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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

“The Authority of the Apostles”

Mark 4:26-32

Jesus here tells another parable about planting a seed.  Someone could scatter seed on the ground.  The sower could become anxious or overly focused on the growth of the grain.  The planter could go out every day to check on the growth.  Obviously from one day to the next little if anything could be observed.  However eventually the seed would sprout.  The sower doesn’t clearly know how this happens.  Eventually the grain is ready and the sower now goes out to reap the grain.

  Several points are notable here.  First, Jesus makes it clear that this parable is a description of the kingdom of God.  We might further say it is a picture of the church.   The seed that is planted is the proclamation of the gospel.  The Word of God needs to be preached and taught.  Yet the effects of that proclamation may not be seen right away.  In fact at times it may appear that there is no growth at all.

Pastors, teachers, church officers, youth workers and others may become discouraged not seeing the effect of their ministry.  This parable and the one that follows it about the small mustard seed which eventually grows into the greatest of all shrubs makes it clear that the full impact of communicating God’s Word is not seen right away. The disciples respond to Jesus’ call immediately but it takes them years to fully understand that call.

There are times when it may appear that there is little or no response to the gospel.  We need always to remind ourselves that the response of faith does not come from us.  It comes only from the Holy Spirit.  Our task is to plant the seed faithfully.  As Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the increase” (I Cor.3:6).

We have the confidence that God’s Word will never return empty (Isa. 55:11).

Merciful and gracious God may I remain constant in your service even when I don’t see results right away.  Keep me from discouragement and grant that I may see your larger purpose.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday, February 18, 2019

“The Authority of the Apostles”

Mark 4:21-25

Jesus’ next parable is about a lamp.  You don’t hide a lamp or put it under a table.  The purpose of a lamp is of course to give light.  Who is the lamp?  The only answer is Jesus himself.  He is the light of the world (John 8:12).

We see this more clearly when we see what are the effects of the lamp. This lamp will disclose everything.  Jesus says that anything secret will be brought to light.  This refers finally to the Last Judgment where we read of appearing before the judgment seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:10).

Being confident in Christ, knowing that we have been saved by his grace (Phil. 1:6; Eph. 2:8-9), this is nothing we have to fear.  In reality this truth should encourage us.  No deception or lie can prevail.  Everything will come to light.  All secrets will be made known.  In a word justice will be served (always remembering that mercy triumphs over justice, James 2:13).

Yet in this same verse James also reminds us that “judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy.  This is what Jesus means when he says that the measure we give will be the measure we get (William Shakespeare wrote a play on this text, Measure for Measure).  It’s also the basis for Jesus’ famous statement, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

What Jesus is saying is that truth cannot be avoided (John 8:32).  To the one who follows the truth more will be given.  However the one who chooses to be deceitful will lose what little they had.

Nothing can be hidden from the Lord.  We are not to fear.  One day all secrets will be known.  We need to live open lives before the Lord.

Gracious and loving God free me from secrets.  May I live openly and confidently in your light.   I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday, February 17, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 4:1-20

Jesus has recently commissioned the disciples as apostles (Mark 3:13-14).  He now instructs them, along with all those who are following him, regarding the challenges and opportunities they will be facing.  He does this by telling a series of parables.

The first is of a sower who goes out and sows his seed indiscriminatingly.  Some fall on a path and birds come and eat it up.  Others fall on rocky ground and, having no deep roots, are dried out by the sun.  Still others fall among thorns and though the seed starts to grow it is choked out by the thorns.  But there are others who land on fertile ground and bring forth a harvest “yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Jesus then makes clear the meaning of this parable.  The seed is the Word of God.  The sower is the one proclaiming it.  Ultimately that is Jesus himself.  There are many traps awaiting those who would be a disciple of Jesus.  The first is Satan himself.  He can outright deny the message as he did with Adam and Eve (“You will not die,” Gen. 3:4).  If that doesn’t work Satan tells us to delay in following Jesus (the first disciples follow Jesus immediately. )  When we face a decision to follow the will of God in a particular instance Satan wants us to delay.  He tells us to take our time, to think more about what we are challenged to do.  The more we delay the more we play into Satan’s hands.

Other reactions include giving up in the face of trouble or persecution.  Even more tragic are those who endure for a while but then finally turn away.  An example is Paul’s companion, Demas.  He is clearly part of Paul’s missions team (Col. 4:14, Philemon 1:23-24).  Yet toward the end of Paul’s life he deserts because, as Paul says, he is in love with this present world (II Tim. 4:9-10).

All of us have the capacity to be a Demas.  We can also, like Peter, become the voice of Satan (Matt.16:23).  Yet Peter never finally deserts.  He is restored and becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  The increase of his ministry is surely a hundredfold. 

We need to follow the example of Peter, not Demas.

Faithful and loving God may my heart be receptive soil to receive your Word and to follow your Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday, February 16, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 3:31-35

This text is a continuation of what we saw in 3:21.  Jesus at this point sounds cold and unresponsive.  He is told that his mother, brothers and sisters are outside and calling for him.  Jesus responds by pointing to those who are listening to him.  They, he says, are truly his family.  We have no account of his going out from his home (he is no longer living with them apparently) to see them.

Jesus’ family however are, at this point, an impediment to his ministry.  They apparently think he is out of his mind.  They want to restrain him.  In another text we learn that Jesus’ brothers initially didn’t believe in him (John 7:5).

Jesus is not dismissing the importance of the family.  He would certainly want to honor his father and mother.  However this is not the first time Jesus has clashed with the wishes of his family.  When he was only twelve years old he stayed behind in Jerusalem which prompted his mother to say, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” (Luke 2:48).

The point here is that Jesus’ primary allegiance is not to his family.  He is focusing on what is our central commitment.  This is to do the will of God, to follow his word.  Jesus makes exacting demands for discipleship.  He says that if anyone loves father or mother, brother and sister more than him is not worthy of him.

Jesus never says that we should not love our family members.  Quite the opposite.  Jesus however insists that he must be our number one priority.  Only he is our Lord and Savior.

Gracious and loving God may I make your Son the top priority in my life.  Also keep me from neglecting my family.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 3:19b-30

We quickly learn how uncertain crowds can be.  The reactions against Jesus (because he is healing and casting out demons?) spreads even to his family.  They come out to restrain him because people are saying that he is out of his mind.  The situation becomes worse.

The religious leaders from Jerusalem come down to Galilee.  Their view incredibly is that Jesus is demon possessed and that it is by the ruler of demons that he is casting out demons. What?

This exchange shows how blind spiritual blindness really is.  The demons fall down at Jesus’ feet and proclaim him Son of God (Mark 3:11).  How then can Jesus be casting out demons by demonic rather than God-given power?  Jesus makes this point with the scribes.  Jesus asks the rhetorical question, can a kingdom divided against itself stand?  How can Satan fight against himself?

The tragedy in all this is that Jesus is giving clear evidence of his power as the Son of God and even his own family don’t believe him at this point.  Jesus then uses another illustration.  The only way one can take over a strong man’s house is by tying up the strong man first.  That is precisely what Jesus is doing with the followers of Satan, the demons.  Jesus casts them out despite their pleading and confessing him as the Son of God (Mark 1:24).  Yet there are people from Jesus’ own family to the religious leaders who don’t see it.

Jesus ends with a hopeful warning.  Every sin can be forgiven.  However the one exception is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Essentially this is to ascribe God’s power to the devil.  To do this is to be in complete spiritual blindness.  The unpardonable sin essentially is to claim that God is the author of evil, in other words that God and the Devil are the same.  The Nazis who killed Jews in the name of God are an example.

We need to take Jesus’ words to heart.

Loving and gracious God, keep me from spiritual blindness.  May I truly see you as you are.  Protect me from the deceptions of the devil. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday, February 14, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 3:7-12

Huge crowds are coming to Christ.  How could that not be the case?  All who had diseases pressed in upon him.  The crowd was so large that Jesus had to get into a boat to keep from being crushed by the crowd. People even from Jerusalem were coming to see him.  Who would not want to be healed?  In addition the demons fell down before him.

All of this suggests a major cultural revolution.  Jesus was not only enormously popular.  He was successful.  There is inevitably something exciting about seeing great crowds of people turn out for a special event or person.  Yet Jesus is not overly impressed with crowds.

In John chapter 6 great crowds are following him after the miracle feeding of the five loaves and two fish.  Jesus however says to them that they are coming because they were fed with very tangible physical food.  Jesus then talks to them about searching for the “food that endures for eternal life” (v.27).

When the crowd asks for a sign Jesus points to himself.  He says to the crowd, “I am the bread of life” (v. 35).  The crowds are not prepared for the transition from earthly benefits to spiritual ones.  They start questioning Jesus.  Many of them are from Galilee and they ask, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”

The dialogue between Jesus and the crowds becomes more contentious.  As Jesus testifies more and more about himself the crowds respond by saying, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (v. 60).  We read then that “many of his disciples” turned away and left him (v. 66).  Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Peter answers, Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (vv. 67-68).

The crowds come.  They see the miracles and the healing.  They press in upon Jesus.  But what are they really looking for?  Jesus does satisfy our human needs.  Those needs however are not primary.  The goal is to believe in him (v. 29).  All the miracles in the world make no difference if the result is not faith in Christ.

Gracious and faithful God may I focus on your greatest miracle, that you sent your Son to be my Lord and Savior.  Give me the grace to work for the bread that endures unto eternal life.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 3:1-6

This is the second part of a basic teaching on both the Sabbath and, by implication, the law in general.  Yesterday we looked at the scene of Jesus and the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath which the Pharisees saw as violating the law.  Jesus makes two central points here which we saw initially yesterday.  The first is Jesus’ statement that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not humanity for the Sabbath.  The second which we have explicitly in this passage is Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?”

The setting here is in the synagogue.  A man was there who had a withered hand.  This certainly was not a life or death issue.  In fact the text makes clear that the Pharisees were essentially watching in order to trap Jesus.  In a parallel text (Luke 13:10-17) Jesus heals a crippled woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  The leader of the synagogue objects to the healing presumably on the basis that this is not an emergency situation.  The woman has been crippled for many years. Actually this is the result of a demonic spirit.  The leader asks, could she just be cured the next day which would not impact the Sabbath observance.  Jesus can hardly believe what he is hearing.  Shouldn’t the woman be set free without any delay?

In this passage the legalistic and indeed judgmental attitude of the Pharisees makes Jesus angry.  Jesus essentially gets angry at demons and bad religion (often the two go together, John 8:44).  The Pharisees who initially had the purpose of defending the law against the incursions of the unbelieving Greeks and Romans now at this point were distorting it.

The law never was an end in itself.  It pointed toward God the Father who gave it and to Christ the Son who fulfilled it.  The Holy Spirit led in its understanding.  The law then was a means to the end of serving humanity, to doing good, to saving life and not killing.  The apostle Paul talks about how the letter of the law leads to death (II Cor. 3:1-18).

As Paul reminds us the law in itself is “holy, just and good” (Rom. 7:12).  Yet we are incapable of keeping the law.  In Christ we experience true freedom (Gal. 5:1).  The Pharisees who are committed to bad religion with its legalism want to destroy Jesus.

Jesus is the ultimate enemy of bad religion.

