need to recognize that scripture has multiple pictures of the final judgment).  This is a judgment on the nations in which there is clearly also personal accountability.  The picture here is of the King making a final separation of “sheep and goats.”

The issue here is basic human need. The King describes himself as being identified with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. What Jesus says bluntly is that how one cares for “the least of these who are members of my family” is how they care for Jesus himself.  It is the needy of the world that is being described here.  Jesus identifies with them here the same as the way he ate with tax collectors and “sinners,” (read prostitutes, Matt. 21:31), the same way the shepherd searches for the one lost lamb or the father who welcomes the prodigal son home.

This passage alone makes it clear that the care of the poor and the needy is not a result of the gospel, it is the gospel. Because the frame of reference is “the nations,” we need to look at political policies that deal with the needy, the poor, the sick and the stranger in the land. We cannot ignore national policies that address these issues. Each of us, as part of our nation, will have to give an account of ourselves. When we care for those in need we are caring for Jesus. The sober alternative is that if we don’t care for the needy we are dismissing Jesus. Where do we see Jesus today?  We see him in the faces of the poor, the sick, the prisoner and the stranger. This is Jesus’ physical presence in our world.

Eternal and gracious God and Savior may I open my heart to those in need all around me.  May I experience your presence in doing so.  I ask for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday, November 24, 2017

“This Power”

Ezekiel 34:17-24

We have in this text the recurring theme of God as the shepherd.  This passage makes explicit the role of David as the shepherd-king.  God says that he will set over Israel one shepherd which will be his servant David.  Yet David here is clearly symbolic of David’s greater son, Jesus Christ who is both Son of David and the “good shepherd” of John chapter 10.  Another image is that of the king who judges between the sheep and the goats (as we will see tomorrow).

It is important to recognize the paradoxes contained in this image of the “shepherd-king.”  The first is the fact that shepherds were among the most insignificant people in the ancient world.  When Samuel asks Jesse, David father, if he has any other sons, Jesse responds in a demeaning way by saying “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep” (I Sam. 16:11). In other words, David is really insignificant. Yet this was also the view taken of Jesus himself.  Nothing about him suggested he was of any importance, that was, until he began to preach, teach and perform miracles.  Even at that point people questioned how someone so apparently unimportant could speak so well (Luke 4:22).

Paul reminds us that God most often does not act through the so-called important or influential figures in history.  He reminds us that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world. . . .” (I Cor. 1:27-28). God often acts through people and events that we might not consider important or significant.  Yet it was to unimportant shepherds that the message of Jesus’ birth comes (Luke 2:8-20).

We need to be open and alert to see God acting in surprising ways.  God’s values are not the values of this world.  Jesus was not what anyone was expecting the Messiah, much less the Savior of the world, to be.  As the Lord says to Samuel, God does not look at the outward appearance.  He looks on the heart (I Sam. 16:7).  We need to heed that instruction.

Faithful and loving God I thank you Jesus is both my shepherd and my Lord.  May I be prepared to see you in ways the world considers insignificant and unimportant.  Teach me to never look down on anyone.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday, November 23, 2017

“This Power”

Colossians 3:12-15

Paul in this text is calling us as Christians to behave in a certain way. The marks of the Christian that he mentions here are compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. These are not the attributes of the world which are more accurately described as being self-centered, proud and arrogant. To this list Paul adds the important characteristic of forgiving one another. We are to forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven us. This is needless to say a very exalted standard. There is nothing Jesus will not forgive (with the exception of the rare ultimate apostasy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32). Therefore, there should be nothing that we will not forgive.

Paul is not done. To this list he now adds love and peace. This creates a perfect harmony of life whatever our situation may be. Then he adds the last admonition. Simply put, “And be thankful.” This in fact is the source of everything else. To whom are we thankful? The answer of course is the Lord. We should be thankful for every moment of life, for each new dawn, for the seasons, for all and any benefits from “our daily bread” to the specific desires of our hearts (Ps. 37:4). A spirit of thankfulness, of gratitude to God, gives us the freedom to demonstrate kindness, humility, meekness, patience and finally, love and peace.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. We need to be reminded of all the things for which we give thanks. This day challenges us to be thankful not only one day but all days.

