Monday, May 30, 2011

abide in Christ's love

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Jesus continues his final words to his disciples with this image of a vine and its branches. As Christ's disciples we are only effective or faithful when we stay connected to Christ, our root. Notice that even when we're doing what we should be "bearing fruit," Jesus doesn't lead us to expect comfort or ease. Instead, he says God "prunes" us so we bear more fruit. Elsewhere he warns the disciples they will be hated for his sake. We don't follow Jesus because it's easy, but because with Jesus we find true and abundant life. Spend a little time reflecting on this word Jesus uses repeatedly: "abide." How can you abide in Jesus more fully?

God bless,

John 15:1-8

”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

final words

Good morning friends,
Today's reading continues Jesus' last words to his disciples before his death. Here he focuses on the fact that Jesus isn't leaving them alone, but instead will send them the Holy Spirit to guide them. He also talks about how leaving this world to go to the Father is a source of joy for him, not just pain. No matter how powerful the forces against us look, God is more powerful, and God will stay with us no matter what.

God bless,

John 14:25-31

25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.

preaching to philosophers

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today we see Paul preaching at a meeting place for people interested in philosophy. Since he's not talking to people who know or care about Jewish tradition or scripture, he doesn't spend time quoting scripture. Instead, he works with their understanding of God, which is the temples in the city. He connects their worship with the true God, but then tells them they can come to know God better than they do now.

The Psalm for this morning is a real statement of trust in the midst of trouble. The psalmist sees God's hand even in the hardship s/he has faced. When s/he looks back, the psalmist can see that God has been there all along. We may see the same thing if we look at our lives in the light of prayer.

God bless,

Acts 17:22-31

22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.

26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’

29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”


Psalm 66:8-20

8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,
9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;
12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,
14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

preaching to pagans

Good morning friends,
I've been unable to post these for a few days due to a problem with blogger. Hopefully we're back on track now. We're jumping around a bit here in the Book of Acts. We were last hearing about how Saul approved of Stephen's death and began persecuting the church. Not long after that Jesus appears to Saul and Saul becomes Paul, the great evangelist. From the fifteenth chapter on, Acts tells the story of Paul's travels to spread the word. We pick up the story with Paul in Athens, the center of philosophy. He's distressed with that city's idolatry but uses not only the synagogue, but also the marketplace to share the good news of God's love in Jesus. Tomorrow we'll read how he preaches to pagans with a philosophical mindset. One thing I appreciate is that even though the gospel is always the same, different settings suggest different ways of presenting the story.

Weekend blessings,

Acts 17:15-21

15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him. 16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.

18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Monday, May 23, 2011

martyrdom and evangelism

Good afternoon friends,
You may have noticed when Stephen was killed the witnesses against him laid their coats at the feet of a man named Saul. We're told today that Saul approved Stephen's killing and that this killing was the beginning of a severe persecution. The cool thing is that God can even use persecution to good purposes. The church is scattered, so the word is proclaimed more widely. Philip, another of the seven deacons appointed with Stephen preaches the good news in Samaria and they receive the message about Jesus gladly. Whatever is going on in our life now, God can use it for good if we open our hearts. That doesn't mean it will be easy, just that there is always hope.
Blessing on the new week,

Acts 8:1-8

And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

4Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. 5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. 8So there was great joy in that city.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stephen's faithfulness in trouble

Good morning friends,
Here Stephen concludes his defense with the critique that has been building throughout his speech. The leaders, like their ancestors, have not followed God's calling. Instead they rejected the prophets sent to correct them. They rejected the prophets who foretold Jesus and now have rejected Jesus himself. After delivering this message, to no one's surprise, Stephen is executed. Notice the parallels with Christ's death.

Our Psalm is a prayer of trust in God in hard times. If you're having a tough day or week, this is a good place to turn to remember that others have walked in trouble before and God will be with you.

Blessings on your Sunday,

Acts 7:51-60

51”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.

55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.


Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.

3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God

15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.

