Thursday, March 31, 2011

dead to law

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading makes an interesting argument we see other places in Paul's writing. He says that the law is holy and good, but at the same time, it encourages sin. He doesn't blame the law for this; instead he sees sin as taking advantage of an opportunity in the law. His example here is coveting (envy): he says he wouldn't know what it means to covet if the law didn't prohibit it. Sometimes we see this with kids: they do something purely because they know they aren't supposed to. We are sometimes drawn to behavior simply because it's forbidden.

Now that we're joined to Christ we have died with Christ to the law. We don't belong to the law anymore but to Christ. That means we follow Jesus in how we live and don't worry about what the law says. As it happens, since the law and Jesus both come from God there will be a lot in common between our behavior and what the law demands, but our actions will come from freedom, not the law.
blessings on your freedom,

Romans 7:1-12

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. 4In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

7What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

slavery and freedom

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Paul continues his discussion of leaving sin behind through our relationship with Christ. Here instead of making an analogy with death he talks about slavery and freedom. Once we were slaves to sin because we did "what sin told us to." By following sin's orders we got more and more deeply tied to sin, which leads to death. Now instead of sin we belong to God through Jesus Christ. That means as we follow Jesus we grow in faith and holiness, which leads to true life. Trading sin for God sounds like a great deal to me.
Blessings on your day,

Romans 6:13-23

13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

death and new life

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Yesterday Paul talked about how grace is more powerful than sin, so even when the law revealed how much we sin, grace covered all that sin up. Today he starts by responding to a rhetorical question: does that mean we should sin more so grace has more opportunity to show its power? The answer is, "Of course not." Here he helps us see what baptism really means.

When we were baptized into Christ's body, that means we were joined to his death. That means two things: first, we died to sin. Sin has no more power over us because, through Christ's death, we can say our old, sinful self is dead. It also means we will be raised with Christ, first now in that we have the power of Christ's new life working in us, then on the last day when the dead are raised from the dead, we will rise to be with Jesus. So we are able to be totally done with sin because our death and new life with Christ let us put it away.
Enjoy your new life today,

Romans 6:1-12

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Adam and Christ

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today Paul draws a parallel between Jesus and Adam. Adam (and Eve) first disobeyed God. Their sin brought judgment and death into the world, which has held power over us since then. Jesus came into the world to heal the separation between us and God. Scripture often talks about Jesus as a second Adam because in him we are a new creation; we have a fresh start. He overcame our sin with grace and replaced our disobedience with perfect obedience to God. Now that Christ has come, sin no longer has the upper hand. God's free gift of grace overpowers sin, and one day will complete the reconciliation between people, creation and God. Until then we work in hope for a day of peace and love, trusting in God who forgives and welcomes us.

Blessings on your week,

Romans 5:11-21

11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

living water

Good morning sisters and brothers,
In our first reading Jesus concludes his discussion with the woman at the well. He tells his disciples that even though they haven't been the ones to sow the seeds of faith in Samaria, they will be part of the harvest. Samaritans come to Jesus because of the woman's testimony, but believe because they see for themselves.

Our reading from Exodus reminds us that Israel's journey with God included doubt and complaining as well as amazing faith. The temptation to return to slaver was always with them, since freedom with God is often a hard road. We may have similar temptations in our own life, but God can quench our thirst with the living water of Christ.


John 4:31-42

31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”


Exodus 17:1-7

1From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

journey into Samaria

Good morning friends,
We dug into this story some on Sunday. Jesus is traveling through Samaria. The woman puts the division between Jews and Samaritans on the table right away. For much of Israel's history the nation was divided into a southern kingdom, Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, and a northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Samaria. In 722 BC the northern kingdom was defeated by the Assyrian Empire and its people were taken into exile. The land was resettled with people from all over the empire. In an interesting twist, God sent wild animals to threaten and kill some of the new inhabitants, so the Assyrians sent back a few priests to teach the way to worship God. The people then worshiped the Lord, but also kept up their other observances.

With that history and the resulting jealousy, Jews thought of Samaritans as intruders in their land and as impostors in the faith. Jesus tells lots of stories about Samaritans because they were the hated minority in his culture. Jews looked down on them, and yet here is Jesus starting a relationship and offering living water. May we have the courage to do the same.

