Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

Read 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

For Paul the Lord's Supper is "communion" in a double sense. It is the most intimate sharing and participation with Christ, but that communion is also the sharing in and with other believers who are also "in Christ." The Lord's Supper is, therefore, both personal and communal. The Corinthians are a portrait of those have forgotten the communal nature of the Lord's Supper and have pursued their own interests, perhaps with their special friends, eaten their fill, gotten drunk, and treated their poorer brothers and sisters with disrespect, if not scorn. So Paul assails them in two ways: First, he says that it is not the Lord's Supper they eat; secondly, he warns them that without proper discernment - that is, without recognizing how they all belong equally to one another in Christ - they eat and drink judgment upon themselves.

O God, you gave Elijah bread
to be the food that sustained him
on the journey to your holy mountain.
In Jesus you give us the living bread
for the life of the world,
our food for the journey to your kingdom.

Forgiving one another as you have forgiven us,
let us come to that banquet of life immortal
of which our table here is foretaste and pledge.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
the living bread, who has come down from heaven
for the life of the world,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

Paul is very generous with his affirmations of the churches which he founded. Most of his letters include a prayer of thanksgiving in the opening paragraphs, and Paul is specific in commending the ministries and people of the church.

The Corinthian church, however, was conflicted in ever way. There is divisive factionalism based on past leaders of the church (1:10-17). There are doctrinal conflicts based on the claim of spiritual superiority. Some members were "wise in this age," though, Paul pointed out, not in God's wisdom (3: 18-20). Other Corinthians felt they were already in God's kingdom, rich and full (4:8-13). There is sexual immorality, members taking other members to court, disagreement about the dietary laws and the proper dress at public prayer.

Most tragically, there were abuses at the Lord's Supper, the subject of today's reading. Paul writes, "When you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. . . . When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. . . . What should I say to you? Shall I commend you? In this matter I do not commend!" (11:17, 21, 24)

Reflection Questions
If Paul were to write a letter to your church, what would he affirm with appreciation and thanksgiving?

For what would Paul rebuke your church?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Read Mark 6:35-44

Questions for Reflection and Prayer
1. When the crowd grew hungry, the disciples asked Jesus to send them away to buy food in the villages. Jesus told the disciples,"You get them something to eat."

How often do you pray for God to make a problem disappear without considering your own responsibility for dealing with the problem?

2. The disciples found five loaves of bread and two fish - a pitifully small amount of food to feed 5,000+ people. When Jesus blessed and broke the loaves and distributed them and the fish, "all ate and were filled," with twelve baskets of leftovers.

Do you sometimes consider your own gifts and resources too limited to make a real difference? Can you offer whatever you have to God, trusting that God will use you in surprising ways?

3. After feeding the crowd, Jesus sent the disciples ahead on a boat, then went up on the mountain to pray.

Do you take sufficient time to surround your service to others with prayer?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tuesday, July 28,2009

Read Romans 15:22-33

The greatness of the apostle Paul can be seen by his burning zeal. He is not content to ‘rest on his laurels,’ but now desires to go to the west, to Spain, with the gospel. Paul could not be true to his philosophy of ministry and visit Rome while parts of his world were left unevangelized. But now that there was no region untouched with the gospel (v. 23), he could look to Spain, and on his way, he could visit the saints in Rome.

There was yet one task remaining which would keep Paul from Rome. Early in his ministry Paul had been exhorted by Peter, James and John to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). The saints in Macedonia and Achaia, sensing their obligation to minister materially to those who had sent the gospel to them, delighted to make a generous contribution to those in Jerusalem and to send it with Paul (v. 26). As soon as this task was accomplished Paul would set out for Rome and then be sent on to Spain.

In 15:30-32 Paul asks the Romans to pray on his behalf, that his trip to Jerusalem will go safely, that his collection for the poor will please the Jerusalem church, and that he will be able to visit Rome after his Jerusalem trip. We often forget that at its heart Romans is not a doctrinal treatise but a pastoral fundraising letter. Paul wants to visit so that he can use Rome as an operational base for a mission to Spain (15:23-24), just as Damascus, Antioch, and Ephesus have supported his work in the past.