Gracious and loving God, on this day may I be truly thankful.  May this thankfulness draw me more fully into your peace and love. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

“This Power”

Ezekiel 34:11-16

One of the most comforting images that we have of Jesus is the picture in John chapter 10 of him being the “good shepherd. “Yet that picture goes back to this Old Testament passage where God describes himself as the perfect shepherd.  The background of this image is that Judah has gone into captivity following the exile of the northern kingdom, Israel.  Both have been repeatedly idolatrous and their exile is God’s just punishment for their faithlessness.  However, exile is not the end of the story just as judgment is never God’s final word.

God promises here to seek out the lost sheep of Israel. God’s promise to them is multi-faceted.  He will rescue them and gather them from out of the countries to which they have been exiled.  He will bring them back to their own land.  God will “feed them with good pasture.”  This is to say that God will provide for their basic needs.  God will seek the lost, the injured and the weak.  This is an apt image since the people of Israel were described as sheep that had gone astray, that had indeed turned to their own way (Isa. 53:6).

Why does God seek out his faithless people? Why does God seek us out?  Why does Jesus describe himself as the “good shepherd” who is willing to go and search for the one lost sheep?  The answer can only be that this is the very nature of God.  Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Matt. 9:13). We cannot come to repentance by ourselves any more than we can come to God in our sinful condition.  We have to be found for the simple reason that we are essentially lost.  The sheep of Israel deserved nothing.  Neither do we.  Yet God continues to look for us, to draw us back to himself whenever we have wandered.  He does not seek the fat and the strong who delude themselves into thinking they are not also lost.  God will bring his people to “good pasture.”  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives us the promise of eternal life. He comes to us. We need to follow where he leads.

Loving and faithful God I thank you that you are the Good Shepherd.  I praise you for finding me when I was lost.  Restore me to yourself and may I joyfully follow you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“This Power”

Ps. 2:1-11

This psalm is nothing less than a divinely inspired political statement. Throughout the centuries there have been people and groups who have gloried in their power.  We have here the image of the kings and rulers of the earth, so intoxicated with their great power that they feel free to ignore God and his Son.  In reality the destructive power that they marshal cannot endure finally.  It can and does do great damage in the short run.  However, there will be a final reckoning.

God laughs at the nations and holds them in derision.  The final power in the world belongs to God’s anointed Son.  He will break the rulers of earth “with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  The only hope for the powers of this world is to serve the Lord with fear and trembling.  Their sole refuge is God himself.  The nations’ boast of power is only a harbinger of God’s inevitable judgment.  As long as they pursue their own goals of force and domination they will perish.

Is this really true?  Don’t we see the world and all of its rulers flourishing? They ignore God and his Word and follow their own self-centered paths.  We need however to see these “powers and rulers” in the ultimate sense that they are defeated on the cross. This requires a vision of faith.  These powers at present are free to carry out their own desires.  However, we need to take a longer view of them.  Psalm 73 laments the fact that the wicked prosper. They have no pain or trouble. The writer envies them. However, at the conclusion of the psalm the author goes into the sanctuary and sees their final end.  They will be destroyed in a moment (Ps. 73:19).

Throughout history boastful nations have arisen. Yet where is Babylon, Assyria or the Roman Empire now?  Hitler prophesied that his Third Reich would last a thousand years. It endured for twelve years. It caused huge amounts of destruction and death. In the end however nothing was left of it but a smoldering ruin.

God has the last word.  He always does.

Faithful and merciful god and Savior may I see past the events of the present to discern your ultimate and eternal purpose.  Build up my confidence in your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

“This Power”

Rev. 19:11-15

This week we are looking at the theme of Christ the King. There is no more dramatic picture of Christ’s kingship than this passage in the Book of Revelation. If we are truly to grasp the message of the New Testament and apply that message to ourselves and our time, we need to understand the original context of scripture as best we can. Fortunately, we are given multiple references and symbols to help us grasp the message. The gospel is not an abstraction. Still less is it a timeless statement.  It is eternal but it comes out of a specific time, place and history.

The ancient church designated the Sunday focusing on Christ the King the week before the beginning of Advent.  We need always to remember that the Jesus who is born in Bethlehem is born a king (Matt. 2:1-2).   The New Testament gives us the message of salvation. However, that salvation is not divorced from human history and world affairs.  Jesus sent his disciples out into the world.  He never told them to withdraw from it.