God bless,

John 4:5-15

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

redeemed for new life

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This passage was our first reading on Sunday. Two ideas in this passage particularly catch my attention. The first is the idea that because we trust God we can have confidence (boast) in God, and also even in suffering because suffering gives us endurance, which builds our character. Character in turn strengthens our hope, which will never be disappointed if it's firmly rooted in God. That doesn't mean we won't be disappointed sometimes about the way things go in our lives, but it means that God won't ever leave us alone.

The other idea that holds me here is the idea that since Christ died for us while we were still sinners, obviously now that we are righteous through his death, his resurrection will fill us with new life. God heals us from sin and gives us the chance to start fresh in a life of faith, love and service. Nothing can separate us from God if we grab hold of the love he offers us.

Blessings on your day,

Romans 5:1-10
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

righteous by faith

Good morning friends,
I'd like to remind you that we'll be diving into the book The Shack this evening at the Boulevard. Everyone is welcome to take part; we should be in for some good discussion. Feel free to come even if you haven't read any of the book yet. For those with non-traditional schedules, I'll be leading worship today at St. Mark's and St. John's Episcopal Church on Culver Road at 12:10pm. The service includes prayer, communion, scripture and anointing for healing. It looks like a neat service and I'm excited to be part of it.

Today's reading gets deeper into how Abraham was justified by faith. He was justified because God "reckoned" or counted or credited Abraham as righteous. God reckoned Abraham righteous not because of Abraham's actions or for following the law (especially since the law wasn't given for hundreds more years). Instead, Abraham became righteous by trusting God's promise even in the face of hardship and challenges to that promise. In the same way we get right with God by putting our trust in him that he will save us from our sins through Christ's ministry. Christ died and rose again for us; with love like that, nothing can keep us away from God. God's promise often takes a twisting road, but it never fails.

God bless,

Romans 4:16-25

16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
23Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

law and promise

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Yesterday we read how Abraham was righteous because he trusted God's promise. Today Paul goes on to examine the relationship between Abraham's righteousness and the covenant of circumcision. He concludes that Abraham became righteous and received God's promise before he was circumcised. That's important because that way all of us who share Abraham's faith inherit God's promise to him. The promise was sealed and symbolized by circumcision, but it was not limited to the circumcised or those who keep the law. We come to God by faith and the doors to relationship with God are wide open.

God bless,

Romans 4:9-15

9Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

saved by grace

Good morning brothers and sisters,
I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Our reading this morning makes a distinction between works and faith, a difference at the core of the protestant reformation. We aren't righteous because of our actions, but because God forgives our sins and make us righteous. The role of faith in all this is that we trust God's mercy, which never fails. Strange as it seems, we are full of faith when we quit counting on our selves and lean only on God.

Blessings on the new week,

Romans 4:1-8
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 6So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

born again

Good morning friends,
Today's first reading was last Sunday's Old Testament reading. God calls Abram to leave home into an uncertain future. Abram trusts God and follows. Praise God!

Our second reading features a Jewish leader visiting Jesus at night to see what he's about. Jesus tells him to really know God he has to be born again. Born again has unfortunately been a divisive phrase in American Christianity. Often people who particularly identify as "born again" have a very rigid understanding of what "counts" as a born again experience. The truth is that coming to new life in Christ is sometimes more a growth than a dramatic, instantaneous experience. The point isn't how dramatic your conversion is; instead, the point is that when we come to know and love Jesus a new life begins. We may not even know when it begins, but we find ourselves loving others without expecting it, seeking out scripture to guide us, and living gratefully in the light of God's love. Christ comes to us not to condemn us but to save us.

God bless,

Genesis 12:1-4a

1Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.


John 3:1-17

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

all have sinned: all need God's grace

Good morning church,
Today's reading is an important one. Paul has laid out how gentiles have turned away from God to worship created things and, as a result, have plunged their society into sin and chaos. He then explained how Jews put their trust in their history and the presence of the law, without really following God. Here he brings this part of his case to conclusion: all have sinned and fallen short of God's calling. From their he explains that the point of the law is to show us that we aren't succeeding in following God because no one can live up to the full expectation of the law. We all sin, and the law shows us that we fall short.

With the world in sin God reached out to us to bring us back by Christ's death on the cross. Now we see Jesus' faithfulness and we see that God gives us forgiveness through him as a gift. We stand in front of God righteous by trusting in God. Just as we all fall short by relying on ourselves, we all become righteous by trusting in Christ. May you know the peace of trusting Jesus today.