Gracious and loving God keep me from the delusions of false religion.  May I follow your Word in the goal of serving people and promoting that which heals and is helpful.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 2:23-28

The prohibitions in the Old Testament law about the observance of the Sabbath could not be more clear.  No work of any kind was to be done (Lev. 23:3).  To show how extreme this was, the Law contains an account of a man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath.  For violating the Sabbath the man was put to death! (Numbers 15:32-36).

Jesus and the disciples were walking through a grain field.  The disciples then were plucking heads of grain and eating them.  The Pharisees immediately objected.  If gathering sticks on the Sabbath was worthy of death would that not be the same with plucking grain?

Jesus answers with a quotation from the life of David. David and his men ate holy bread given them by the priest (I Kings 21:1-6).  However this was an extreme case where they had nothing to eat.  That was hardly the situation with the disciples.

This text makes abundantly clear that Jesus did not follow the Law literally.  To quote Paul the law was a tutor or disciplinarian to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:23-25).  The Law no longer is our authority.  However Jesus makes it clear as he does throughout his ministry that the Law, even when it is invoked, is not to be taken in a literal sense (John 8:2-11; II Cor. 3).  Jesus puts the matter bluntly by asking “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill? (Mark 3:4).

Jesus summarizes all this by declaring that he is lord of the Sabbath.  The letter of the law is never the complete answer.  The Pharisees were secure in their legalism but that brought them into opposition with Jesus (Mark 3:6).  We are free to follow Christ.  That means we must judge every situation by the standard of whether it finally does good or harm.  We have to practice discernment.  We need to evaluate decisions in the context of whether they demonstrate love and mercy more than judgment and condemnation.

Jesus is not only lord of the Sabbath.  He is lord of all.

Most gracious and loving God may I seek to do that which is finally good and what presents the love of Christ.  Give me a spirit of discernment.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019

“Jesus Reveals Our Hearts”

Mark 2:18-22

The Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist were engaging in a long standing practice of fasting.  Yet Jesus and his disciples were not fasting.  People were asking why this was. 

Jesus’ answer is threefold.  First he uses the example of sowing a new patch on an old coat.  Second he uses the example of a marriage.  He says that it would not be appropriate for the guests to fast when the bridegroom (and the bride) are present.  Jesus’ third example is that of putting new wine into old wine skins which he says would burst the old skins.

What is Jesus getting at here?  The basic idea is that Jesus brings something that is radically new.  Jesus cannot be understood in the categories of past practices.  In Jesus’ presence the past is no longer applicable.  It may be appropriate in Jesus’ absence but not in his presence.

An example of this is Mark’s simple comment that Jesus declares all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19).  For a Jew of the first century this would be an astonishing statement (Peter is an example, Acts 10).  Much of the Old Testament Law made a distinction between clean and unclean foods.  There were clearly foods that were unclean (Leviticus 11).  To simply set this aside seemed like a huge step.

Yet in Jesus things are new (II Cor. 5:17).  Jesus doesn’t simply dismiss the law.  However he fulfills it (Matt. 5:17).  He interprets the law in a far broader way than the Pharisees and the other religious leaders did.  The purpose of the practice of fasting in the Old Testament was to bring people closer to God.  However the closest way to approach God now is through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus’ presence the older practices are no longer necessary. 

Jesus is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4).

Loving and merciful God and Savior may I have the grace to see that in Christ all things have become new.  May I live in the newness of his love and grace.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Mark 2:13-17

Matthew was a despised person in Israel.  He did have friends.  However they were as despised as he was.  Matthew had a profitable business.  He was a tax collector for the Roman oppressors.  On one side Matthew was a Jew.  He probably was able to read and write since that would have been a requirement for his occupation.  He would have known the Old Testament scriptures the same as any Jew living in that time.  On the other hand in the service of Rome he was essentially part of the Roman occupation.  Yet he was not a Roman and certainly he was no more respected by the Romans than he was by the Jews.

It was not only that tax collectors were working for the Romans.  They were free to establish the level of taxation in their district as long as Rome got its due.  Jewish tax collectors were then seen as profiting off the oppression of their fellow Jews.  Is it any wonder they were despised?

When Matthew was in his tax booth he was carrying out his essential duties.  People no doubt had to come to him to pay their taxes.  Yet no one would greet him personally.  It is unlikely that he got a “good morning,” much less a “how are you doing?”  Matthew certainly would have been profiting from his work.  Nonetheless sitting in his tax booth all day had to be lonely work.

Then one day this all changed.  Jesus comes passing by Matthew’s tax booth.  Jesus says “Follow me.”  Jesus doesn’t rebuke or criticize Matthew.  Quite the contrary Jesus calls him to be a disciple.  This had to be more than a little shocking to the crowds, not to mention the other disciples.

Jesus however does not come to condemn (John 3:17).  Jesus’ brief words convey the fact that Jesus has accepted Matthew.  Jesus’ call will transform him.  Matthew is not looking for Jesus.  Jesus is looking for him.

Jesus comes to Matthew’s house to eat with him and his “sinful” friends. The Pharisees, the religious leaders, criticize this.  Jesus is calling sinners not only to repentance but to his service as disciples.  Repentance is possible because Jesus has already shown that he has accepted Matthew and his friends.

Jesus still calls the unrighteous.  He calls us.

Loving and faithful God may I listen for your call.  Knowing that you love me may I freely follow you.  Give me your grace I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, February 9, 2019

Saturday, February 9, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Romans 16:1-2

Paul is ending his letter to the Romans with a series of personal references. The first of  these refers to a woman leader in the church named Phoebe.  She is described as either a deacon or a minister.  The same word in Greek refers to both.  In all probability she was the pastor of the church in Cenchreae.  That would be the most common reading of that verse.

Phoebe is not alone among women leaders in the early church.  Paul mentions several here.  Among them are Prisca (16:3), Mary (v. 6), Julia (v. 7), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (v. 12) and the sister of Nereus (v. 15).  This is not to ignore Eudoia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).  Paul mentions that Phoebe has been a benefactor of his (v. 2).  It is clear in these passages that women played a leadership role in the early church as they did in ancient Israel (Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Hulda).

This of course raises the obvious question of why for so many years women were denied leadership roles in the church.  To this day there are churches that do not allow women full participation in leadership.  Given the record of scripture, how can that be?

Two answers that are often given are the negative references Paul makes to women in I Cor. 14:34-36 and I Timothy 2:8-15.  While these texts sound rather harsh we need to understand their context.  The irony is that women had greater freedom in the ancient church than they did in any other part of Roman or Jewish society.  This new found freedom could be abused.  It could lead to disruption. Women could respond to their new found freedom with pride. This is apparently Paul’s concern.  In the final analysis these two texts should not annul the many other scriptures testifying to women’s leadership.

The real reason for women’s marginalization in the church can be traced to the early church’s dependence on Greek philosophy.  The church made this move as an attempt to be more credible to Greek and Roman society.  The early church leader Justin Martyr writing in the second century A.D. called the Greek philosopher Socrates a Christian (based on texts such as John 1:9).  Other writers spoke approvingly of Plato.

Yet in the Greek tradition women were clearly seen as inferior to men.  Some Greeks such as the playwright Aristophanes challenged this idea but it was nonetheless a widespread view reinforced in the laws and practices of the time.

Fortunately scripture points us in a different direction.  We need to praise God for Phoebe and all who have followed her example.

Eternal and loving God I praise you that you have called women and men into your service.  May I resist any discrimination that would make light of a figure like Phoebe.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday, February 8, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Romans 15:30-33

Paul here is picking up the theme we saw from the prior section.  Paul here in summary is asking for four things.  The first is that he will be rescued from unbelievers in Judea.  The second is that his ministry to Jerusalem would be acceptable to the Christians. The third is that he would come to them in joy.  The fourth is that he would be refreshed by their company.

As we have seen in Acts 21:17-36 none of this happens.  The believers in Jerusalem are suspicious of him.  The Jews in the temple riot because of him.  This all leads to a series of upheavals with Paul appealing to Caesar.  Paul, as we have seen, will come to Rome as a prisoner.  This is not the hoped for rescue or joy that Paul had spoken about.

Yesterday we noted that our best intentions don’t always work out the way we hope.  We may be perceiving what we believe to be God’s will when in fact that may not be the case.  However the crucial point here is not Paul’s expectations.  Nor is it the fact that events did not work out as Paul had hoped.

The crucial point here is the theme of “earnest prayer.”  Paul is asking the church in Rome to join with him in this prayer.  The hopeful truth here is that God responds to prayer.  He may not always respond right away.  The Lord may not give us directly the request for which we are asking.  However, no matter what, God hears and he responds.

We are never abandoned.  We are never left alone.  This is the promise of “earnest prayer.”

Eternal and loving God may I always seek you in earnest prayer.  Give me the grace to accept whatever answer you give.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, February 7, 2019

Thursday, February 7, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Romans 15:22-29

Paul now speaks in very personal terms.  He is hoping to visit the Romans.  He is pushing on to Spain.  In other words, in his understanding, he has basically covered all of Europe.  It is important to remember that even at this point in the Roman Empire Greek culture and influence was a dominant force.  Paul has spent a good part of his missionary activity in Greece, including Athens itself.  He wrote his epistles in Greek.  He quoted Greek poets (Acts 17:28).  However he is now ready to go to Spain.

Paul adds however that before he can come to Rome or Spain he needs to go to Jerusalem first.  The church in Jerusalem has suffered materially and Paul has taken up an offering for their relief (II Cor. 9).  Paul then goes on to say once he has brought this offering to the church in Jerusalem he will continue his journey to them and to Spain.  Paul sounds very definite here.

If only he knew . . . .

We know from the Book of Acts that Paul is attacked and then imprisoned when he comes to Jerusalem.  Not thinking he will receive a fair hearing in Jerusalem, Paul appeals to Caesar (Acts  21:27-36; 25:1-10).  The problem is that Caesar is now Nero. Paul will come to Rome as a prisoner.  As far as we know he is never set free.  He is beheaded. He never goes to Spain.  Paul’s plans are not realized.

This can so easily happen to us.   We may be following a given course.  We may believe that this is God’s will.  In reality it may not be.  We need to be open to reversals, sudden changes and unanticipated events.

In this case Paul’s expectations were not accurate.  God had other plans and he reveals them to Paul (Acts 23:11).  We need to be open to unexpected events in our lives.  God may well do a “new thing” we could not anticipate (Isa. 42:9).

Faithful And loving God may I be ready for unexpected changes in my life.  I know that nothing surprises you.  Build up my trust in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Romans 15:14-21

As far as we know Paul had not yet actually visited Rome when he wrote this letter.  His information about the church there may have come from some of his co-workers who are mentioned later on (Tertius, Timothy among others). This is Paul’s fullest statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He compliments the Roman Christians.  He says they are “full of goodness” and “filled with all knowledge.”   Yet clearly they are lacking at some points.  Paul then admits that he has written to them “rather boldly” on some points.  This characterizes the whole epistle.  It goes into depths that theologians and scholars have pondered for centuries.

