Monday, December 31, 2007

Verse for the Week

And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." ~ Rev. 21:5 (ESV)

We celebrate the new year and hope for a change, a new perspective or perhaps a new direction for our lives, but mostly things continue on as they had the previous year. Christ offers genuine newness of life. Union with him produces new life in us. Our old natures can be shed and new natures donned as we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Verse for the Week

This week's verse is not a verse of scripture, but verses from the Christmas carol, O Holy Night!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope - the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The flip side of Christmas is the acknowlegement of sin and error. The great darkness that had lain on the world from the time of Eden was undone by the birth of God's Son, who is the radiance of God's glory. Remove the awareness of sin and Christmas becomes no more than the bland sentimentality of "be nice to one another". But in the fertile soil of Christ's truth and grace, "be nice to one another" transforms into:

Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gopsel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease.

Christ-like love has a freeing effect on the recipient and seeks not surface niceties, but a true breaking of the bondage that oppresses our neighbor.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Verse for the Week

And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." ~ Luke 1:38a

[And Mary said] "For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name."
~ Luke 1:48b-49

Mary is an example of the strange economy of attitude found in James 4:6, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." She humbled herself to a servant's place in the household of God and accepted the task appointed to her. Suppose she had shrugged off the Lord's command and closed her heart to the child she was to carry and said, "Not me. I'll not bear this child for you." She would not now be called blessed, we know that much. Perhaps she would be viewed in the same light as Judas, a betrayer of innocent blood. But instead she aligned her will with God's will. And soon she would say, "he who is mighty has done great things for me".

Better a maid in the house of the Lord, than a queen of any earthly kingdom.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Verse for the Week

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. ~ Ezekiel 1:28b (ESV)

Ezekiel is known for the strange and wonderful visions he received from the Lord. He saw living creatures with wings and four faces (human, lion, ox and eagle). They glowed as if wreathed in flame and carried a strange vehicle with a crystal platform and a throne. The person sitting on the throne shone so brightly that he appeared to be made of red-hot, glowing metal.

When frail humanity is exposed to infinite majesty there can be only shock and awe in response. Ezekiel fell on his face, a perfect posture to hear the Word of the Lord.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Verse for the Week

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. ~ James 1:26-2

Tomorrow is the feast day for St. James of Jerusalem, Apostle and brother of our Lord Jesus Christ. I thought it fitting that we ponder one of the many gems found in his short epistle (letter). James has instituted a religious test, but not for government office. Instead, James' test is for seeing if our religion is pure or worthless. The rest of the epistle deals with practical Christian living as well, so if you are in need of a refresher course, just consult James this week. He'll help you out.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Verse for the Week

... if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ~ Romans 10:9-10

In late July I received a call from a man named Bill, a retiree who had moved to the area four years earlier. Some time before, Bill had been diagnosed with advanced, untreatable prostate cancer which had now spread to his bones. He was waiting to die. He wanted someone to come and visit with him. I took another man from our church and we went. A few days later he called back and wanted someone to talk with him about being saved. I went back and we read several scriptures together, including the one above. Bill prayed according to the scriptures and was saved. He told me he was no longer afraid to die. He attended church a few times, but was soon too weak and in too much pain to leave home. He wanted to be baptized so the pastor and I made arrangements to baptize him at home. A few weeks later he was moved into hospice care and then died on Saturday, October 6, and was buried the following Tuesday.

Why do I recount Bill's final days? As a reminder to myself and you of what we have in common with him. First, we are going to die. Bill had more knowledge of when he was going to die than we do, but we share with him the terminal illness of mortality that brings us all down in time. Second, we are in need of a Savior. Bill came to learn that his own efforts would not be sufficient, he needed someone to save him for he could not save himself. Whether we are cognizant of the reality or not, we cannot be our own savior. These two things all people hold in common, mortality and neediness.

But Bill's story has a third thing which some may not hold in common with him. Faith. Bill placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and received grace.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Verse for the Week

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. ~ Daniel 4:37

Ol' King Neb had to learn a hard lesson. Though he had been warned in a dream that he would be brought low, he didn't listen or change his arrogant ways. While standing on the roof of his palace he looked out and asked, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" The rhetorical question had hardly been uttered when a voice from heaven declared "The kingdom has departed from you".

Neb lost his mind and lived like an ox, eating grass and sleeping out in the open. It took some time, but Neb eventually regained his right mind. How? When he finally lifted his eyes to heaven and knew that Heaven rules.

God values humility. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And everyone will acknowledge His rule, in this life or the next. Jesus told his disciples, "Whoever who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." We don't want to be found exalting ourselves on the Day of the Lord, when he returns to judge the earth. Let us listen to Neb and learn from his mistake and humble ourselves now.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Verse for the Week

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. ~ John 6:40

What is God's heart? What is his inner desire? What does He want? Jesus, the Son of God, was in a position to know the answer to these questions. In fact, the reason he came into the world was to bear witness to the truth and show us the Father's heart. The above verse puts it as succinctly as any in the New Testament. The next question is - how will we respond to God's will?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Verse for the Week

Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. ~ Psalm 25:3 (ESV)

Can words comfort a grieving heart? What solace is there for loss? The families of the slain students have filled the past week with all the various arrangements that must be made to fill in the hole left by the loss of their loved one. Some items, like funeral arrangements, are obvious. Other things, like canceling health insurance or getting someone to drive the second car back home will trickle in, one at a time, reopening wounded hearts for weeks to come. Is there any refuge from this kind of soul-storm? My belief is that preparations made before the storm work best because the winds of despair lay bare the foundation already in place. On what does your life rest?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Verse for the Week

Then he said to me, "Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? ~ Ezekiel 8:17a (ESV)

The Lord has shown Ezekiel the idol worship of the people through a vision. Ezekiel has seen the leaders burning incense before the engravings of animals, women involved in the rites of an agricultural fertility god and men worshipping the sun. The people have broken covenant with their God. Then God asks him, "Is this a trivial matter?"

We might ask ourselves the same question. Is it a small thing, a light thing, a trivial thing for us to turn our hearts from God to serve other things? Where is God's place in our lives? How do we respond to his claim on us?God does not consider it insignificant to be supplanted by lesser things. It makes him mad.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Verse for the Week

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. ~ John 14:21a (ESV)

Jesus won't let us love him unconditionally. No, he actually has the nerve to set conditions for our love. All the warm, fuzzy feelings one might get when considering the babe in the manger are not enough. All the tender feelings of sympathy and pity that well up inside at an image of the crucifixion are not enough. Jesus equates love for him with obedience to him.

Do you remember the old comedy show Hee Haw ? At some point in each episode the cast would gather around the piano and solemnly sing a hymn with hands dutifully clasped behind their backs. You might even see an occasional tear. Once this touching moment was over the show reverted back to the main format of low-brow humor and girls in low-cut tops and high-cut shorts. Jesus' words cut right through that sort of banal attempt at comforting a bruised conscience. If you love me, Jesus says, you will obey me.