Wednesday, February 29, 2012

faith and works

Good morning friends and happy leap day,
Our passage for today has a controversial history in the church dating from the protestant reformation. The reformers like Luther and Calvin were guided by a few core commitments. One of the most important was that people are saved by God's grace alone through faith instead of by their good deeds. This belief continues to be important in our Presbyterian tradition. Since James emphasizes that faith without works is dead, this passage was often used as evidence against the reformers' focus on faith.

In reality, there isn't a conflict because James is right and the reformers agreed with him. Faith doesn't just mean believing something; it means being committed to something and putting our trust in something. So believing that God exists is one thing; as James says, even demons believe. But having faith in God is something else entirely. Faith in God means we trust and commit to following God. That means our faith will be reflected in our actions, so people can see our faith by how we serve our neighbors.

God bless,


James 2:14-19
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Good morning brothers and sisters,
It looks like the biggest contingent of people interested in reading
I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church can meet on Sundays after worship, so let's read the introduction and kick off our discussion on Sunday after worship. I know scheduling is crazy, so don't worry if one week or a couple of weeks he timing won't work for you. It won't be a problem to miss a session; the idea is to get together and talk about an exciting book with others.

James reminds his readers that everyone is equal in God's sight, so we should treat everyone with equal respect as well. He notices that the church sometimes gets caught up in the kind of favoritism society shows for the rich. That kind of partiality has no place in the church; instead the church is about welcome and love for everyone.

God bless,


James 2:1-9
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Monday, February 27, 2012

walking in the light

Good morning friends,
Today's reading overlaps with one from last week from First John and continues his thought about putting our faith into practice. John also reflects on sin and forgiveness through Jesus. When we accept Jesus it changes out lives. We won't become perfect, but we will strive to do the right thing because we seek to follow where Jesus leads.
I pray you would be blessed in your discipleship today,

1 John 2:4-11
4Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. 

7Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. 11But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

study and law

Good evening sisters and brothers,
We've talked a little bit about the possibility of a book study on a short and lively book called I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church. I'd love to get the details nailed down and I need your help to do that. I have three different possible times in mind. One would be 8:15 pm on Wednesday at the Boulevard, another Sunday after worship over lunch at a diner for lunch and the third would be during the day either on Wednesday or Thursday (maybe 10:30am or 2pm). We could do two out of those three, or possibly all three or something else. Please send me an email if you're interested in being part of this book study. Along with that, let me know if one or more of those times work for you or if not, when you'd like to meet. I'll put it all together and we'll get started. I've got the books in my office, so you can pick one up tomorrow ($11.08 if you don't mind).

Today's reading is part of Moses' preparation of the people of Israel for life in the promised land without him. He lets them know that God's law is important for keeping them on the right track and reminding them that God has set them free. As the people get further from the actual events of the Exodus, the law will be more and more important as a reminder of what God has done for them. God's law still guides us and reminds us of God's love and care today. The more we know scripture, the better we get to know God.



Deuteronomy 6:17-25
17You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. 18Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you, 19thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

20When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household.

23He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. 25If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Good evening friends,
Thanks to everyone who participated in the prayer vigil yesterday and today, especially to Christy for organizing it. Thanks also to those who joined in the two services for Ash Wednesday; both were small, but participation was enthusiastic. At least for me, it was a good way to start the lenten season. Our reading today reminds us that we all sin; anyone pretending otherwise is fooling themselves. Fortunately, sin doesn't have the last word; because in Christ God's love conquers sin and sets us free. We know that freedom when we come to know Christ. Knowing Christ has consequences for our daily lives; if we don't put our faith in action, we don't really know Jesus. I hope this word from John will be a blessing to you as you finish the week.

God bless,


1 John 1:8-2:6
8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

3Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

light and darkness

Good morning brothers and sisters,
We're closing in on the homestretch of our Ash Wednesday prayer vigil. It's been a blessing to share prayer with many of you in the sanctuary. I found our Ash Wednesday services a great way to begin the reflective season of Lent. Today's reading comes to us from John's first letter. The letters of John take a little getting used to as the writing style is quite different from the Gospels and from Paul's letters. Once we get used to the writing, they are a real treasure of comfort and challenge to make God's love real in our lives.

In this opening section, John reminds his readers that he knows what he's talking about because he saw Jesus with his own eyes. He also emphasizes that following Jesus isn't just a matter of what we say, it's about what we do as well. I hope John's words are a blessing to you as you continue your lenten journey.