God bless,

Romans 3:19-30

19Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

27Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading begins to wrap up this first section of the letter. Paul says Jews do have an advantage since as a community they have heard God speak to them over a long period of time and therefore have a great chance to know his will. The fact that some have not followed doesn't change God's calling. Then he addresses what seems to have been a common accusation against the church. It seems that people claimed because Christians believed in God's loving forgiveness that they stopped caring about behaving the right way. Paul shoots down this argument immediately. Paul believes that God's grace is what matters for forgiveness, but that God's calling is to a new life free from sin. God still calls us to follow and still pours out forgiveness and love freely. Listen for his voice today in your life.

God bless,

Romans 3:1-18

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written, “So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging.” 5But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved!

9What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” 13“Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of vipers is under their lips.” 14“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and misery are in their paths, 17and the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

who is faithful

Good morning friends,
Happy St. Patrick's Day. Our reading today continues Paul's critique of members of the Jewish community who fail to follow God's law. His point is that we are not right with God because of our religion, but because of our faithfulness. In his time, Jews looked down on gentiles and were proud of their relationship with God. Paul warns them not to count on their traditions if they weren't doing the right things. Those of us who are active in the church now always need to remember this warning too. Being part of the church or synagogue isn't what God cares about, though he does love the church and his people Israel. Instead, God wants us to love him and love others. When people outside the church do the right things, God is pleased. When God's special people do the wrong things; God is disappointed. We're not there yet, but the good news is that God forgives us and calls us again to live a life worthy of our calling.

blessings on your discipleship today,

Romans 2:17-29

17But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

everybody knows

Good morning friends,
As a reminder, we start our book group reading The Shack tonight at the Boulevard at 8. I don't expect anyone to have read anything yet, so come on over so we can get introduced and get underway. I think you'll find God will do something exciting in your life through studying this book with others. I hope you'll be there.

Today Paul continues his theme that Jews and gentiles are in the same boat. Even though gentiles don't have the law, God's calling is written on their heart. When they do the right thing, they follow God's commands even without knowing the law, and when they do wrong they know it even if they haven't read scripture. The Bible helps us understand who God is and what God calls us to do, but often it confirms what we already sense and strips away our excuses. The more time we spend with scripture, the more it shapes us into the people God wants us to be. God's calling is for all of us, so let us turn to him.

Romans 2:9-16

9There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality. 12All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

judging others

Good morning brothers and sisters,
After getting into the chaos that comes into our lives when we focus on things instead of God, Paul turns his attention to self-righteousness. He suspects that some of his readers will be proud of themselves since they don't fit the pattern he described in the last chapter. He warns these readers that God's wrath is especially powerful against those who judge others while also living in sin. It may be human nature to feel good about ourselves when we think about what other people do wrong. Instead, thinking about any kind of sin should remind us of our own shortcomings and lead us to repentance. God's mercy is amazing, so the invitation to repent and change our ways is always open.


Romans 2:1-8

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

Monday, March 14, 2011

sin and disorder

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading is the longest piece of the New Testament that talks about homosexuality. Paul uses both male and female homosexuality as an example of the disorder that happens when people turn away from God and worship creatures rather than the creator. It is obvious from this that Paul is not "in favor" of same sex relationships. It's important to keep in mind that Paul didn't know anything about loving, equal and long term same sex relationships. In his time same sex relationships were usually in addition to male-female marriage and were often between powerful men and much younger men. In the Jewish culture in which Paul grew up there was a strong association between homosexuality and idolatry since Jews saw this as something gentiles did. All that is to say that Paul's setting was very different from ours and he is not writing about modern same-sex, monogamous relationships. I feel strongly that committed, long term same sex relationships have the same ability to strengthen people in faith and equip them for a life of faithful service to Christ that male-female relationships have.