Friday, May 20, 2011

ending well

Hi friends,
I'm not sending this email out early because I'm worried about the end of the world. I'm not at all concerned that the rapture or judgment day will happen tomorrow. There are two reasons I'm not worried: first, because God loves us so much that God's judgment doesn't scare me. Second: I don't really think anything special is going to happen tomorrow. Jesus told us the end would come suddenly and that no one (not even Jesus) knows when that will happen.

Still, speculation about the end of the world is always a good opportunity to reflect, after all any day could be our last. If there's something on your conscience you want to confess, now's as good a time as any. If you need to make peace with someone you've been in conflict with, why wait? If you want to tell someone you love them, do it. Any day could be our last, so live each day in such a way that you can close your eyes at night with no regrets. God loves us, so we've got nothing to worry about.

As far as our reading goes, Stephen is almost at the end of his final speech. He reminds his hearers that Israel hasn't always been faithful and that, while God loves the sanctuary, he doesn't need it. The whole world belongs to God, so any place is a good place to worship.

Blessings on your weekend,

Acts 7:42-50

42But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43No; you took along the tent of Moloch, and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; so I will remove you beyond Babylon.’

44“Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, 46who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. 47But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 49‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50Did not my hand make all these things?’

service opportunities and a continuing story

Good morning sisters and brothers,
I'd like to tell you about a great opportunity coming up in June. Laurelton, along with our other Urban Presbyterian congregations, is participating in Boots on the Street, an intensive week of community service opportunities. There are chances to serve neighbors as varied as serving meals at Third Presbyterian's dining room ministry and building a house with Habitat for Humanities. Here's a link with the different opportunities and who to contact to get involved. I'd love to see strong participation from Laurelton. It's a great chance to serve others and get to know our Presbyterian neighbors.

Stephen has been telling the story of Israel's journey with God. Today his account begins to take a critical turn. He tells about Moses meeting with God and liberation of Israel from slavery. He also emphasizes the trouble Moses had with the people of Israel because they were reluctant to accept him and had trouble following God in the wilderness. This critique will get sharper in tomorrow's passage.

God bless,

Acts 7:31-41

30“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. 31When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 32‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. 33Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.’

35“It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 37This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’ 38He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us. 39Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ 41At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

oppression and rescue

Good morning friends,
Stephen continues his defense by continuing the story. Yesterday his telling brought Joseph and his brothers to Egypt as guests of the king. Today's reading shows that that family became a nation, how the nation became oppressed and how God raised up a leader to free them from slavery. Stephen isn't saying much new, but he is showing his accusers that he and they take the same scriptures seriously. Let's see where this defense taie srphen.

God bless,

Acts 7:17-29

17“But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied 18until another king who had not known Joseph ruled over Egypt. 19He dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die. 20At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; 21and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.

23“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. 24When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. 25He supposed that his kinsfolk would understand that God through him was rescuing them, but they did not understand. 26The next day he came to some of them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you wrong each other?’ 27But the man who was wronging his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29When he heard this, Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

continuing the story

Good morning friends,
The Book of Acts tells the story of the early church. At one point some of the Christians were complaining that their widows weren't being adequately supported by the church. The apostles recognized that the social ministry of the church needed more attention than they could give it without neglecting the preaching ministry, which was their calling. They chose seven people who had powerful spiritual gifts to be deacons, or table-servers. One of these was Stephen, and Stephen was quickly arrested for his ministry and falsely accused of blasphemy (like Jesus). In our passage for the day, Stephen begins his defense. As you'll see, the basic outline of his defense is that the movement he's a part of is a natural extension of Judaism. I love how he tells the whole story of Israel.

Blessings as you continue your chapter of God's story,

Acts 7:1-16

Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, 3and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. 5He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. 6And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. 7‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’

8Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs. 9“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, 10and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.

11Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. 12But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. 13On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; 15so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, 16and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

suffering for glory

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Peter encourages the church that suffering for their faith is for God's glory and to their credit. That doesn't mean that any time they suffer it's a good thing. Often we suffer because we make bad choices; that doesn't glorify God. But when we suffer for doing the right thing, we can take courage because one day it will be clear that our faith is not in vain. Often the world is hard and life is unfair. Even in our suffering we can build up others and bear witness to the power of love. When we know that our suffering can be for the good, the power of evil weakens and we can find a measure of joy even in hardship. While all that is true, it doesn't change our obligation here and now to work to reduce suffering and combat injustice. Working for justice also gives God glory, and we can show love in joy as well as sorrow.

God bless,

1 Peter 4:12-19
12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. 17For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” 19Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

lays down his life

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Some of us heard most of this passage yesterday in worship. The image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd who willingly lays down his life for the sheep is a powerful one. It shouldn't surprise us that some of his audience thought he was crazy, especially when he talked about having the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. In this case he contrasts his love as the shepherd with the more selfish concerns of the "hired hands" who led the people of Israel then, the Pharisees and temple leaders.

Blessings as you follow the shepherd this week,

John 10:11-21

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

19Again the Jews were divided because of these words. 20Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” 21Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

following the good shepherd

Good morning church,
Today's readings remind us that Jesus is our loving shepherd who guides us forward. It's not always easy to hear his voice, but when we listen for it, we recognize him and follow with joyful trust. In Christ we find true, abundant life, so let us follow.

God bless,

John 10:1-10

1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”


Psalm 23:1-6

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff —
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

love and changing our ways

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Peter has been talking about suffering: Christ's suffering and the suffering we are likely to face as his disciples. Today he moves from there to discipline. By this he means being focused on living the right way. He reminds his readers that they used to live immorally, but now as Christ's followers, they should live righteously, focused on Jesus. He encourages us to take our actions and speech seriously because God empowers us and calls us. He also reminds us that love is at the heart of the Christian life. If we live for love we will do well.

Blessings on your weekend rest and activity,

1 Peter 4:1-11

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 3You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. 5But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

7The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

suffering and redemption

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Peter ended yesterday's reading by saying that it's better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Today he picks up by saying when we suffer, we're following in Christ's footsteps. Christ's suffering saves us. He also draws a parallel between baptism and the salvation of Noah's family in the ark. He doesn't claim anything magical about baptism. Instead he calls baptism "an appeal to God for a clean conscience." In life and baptism we look to Jesus to save us, and he is able.

blessings on your day,

1 Peter 3:18-22

18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Peter encourages his readers to be known for doing the right thing. That way whether people respect them or abuse them they will know that the Christians are full of love. He also encourages them to be ready to tell others about their hope. In other words, when we put our faith in action by doing good to everyone, people are likely to ask why we do things the way we do. People might ask why we always seem so joyful, or why little annoyances don't get to us the way they get to others, or why we're so generous.

Peter calls his readers to spend some time reflecting on our faith and how we can put it into words so when people ask, we have a good, honest answer that points them to God's love. Evangelism doesn't have to be the guy with a bullhorn in front of the Red Wings game, it can simply mean a simple answer about God's love when people ask why you get up early on a Sunday. We are called to share that love in our words and actions.
How has God blessed you? How can you put your faith into words?

God bless,

1 Peter 3:8-17

8Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; 11let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ordination and challenging scripture

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Before we dive into our reading, I'd like to share some important Presbyterian news. For 33 years our denomination has been discussing the ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. For many years the church has had a policy of not ordaining GLBT folks to office as elders, deacons or ministers of word and sacrament. Last summer's general assembly passed an amendment that would open the way to ordain openly gay candidates (amendment 10 A: text of the amendment is here). Last night the 87th presbytery approved this change marking a majority and the adoption of the amendment. I am grateful for this change because it reflects the inclusive spirit we see in Jesus' ministry. At the same time, for many of our churches and for many other Presbyterians this change is not welcome. Please keep our larger church in prayer as we seek to love each other despite our differences. The denominational office sent out an excellent letter on this topic which is linked here.