Paul indicates here that the driving force of his whole ministry has been the grace that God has given him.  He is happy to boast of his work for God.  What is that work?  It is not simply the content of the gospel.  For Paul it includes the application of that gospel.  What Paul is saying is that through Jesus Christ he has brought the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true God, to the “gentiles.”  The gentiles here are also the “nations,” indeed the whole world.  This has been accomplished by signs, wonders and, most of all, by the Spirit of God.

Paul is prepared to press on to regions where the gospel has not been heard.  It is certainly the case that not everyone he has gone to has embraced his message.  However that embrace is not dependent on those who have heard.  It is based finally on the action of God who shows mercy to all (Rom. 11:32).

Paul then is brimming with confidence.  He quotes from Isa. 52:15.  He knows that much of the Gentile or pagan world still is in spiritual darkness.  For Paul it is enough that the gospel has been planted in those regions.  God will give the growth (I Cor. 3:6).

There are still many people in our world who have not heard the gospel.  All we are asked to do is plant the seed.  That may only be an occasional comment or helpful action.  God will turn that to his glory.

Eternal and loving God give me confidence in the power of your Word.  May I be prepared to share the gospel with someone who has never heard it.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen,

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Romans 15:7-13

Paul here refers to the major issue in the early church.  This had to do with the role of the Gentiles.  There was the view that Gentile Christians had to keep the same Law of Moses as did Jews.  The defining symbol of this was circumcision.  According to some of the Pharisees, who had apparently come to Christ, all believers had to keep the Law in order to receive salvation (Acts 15:1).

For Paul the issue here was twofold.  On an initial level the question dealt with both the racial and cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles.  There were a whole hosts of requirements in the Law of Moses that Gentiles did not observe, many of them having to do with food.  Peter shows this conviction in the vision he has which is preparing him to minister to a Gentile and his family (Acts 10).  Peter concludes after this event that God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34).  The conclusion of the Jerusalem Council was that no one, Jew or Gentile, was required to keep the Law in order to be saved (Acts 15:6-11).

This issue has continued throughout history.  As Paul himself admits the Law is holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12).  Yet in the final analysis the Law only convicts us of our sin.  None of us is capable of keeping it.  This is clearly an issue with the Sermon on the Mount.  It presents a standard none of us can live up to.

Yet at the same time we cannot dismiss the commandments.  Martin Luther who closely followed Paul’s total emphasis on grace apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9) still granted that there was benefit in the Ten Commandments.  The commandments do present us with God’s basic will.  They encourage us and challenge us.

However legalism can easily emerge in any discussion of the Law.  The Law cannot be used to divide people from each other (those who practice certain parts of it vs. those who don’t; I Cor. 8-10).  Nor can it be used to condemn.  Jesus in his death on the cross took upon himself all of the consequences of our failure to keep the Law.  In Christ there is a genuine freedom which was never possible under the Law (John 8:31-32; Gal. 5:1).

Paul quotes from the Old Testament itself to show that even the Law pointed beyond itself to a message of hope and mercy for all Gentiles (whom the Jews considered unclean).  Paul cites Ps. 18:49; Deut. 32:43; Ps. 117:1 and Isa. 11:10.

Paul ends with a benediction of “joy and peace in believing.”  In Christ sin has been removed completely once for all.  This was not possible under the Law.

Faithful and gracious God keep me centered on the promises I have received in Christ.  May I trust those promises in all that I say and do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, February 4, 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

“When Jesus Sees You”

Romans 15:1-6

Paul here gives very concrete advice regarding the nature of community/.  He begins by saying that “we who are strong” should put up with the failings of the weak.  This statement is extremely important coming from Paul who is one of the strongest personalities in the New Testament. In fact he is often on the point of boasting and God has to send him a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being too “elated” (I Cor. 15:10; II Cor. 12:1-7).

It is therefore notable that Paul gives the very direct instruction that “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”  We are not to please ourselves.  It is interesting that Paul feels he must say this to a Christian church to whom he has already said that they are to love each other (Rom. 13:8).

If we are honest we have to acknowledge how hard this is for all of us.  Our whole basic orientation is to want to please ourselves.  All of our media seeks to make this appeal to us.  The reasons basically given for buying this or believing that is that it will give us pleasure.  However the pleasures gained by seeking to please ourselves are short lived.

Paul reminds us that Jesus did not come to please himself.  Indeed his coming brought him suffering as Paul also reminds us in quoting Ps. 69:9.  Yet for Jesus suffering was not something that was good but was necessary.  This suffering brought him to the cross (Phil. 2:5-11).  The results of the cross, seen in the Resurrection, were what brought the ultimate pleasure of reconciliation of God with the world (II Cor. 5:18-19).

This brings us back to Paul’s central focus in this passage.  We are not to please ourselves.  Our focus needs to be on our neighbors.  By putting the emphasis on the needs of our neighbors we create unity with each other.  The net result then is that we can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “with one voice.”

Merciful and loving God keep me from the temptation to want only to please myself.  May I seek the welfare of my neighbor,   I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sunday, February 3, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus has just called four fishermen to be his disciples, telling them that they will “fish for people.” They go with him to Capernaum where Jesus now lives (Matt. 3:13).  Obviously within a week’s time at the latest it would be the Sabbath.  They follow Jesus into the synagogue where Jesus teaches with authority.  Up to this point nothing terribly remarkable has happened for them with the exception of their leaving their fishing practice abruptly.  However that will suddenly change.

A demon possessed man comes forward and addresses Jesus in a loud voice.  The demon speaking through the man cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”  Jesus proceeds to silence the demon and then casts him out of the man “crying with a loud voice.”

We read that everyone present is amazed.  That would certainly have to include Peter, Andrew, James and John.  They could well be asking themselves, is that what Jesus meant when he talked about fishing for people?

They learn here very quickly that to follow Jesus is to confront the power of evil in the world.  To many people evil remains a mystery.  There is the persistant question, “How could a loving and all powerful God allow evil to exist, including allowing people to be demon possessed?  What is even more troubling is the fact that all this takes place in the synagogue, a place of worship, on the Sabbath.

What is striking here is that throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry the demons understand who he is more than the disciples and the crowds (Mark 5:7).    The demons also realize that Jesus has come to destroy them. Indeed the final fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry will be the complete destruction of the powers of evil (Rev. 20).

So why do demons and evil exist?  This demon is rational, self-aware and capable of making decisions.  The same applies to us as human beings as well.  Jesus loves us freely.  He desires that we love him in return.  However he will not force or compel us.  All created beings, human or celestial, have the capacity to respond to Jesus’ love.  However there are those (including ourselves, Romans 3:10-12) who reject that love.  In spite of that fact Jesus draws us to himself (John 6:44).  We can embrace him or reject him. 

To reject Jesus’ love is to reject God.  That is a path which finally leads to nothing less than the demonic.  We have a choice.  We can choose to follow Jesus or we can turn away (Matt. 25:31-46).  Everything in all creation hangs on that choice.

Merciful and loving God may I not turn away from your love.  Give me the discernment to recognize evil and reject it in your name.  I pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday, February 1, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Ephesians 5:6-20

Paul is telling the Ephesians here that once they were “darkness.”   This disturbing point applies to all of humanity in sin, what Paul describes as being “in Adam” (Rom. 5:12-21).  Paul’s comments here refer to what John also says, the darkness which symbolizes evil is not necessarily frightening.  Indeed it can appear to be very attractive.  John talks about those who love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).  This fits in with Paul describing Satan as masquerading as “an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14).

Paul also acknowledges that the darkness can appear attractive.  It can seem appealing. Therefore Christians are not to be foolish, they are not to be deceived.  Paul acknowledges the degradation of the Roman world (which was echoed also by Roman writers of the period).  Paul says bluntly that it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly (so he doesn’t give any details).

Yet Paul is not rejecting the Greek and Roman world altogether.  This is a mistake that some Christians make.  To the contrary he admonishes his readers to live as children of the light.  They are to look to “all that is good and right and true.”  This is a broad mandate.  There is much in the classical world that is “good and right and true.”  As Paul says elsewhere we are to focus on whatever is true, honorable, just, pleasing and commendable, indeed anything that is worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).

Paul here is emphasizing the ideal (also stated by Aristotle) of a balanced life.  We are not to be drunk with wine but rather, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit (there’s nothing wrong with wine itself, I Tim. 5:23).  The real motive for the Christian life is thankfulness.  If we continue to give thanks to God for his many benefits we will not succumb to the evil days around us.

Some of us may not be able to make melody in the proper musical sense.  However as Paul says we can make melody in our hearts.  We need to do that every day.  Praise the Lord!

Faithful and loving God may I live in a way that is faithful to you.  Give me the wisdom to pursue all that is “good and right and true.”  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, January 31, 2019

Thursday, January 31, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Psalm 91:9-16

This psalm ends on a high note.  It is not only the fact that the forces of evil can never destroy those who trust in God.  The promise here is one of victory over the powers of evil.  The believer is given the assurance of trampling under foot “the young lion and the serpent.”  This then becomes a summons to confront evil in all its forms.  Here we have gone from protection from the destructive forces now to confronting them in the name of the Lord.

This text however has a very interesting history.  When Satan is tempting Jesus in the wilderness he quotes from this text.  There is a reference to the fact that God will give his angels the task of protecting the faithful.  They will bear the believer up “so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  Satan quotes this verse as an excuse to get Jesus to simply jump off the top of the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 4:5-7).

This of course is an absurd idea, one that Jesus quickly refutes.  Why then does Satan even make the attempt?  Part of this has to be the fact that Ps. 91 signals nothing less than an attack on Satan and all his influences.  If Satan can somehow trivialize the promises of the psalm it becomes less threatening to him.

There is also the disquieting picture in the temptation scene of Satan quoting the Bible apparently from memory.  There is no reason to doubt that Satan and his followers know the scriptures well.  The demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).  This text warns us that merely quoting the Bible is no sign of true faith.  As Paul says, Satan disguises himself as “an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14).  

Satan’s attempt to misuse this passage should not affect our confidence in its promises.  The psalm ends with a series of assurances.  God protects those who know his name.  He answers their call.  He is with them in trouble.  He will rescue them.

Here then is our response to the problem of evil.  We do not know its ultimate origin.  However we have the assurance that God protects us.  Jesus Christ has won the victory (Col. 2:13-15).  There is no reason to fear evil’s power or presence.

We need to heed the ancient command, “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 15:1).

Gracious and loving God give me your confidence in the encounter with evil.  Protect me from the deceits of the devil. May I live in the victory that Jesus has won on the cross.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Psalm 91:1-8

This is one of the most encouraging passages in scripture.  The psalmist expresses extreme confidence in the face of the threats of chaos, evil and destruction.  The writer is telling us that those who trust in the Lord will be delivered from “the snare of the fowler,” “the deadly pestilence.”  We have no reason to fear “the terror of the night,” “the arrow that flies by day,” “the pestilence that stalks in darkness” or “the destruction that wastes at noonday” (vampires?). 

These are all incredible promises.  However we have to note what the psalmist says as well as what is not said.  We are not being told that we will never suffer (which would be manifestly untrue).  There is no promise here that we will avoid death.  We may think of the first martyr, Stephen.  He was falsely accused and condemned to a cruel death.  He saw Jesus sitting at the right of God the Father.  Yet he was not rescued from his fate.  He did not go up to heaven in a chariot of fire as Elijah did (Acts 7:54-60).  What then would this psalm have meant to him?