That said, Paul's larger point is an important one: when we turn away from God as the center of our world, our lives become more and more out of balance. That leads us into more and more sinful lives both individually and as a society. Notice the case Paul is building; so far we have three steps: 1. even those without the law can and should know God through the world around them, 2. gentiles who should have known God instead worship idols and created things instead of the creator, 3. because of that they become selfish and all their relationships are corrupted. The next step will be to fit Paul's Jewish culture into this situation. Stick with this, Paul is getting somewhere wonderful and the introduction is important.

blessings on your week,

Romans 1:26-32

26For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. 28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

sin and forgiveness

Good morning friends,
Hopefully, you or your cell phone remembered to set your clock ahead last night. A little later this morning we'll get to hear from our special Laurelton guest, Tiffany Aurora about her peacemaking trip to Iraq this past October. I hope you can join us for her presentation and discussion after worship. Our readings this morning are different from our readings for the service; we'll read this Genesis passage in a week or two. It tells the famous story of humanity's first turn away from God after creation. Notice that the man and woman are together when the serpent tempts them. The serpent is very crafty, since as Susan Dennis pointed out when we read this story in Supper and Scripture, she wouldn't have even known that lying was a possibility for the serpent. Our Psalm is one of my favorites because it gives us a powerful image for how much we suffer when we keep our sins to ourselves. When we return to God with confession, God is always ready to free us from the horrible burden of guilt. We'll talk more about that later today. The paragraph breaks in the Psalm show where different speakers take the lead: first the Psalmist, then God, then the Psalmist.

See you in church,

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

2:15The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.16And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.


Psalm 32

1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

6 Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.

7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

separation from God

Good morning friends,
First, we certainly want to keep our brothers and sisters in Japan in prayer as they rescue those in danger and begin the work of recovery. I also want to remind you about Tiffany's visit to lead a discussion of her peacemaking work in Iraq. She'll be sharing with us after worship tomorrow and will have some amazing pictures as well as a powerful story. Also, don't forget to set your clocks ahead an hour before you go to bed tonight; the calendar says Spring is upon us, even though the snow on the ground says otherwise.

Our reading today dives into the meat of Paul's argument. The good news about Jesus is God's power for salvation for all, so we certainly are not ashamed of it. From this positive beginning Paul makes a case that everyone in the world can see evidence of God's power through the glory of creation. That should have led everyone to worship God, but instead many people worshiped idols and images of creatures instead. Since most people didn't seek God, God allowed them to go off on their own to live in immoral ways. Because of that separation we make between ourselves and God, many people fall into all kinds of trouble and the world became a mess. In passages to come Paul will tell us how God overcomes this bad situation, but for now we simply look around and see that it is true.


Romans 1:16-25

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

introducing Romans

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today we begin reading Paul's Letter to the Romans. Romans is one of the most important letters in the New Testament because it is the clearest and fullest presentation of the gospel from Paul's point of view. While most of his letters were written to churches he had founded to deal with the particular situation there, Romans was written to a church Paul had never visited to introduce his ministry to them. The letter was probably written in 57 CE (AD) from Corinth. It is a challenging letter and one we will all benefit from reading together. While it is challenging, I think you'll also enjoy it and find it inspiring for your faith. I'll also be preaching on Romans for many of the next several weeks. It would be great if you could find a chance in the next week or so to read the whole letter on your own so you'll have a sense for the big picture as we read it slowly together.

One thing that we notice as we read Paul's writing is that he relates everything to the Old Testament. Paul's letters were all written before the Gospels, so Paul hadn't read them. Instead, his experience with Christ was based on his conversion experience on the road to Damascus and his work to fit that experience of God's grace in Jesus with the prophetic promises about the Messiah. Paul basically never refers to Jesus' ministry other than his crucifixion and resurrection. The whole letter is about God's salvation of all people by grace through faith in Christ. Even when we struggle with Paul's writing or our faith, we can always cling to God's amazing love.


Romans 1:1-15

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ambassadors for Christ

Good morning sisters and brothers,
In our reading for today Paul presents the good news of God's redeeming love in Jesus. When we were far from God, God sent Jesus into our world to become sin so that we could become righteous in God's eyes. Through that ministry we are brought back to God. That offer to come home to God is always open, but we never know how much time we have left. That's why Paul reminds us that now is the acceptable time to come home.

We don't just bask in God's love, though, we also become ministers of reconciliation for others. Like Paul we seek to be ambassadors for Christ reaching out to others with God's love. We hear Paul's words about being careful not to put any obstacles in anyone's way. Our job is to make it easier for people to find God. So today and all Lent, be reconciled to God and reconcile others to him too.

God bless your ministry,

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

5:20bwe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

fasting and repentance

Good morning friends and welcome to the beginning of Lent,
Tonight we'll begin our Lenten season together with an Ash Wednesday service at 6:30 in the sanctuary. Lent is a time to reflect on our lives and our relationship with God. We all drift away in our discipleship sometimes and Lent is a great time to come back to God. Our worship tonight will be quiet and reflective; I hope you'll be there. Lent is a great chance to recommit to daily personal scripture reading and prayer. Please let me know what I can do to help you seek a closer walk with God in this season.