This is a difficult reading for most of us. What I take away from the passage is that both men and women should treat each other with honor and respect. In the case of people married to someone who doesn't follow Jesus, the way to encourage them in faith is through love and kindness, not harassing them about their faith. The other thing I take away is that all people (not just women) should strive for righteous lives rather than outward beauty and material possessions. When Peter talks about wanting nothing to hinder our prayers, sexism in church and scripture has long hindered many peoples' prayers. The Bible was written in a different time and culture, and we have to take it in that context. But still across thousands of years scripture still speaks a word of grace and truth.
God bless,

1 Peter 3:1-7

Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight. 5It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. 6Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you.

7Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

suffering for righteousness

Good morning brothers and sisters,
It's been a few days since we read from Peter. He left off exhorting everyone to obey authorities and encouraging slaves to obey their masters even if their masters were abusive. Here he explains why: when we suffer unjust abuse we are following in Christ's footsteps. Christ came into the world with sinners in mind. A big part of the point of his ministry was to take on the evil of this world in his body to free us from its power. That Christian call to non-violence is a hard one, but when we withstand trouble and continue to bless others, violence can give way to healing.

God bless,

1 Peter 2:19-25

19For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Monday, May 9, 2011

sharing life

Good morning friends,
Under the Holy Spirit's power, Peter told the story of Jesus and many people responded. Now we hear about life together among the disciples. There's a depth of community that is hard to imagine. The church shares prayer, meals, possessions and life together. It is a beautiful and challenging image for us. How would you like to deepen our community life now?

God bless,

Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

cup of blessing

Good morning and Happy Mothers' Day!
Today we'll be confirming youth in worship and celebrating their ministry; what a great celebration for Mothers' Day!
Our first reading concludes Peter's sermon on Pentecost. He's told the story of Jesus, including his death and resurrection. That story makes the crowd feel, "cut to the heart." They feel the truth of the story and their own place in it, and they know they are called to respond. Think about a time you felt that way. What was your response? What are you being called to today?

The second reading is a lovely Psalm, especially on a communion Sunday like today. One thing I'd like to highlight in the Psalm is that the psalmist wonders how he can repay God for God's goodness. He decides the best way is to lift up the cup of blessings in thanksgiving. We can't repay God, but we can give thanks. A little later this morning we will lift up the cup of blessing and call on God's name. The second thing I want to lift up fits with Mothers' Day. The psalmist calls him/herself a servant of God and then says, s/he is a "Child of your serving girl." In other words, the psalmist's mother was devoted to God, which paved the way for the psalmist to come to God. How did your mother or another woman shape your faith? Let's give thanks for the women who guide us, both to God and to them.

God bless,

Acts 2: 37-41

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray, save my life!”

12 What shall I return to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
14 I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.
18 I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

Friday, May 6, 2011

crucified Lord

Good morning/evening friends,
This reading is a break from First Peter. We go back here to Peter's sermon at Pentecost to the assembled Jewish crowd after the disciples began speaking in tongues. Peter explains who Jesus is from scripture and shares how Jesus' life played out in their time. What does it mean for us that Jesus is Lord?
Blessings on your day,

Acts 2:32-36

32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

honorable and obedient

Good morning friends,
It's good to be home and it was great to be away with other pastors. Thanks to you, Laurelton, for providing the opportunity for me to be refreshed and challenged. Today's reading has two main points to make and the second is, well, secondary. The main point is that those of us who have come to trust in Jesus are called to a special mission, to share God's love with others. Our identity comes from our experience of God's love and is for others, not just for us. The main way we share that is by living "honorably" and lovingly.

The second point, which follows from the first, is that we should follow those in authority. That obedience to rulers is part of living in a way that shows love and faith. It's clearly not a blind obedience either, since Peter and the early church as a whole often had to disobey those in authority to stay faithful to God. So we are called to live faith in all we do.