The promise that the psalm is stating here is that, in the face of whatever opposition, human or spiritual, God is always with us.  More than that we can never be destroyed by these forces.  This is the deliverance that is being described.

Some people think that because they are Christians they will be spared tragedy and suffering.  We are never given that assurance in this life.  To the contrary, Jesus calls us to take up the cross and follow him (Matt. 10:38).  What is being said here is that none of these negative forces can overpower us.  They can neither dominate nor control us.  However they can affect us.  Satan prevented Paul from visiting the Thessalonians (I Thess. 2:18).  Yet Satan could not undermine nor destroy Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians or to anyone else for that matter.

The forces of evil are real but we are not to fear them (v. 5).  In what appeared to be an example of total defeat, Jesus on the cross made captivity itself a captive.  He disarmed the rulers and the powers (Eph. 4:8-10; Col. 2:15).  They exist but they have no ultimate power (Karl Barth calls them “the lordless powers”). 

No matter what happens in the present we have the assurance that we belong to God and nothing can ever separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38-39).

Merciful and gracious God take away all my fears.  May I hold on to your promises remembering that Christ has won the victory over death and the devil now and forever (Heb. 2:14-15),

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Genesis 3:8-15

This section focuses on the results of Adam and Eve listening to the voice of the serpent.  They do not die physically after eating the forbidden fruit.  Their death at this point is spiritual.  This will in turn include physical death.

The point has been made by some feminist theologians that eating the fruit is only part of their disobedience.  The other part is their attempt to hide from God.  Their attempt to hide only demonstrates their guilt.  Their nakedness consists in their vulnerability.  They have nothing to hide behind.  So they fruitlessly make fig leaves for themselves.

God clearly knows what they have done.  God’s questions then are rhetorical.  God could have turned his back on them.  God could have left them in what was now a broken paradise presided over by the serpent.

What is so crucial here is that God calls to them.  They have cut themselves off from God by their disobedience.  God however does not abandon them.  In response to God’s questions Adam and Eve play the classic blame game.  Adam blames Eve and indirectly even blames God (“the woman whom you gave to be with me”).  Eve in turn blames the serpent.

God will hold all of them accountable.  However it is notable that God first places judgment on the serpent.  God puts a curse on it which is symbolized by its crawling on the ground (Had it walked upright before?).  The second part of God’s curse is intended for Satan directly.

There will be enmity between the serpent and the descendants of the woman.  Therefore the woman who led in the succumbing to the temptation of the serpent will be the vehicle for the salvation of her, Adam and the entire human race. The serpent will strike at the heel of the descendant of the woman.  A snake bite in the heel is supposedly not deadly.  However the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head.  That clearly is fatal.

The imagery here points both to Christ’s death on the cross (the serpent’s bite) and his victory there followed by the resurrection (crushing the serpent’s head).  We find this imagery in the New Testament (Heb. 2:14-15; I John 3:8).

Right here in the very beginning of the Bible we have the assurance of Christ’s power over sin, death and Satan.  Evil certainly is deadly.  No matter what, Christ has the final victory (I Cor. 15:54-57). We are to live in that victory.

Most merciful and loving God I thank you for Christ’s victory over sin, death, hell and Satan.  May this truth sustain me in the conflicts and trials of this life.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, January 28, 2019

Monday, January 28, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Genesis 3:1-7

Sin is present in the world even at this early stage.  Adam and Eve are in a garden of paradise in God’s good creation.  Yet Satan in an early form is also present.  We are never given an account in scripture of the origin of evil.  It remains a mystery.  Some commentators cite the Jewish myth of an exalted angel named Lucifer who sought to be equal to God.  This is referenced in the 14th chapter of Isaiah.  However the proud figure there is the king of Babylon, a human being not an angel.  Jesus simply says that Satan has been a murderer and a liar “from the beginning” (John 8:44).

Nonetheless the serpent’s presence in the otherwise sinless garden warns us of how ancient evil really is (Rev. 20:2).  The serpent’s temptations follow what will become a familiar path.  The serpent begins by questioning God, “Did God say . . . ?“ Eve repeats God’s command.  The text also states that Adam was there “with her” (v. 6).  Why is Adam silent?  Why does he not speak?

The serpent then offers a double temptation.  He begins by denying God’s Word (“You will not die”).  He then offers a false promise of his own (“you will be like God”).  Can’t Eve and Adam see through this?  Why should they listen to this creature, this serpent, rather than the holy and immortal God?

This question has troubled people for centuries.  Why is the serpent so effective in his enticing words?  The only answer can be human pride and vanity.  We invariably want to be in charge of our own lives no matter what God says.  We may not overtly claim to be God.  Yet often we can act as if we were God when we focus solely on our own wants, wishes and desires.  To make matters worse, the forbidden fruit is “a delight to the eyes.”

So many things can look good to us.  Satan offers the famished Jesus bread.  Jesus’ answer has to be ours also in temptation: “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

Lord give me the grace to see temptations for what they are.  May I depend on your word alone.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Weekly Devotionals

Weekly Devotionals

Because of our Snow closure last Sunday, we will spend some time using the website d365.org as our devotional guide. We will be back to regular devotions on Wednesday, January 30th

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, January 20, 2019

Sunday, January 20, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Mark 1:14-20

Jesus here is calling his first disciples.  He actually calls two pairs of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John respectively.  In the picture we have in John’s Gospel there had already been some prior contact between these fishermen and Jesus (John 1:35-51).

Yet Jesus’ call here is sudden and abrupt. James and John are in the act of mending their nets. They leave and follow Jesus “immediately.”  To us this has to seem too sudden.  Doesn’t there need to be time me to discuss what this will mean?  Can the disciples simply give up their livelihood and go off with Jesus having no real idea what this will mean?

Jesus’ call does not allow for delay (Luke 9:62).  How can this be?  When Elijah calls Elisha in the Old Testament, Elisha at least has the opportunity to say good-by to his family and even cooks a farewell meal for his community (I Kings 19:19-21). With Jesus’ call there is no time for such farewells.

We need to realize that Jesus’ call is sudden and emphatic.  There are many ways that we can encounter that call.  It may come through other people or situations in life like that of the Good Samaritan who unexpectedly encounters a beaten man on the road (Luke 10:25-37).  In such cases delay evades the responsibility to act.

On December 1, 1955 young pastor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing what pastors have always done at the beginning of December.  This was already in the Advent season that year.  Any pastor would have to be thinking of all that would lead up to Christmas.  In addition to the worship services there would be Christmas pageants, music programs and church social events.  All of this would have to have been on Dr. King’s mind that Thursday. 

Then a phone call came in.  Rosa Parks, a seamstress and the secretary of the local chapter of the NAACP had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.  Suddenly all of King’s thoughts of preparing for the Christmas season were put on hold.  This was Jesus’ way of calling Dr. King into a ministry he had neither planned for nor anticipated.

Jesus doesn’t call us when it’s convenient.  He calls us on his timetable alone.  We need to be ready.

Loving and gracious God, may I be ready to answer Jesus’ call whenever it comes.  Give me the discernment of your Spirit.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday, January 19, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Acts 23:1-11

Paul here is at the top of his game.  The Romans, concerned about Paul’s status as a Roman citizen, here send him to the Jewish council.  Paul begins to speak saying that he has lived his life with a clear conscience before God.  No sooner has he said this than the high priest orders those next to Paul to hit him on the mouth.  Paul lashes out at the high priest with an insult, calling him a “white washed wall” (Matt. 23:27-28).  Those present criticize Paul for insulting the high priest.

Paul seems to apologize but that isn’t totally clear.  He says he did not know that this was the high priest.  But how could that be?  The high priest would be presiding over a meeting of the council.  He would scarcely be a background figure.  If that were the case Paul’s remarks could well be satirical.

Paul moves on to another strategy.  He realizes that there are two distinct groups at this council meeting.  These are the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  The biggest difference between the two was the fact that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and the Sadducees did not.  Paul knows that if he focused on Jesus at this point the two groups would be united in opposing him.  However by focusing on his belief (as a Pharisee) in the resurrection he cleverly pits both groups against each other.

The situation quickly spirals out of control.  The Roman tribune, fearing for Paul’s safety, has him taken away.  That night Jesus appears to Paul and tells him that he will be a witness in Rome.

What is impressive in this text is the way we see Paul’s humanity and his quick thinking wit.  Paul certainly was dependent on Christ in everything.  Yet Paul is also very human.  He lashes out at the high priest in anger.  He also has the skill to set his opponents against each other.

We are not perfect people.  Yet God can and does use us as we are.  We need to cultivate our very human gifts so they can be used for the glory of God.

Merciful and loving God and Savior, may I seek to serve you in everything I do.  May I use all my gifts in your service.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Acts 22:22-29

Paul himself was a living example of the often stated phrase, to be in the world but not of it.  Paul was probably among the most spiritual figures of all time.  However he was very conscious of his status in the world.  This encounter shows him using his dual identity to the fullest extent.

Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem on the charge that he is undermining the faith of Israel with his preaching about Jesus Christ (Acts 22:27-35).  Paul tries to speak to the angry crowds that are accusing him. He tells of his strict upbringing under Jewish law and how he persecuted the church (Acts 22:1-5).  However he goes on further to tell of his encounter with the risen Christ and his conversion.  This unfortunately drives the crowd into a frenzy and they begin calling for Paul’s blood (Jesus had actually warned him about this, Acts. 22:17-24).

The Roman authorities are on the point of whipping Paul just to find out why people are so incensed by him.  This is hardly a just process.  Beating a prisoner just to find out if he has done something wrong is hardly a defensible strategy in spite of the often positive view people have had of Roman law.

Paul clearly has a strategy in mind.  He waits until the soldiers are about to start beating him.  He then asks the centurion a loaded question, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?”  This sends shock waves through his captors.  Roman citizens had special privileges which were not shared by those in the empire generally.  The centurion had paid a large amount of money to gain the status of a Roman citizen.  However Paul had that right from birth.  The net effect was that the Roman captors were now afraid of him.

Paul speaks of having his citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  This was his primary goal.  Yet Paul was also very much aware of both his social and legal standing in the empire.  He draws on that here as a way of protecting himself.

Like Paul our citizenship is in two worlds.  Yet our spiritual commitments should not blot out our legal standing as citizens of this world.  We need to be fully active in both worlds.

Gracious and faithful God and Savior may I have the wisdom to address the issues of this world the same time that I am finally a citizen of your kingdom.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday, January 17, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Acts 22:17-21

The theme of no delay is picked up again in this section.  Paul is back in Jerusalem.  God tells him to leave the city. The reason given is that people will not accept Paul’s testimony.  Paul initially seems to challenge that assessment.  He responds that everyone in Jerusalem knows how he had persecuted the Christians.  This fact would show that he was seeking to be an obedient Jew in spite of how wrong he was.

That however is not God’s purpose for Paul.  He is being sent “far away” to the Gentiles.  God has a plan for Paul that at first doesn’t seem to make sense.  Paul has been trained as an Orthodox Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees as he would say later (Phil. 3:4-6).