Today's reading is from the prophet Joel. Joel urges the people to fast and repent because God's judgment is coming. The themes he proclaims are like many of the other prophets; his setting is unique. The army Joel refers to in this letter isn't the army of one of Judah's neighbors; instead it is a swarm of locusts that devastated Jerusalem. The historical setting is unknown but based on the writing scholars suspect it could be from the 400-500 BC (after the exile). Joel sees the locusts as agents of God's judgment and sees Israel's repentance in the light of God's promise for restoration. Joel's call to repent, fast and "rend our hearts and not our garments" is a good call for us to hear as we turn back to God in Lent.

Blessings for a holy day and holy Lent,

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near —
2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged;
gather the children, even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests,
the ministers of the LORD, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD,
and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

closing thoughts

Good morning church,
Today we hear Paul's closing message to the church in Corinth. Like he usually does, he sends greetings to particular leaders in the church, which reinforces how interconnected the early church was. He also lifts up some of their leaders, like Stephanus, as examples for others to follow. He also reminds them that love is the most important part of the Christian life. The somewhat odd line: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand," reminds us that Paul didn't physically write the bulk of these letters. Instead, he probably dictated for someone with great handwriting to write. Often, he used his own handwriting for the closing words of a letter as a personal touch, kind of like hand signing a letter we have typed. So as we leave this letter behind, let's take his closing words to bless us for the day with the grace of Jesus Christ.

May you feel Christ's grace with you all day,

1 Corinthians 16:13-24

13Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14Let all that you do be done in love. 15Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; 16I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. 17I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; 18for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.

19The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord. 20All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come! 23The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.

Monday, March 7, 2011

ending and beginning

Good morning friends,
I'd like to remind you of our Ash Wednesday service on Wednesday evening at 6:30. The service will be simple and will lead us into the season of Lent. I hope to see you there. We'll have a couple of additional activities during Lent also: a book study of The Shack at the Boulevard on Wednesdays from 8-9:30pm (starting not this Wednesday, but the following) and a new members series for which we're still figuring out the details. If you've been worshiping at Laurelton and want to think about becoming an "official" member, this series will be a great opportunity to talk about faith and consider where God is calling you. Let me know if you're interested and we'll get the details nailed down.

Today's reading moves into personal and practical parts of discipleship. Paul urges the Corinthian church to prepare for his arrival by working on the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. This collection was an important part of his work with all the gentile churches. It seems like it was a symbol both for Paul and for the Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem of the unity of the church. He also writes about his own plans for visiting them in the future. Notice that he leaves things pretty open as he is trying to go where the Spirit leads, not simply following a travel itinerary. This section reminds us of how interconnected the Christian movement was. I pray we keep in mind that we are all working together and would seek to follow Christ's calling today.

God bless,

1 Corinthians 16:1-12

Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. 2On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come. 3And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. 4If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

5I will visit you after passing through Macedonia—for I intend to pass through Macedonia— 6and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way, wherever I go. 7I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

10If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am; 11therefore let no one despise him. Send him on his way in peace, so that he may come to me; for I am expecting him with the brothers. 12Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but he was not at all willing to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Good morning brothers and sisters,
It's great to be back in Rochester; thanks to Gary for sending out the daily readings while I was away. Today's readings are out of sequence for us because today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent begins. Matthew tells us the story of Jesus taking his three closest disciples: Peter, James and John, up a mountain with him. On the mountain they see him transfigured, which means they see a different side of him than they had seen before. They see him shining with light, and they see with him Moses and Elijah, both symbols of God's work in the past and signs of the promised Messiah. The scene makes it clearer to the disciples who Jesus is, confirming that God is with him in a special way.

We also read this passage from Exodus because Jesus' transfiguration and encounter with God on the mountain looks back to this story. God called Moses up the mountain to give Israel the law that "officially" sealed the covenant between God and Israel. Like in the transfiguration story, God appears as a cloud on a mountain. The transfiguration shows us that Jesus embodies a new covenant between God and humanity; our calling is to live into that new covenant by following Jesus.


Exodus 24:12-18

12The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.


Matthew 17:1-9

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”