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all people, to bring about the obedience of faith -- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans 16:25-27

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Read Philippians 4:10-20

While more and more money is being raised for religious causes, less and less is being diverted per capita towards spreading the message of the gospel. Few who attend church in our day and age tithe and fewer still give sacrificially for the kingdom of God. It has become the norm for Christians to give God a tip rather than a tithe. More and more believers have swallowed the notion that Christ is felt more than lived. That they do not have to give up anything in order to be a vibrant Christian. We have lost the Philippian attitude of selfless sacrifice.

When Paul said he could “do everything” – whether living in poverty or living in plenty – it was only “through Him who gives me strength.” This was not some expression of puffed up personal pride in his own abilities but rather a humble declaration of the strength provided by Jesus. What would you consider sacrificing for the Lord? Where 80% of all households in America have cable or satellite TV; where 70% own a cell phone; and where 97% of American households own computers what would be considered sacrificial? Sacrifice costs the one doing it dearly.
We praise you, O God, with words of thanksgiving in our mouths and in our hearts - words which can never really do justice to the depth of your care for us. We rejoice in your blessings, yet we so often fail to live up to them. Like your people of old, we often desire to fashion you in our image or in ways that we can control. Knowing these failings of ours as you do, you still invite us to share your life of grace and abundant love by being united with Jesus Christ through the power of your Spirit. We do not deserve such gifts. We can only receive them and respond because Jesus intercedes for us in our weakness. May our daily living proclaim our thanksgiving for these undeserved and lavish gifts of grace. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Read Colossians 3:12-17

Today there is great confusion as to the function of the church. Believers are often not quite sure what it is and what it is supposed to do. As far as the New Testament is concerned, a church is a worshipping community. Put in other words, the church is a fellowship of believers meeting with Jesus and recognizing his presence in their midst. Of course, we can perform this function using many different styles, from devotional to celebratory.

Our passage for study focuses on relationships within the church. It tells us how to get on together, and in doing that, it tells us something about church. Church is primarily a community, a fellowship of believers. Elsewhere Paul will call it "the body of Christ", a people "growing up into him who is the head, that is Christ." We are reminded how important it is to express this reality in our love for one another - that we realize body-life. And second, we see again the purpose of our coming together, that we meet with Christ, recognize him, worship him, that we hear him and praise him. This is the center from which the community will grow, the center from which love will flourish.

Merciful God, weave the threads of our lives and our love in line with your design so that we are indeed clothed with your compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience - all of which were so fully revealed by Jesus. Strengthen us with the Holy Spirit so that whatever we do, in word and deed, we do in the name of Jesus, our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Read Colossians 1:9-14

Key Words and Phrases
** we have not ceased praying for you
** filled with the knowledge of God's will
** bear fruit in every good work
** be prepared to endure everything with patience
** joyfully give thanks to the Father

In most of his letters Paul followed the greeting with a prayer of thanksgiving for the church to which he was writing. As illustrated in Colossians, the prayers were not generic, but were specific to the context and issues of the church.

Here Paul begins in the expected way: "...we have not ceased praying for you." Then he identifies the content of his prayers for these people. Several of the petitions have been identified as Key Words and Phrases.

The Colossians church was being upset by the teachings and demands of outsiders. The essence of Paul's prayer was for a sense of peace. That peace depends on trusting the God who alone holds the future and makes a place of belonging for God's people.

Paul's example is worthy of imitating. We should not cease praying daily for the congregation of which we are a part. Given the circumstances and context of your church, what would be included in your daily prayer? What would most help the church to be faithful, effective, at peace with each other, and undaunted by outside threats or influences? Why not begin to pray for your congregation every day?

prayer without ceasing
calls for a patience beyond patience
known otherwise as joy

prayer without ceasing
calls for action beyond results
known otherwise as hope

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Read Luke 15: 1-7

Key words and phrases
** tax collectors and sinners were coming around

** Pharisees and scribes were grumbling

** welcomes sinners and eats with them

** Rejoice with me

Reflection Questions
1. Are the 21st century equivalents of "tax collectors and sinners" drawing near to hear Jesus at your church?