God is sending Paul to the Gentiles, essentially the pagans.  However there will be a training period.  Paul will not come back to Jerusalem for fourteen years (Gal. 2:1).  During that time he was back in his home of Tarsus (Gal. 1:21).  What was he doing for fourteen years?  For one of those years Paul was working with Barnabas in Antioch (the first place that believers in Christ became known as “Christians,” Acts 11:25-26).  What about the rest of the time?

As Paul noted he was trained in a strict Jewish tradition (v. 3).  Yet God called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  How was this to happen?  We can imagine that Paul returned to his birthplace in Tarsus because it was a Gentile center.  It was then probably here where Paul studied Greek and Roman culture so that he could communicate effectively with his Gentile audiences.  We see the extent of Paul’s study when in Athens, the cultural capital of the period, he easily quotes from Greek poets to make his points (Acts 17:26-28).

This is a fundamental point in being able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.  Paul essentially earns the right to be heard because he has listened to the world of those he is coming to serve.

Before we speak we need to listen.

Most loving God may I be prepared to respond to whatever call you give me.  Give me the grace to hear and understand those with whom I may be sharing your gospel.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Acts 22:12-16

Ananias is a faithful servant of the Lord.  However he finds himself confronted with an instruction from God that seems at best irrational and, at worst, dangerous (Acts 9:10-19).  God is sending Ananias to meet with the fearful Saul of Tarsus.  Ananias is, to put it bluntly, not convinced this is a good idea.

What I personally find reassuring in Acts 9 is that Ananias proceeds to inform God about Saul.  Really?  Won’t Ananias be one of the first to say that God knows everything?  Since when do any of us need to inform God of what is happening?  Yet we unconsciously often follow the example of Ananias.  We tell God things that God  already knows. All our faith is summed up in the cry of the anxious father who calls out, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Ananias’ faith overcomes his doubts.  He goes to Saul and proceeds to inform him of God’s call.  Saul will be a witness to all the world of what he has seen and heard.  When one thinks of Saul/Paul’s writings in the New Testament alone we can see how this is true.

Ananias is ready to move on to the next stage.  Saul needs to be baptized.  He will be re-christened Paul.  Ananias asks Paul, “Why do you delay?”  Is Paul at this point showing some hesitancy?  That would not be surprising.

Yet delay can be costly when God is calling us.  There are examples in the gospels of those who say they want to follow Jesus but just not yet.  Jesus responds by saying “no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).  Delay can be deadly.

This coming week we will be celebrating the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Confronted with his call to end racism and injustice, some Christian pastors told him that he was going too fast.  He needed to wait.  King rightly responded that when God calls there is no time for delay.

Merciful and gracious God build me up in my faith so that I may respond to your call whenever it comes.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Acts 22:6-11

Saul of Tarsus is the textbook example of a religious fanatic.  He was zealous for God but as he himself acknowledges, his zeal was not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2).  Saul’s career justifies the concerns of many people who believe that religion may not only be wrong but in truth can be dangerous.  There are countless examples in history of religious wars, torturing heretics and, burning witches, reformers and even scientists.

We need to refer to a basic distinction between religion and revelation.  Put simply, religion is a human effort to know God.  Revelation is God speaking to human beings.  We see this clearly in this passage.  Saul is intensely religious.  Yet for all his zeal he has lost sight of God’s steadfast love or mercy (Ex. 34:6).  God is just and he will not overlook sin but his final word is always one of mercy (Rom. 11:32).

God reveals himself to Moses on the road to Damascus.  This is Saul’s call not only to faith in Christ but to his becoming a witness for the faith he originally persecuted.  The fact that Saul is blinded by the light reveals the darkness in which he was living.  Saul who then becomes Paul is an example of both the positive and negative sides of religion.

His fanatical zeal was brutal and destructive.  This was as we noted tragically done in the name of religion.  Yet when God forcibly revealed himself to Paul he became an example of God’s grace, his love and mercy.

God clearly is calling Paul in this passage.  Could Paul resist?  Could he have said no to God’s call?  We have to grant that even as a theoretical question we must consider this seriously.  A similar question is, could Jesus ever have sinned?  The answer has to be yes.  The tests of faith are real.  No one can come to Christ without being drawn by the Father (John 6:44).  However the tragedy is that those who are called and respond can also fall away.  Judas is a prime example. 

God will call us, as he called Paul, in surprising ways.  We have to be prepared to respond.

Most faithful and gracious God may I be prepared to answer your call whenever it comes.  Give me also a spirit of discernment.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

“Can’t We Wait?”

Acts 22:1-5

What is the greatest miracle recorded in the New Testament?  We might say the Resurrection of Jesus.  Yet this miracle is dependent on the earlier miracle of Christmas which we have just celebrated.  How can one be born of a virgin?  More than that, how can God become fully human?

Others we might mention are the raising of Lazarus, Jesus calming the storm at sea or the feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fish.  Yet one great miracle we overlook is the one that follows this description of Saul of Tarsus.  To take Paul’s own account he was once a great enemy of Christ and his church.

Consider the examples Paul himself gives.  He persecuted the “Way” as he calls it.  This means he bound both men and women “to the point of death.”  He put them in prison which also implies that they would await a death sentence.  Not satisfied with persecuting the Christians of Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus went after Christians in other districts.  In this case he received authorization to hunt out believers in Damascus.  In a brief span of time he established himself as one of the greatest enemies the church has ever faced.

It is no spoiler alert to note that Saul becomes dramatically converted and becomes the apostle Paul.  We should never cease to be amazed that God chose Saul/Paul to become the greatest apostle of the New Testament era.   Speaking of the New Testament, Paul is credited with having written thirteen of the twenty seven books.  How can this be?

The Example of Paul needs always to remind us that God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8).  Truly God can do anything.  The example of Paul shows us that we can never despair of anyone no matter how resistant they may be to the message of the gospel.  God can and does break through the hardest of hearts.

It is difficult to find a clearer example of this than the Saul of Tarsus who becomes Paul the apostle.

Merciful and faithful God I thank you for an example like the apostle Paul.  May I never forget the fact that no one is beyond your mercy and your power to transform.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday, January 13, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart

Mark 1:9-13

Jesus’ baptism is both an historic and symbolic event.  Jesus comes to be baptized by John.  John’s baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.  However Jesus is sinless so why is he being baptized?  The answer is that Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry is taking the sin of the world on himself. 

Going into the Jordan River can be seen as symbolic of going into the realm of death.  Ancient people both feared and depended on bodies of water. People depended on lakes and seas for transportation.  In the case of several disciples who were fishermen the sea was a source of livelihood.  However the sea was also threatening.  This went beyond the obvious threat of storms.

The Bible along with ancient myths saw creation preceded by an early stage of chaotic water.  In Gen. 1 we read that the Spirit (or wind) of God hovered over the “deep” (Gen. 1:2).  Out of this God spoke and there was light (Gen. 1:3).

 What we are witnessing in Jesus’ baptism is a symbolic re-creation.  The Jordan symbolizes the threatening waters.  For Israel to cross the Jordan to enter the promise land God performed the miracle of suspending the flow of the river in order that they could cross in safety (Joshua 3).

Jesus coming out of the Jordan prefigures the resurrection.  The Spirit comes upon him in the form of a dove just as the spirit hovered over the waters in creation.  God speaks.  He announces that Jesus is his Beloved basic Son.  As a parallel to God saying “Let there be light” in the first creation Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12).

God’s pronouncement of Jesus as his Son is not some specialized spiritual event outside of the basic events of history.  An important date is Sept. 17 in the year 14 A.D.  On that date the Roman senate declared the recently deceased Caesar Augustus to be a “son of god” and therefore “the savior of the world.”

To commit ourselves to Jesus Christ is to embrace his new creation over the old.  The conflict between Christ and Caesar is inevitable.  We may pay taxes to Caesar but all of life is under the authority of Jesus (Mark 12:17; Matt. 28:18).

We need to see that in Christ all things are new (II Cor. 5:17).

Eternal and loving God give me the faith to live in terms of the new creation revealed in Christ.  May I not be satisfied with things as they are but seek your kingdom and its justice (Matt. 6:33).  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saturday, January 12, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart

Acts 8:18-24

This dramatic encounter between Peter and Simon Magus is finally about power.  Simon sees the effect of the Holy Spirit on the believers (of which he ostensibly is a part, v. 13).  Simon wants the power of the Holy Spirit.  However he doesn’t recognize the vast difference between material, human power and divine power.  Simon lives in a world very similar to our own where “money talks.”

Simon’s alleged power as a magician was apparently something he had bought.  In all probability he had found someone to teach him the magic he practiced.  He was apparently somewhat successful so he believes he can pay whatever price Peter would ask to give him the power to bestow the Holy Spirit on someone.

Peter will have none of this.  Simon has totally confused the nature of divine power.  He is gripped in a world where money buys everything.  He has the money and he’s prepared to give Peter whatever he demands, so what’s the problem?

The problem then as now is that money is a false god.  Having said this we need to remember that money itself is not the root of evil but the love of money is (I Tim. 6:10).  Yet Jesus warns in no uncertain terms that we have to choose between money and God as what we really worship (Matt. 6:24).  Jesus exposes the heart of the rich young ruler who in spite of his claims to follow God’s law really loves money (Mark 10:17-22).

Peter quite frankly is appalled at Simon’s request.  This is of course the same Peter who claimed to have no money but instead demonstrated God’s healing power (Acts 3:6).  Still, we need to remember that money in and of itself is not the problem.  Paul acknowledges this in the previously mentioned discussion he has on wealth.  He says simply that those who are rich do not have to give up their wealth.  To the contrary they should be “rich in good works, generous, and ready to serve” (I Tim. 6:18).

The United States is the richest country in the history of the world.  This is not to say that every one of us (or even any of us) are actually rich.  Yet we need to remember that we are all gifted to some extent.  We need to give money to the church to support its ministries.  We need also to support Christian missionary efforts whether it’s feeding the poor, providing medical benefits and of course preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To be in Christ is to be truly rich.

Merciful and loving God make me realize how rich I actually am compared to the rest of the world.  May I use whatever resources I have to promote the building up of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart

Acts 8:14-17

We have in this text a true picture of spiritual power.  Magic, which is a false power not in the sense that it is necessarily ineffective but in the sense that it is a power that does not come from God, is often possessed by a single individual or a special group.  We see this in the Egyptian magicians (Ex. 7:22).

This passage deals with the power of the Holy Spirit.  For some unknown reason the believers in Samaria had not received the Spirit when they believed in Jesus.  This comes to the attention of the apostles in Jerusalem.  The apostles send Peter and John to investigate the situation.  Peter and John lay their hands on the Samaritan believers, pray over them and they receive the Holy Spirit.

We are not told of any visible effects of the Spirit coming on the people.  The focus here is not on any miraculous happening.  There is no record of any ecstatic response, any miracles or speaking in tongues.  Those responses are not precluded.  Whether they occurred or not, they are not mentioned.  That is not the focus here.  We are dealing here with the Holy Spirit, not “signs and wonders”.

The spiritual power of the apostles or the church in general does not reside in any human figure.  That power comes from Christ alone.  However it is transmitted through the church.  No single figure can speak for the church, not Peter, not John, not anyone else.  The authority of the church which comes from Jesus alone is expressed through all of its leaders and indeed members.