In its historical context the New Testament is a manual of resistance to an imperial and authoritarian power, in this case the power of Rome.  It is no accident that the Christmas story in Luke begins with Caesar Augustus who sends out the decree that all the world (the empire) should be taxed (Luke 2:1).  Caesar Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar proclaimed himself emperor of Rome following his victory in Rome’s civil war.  He had multiple names, “son of God,” “savior of the world,” and “king.”  He was the one who brought peace on earth.  He was given the ancient title of the Greek god, Zeus, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  After his decisive victories Caesar Augustus marched into Rome on a white horse.  There the conquered tribes of the nations of the world brought him tribute.

Jesus mocks the claims of Augustus.  He is the true Son of God, the Savior of the world, the one who brings genuine peace.  And he is the one who is the real King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   To acknowledge this Jesus to be the true King is to question all the world’s standards and priorities.  All that belongs to Caesar is the image on a coin (Matt. 22:17-21).  True power belongs to Jesus Christ alone.  He is also the Messiah of Israel whose coming in glory was foretold throughout Israel’s history. Finally, his name is The Word of God.

Loving and merciful God may I never forget that Jesus is Lord of all and that there is no area of life in which he is not King.  Give me the courage and grace to serve him always.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017

“Ultimate Thanks”

I Cor. 15:50-58

This week we are celebrating Thanksgiving.   Paul climaxes his discussion of the resurrection with giving thanks to God for the victory we have in Jesus Christ over all the forces of death in whatever form they are revealed.  We still see the painful reality of death all around us.  Yet Paul encourages us to see beyond that reality to the greater truth of the resurrection.  Paul quotes from the Book of Hosea (one of the most important Old Testament prophets for the message of the New Testament).  In Hosea God is in effect summoning death and the grave to bring judgment on faithless Israel (Hosea 13:14).  Even in Hosea God himself will overturn this judgment and restore Israel after the time of judgment (Hosea 11:8-9; 14:4-7).

Paul however quotes this passage in a mocking voice.  He begins with a quote from Isaiah, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (Isa. 25:7).  He goes on to ask death and the grave where is their power, their sting?  They have been lost in the victory achieved by Christ on the cross (Heb. 2:14-15).  Death is then not to be feared.  It is instead the pathway to new life.  Paul affirms the fact that when the kingdom of God is revealed we will be changed.  The perishable (this earthly life) will inherit the imperishable (the new life in Christ).  This is a gift for which we should be profoundly grateful.

How do we show our gratitude?  How can we demonstrate our thankfulness?  The best way we can do this is by how we live our lives, awaiting the final revelation of the kingdom of God.   All that we have comes from God.  We need to express our thanks by the giving of our time, talent and money.  The church is God’s initial sign of the coming kingdom.  We need to support the mission of the church because it is Christ’s mission.   This is true in spite of its many imperfections.  We can never do enough but we can always do more.  Let us show God our thankfulness for his goodness throughout 2017.

Eternal and loving God give me the grace to be truly thankful and to show that thankfullness in my support of the ministry of your Son, Jesus Christ who has given me the victory over death and Satan.  I praise you for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, November 18, 2018

Saturday, November 18, 2018

“Ultimate Thanks”

I Cor. 15:42-49

Paul here is speaking in terms of sharp contrasts. The resurrection is not just a continuation of this present earthly life.  The contrasts that Paul mentions are perishable/imperishable, dishonor/glory, weakness/power. physical/spiritual.  To those we can add the picture from the Book of Revelation that the world of suffering, tears and death will be replaced by God’s kingdom revealed in the coming of the Holy City (Rev. 21:1-4). Paul says elsewhere that no one has seen or imagined what God has prepared for those who love him (Rom. 2:9; Isa. 64:4).  Rather than doubting the resurrection Paul places the greatest emphasis on it.  The resurrection is what will redeem the sorrows and struggles of this life.  In Romans Paul speaks of the fact that the whole creation is groaning in anticipation of the revelation of the children of God.  In fact, he affirms that the suffering of the present cannot be compared to the glory that is to come (Rom. 8:18-25).  Such statements challenge the limits of our imagination.

The ultimate contrast Paul presents is between Adam and Christ.  It is important to note that this is a universal statement as he mentioned in v. 22.  The contrast is not between Moses and Christ or David and Christ.  This is not only about Israel.  It deals with the whole human race where Paul insists that what was lost in Adam through sin has been more than overcome in Christ.  What Christ has achieved is so “much more” than Adam and Eve’s failure (Rom. 5:9, 15, 17, 20).