2. If "outsiders and outcasts" were to begin worshiping at your church in significant numbers, what would be the predominant response of the congregation?

O God, your love is a searching, finding, and celebrating power. We have been found and claimed by your Son, Jesus Christ. For that experience and ongoing reality, we rejoice. In celebrating your love, may we carry it to those most in need. May we rejoice with those who, by entering our doors, draw near to you. Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Read Hebrews 13:17-25
A Closing Exhortation and Benediction

Key Words and Phrases
** have a clear conscience
** desire to act honorably in all things
** make you complete in everything good
so that you may do his will

Reflection Questions
1. With the author's emphasis on a clear conscience, acting honorably, and being completely good, is this passage out of date?

2. Is your conscience clear?

3. In your own circumstances, what would "acting honorably in all things" require?

4. How do you discover God's will for your life?

A Prayer
Lord Jesus, you are the great shepherd of the sheep. Only through your love and mercy can we have a clear conscience. Only you can make us complete in everything good. Without your help. we are unable to live with honor. Apart from you we cannot please God.

Forgive us for wandering from the fold, trying to make it on our own. Restore us to yourself, whose resurrection power can transform our lives. By grace may we be pleasing in God's sight. Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Friday, July 17,2009

Read Acts 17: 16-31
Paul, who had been publicly proclaiming the Jesus Way in the marketplaces and synagogues with anyone and everyone, was ridiculed by these culture shapers and opinion makers as a "babbler" who advocated "foreign gods.”. But the philosophers loved to learn the latest, so they invited Paul to a meeting at Athens's most powerful and important venue to explain what they derided as his "strange ideas."

At our worst, we Christians have isolated and insulated ourselves from our culture's mainstreams. We can be inward-looking, self-absorbed, self-important, and cloistered, instead of engaging people at our modern day marketplaces of ideas.

But at our best, Christians have always been just as comfortable living, learning and sharing the Gospel in the marketplace as in the ministry of the church, in bars and board rooms as well as in basilicas, in university lecture halls as easily as in church fellowship halls. In an outward, centrifugal movement modeled after Paul at the Areopagus, believers have welcomed the opportunity to meet real people where they really live, work, and think, in order to gain a hearing for their "strange ideas" about repentance, rebirth, and the resurrection.

The statement, “In him, we live and move and have our being” is not a statement from a Hebrew prophet or a writer of scripture, but from a Greek poet who didn’t even believe in Yahweh or Jesus! And yet we use it repeatedly within our Christian worship and theology. It is a reminder to us that there is no such thing as a pure or unsullied theology, but through any reflection upon the Christian faith march many traditions of thought – pagan as well as Christian!

May we always be open to learning from as well as testifying to persons of any faith or no faith. May we show the respect which Paul demonstrated in Athens and offer our witness with humility, though unapologetically.

I look forward to seeing some of you in worship at Forest Heights United Methodist Church in Jackson, TN, and resuming the conversation with all of you on Monday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Read Colossians 1:15-23

One of the mysteries of Christian faith is the affirmation that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine - a mystery because logic can provide no explanation. Yet this affirmation is one of our bedrock beliefs. We cannot sacrifice either emphasis, Jesus of Nazareth and the Cosmic Christ.

In some periods of church history the emphasis has been on the divinity of Jesus. At other times we have been more interested in his humanity. Before becoming famous as a missionary, Albert Schweitzer wrote The Quest for the Historical Jesus, an enormously influential book.