Peter and John do not come to the Samaritans to teach them about the Spirit.  They are not initiating a discussion.  They come to lay hands on them.  They pray over them.

This is the church in its greatest strength.  It is when we are touched by other believers that we receive the full impact of the Spirit.  The Spirit is not given to us to enable us to perform “signs and wonders.”  It is given to us so that we may know that Jesus loved us, died and rose again for us and that forgiveness and new life is found in him.  It is not enough to hear the message.  We need to be touched by other believers.  And we in turn need to be prepared to touch others.

Eternal and loving God may I be touched by brothers and sisters in Christ and so experience the power of the Holy Spirit.  May I in turn be prepared to touch others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart”

Acts 8:9-13

This passage makes it abundantly clear that magic is opposed to the gospel.  Philip is proclaiming the gospel in Samaria.  Inevitably Philip comes in contact with the spiritual leader of the city.  He is known as Simon Magus and he amazes the people with his magic. He had a huge following.  We read that everyone from “the least to the greatest listened to him eagerly.”  This however all changes when Philip brings them the gospel.  The people believe and are baptized.  Even Simon believes and is baptized.  However as we will see later there is a legitimate question of whether or not he has become an actual believer.

The confrontation between magic and faith occurs early in scripture.  When Moses and Aaron come to Egypt to ask for the deliverance of the Hebrew slaves they demonstrate God’s power through signs and miracles.  The problem with this is that the magicians of Egypt can apparently duplicate Moses and Aaron’s miracles (Ex. 7:8-13, 22; 8:7).  Eventually the magicians’ power runs out (Ex. 8:18). However for a time the magicians appear to be equal to Moses and Aaron.

Several things need to be noted here.  First, magic is real.  The vast majority of magicians are simply practicing illusions.  Yet there are and always have been those who have genuine spiritual power.  They may well be able to perform “signs and wonders.”  Jesus himself warns of the deceptive power of such figures (Matt. 24:24).  Second, magic can masquerade as the power of God which we see in this passage (v. 10).  How then can we tell the difference?  Magic exalts the magician.  However the gospel only exalts Christ.

Faith and magic can be confused.  Magic offers power and gifts based on following a set series of requirements.  If you perform certain practices you will get your wishes fulfilled (wish upon a magic star).  Faith in the gospel doesn’t guarantee that our wants and wishes will be fulfilled.  What it does promise is the power and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ alone.

Christ is real.  Magic is the substitute.  The choice is obvious.

Merciful and loving God keep me from the false gospel of magic.  Strengthen my faith in you.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart”

Ps. 29:5-11

This Sunday we will be observing the Baptism of the Lord.  As Mark describes the event, the heavens are torn apart (Mark 1:10).  The voice of God thunders from heaven proclaiming the fact that Jesus is his beloved Son.

To truly be able to understand this event we need to consider the reality of the Word of God.  God’s voice is of course his Word.  Yet Jesus is also the Word (John 1:1-14; Rev. 19:13).  The Word of God is what alone gives us access to God.  Apart from God speaking to us in his Word we would have no knowledge of him.  For that matter, as John Calvin says we have no real knowledge of ourselves apart from that Word.

God’s Word is living and active revealing the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Heb. 4:12).  That Word is creative.  God speaks the world into existence (Gen. 1:3).  God’s Word does far more than communicate information.  His Word transforms.

God’s Word changed Abraham and all the prophets.  The phrase, “Thus says the Lord” rings throughout scripture.  That Word brings hope, healing, forgiveness and salvation.  We can say that scripture is the Word of God in written form.  The Bible is not only a collection of sayings or instructions.  It certainly includes all literary forms.  Yet the Word of God is singular.  There is finally only one Word.  That Word is Jesus Christ.  Apart from him a veil hangs over the Word of God (II Cor. 3:14).

We need to read God’s Word, to study it and believe it.  That Word flashes forth fire.  It shakes the wilderness and causes the oaks to whirl.  It is no surprise that when dictators and tyrants come to power the first thing they want to eliminate is God’s Word.  Yet the authority of scripture is nothing less than the authority of Christ himself.  It is only as we seek to follow him that we can fully experience the power of God’s Word.

Gracious and loving God I praise you for the power of your Word in Jesus Christ.  May I seek to know and understand that Word more and more.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart”

Ps. 29:1-4

This psalm begins with a cry of praise and adoration.  We have here a mention of the “sons of God” referred to throughout the Old Testament.  Our Bible translates the literal phrase “sons of God” as “heavenly beings.”  These figures apparently are neither humans nor angels.  They have a role in creation.  Yet a number of them rebel as stated in Genesis 6:1-4.  In the Book of Job they are associated with Satan (Job 1:6).

The most telling reference to them occurs in Psalm 82.  God here indicts them for their failure to carry out justice on the earth.  They have failed to give justice to the weak and the orphan, to maintain the right of the lowly and destitute and to rescue the weak and the needy (Ps. 82:1-3).

The most we can say is that these are celestial beings who finally have failed in their service to God.  These may be the same figures that Paul refers to as “rulers,” “powers” and “authorities” (Rom. 8:38; Col. 2:15).  This is a glimpse into cosmic reality.  The world is far greater and more complex than we can imagine.  We see this already with physical reality whether we look to the universe surrounding us or to the depths of the sea.

The coming of Christ into the world is indeed a new creation (II Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:1-4).  God has allowed his creation to follow its own course.  Freedom is built into the very fabric of reality.  Yet that freedom has led to what Paul calls the “bondage of decay” in creation as a whole (Rom. 8:21).  This idea also was found in ancient writers who spoke of a lost “golden age” which failed because of greed and corruption. 

God had re-created the world in an initial way after the flood.  He called a people to himself, Israel.  Yet Israel failed again and again.  Certainly none of this surprised God.  His overall plan of sacrificial love was at work even here.

The gospel confronts us with the astounding fact that God’s Word has entered human history in a completely mortal human figure.  God’s voice which thunders over the waters has become a living person. 

The miracle of Christ’s incarnation continually astounds us.   We need to focus on its unparalleled hope.  The outcome of our lives does not depend on us.  We are in the hands of a God who is making all things new (II Cor. 5:17).

We too are being made new.

Most merciful and loving God I cannot thank you enough for the new creation that is already taking place.  May I be conformed to this new creation in Christ.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday, January 7, 2019

“The Heavens Torn Apart”

Isa. 43:1-7

This is one of the most comforting passages in all of scripture.  The immediate context is the return of the people of Israel to their land after seventy years of captivity in Babylon.  Yet the promises stated here go beyond any one context.

This is God’s pledge to his people past, present and future.  The greatest commandment in the Bible is repeated several times: Do not fear.”  That is God’s word to Abraham.  We have just come through the Christmas season where that command is repeated several times (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:12, 30; 2:10).  In the gospel story we are now preparing for Jesus’ baptism which will inaugurate his earthly ministry.

Yet the overarching theme as we look at any of the gospel accounts is that Christ has come to bring us to God.  In Christ we know that God is for us and not against us (Rom. 8:31).  We have no promise that life in Christ will not encounter challenges, opposition and problems.  We see these forces at work throughout Jesus’ ministry.

In the course of our lives we will pass through waters and rivers that will threaten to overwhelm us.  There are times when we are in effect walking through fire.  We are not to fear the waters or the fire.  God’s promises are basic. He is with us.  He will bring us through all the obstacles to the place he has designed for us.

We are not promised to be free from suffering.  Indeed God reminds us that his strength is made perfect in weakness (II Cor. 12:9).  We can struggle but we have the assurance that we will never be destroyed.  Death and the Devil have both been disarmed (Heb. 2:14-15).

As Christians we should be the most hopeful and optimistic people on earth.  As the theologian Cornel West once put it, we know that history will have a happy ending.  There is no reason to fear.

Eternal and loving God I praise and thank you for all your promises.  Take away my fears and ground me in your will.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Epiphany, January 6, 2019

Epiphany, January 6, 2019

“What Did You See?”

Matthew 11:7-15

The people of Israel were waiting for the appearance of Elijah who would announce the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 3:5).  Jesus here states that John the Baptist is Elijah.  What does he mean by this?  He is not saying that John is literally the incarnation of Elijah.  In fact Jesus even in his earthly ministry would see the actual Elijah, along with Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13).

There are parallels between Elijah and John.  They both wore leather belts.  They both challenged the king and queen of Israel because of their immorality and injustice.  Yet there are also some striking differences.  Elijah calls down fire from heaven not once but several times to destroy both the false gods and the king’s soldiers (I Kings 18:20-40; II Kings 1:9-12).

Those who were asking if John was in fact Elijah (which Jesus here says he is) would probably have liked to see fire come down from heaven on the Roman emperor who was regarded as a son of god as well as on Herod and his troops.  John, like Elijah, was a “troubler of Israel” (I Kings 18:17).

However John, unlike Elijah, was at this point a prisoner in a jail cell.  No fire came down from heaven to rescue him.  Elijah went to heaven on a chariot of fire.  John’s life ends on a tragic note as he is beheaded by Herod under the pressure of a vengeful queen.  King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were unable to defeat Elijah.  Yet the combination of King Herod and his queen, Herodias, proves deadly for John.

How then is John “the Elijah who is to come?”  This is another case where perceiving is different from seeing.  John is fulfilling the role of Elijah in announcing the coming Messiah.  Yet he is not doing this in the way most people expected.  For that matter Jesus does not fit the expectations that many people had of the Messiah.

Those who were expecting a literal Elijah or for that matter Jesus as a literal king as a “son of David” were more than a little disappointed.  Jesus here as elsewhere reminds us that we are to read the scriptures spiritually more than literally. This is the case with  those who are willing to accept John as Elijah.

Jesus and Jesus alone is the fulfilment of the Old Testament.  Indeed everything in all of scripture can only be interpreted through his life, death and resurrection.  Jesus does not conform to our expectations.  We need to be conformed to him (Rom. 12:1-2).

Faithful and gracious Lord may I seek to understand you better.  Keep me from false expectations based on my own understanding.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, January 5, 2019

Saturday, January 5, 2019

“What Did You See?”

Matthew 2:1-12

Tomorrow is Epiphany, the day we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men to worship the baby Jesus.  The familiarity of this story should not blind us to the many lessons that we can learn here.  To begin with, the Wise Men make a series of assumptions which seem completely reasonable.  However they are seriously wrong in a number of cases.

We don’t know how the Wise Men know the significance of the star they are following.  Granted, as astrologers they would recognize an unusual star.  However they also know that the star will lead them to the child who has been born king of the Jews.  How they know this we are not told.  Somehow the Holy Spirit has revealed it to them.

Given that information they make the following assumptions.  They imagine that the child is born in the capital city of Jerusalem, probably in the king’s palace.  They also assume that the present king would not only know about the child’s birth but would be welcoming the child.  In fact Herod plays on this assumption by asking the Wise Men to come back and tell him of the child’s location so that he “may also go and pay him homage.”  Without receiving a specific warning from the Lord they would probably have complied with Herod’s request.