What could be more encouraging than this future hope?  We have borne the image of Adam, “the man of dust.”  We will bear the image of Christ, the “man of heaven.”  How will this all be achieved?  We don’t know the details but the promise is clearly stated.  Jesus’ resurrection body was spiritual but, as we have noted, it was physical enough that he could eat food.

In the uncertainty and distress of this life we have this assurance.  Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.  His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection.  In the concluding section which follows Paul, elaborates on this in greater detail.

Merciful and loving God I praise and thank you for the promise of the resurrection.  Remind me of that promise when I face doubt and distress.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

“Ultimate Thanks”

I Cor. 15:35-41

In this passage Paul is celebrating God’s diversity.  He begins in a somewhat caustic note in response to a question from “someone” about how the dead are raised.  What kind of body do they have?  What will their appearance be like?  Will they be young or old?  Obviously there are many questions we can raise here.  Paul however regards all these as foolish.  His implication is clear.  We really have no idea what a resurrection body looks like beyond the example of Jesus himself.  It must be remembered that Mary Magdalene and the travelers on the road to Emmaus did not recognize him at first.

Paul then goes on to talk about nothing less than the diversity of creation.  Everything has a different “body,” or physical appearance.  He notes that there is one flesh for human beings, another for birds or fish or the planets.  Yet each one of these has its glory.  Glory reveals something.  Invariably Paul is referring to the glory of the creator (Ps. 19:1).

Two points are critical here. Everything in the world evidences the glory of God.  Yet this glory differs from one example to the other.  Humans, birds, animals and fish all have a different form of glory.  Each one in different ways points to the glory of God.  Diversity, not uniformity, is essential to God’s creation.  This carries over to Paul’s analogy of Christians representing different parts of the human body.  The nose is not the foot.  The ear is not the eye.  Each has its own unique character and function.  Each in its own way is essential.

Too often we look for what is familiar to us.  We resist difference and diversity.  Yet to do so limits our perception of the glory of God.  If we only associate, for that matter if we only worship, with people who look and think like us we are doing ourselves a definite disservice.   The psalmist says, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Ps. 150:6).  This extends even to the fish in the sea and the stars in the sky.  We need to celebrate God’s great diversity.

Loving and gracious God, may I be open to the diversity of your creation.  Keep me from the trap of wanting only to associate with people who are similar to me.  May I be able to see your glory in all its many forms.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

“Ultimate Thanks”

I Cor. 15:29-34

Paul begins this passage with one of the most puzzling references in scripture.  He talks about people receiving baptism on behalf of the dead.  It’s hard to know what he’s referring to.  Whatever practice he is mentioning has long since dropped out of church practice (with the exception of certain fringe groups).  What is important here is Paul’s confident assurance in the reality of the resurrection.  The only reason for baptizing the dead is the knowledge that the dead are not lost.  Even now they are partaking of the resurrection through Christ’s defeating the power of death, “the last enemy” (v. 26).

Paul takes the sober view that if there is no resurrection of the dead that life finally has no hope.  He talks about the risks he has undertaken in proclaiming the gospel.  The purpose of that gospel is not only assurance in the present (which it certainly gives) but finally hope for the future.  Apart from the resurrection in Paul’s view life has no meaning or purpose.  He quotes from Isaiah 22:13, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”  Paul warns against associating with people who deny the resurrection since this is finally to deny Christ himself (to support this he quotes from the Greek poet Menander in vs. 33, once again demonstrating his knowledge of the Gentile world).

An example of Paul’s point can be found in the familiar story of the sinking of the Titanic.  There were those who, aware of the fact that they could not escape death, sat in the bar and proceeded to drink as much as they could.  On the other hand, one of the musicians in the dance band began playing the hymn, “Nearer my God to Thee.”  The rest of the musicians joined in.  Paul sees no hope for this life if there is no resurrection.  Without the resurrection there is no promise of eternal life.  Thankfully we are assured of this great truth, that Christ is risen and because he lives, we also have eternal life (John 14:19).

Gracious and faithful God I praise you that we are not like those who have no hope.  Fortify my faith in you and give me the grace to live the abundant life you have promised me.  I pray for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.