These verses from Colossians may have originated as a hymn, often referred to as The Hymn of the Cosmic Christ. Notice how often the author underscores that point in a few verses. Jesus was

the image of the invisible God (verse 15)
the firstborn of all creation (verse 15)
in him were all things created (verse 16)
he is before all things (verse 17)
by him all things hold together (verse 17)
he is the head of the body (verse 18)
he is the beginning (verse 18)
the firstborn from the dead (verse 18)
he has first place in everything (verse 18)
in him all the fullness of God dwells (verse 19)
through him God reconciled all things, making peace (verse 20)

I find that my identification with Jesus of Nazareth or the Cosmic Christ depends upon my circumstances and needs. I affirm both, but most often one or the other is foremost in my praying and thinking?

Leave a comment about your own experience. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 15,2009

Read Luke 7:31-35
This short passage speaks to me in at least two important ways.

First, my desire to please and have the approval of everyone is futile. It's not going to happen, and its pursuit is misguided.

Luke points out that, as different as John the Baptist and Jesus were, the people did not accept either. John led an ascetic life in the desert. Jesus ate and drank with outcasts. John was a prophet announcing judgment and calling for repentance. Jesus announced God's blessing on the poor and called the rich to repent. Each had a small group of followers, but both were ultimately rejected. There will be people to criticize and find fault with almost any enterprise, especially if there is an expectation of change. Why should I expect to be exempt from criticism and second-guessing?

Secondly, I am like everyone else in this regard. I can always find a reason not to respond to God's call or participate in God's work.

Luke uses the image of children refusing to join each other's games, and, as a result, sitting on the sidelines. There is a temptation to criticize and boycott projects which we did not originate, especially if we have offered an alternative project. How many times have I failed to join in the work, struggles, and celebration of the Kingdom because I had "a better idea?"

Thank goodness for "the children of wisdom" who can get beyond initial impressions, see the evidence of God's work, and give themselves to it enthusiastically.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Read Acts 23:12-35
I must admit to struggling a bit with these passages from Acts, especially after the narrative has covered the early church in Jerusalem and begins to focus on Paul's journeys. I have great respect for Paul as a missionary who transformed the church by reaching out to the Gentile population in his travels. His correspondence with the churches he founded has some of the best teaching and highest inspiration in the New Testament. Why my struggle to find deep meaning in the passages we have been reading recently?

Perhaps part of the answer has to do with the nature of the book of Acts. It is primarily a history text. It recounts the story of Paul's journeys. The story itself is inspiring and worthy of reflection. As my daughter would say, "It is what it is."

The"historical" question which today's reading poses for me is, "What provoked this intense hatred of Paul among the Jews?" There are several possible answers.

Paul is a traitor (to the Jewish faith) and must be punished as such.

His mission to the nations threatens Israel's identity as God's chosen people.

His interpretation of Scripture (the Hebrew Bible) to support the Lord's resurrection provokes the long-standing tensions between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

In each city where Paul was beaten, arrested, or run out of town, there were likely antagonisms specific to the locality.

Almighty God, who converted Saul the persecutor to Paul, the apostle and missionary: Transform any parts of our lives which continue to weaken your church. Plant the gospel message in our hearts, that it may bear fruit in our testimony. May your Spirit knit us together in unity, standing on the ground which has one foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

St. Paul Rescued from the Multitude by Gustave Dore

Read Acts 21:27-39
It is noteworthy that the same verb epilambanomai is used both of the mob 'seizing' Paul (30) and of the commander 'arresting' him (33), although they had opposite objectives. The crowd were bent on lynching him, and the military tribune on taking him into protective custody. It is a striking example of Luke's aim to contrast Jewish hostility and Roman justice. When the commander failed to discover who the prisoner was and what he had done, because of the hubbub, he had him taken, indeed (owing to the mob's violence) carried, into the barracks. Meanwhile, the crowd was shouting, `Away with him,' just as nearly thirty years previously another crowd had shouted about another prisoner. (Lk. 23:18)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

(The picture is of Gethsemani Abbey, a Trappist monastery, and home of Thomas Merton until his death in 1968.)

Read Colossians 4: 2-18
Colossians has been a "big picture" letter -- dealing with the church as the body of Christ and with the cosmic scope of Christ's redeeming work. In these closing verses Paul becomes pragmatic and personal.