All of these assumptions are reasonable and all of them are wrong.  Jesus is not born in the capital city.  Still less is he born in a royal palace.  His birth is not being celebrated by the current king.  To the contrary, King Herod (who was more than a little paranoid) feels very threatened by this child.  This brings him to the extreme of ordering the deaths of all the children in Bethlehem.

We often have definite expectations about the Lord.  We may feel disoriented when these expectations are not fulfilled.  We may even be led to a crisis of faith when our hopes are not realized and our prayers are not answered.

We need to learn a lesson from the Wise Men.  We may not be searching for God in the right places.  Our beliefs may not conform to what God appears to be doing.  Jesus accepts people who are unacceptable.  Jesus brings out the meaning of scripture in ways that the religious leaders of his time neither anticipated nor understood.

God is a God of surprises.  The greatest surprise is that he came into this world to be just like us so that he could be our savior.

Merciful and loving God keep me open to your surprises.  May I recognize your grace in places I would not expect.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday, January 4, 2019

“What Did You See?”

Isaiah 60:1-6

This text is a prophecy of the coming of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus.  We will be celebrating that event this Sunday, January 6.  That is the date the church has designated as Epiphany which means “manifestation” or “revealing.”  The focus here is on light in darkness which is also the emphasis in the prologue to John’s gospel (John 1:1-18).

The picture is a familiar one.  The world is in darkness.  No one on earth has the power to remove that darkness.  The light that dispels the darkness comes from “the glory of the Lord.”  Epiphany reminds us that the gospel is for everyone, not a select few. 

We don’t know how the Wise Men understood that the star they saw heralded the birth of the king of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).  Yet they clearly understood that fact.  However they probably had no knowledge of Isaiah’s prophecy that they would come on their camels bringing gold and frankincense to the new born child.

The Wise Men are examples for us of faith.  There was no doubt much they neither knew nor understood.  What they did realize is that God’s light had dawned on them.  They also understood that this infant king of the Jews was their king also.  For this reason they bowed down and worshiped him (Matt. 2:11).

We have entered a new year.  There is still “thick darkness” covering the people of earth.  Yet the light has dawned.  There is much we do not know.  We don’t have answers for many of the questions that confront us.

Nonetheless, this we do know.  Jesus Christ has come into the world, “the light which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9).  As the Wise Men followed the star to an unknown country we have to be prepared to follow the light of Jesus wherever it leads us.  In doing so we have to bring our resources, our “gold and frankincense,” and offer them in his service.

Most loving and faithful God, give me the grace and the willingness to follow your light wherever it may lead me.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, January 3, 2019

Thursday, January 3, 2019

“What Did You See?”

Ephesians 3:1-13

The meaning of Epiphany is the revealing of God’s purpose.  Paul here discloses the great truth that the gospel is for Gentiles as well as Jews.  The plan of God includes the world, all the nations.  This is a major new development in the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. 

The early history of Israel focused on exclusivity.  Israel was called to be set apart from the other nations.  Israel was not to follow their beliefs and practices (Leviticus 18:1-3). Israel was to be distinguished from the other nations by everything from their diet to their clothes.  The major difference of course was in their worship.  In place of the many gods of the other nations Israel was called to worship the one true God.

Jesus’ own initial ministry focused on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).   However following the resurrection God’s purpose presented a whole new level of understanding.  God’s action in Jesus Christ was now seen as inclusive not exclusive.  This was already evident in Jesus’ ministry which included healing members of a Roman centurion’s household (Matt. 8:5-13).  In what amounts to almost an aside, Mark states that Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19).  This is really remarkable considering the extensive discussion on “unclean” food in the Old Testament (Leviticus 11).

Jesus validates the law in the sense that he fulfills it.  However as he demonstrates in the sermon on the mount as well as elsewhere (Matt. 5:17-48; 12:1-8), Jesus focuses on a broader spiritual understanding of the law rather than a literal one.  For Paul Christ is the end of the law (Romans 10:4).  Its role was to prepare for the coming of Christ.  That role is now completed (Gal. 3:23-26).

There were Christians in Paul’s time as well as our own who still feel the need to practice exclusive laws and practices.  Paul sees these people as weaker in the faith.  As long as they do not become judgmental he counsels all in the church to accept and respect them (Romans 14; I Cor. 8-10).

Nevertheless as far back as the wise men (or astrologers) the message of Jesus has to be seen as the light which enlightens every person (John 1:9).  In the gospel of Jesus Christ God is calling everyone to himself.

Merciful and loving God I praise you that the message of salvation in Christ is for everyone.  May I witness to that message in all that I say or do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

“What Did You See?”

Psalm 72:1-11

This psalm is David’s prayer for his son, Solomon, who will succeed him as king.  David’s first request is that his son would rule in justice and righteousness.  This includes caring for the poor and the oppressed.  David also has no illusions that Solomon will be free from enemies.  Therefore he prays that Solomon would “crush the oppressor.”

David further prays for prosperity in Solomon’s reign.  He asks that Solomon’s leadership would be like “rain that falls on the mown grass.”  David’s ultimate hope is that Solomon may “have dominion from sea to sea.”

Solomon’s reign began well.  He did extend Israel’s borders although he hardly had “dominion from sea to sea.”  Nonetheless he was certainly respected internationally as the visit from the Queen of Sheba showed (I Kings 10:1-25).  Indeed we read that “the whole earth” sought his wisdom.  Perhaps Solomon’s greatest achievement was the building and dedicating of the temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8).

Yet as we know Solomon’s reign ends in tragedy.  He turns to idolatry (I Kings 11).  The result is that his kingdom is separated into two contrasting nations, Israel and Judah.  Worse, the scourge of idolatry continues to plagues the kings of both countries.

Today is New Year’s Day.  The prospect of a new year is always filled with expectations   of hope and promise.  Yet just as David’s prayer for Solomon finally was not fulfilled so we need to prepare ourselves for the trials as well as the triumphs of a new year. However David’s prayer finally will be fulfilled in the one whose title would be “Son of David” (Matthew 1:1).

It is Jesus Christ, great David’s greater son who will fulfill all of David’s prayers.  At this Christmas season we need to remember that Jesus’ first coming did not fulfill all the promises of the Son of David who is also Son of God.  We await his second coming.

Years come and go but Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).

Merciful and gracious God I thank you for the gift of this new year.  May I grow stronger in my faith in your Son throughout it. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday, December 31, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

Psalm 90:1-14

Today is New Year’s Eve.  We are about to enter a new year with both its hopes and fears.  For generations believers have turned to this psalm as a point of preparation for the new year.  This is the only psalm we have that was written by Moses.  Knowing this gives us added insight into the text.

Moses begins by acknowledging that God has been our dwelling place in all generations.  This is especially appropriate coming from Moses who was homeless virtually all of his life.  He grew up in Pharaoh’s palace but that was not his home.  He was after all a Hebrew.  He lived for a few years in Midian but God called him away from there and sent him back to Egypt.  From Egypt he led the people of Israel forty years in the wilderness.  Moses clearly had many “dwelling places” but no real home.

Throughout this psalm Moses reminds us how fragile and transitory our lives are.  It is interesting that he speaks of eighty being the maximum age limit given that God called him to begin his primary ministry when he was eighty.   He lived to be a hundred and twenty!

This psalm also contains the famous phrase that one day is as a thousand years with the Lord.  The actual text says that for God a thousand years is “like yesterday when it is past.”

Moses then makes the all too obvious point that our lives pass like a dream in the night and their span only includes “toil and trouble.”  We stand condemned for our sins.  Our secret sins are no secret in God’s sight.

So then do we have any hope?   Is there anything to look forward to in the new year that will be dawning in a few hours?  Moses has a strong answer.  In spite of our frailty and our sin there is one absolute confidence we have this coming year and all years.  It is that we begin every day with God’s steadfast love.  This gives us the basis of rejoicing with gladness every day, indeed every moment of every day.

Gracious and faithful God I praise you for being my dwelling place every day.  Keep me rejoicing in you throughout this coming year.  .I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday, December 23, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

Luke 3:15-20

John the Baptist says that the one who comes after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  We have seen in the example of Elijah and others how God often appears as fire.  One example of the fulfillment of that prophecy is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as flames of fire on Pentecost (Acts 2:3).  Yet that is the experience of the early church.  John’s prophecy focuses on Jesus’ ministry.  The Holy Spirit and the fire of God are already present throughout Jesus’ ministry.

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  How will we celebrate this much anticipated day (and season)?  If we are to follow Scripture we need to recognize that there are two essential themes to the Christmas story.  Yet these themes are opposites of each other.

The first is that Christmas is a time to rejoice.  God has sent his Son into the world to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life (John 3:16-17).  This is the supreme gift of Christmas.  Christmas is the ultimate miracle.  God has become fully human.  How can this be?  We can’t explain it but we need to believe it.   Once we accept that fundamental miracle all other miracles become possible.  As Jesus himself says, the sick are healed, the blind are given their sight, the dead are raised to life and the poor have the gospel preached to them.(Matt. 11:4-5). This clearly is good news of great joy (Luke 2:10).

Yet the other part of Christmas is rage.  Herod is terrified when he hears of Jesus’ birth.  He carries out an insane murderous plot by killing all the young children of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18)The threat of death continues throughout Jesus’ ministry (Luke 22:2), leading of course to his crucifixion.

As Christmas 2018 begins we see hostility, cruelty and injustice in our world.  This is the darkness of sin.  That darkness still exists.  It rages against the gospel.  Yet Jesus is the light coming into the world.  That light shines in the darkness.  The darkness cannot extinguish it.  In fact the darkness will finally disappear as the light continues to shine. We need to live in that light.  We need to stand up for it.  We cannot be discouraged.  The darkness of evil may prevail for a moment.  Herod responds to John’s speaking out against all the “evil things” that he had done by imprisoning him and finally having him beheaded.  This appears to be a victory for the darkness.  However the light was already in the world.  Herod could not overcome it and even the darkness of Gethsemane and Calvary could not extinguish it.

Gracious and merciful God prepare me for your coming into the world.  May I live and walk in your light.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday, December 22, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

Luke 3:1-14

What did John the Baptist’s disciples think of what he was doing?  They certainly would have approved of the idea of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  This message in one form or another is found in all the prophets of the Old Testament.  Yet John goes well beyond a general call to repentance.

Throughout this whole chapter John is speaking out against injustice.  He attacks the Jewish leaders who saw themselves in a privileged position because they were descendants of Abraham.  In modern terms John is a social critic.  Playing this role could well have made John’s disciples uneasy.  They rightly could have seen him on a collision course with the existing powers represented most notably by the king, Herod Antipas.

Yet John certainly has credibility.  This goes beyond his purely “spiritual” function of baptizing people.  People ask him what they should do.  John responds in classic prophetic terms of caring for the poor and needy (“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none”).  Yet John, like the prophets before him, and Jesus the “more powerful” one who comes after him, does not only address social need.  His focus goes on to include social justice (those who lay heavy burdens on people, Matt. 23:4).  Indeed in this time religion and politics were closely intertwined (the chief priests would later say, “We have no king but Caesar” John 19:15), this in spite of the fact that the emperors were deified as sons of god.