Blessings as you do that,

1 Peter 2:9-18

9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

13For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.

living stones

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading calls us to free ourselves from hatred and to long, instead, for spiritual milk. That call to peace and love is important, as is the call to grow. God calls us to change, to develop, to be better, more mature disciples next year than we are now. That process isn't up to us, but we do allow it. Notice that Christ is described as a living stone. On that foundation we are built up like living stones. Our call is to let God shape and change us so we can become more than we are now.

God bless,

1 Peter 2:1-8

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

going deeper

Good morning friends,
Our short reading for today is comforting but also pushes the church forward. Laurelton is a welcoming church, which is one of the things that first attracted me here. We do a great job with friendliness, but too often we leave our relationships with each other at a fairly surface level. The challenge Peter has for us is to take it further, not only to be friendly but to, "Love one another deeply from the heart." What would it mean for us to dig deeply with our relationships? What would it mean to open ourselves to each other in a way that would allow us to share our deepest joys and sorrows? It sounds scary, but it also sounds wonderful. Digging up the soil of our lives through deep, loving relationship can allow the seeds of God's word to grow strong.

God bless,

1 Peter 1:22-25

22Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

24For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

a peace beyond force

Good morning sisters and brothers,
The news of Osama bin Laden's death stirred up many emotions for people. Some feel joy, or relief, others feel sadness or anxiety. We are all created in God's image and we all have meaning and value. And we know this one death won't end the wars we are fighting or the fear of terrorism. So maybe we feel torn, and regardless of how we feel, we pray for peace.

In our reading for today we are reminded that human power doesn't give us safety or eternal peace. Only God can do that, and he does it through the love of Jesus Christ. We are called to trust God and then to engage in our world for peace, justice and love. Peter talks about "living in reverent fear during the time of your exile." In this case by exile he probably means our life where we often feel separated, exiled, from God. The truth is, where ever we are, God is with us and in each of us. We can always lean on God to guide and care for us, because in Christ we see how far that love will go.

God bless,

1 Peter 1:17-21

17If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

angels long to look

Good evening/morning brothers and sisters,
This week I'm out of town for continuing education. In this case, I'm off to Stony Point Conference Center outside of New York City for the Synod's Early Ministry Institute (EMI). EMI is a conference for folks new to ministry like myself. It's actually a series of three, week-long periods of conversation, worship and reflection over three years. This is my second year and I'm really looking forward to it. I hope you'll pray that God uses this time to strengthen and challenge me to be a more faithful disciple and minister. I'm sending this reading out so early because I'm hitting the road very early Monday morning to be at the conference for a 9 am start.

We read the beginning of 1 Peter yesterday. Today's passage might need a couple of readings to make sense, as the writing is a little complex. Peter's main point is that the ancient prophets caught glimpses of God's amazing grace in Christ but knew that the privilege to see that for themselves wouldn't be theirs. Instead, Peter's generation had the honor of knowing Christ's love in the flesh. Peter is reminding them what a blessing it is to be part of that story and how the experience of Christ's gospel should shape their whole lives in holiness. Even though our experience is somewhat less immediate, the honor of knowing Christ and sharing that message with others can shape our life too.
Blessings as you begin a new week in Christ's service,

1Peter 1:10-16

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

13Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

preaching resurrection

Good morning friends,
Today's first reading is a piece of Peter's sermon at Pentecost. The Spirit filled a gathering of believers in Jerusalem allowing them to speak in other languages to praise God. This stirred up lots of attention and Peter took the opportunity to preach. As you can see, he relates Old Testament scripture to what God did in the resurrection of Jesus. In reality, much of the New Testament is the early church interpreting their Bible in the light of Christ's ministry, death and resurrection. The second reading is the from the beginning of one of Peter's letters to a church. Here, too, he talks about the resurrection. Because of Christ's resurrection we are born to a new life of hope in him; a hope that not even death can wipe out. Please keep our confirmation youth in prayer as they share in leadership and celebration at Summerville Presbyterian Church this morning.

God bless,

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

14aBut Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know — 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.

24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.


1 Peter 1:3-9

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,7so that the genuineness of your faith — being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.