Paul speaks of three elements of prayer, not intending to give a full treatment, but to highlight fundamental practicalities: the necessity of alertness, the importance of thanksgiving, and prayer's participation in the work of the gospel.

Alert prayer enables us to see through the deceptive values of the old order. It heightens our perception of reality and keeps us grounded there.

The presence or absence of thanksgiving functions as a test of whether a person has understood that the gospel is a matter of grace, an undeserved gift. Thankful prayer is not a way of ignoring life's problems and pain, but it allows us to place those things in their true context.

Prayer, for the Colossians, focuses on the missionaries and their message, thus participating in their work on behalf of the gospel. It is expected that the church's prayer will open opportunities for the proclamation and spread of the gospel.

In verse 3, Paul asks his readers to "pray for us." In verses 7-17 we discover how many people are included in that "us." In addition to names that we do not encounter elsewhere, we also find Mark, Barnabas, Onesimus, and Luke.

Paul was part of a gifted, devoted team in his service to Christ. Who is a part of your team? Are you trying to be a Christian by yourself? Jesus had twelve disciples. Paul had companions on every journey. What makes us think that we can do it alone?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Read James 5:7-12

Caretake This Moment

Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.

Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Exert yourself.

Respect your partnership with providence. Ask yourself often, How may I perform this particular deed such that it would be consistent with and acceptable to the divine will? Heed the answer and get to work.

When your doors are shut and your room is dark you are not alone. The will of nature is within you as your natural genius is within. Listen to its importunings. Follow its directives.

As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life. No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time.

Give your best and always be kind.

~ Epictetus ~

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Monday, July 5, 2009

Is boasting always a fool's game, or can it serve a larger purpose? Paul makes several helpful points in this passage.
* There is a difference between boasting for reasons of personal pride, and boasting as a strategy for saving or serving the church.
* Paul's boasts would normally be considered folly and vanity; but in this case they were the only way to open the eyes of the people being deceived by 'false apostles.'
* Paul's are a strange kind of boasts. "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (11:30)
Paul matches the false apostles' boasts in several categories:
Heritage (11:22) His credentials as a Hebrew, an Israelite, and a descendant of Abraham are affirmed.
Record of Service (11:23-25) Though admitting that he is "talking like a madman," Paul boasts of being a better minister of Christ than his adversaries.
Dangers and Deprivations (11:26-29) Paul recounts a litany of sufferings in the service of Christ: imprisonments, floggings, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst.
Pastoral Concerns (11:28-29) In addition to everything else, he is under daily pressure because of his anxiety for all the churches.
It is appropriate at times to speak of ourselves, our accomplishments and our tribulations. We must, however, examine our motives. Do we "boast" out of personal pride and a desire to impress others, or do we speak in humility, fully aware of our weaknesses?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Three claims surface here from that ubiquitous authority, "They say." First, that the Corinthians belong to Christ in some special way; secondly, that Paul's letters are "frightening" the Corinthians; and finally, that Paul's physical presence is "weak" and his speech "amounts to nothing."
Paul's response is rather firm: "I will not be shamed." (v. 8) Then, in verse 11, "Let such people know that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present."

It is unlikely that anything could offend Paul more than the suggestion that someone or some group claims to belong to Christ in a way that other Christians do not. Paul makes the point repeatedly in his letters: There is no ranking of believers when it comes to our relationship with Christ. There is no hierarchy based on spiritual gifts. All baptized believers are equally "in Christ." Any gifts we have are granted by the Spirit as the Spirit has chosen for the best interests of all.
Paul sees his letters as edification, encouraging growth in the churches he founded or visited. His frank speech presupposes a context of friendship and caring. However, not everything that we think is done in love is perceived by the recipients as loving. Since perception is often reality, we must be thoughtful and sensitive at all times, especially when our motives may be obscure or subject to misunderstanding.
When was the last time that you were surprised to discover that your innocent or loving deeds had been perceived as meddlesome, unwanted, and damaging to your relationships?