The two most unjust figures in Israel in this period would have been tax collectors, widely believed to practice graft and the occupying army of Romans.  Both groups ask John what they should do.  John responds in concrete terms.  Neither group is to enrich themselves at the expense of the people over whom they have authority.  John doesn’t deny the position both tax collectors and soldiers have in that society.  Yet he makes it clear that both groups are accountable to justice and righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

The Christmas story, as well as the gospel as a whole, focuses on both justice and grace.  We cannot have one without the other.  They are not equal.  Grace is superior.  Mercy triumphs over justice (James 2:13).

Christmas is not only about grace.  It also includes the necessity of justice (Eph. 2:8-10).  Jesus and his parents were homeless in Bethlehem.  They fled to Egypt as political refugees.  We cannot forget that part of the Christmas story.

Loving and gracious God keep me focused both on grace and justice.  May I celebrate both this Christmas.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

I Kings 18:30-40

Elijah is preparing for a major showdown.  He has already mocked the prophets of Baal for their futile efforts.  Now it is his turn.  Elijah is very conscious of his calling.  He is not improvising.  Nor is he dependent on his own judgment and perspective (that will unfortunately come later as he falls into depression).

Elijah calls the people to himself, the same people who couldn’t choose between the Lord and Baal.  He repairs the broken altar of the Lord.  He sets aside twelve stones which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

What happens next testifies to both the mystery and the greatness of God.  Elijah does all the things which should work against his being able to offer a burnt sacrifice.  He  proceeds to soak the altar with water.  He has this done repeatedly to the point where it would seem to be impossible to make anything burn.

Elijah then prays as he had been instructed. He invokes the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  All of this has been done at God’s bidding.  He cries out to the Lord and implores him to answer his prayers so that the people can see the greatness of God.

In response fire comes down from heaven.  This is no ordinary fire.  This heaven sent fire not only burns up the sacrifice.  It burns the wood, the stones, the dust and the water itself.  God’s fire even burns water!

John the Baptist, the personification of Elijah, announced that the more powerful one who was coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Throughout scripture fire is an image of God (Ex. 24:7; Heb. 12:29).  Fire in a variety of forms is part of the Christmas story.  The glory of the Lord shines on the shepherds.  The angels light up the night.  The wise men follow the light of a star.

Peace on earth is an essential message of Christmas (Luke 2:14).  This however needs to be balanced with the theme of fire on the earth.  Elijah demonstrates that God truly is a consuming fire.  The coming of the Messiah will be like a “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:1).  Herod is terrified when he hears of the birth of Jesus.  The peace of Christmas is not quiet tranquility.  It is the result of the fire which burns away all that is imperfect.

Gracious and loving God and Savior may I sense the fire of your presence this Christmas.  Give me the strength to stand for you like Elijah.  I pray this in Jesus’ name Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday, December 20, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

I Kings 18:20-29

Elijah is challenging the prophets of Baal.  He proposes a contest.  Both he and the followers of Baal will prepare animal sacrifices.  However they will not put any fire to them.  They will cry out to their God to send fire from heaven.  Elijah is totally confident.  Clearly God has in some way assured him of the success of his petition.

Before the sacrifices are prepared Elijah addresses the people of Israel.  He asks them, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?”  He goes on to ask the people to decide which God they want to follow.  Is it Baal or is it the Lord?  The people don’t answer.  They really want both, the pagan celebration of Baal’s fertility cult and the true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This is true of us many times.  We want the distractions and pleasures of the world at the same time we want the power and grace of the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.  The strange thing about this compromise is that it’s not necessary.  Everything belongs to the Lord.  We lack nothing from his hand.  Baal’s promises are empty.  The irony however is, like the Israelites, we are often tempted by the false pleasures of the world.

Elijah can see he is completely outnumbered.  There are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal.  Elijah stands alone for the Lord (he’s apparently forgotten those prophets that Obadiah hid).  Elijah is going to be magnanimous.  He lets the prophets of Baal go first.

They cry out.  They cut themselves.  This goes on for hours.  But there is no word from Baal.  Elijah mocks them.  Perhaps Baal has gone on a trip or he is asleep.  Baal supposedly was a storm god.  Yet there is no storm here.  There is only empty silence.

Elijah does nothing less than expose the absurdity of idolatry.  People no longer worship Baal.  Nevertheless we still see idols around us, the idols of wealth, pleasure and prestige.  Like Baal, there is no substance to any of this.

We are in the Advent season preparing for Christmas.  There is great joy in Christmas but apart from Jesus Christ the celebrations and presents are stale and insignificant.  On the other hand in the message of Jesus Christ coming into the world there is true “joy to the world.”

Gracious and loving God and Savior, keep me from the false promises of the idols of our world.  May I focus on all the riches we have in Christ Jesus.  I pray this in his name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

I Kings 18:7-19

Obadiah has agreed to search for well water or green grass in the wake of God’s judgment of not sending rain on Israel.  Obadiah has walked a fine line as a high officer in Ahab’s court while still hiding the prophets of Israel from Jezebel’s murderous intentions.  That fine line is about to disappear.

Elijah comes to meet Obadiah.  Elijah tells him to go to Ahab and tell him Elijah is coming.  The struggle here has moved to a new level.  Obadiah was willing to work in secret to protect God’s true prophets from Ahab and Jezebel.  However to identify himself in effect with Elijah would bring him directly into conflict with the king.  Understandably he is afraid to carry out Elijah’s instructions.

Obadiah protests that Ahab is searching for Elijah everywhere.   To reveal his knowledge of Elijah’s whereabouts could well cost Obadiah his life. However with great reluctance he agrees to go and tell the king that Elijah is present in the land.  Ahab goes to seek Elijah.

The struggle in Israel has moved to a new level.  Obadiah is not prepared for this.  The time of secret opposition is over.  There will now be a direct public confrontation between Elijah and Ahab and Jezebel’s Baal worshipers.

As scripture says there is a time to keep silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7).  The time to speak out in the reign of Ahab has come.  It is now necessary to stand publicly against the corrupt king.  John the Baptist, Elijah’s spiritual descendant, will do the same when he confronts King Herod with “all the evil things” that he had done (Luke 3:19).

Ahab calls Elijah “a troubler of Israel.”  This is always the response of tyrants to those who challenge their corrupt practices.  Elijah makes it clear that Ahab in fact is the one who has troubled Israel with his idolatry.

There comes a time when we have to take up the challenge of confronting the status quo.  This is not easy.  Elijah is a lone voice.  However he speaks the Word of God and that changes everything.

Faithful and gracious God give me the courage to speak out against evil and injustice.  Give me discernment and enable me to speak your Word when necessary.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

I Kings 18:1-6

As we have seen Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, have plunged Israel into rampant idolatry.  As a judgement God sends a drought on the nation.  The absence of rain leads to a famine.  As we see in this chapter Elijah is sent to the king.  Yet before Elijah can arrive, Ahab sends for Obadiah whom we are told was in charge of the palace.  Nonetheless we see that Obadiah truly serves the Lord.  He even goes to the extreme of hiding a hundred of the Lord’s prophets to protect them from Jezebel who wanted nothing less than to kill them.

Obadiah is in a precarious position.  He is a servant of both Ahab, the corrupt king, and the Lord God.  Is this a contradiction?  Or is it that Obadiah is essentially a spy in the enemy’s camp?

Ahab sends for Obadiah.  The king proposes that they go through the land and try to find either spring water or grass that has not been dried up by the drought.  Ahab will go in one direction and Obadiah in another.  It is striking to see the trust that Ahab has in Obadiah.  He is in effect treating him as an equal.  We have to presume that the king doesn’t know that Obadiah had arranged to hide the prophets from Ahab’s evil wife.

Obadiah has to know that their search will be fruitless.  He knows that the lack of rain is God’s judgement on Ahab.  Yet he goes along with the pointless search.  Was this an opportunity for Obadiah to confront Ahab with his idolatry that has led to the famine?  Apparently not.  At least for now.

We are all in Obadiah’s position.  If we are followers of Jesus Christ we belong to him.  Yet invariably we are caught up in the idolatry of the world.  Many times we have to walk a narrow balance.  Paul tells us that we need to be all things to all people.  This includes the dominant figures of our world (I Cor. 9:19-23). Our place in the world presents us with the opportunity to witness to Christ.  However the world is also a constant temptation.

How does Obadiah maintain his dual roles?  How do we maintain ours?  Stay tuned.

Faithful and loving God give me the grace to serve you in a conflicted and often idolatrous world.  Keep me faithful in all that I do.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

“Challenging the Powers”

I Kings 16:1-6

Beginning with Solomon Israel had had a series of idolatrous and unjust kings.  It needs to be remembered that Solomon, the wisest person in the world, had fallen into serious idolatry (I Kings 11:1-13).  The result was the division of Israel into two kingdoms, north and south.  The northern kingdom was Samaria and the southern kingdom was Judah.

The northern kingdom in particular was corrupt.  Centuries later in the time of Jesus the people of Judah wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans (John 4:9). In this passage we are introduced to Ahab who we are told in no uncertain terms was a worse king than all of his predecessors.  This is no small statement considering the corruption that came in during the time of Solomon.

We are not given a descriptive list of all that Ahab did to provoke the Lord.  As if that weren’t bad enough, Ahab married a pagan princess, Jezebel of the Sidonians.  She may herself also have been a priestess.  The cult of Baal was the chief antagonist to the true faith of Israel in this period.  Baal was in some ways a forerunner of the Greek god Zeus.  Baal, like Zeus, was a storm god who also symbolized the cycle of life and fertility.  Like many similar false deities his worship probably included human, even child, sacrifice.  This was the case with the attempt to rebuild the city of Jericho.  The builder buried his sons under the foundation (as had been foretold by Joshua, Joshua 6:26).  Apparently Ahab was in agreement with that.  It is hard to imagine worse depravity,

How could the people of Israel in any sense be attracted to such an idol?  Paul makes it clear in the New Testament that when people sacrifice to idols they really are sacrificing to a demon (I Cor. 10:20).  It would appear the people had short memories.  As far back as the golden calf Israel has been threatened by forms of idolatry.

What are we to make of such a situation?  The apostle Paul reminds us in that same chapter from I Corinthians that these things are warnings for us (I Cor. 10:6).  We cannot imagine sacrificing children to a pagan god.  Yet there are subtle forms of idolatry.   Parents who neglect their children to pursue professional goals are in a sense sacrificing them.  Baal promised to maintain the cycle of life.  We can go to extremes to maintain our standards of life.

Satan offers us, as he offered Jesus, the kingdoms of this world “and their splendor” (Matt. 4:8).  We need to be vigilant to resist their siren call.  The alternative as Jesus reminds us is only the Word of God.

As we will see Ahab’s greatest tragedy was his inability to recognize the Word of God even when he heard it.

Moat merciful and gracious God keep me from the temptation to make the desires of this world into a false god.  May I see the world and all its riches as gifts from you.  Keep me grounded in your Word.  I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20

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

-DEBORAH A. BLOCK

Isaiah 12:2-6

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

A RANDLE R. (RICK) MIXON

Philippians 4:4-7

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

JOSEPH R. JETER

Luke 3:7-18

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

-KATHY BEACH-VERHEY

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

  • Interuptions remind me…
  • Joys in my life…

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

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Luke 3:7-18

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

VELI-MATTI KÄRKKÄINEN

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

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