God bless,


1 John 1:1-7
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the reflective season of Lent. Seasons in the church year are great opportunities to renew our focus on our faith and discipleship. At Laurelton we're kicking off the season with two reflective (and short) worship services and a 24 hour prayer vigil. The first service and the vigil starts at noon today in the sanctuary, and the second service begins at 6:40. Folks will be taking hour-long "shifts" to pray. Feel free to come by whenever, and to pray for whatever is on your heart. I'll be at the church the whole time so you never have to be alone.

Today's reading is a good reminder for Lent, when it's traditional (and still often useful) to fast as part of our spiritual preparation. God tells the people that denying themselves isn't any good if they use it as an excuse to be cranky or to show off their devotion. The point of fasting and worship is to come closer and glorify God. All our devotion is meaningless if it doesn't lead us to work for justice for those in need. We can't praise God and ignore our neighbor.

God bless,


Isaiah 58:1-12
1   Shout out, do not hold back!
          Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
     Announce to my people their rebellion,
          to the house of Jacob their sins.
2   Yet day after day they seek me
          and delight to know my ways,
     as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
          and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
     they ask of me righteous judgments,
          they delight to draw near to God.
3   “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
          Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
     Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
          and oppress all your workers.
4   Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
          and to strike with a wicked fist.
     Such fasting as you do today
          will not make your voice heard on high.
5   Is such the fast that I choose,
          a day to humble oneself?
     Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
          and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
     Will you call this a fast,
          a day acceptable to the LORD?
6   Is not this the fast that I choose:
          to loose the bonds of injustice,
          to undo the thongs of the yoke,
     to let the oppressed go free,
          and to break every yoke?
7   Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
          and bring the homeless poor into your house;
     when you see the naked, to cover them,
          and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8   Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
          and your healing shall spring up quickly;
     your vindicator shall go before you,
          the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9   Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
          you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
     If you remove the yoke from among you,
          the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10  if you offer your food to the hungry
          and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
     then your light shall rise in the darkness
          and your gloom be like the noonday.
11  The LORD will guide you continually,
          and satisfy your needs in parched places,
          and make your bones strong;
     and you shall be like a watered garden,
          like a spring of water,
          whose waters never fail.
12  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
          you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
     you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
          the restorer of streets to live in.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Good afternoon friends,
I'd like to start with a reminder about Ash Wednesday tomorrow. Ash Wednesday begins the reflective season of Lent. We'll begin the season with a short and simple worship service in the sanctuary at noon. We'll have a very similar service at 6:40 (between Supper and Scripture and Choir rehearsal) as well, also in the sanctuary. Our noon service will also be the beginning of a 24 hour prayer vigil in the sanctuary continuing until noon on Thursday. You can sign up for any hour of that that you would like. Come, pray, enjoy the silence and reflect on how you can prepare your heart for Christ's journey to the cross. I'll be at the church the whole time, so you won't be alone.

Today's reading continues yesterday's story of the transfiguration. Jesus and his disciples reflect on the traditional belief that the Prophet Elijah would return to prepare the way for the Messiah. The question is timely since they have just seen a vision of Elijah talking with Jesus. Jesus also helps them see that John the Baptist fulfills the role of Elijah, but the leaders didn't want to hear his message either. May our ears be open this season and always.

God bless,

Mark 9:9-13
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”

Monday, February 20, 2012


Good morning sisters and brothers,
First, I'd like to thank Jan Bruns for sending out the daily readings while I've been on vacation. I had a wonderful and refreshing vacation, and knowing people like Jan and your wonderful elders were taking care of business back home helped me relax. Now I'm excited to get back to work.

Today's reading is a strange story, though it's one we read in the church each year. Jesus is transfigured in front of three of his disciples on a mountaintop and visits with Moses and Elijah. The story reinforces that Jesus is going to his glory in Jerusalem, so we usually read it the last Sunday before Lent begins. It also reveals Jesus' glory in a striking way to his disciples to help them see he is more than a king of prophet. Maybe this story can do the same for us. Maybe we need to be reminded that Jesus isn't just another person to admire, but is the Lord of our life. So let's listen to the heavenly voice and seek Jesus today.

God bless,


Mark 9:2-8
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

Friday, February 10, 2012

praying boldly

Good morning sisters and brothers,
I'm going to be on vacation for a week beginning tomorrow and returning Monday, February 20. While I'm away Janice Bruns will be sending out the daily readings, for which I'm very grateful. Today's reading about prayer is a challenging one for me. Jesus tells his disciples to ask for anything in faith and they will receive it. That instruction encourages me to pray more boldly, but makes me wonder about the times my prayer go unanswered. I think God sometimes doesn't answer prayer because we pray for things that aren't good for us. Other times I just don't know. I try to take Jesus' advice: forgive and pray boldly. Some days it's easier to do that than others.

God bless,


Mark 11:22-25
22Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

taxing prayer

Good afternoon friends,
I'm sorry the readings have been so inconsistent this week; it has been a strange week and I haven't been as consistent as I want to be. Today's reading is an important reminder about prayer: good prayer starts with humility. We come to God with out needs and our shortcomings, and God blesses us with love. This parable is short and often told; it's one of Jesus' stories that I think is worth storing on our heart because it's good to think about often.

God bless,


Luke 8:9-14
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

persistent prayer

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Jesus tells a simple parable to remind us why we need to keep praying, even when it doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere. Persistence is an important part of prayer; as we persist in our prayers we may find ourselves changed too. Another part of the parable that Jesus doesn't comment on is that the widow prays for justice when she is oppressed. What we pray for matters, and part of growing in faith is learning how to pray in a way that reflects Christ's spirit within us.

God bless,


Luke 8:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

spiritual prayer

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Paul reminds the church that even when we don't know what to pray for we can pray. As disciples of Jesus we have the Holy Spirit inside us, and that Spirit knows us. When we pray to God the Spirit prays with us and guides us. With some practice we can let our mind go a little during prayer and open the channel for the Spirit to guide our prayer.

Blessings on your day,


Romans 8:22-27
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

liberty and law

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We often think of commandments as the opposite of freedom. Our reading has a different view: God's law teaches us true freedom. When we follow God's guidance for a just society and a faithful life we become free from the tyranny of greed, idolatry, oppression and fear. It's not the freedom of doing whatever we feel like, but the deeper, truer freedom of being who we are meant to be. When we take things a step further through the gospel of Jesus, we become free from the religious requirements of the law in the perfect freedom of submission to Christ's calling. It's harder than following a simple list of rules, but true freedom comes from following God.



Psalm 119:41-50
Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.
42Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word.
43Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your ordinances.
44I will keep your law continually, forever and ever.
45I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.
46I will also speak of your decrees before kings, and shall not be put to shame;
47I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them.
48I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
49Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.
50This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.

Friday, February 3, 2012

delight in the path

Good morning sisters and brothers,
I appreciate the passion, the joy and love the psalmist expresses about scripture. Not only is scripture recognized as helpful for being wise and faithful, it is also wonderful and pleasant in its own right. When I read the Bible I'm often moved to laughter or awe or sorrow or joy. God is so wonderful and the stories in scripture are so real. I pray we would grow in our appreciation and love of scripture today and everyday.

God bless,


Psalm 119:32-40
32I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.
33Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
34Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
35Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
36Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
37Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
38Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
39Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
40See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

meditating on God's law

Good morning friends,
Today's reading is from Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in scripture. The whole Psalm is a mediation on God's law or Torah. We often think about law or commandments as negative, things we have to do. The Psalm reminds us that God's law (also commandments, decrees, ordinances) give life by teaching us the right way to live. This long Psalm is organized in 22 stanzas of 8 lines each. Each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet in sequence. There are different feelings in the Psalm, but the focus throughout is God's guidance through the Torah. May you find sweetness and blessing in this poem and in God's guidance today.

God bless,


Psalm 119:24-31
24Your decrees are my delight, they are my counselors.
25My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word.
26When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes.
27Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
29Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law.
30I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your ordinances before me.
31I cling to your decrees, O Lord; let me not be put to shame.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

planting the word

Good morning friends,
Today's reading may take a couple times through to get it; don't feel bad about that, but do give it a second try. The idea is that we've been renewed and claimed by God's love in Christ. The seed of our new life is the word of God. That phrase, "word of God" can mean different things. For instance, John's Gospel tells us that Jesus is the Word who existed before the world began. Most often we think of the word of God as scripture, which is also true, because, through the Holy Spirit, God does speak to us in scripture.

In this reading Peter says God's word is the good news (that God loves and redeems us in Jesus Christ). That good news plants the seed of a new relationship with God and a new live of love and service. That seed is planted and watered with scripture and never dies.

God bless,


1 Peter 1:18-24
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. 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.