Thursday, November 10, 2016

10 November 2016

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NLT)

Good afternoon, welcome. Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of pulling a verse or two out of context, particularly Old Testament verses and especially verses from the Prophets, to make a point, although I have done it from time to time. There are several technical terms for this, and they basically have to do with things like taking selective portions out of context and giving them personal or modern applications they were never meant to have.[1] 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a classic example: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land”. This promise was given to a specific person-Solomon-at a specific time-the dedication of the Temple-for a specific nation-Israel-in response to a specific condition-“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people…” (v.13). Does this mean it is bad to pray for your nation? Of course not. But the fact remains-the promise was given to Solomon for Israel sometime between 971-931 BCE, not to the United States in 2016.

That being said, since some of us may be feeling like we have just been sent into exile (and others of us, as if we have just been returned), I think our Jeremiah passage does have something to say to us today. First, let’s take a quick look at what it said to the original hearers.

Some false prophets had been telling the exiles in Babylon their situation was temporary and they would soon be returning home to Israel. God’s word to them-as we discussed yesterday-spoken through Jeremiah was something like this: “Don’t listen to them. I have not abandoned you but you won’t be returning any time soon either. Get comfortable, settle in, you’re in it for the long haul”. And then He promises restoration and blessing, words of comfort. We can, I think, without stretching things too far, infer from this that God had the Israelites best interests at heart. After all, our redemption-the ultimate in future hope and blessing-would come from them. While God may not have had a specific, individual plan for each specific individual Israelite, He did have specific plans for the exiles (and the nation) as a group, and He gave the group instructions for what He expected from individual members.

Fast forward to today. A very popular buzz phrase in evangelical circles for a while now has been ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’; taken, I think, from 29:11. Well, God does indeed have a wonderful plan for all of us: our redemption-accomplished once for all on the cross, and our restoration-the continuing process of developing Christ-like character in us. Plans to do us good, plans for a future and a hope; a here and now hope as well as a future hope. The other part of that plan-which I have emphasized here, over and over and over-is simply to be Christ’s presence wherever we are. Which is why forming Christ-like character is so important in the first place. As far as specific, individual plans go, well, that is something a little different.

Which leads me to calling. Briefly put, some of us are called to something specific-some ministry, for example, or the medical field, or teaching. In this case a specific calling leads to a career, more or less. For others of us, things aren’t so clear. There may be any number of things we could do which would be perfectly acceptable to God and which would also make us happy (and possibly lead to a career as well). We can do these things and still function within our primary calling-to be Christ’s presence.

And that leads, in a roundabout sort of way, back to my main point. Being the presence of Christ means being called to be a blessing to those around us. We can be a blessing regardless of what our career (or job, if you prefer) is. We can be a blessing regardless of who we are around (including being around those we consider to be enemies, or consider us their enemies). God’s “…plans for good and not for disaster, to give…a future and a hope” may well involve us in the giving. They may, in a sense, depend upon us for the giving.
So, here’s the assignment for the days and weeks ahead. Spend some time with God discussing how you might be able to recognize those times when you can be a blessing to someone (as opposed to being a curse, which has been going on far too long). Remember, He also promised the exiles”If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you…” (Vs.13-14; cf. Matthew 7:7-8). And that is a promise for all the ages.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

[1] For a list of these terms, with definitions, along with guidelines for interpreting the Old Testament, see Fee & Stuart; How to Read The Bible for All Its Worth, third edition (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2003) p. 103-105

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

9 November 2016
Jeremiah 29:1-14

Good afternoon, welcome. Today’s passage is a letter written by Jeremiah to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. Israel as a nation had consistently failed its God-given mission. The idea was that, by being faithful to obey God’s laws, Israel would demonstrate to the surrounding nations how God intended for His children to live. God would then bless them, demonstrating His power and steadfast love. The nations themselves would then turn to Him and be saved. Israel of course did not do this; consequently God raised up pagan nations against them to deliver His judgement. First the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria; next Judah fell to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah, writing from Jerusalem, is telling the exiles what God expects from them while they are away.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. (Jeremiah 29:4-7; NRSV)
There is a sense in which this exile is a second chance for Israel; a new opportunity to demonstrate how God expects His people to live. False prophets are telling the people this is merely a temporary situation; a minor setback. Jeremiah says no, plan on being there a while. You will have to adjust to your new situation; here is what I expect-build houses, start families, plant gardens, multiply as you did in Egypt. Do not whine and complain; make a home here. Jeremiah reminds them God will be with them in exile: “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you” (v.12). More than that-as if that weren’t enough-God promises restoration: “I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes…” (v.14).

But before He makes those promises, He gives an unusual word of instruction: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (vs.7). Babylon had been God’s chosen agent of punishment against Israel; now God is instructing His people to pray for their oppressor’s safety and well-being. He is, in effect, telling the Israelites to “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

This is what I want us to see today. God is saying to His captive children ‘settle in, live your lives, demonstrate my presence, pray for your cities’. This past election cycle has been brutal for everyone. Many Christians on the losing side are feeling betrayed and fearful over what changes may be coming for us as a nation. I believe God’s words to them-to us-are the same words He spoke to the exiles centuries ago. Settle in, live your lives, demonstrate my presence, pray for your government (and your enemies) at all levels.

Brothers and sisters, now is not the time to be afraid. Now is the time to rise up and be the Church, to demonstrate our Lord’s presence. Our salvation does not depend upon our political system and the Gospel will not be spread by it either. It is time for all of us to “Work hard to show the results of [our] salvation” (Philippians 2:12; NLT). Love will always trump hate. Let it begin with us. JRG

Thursday, November 3, 2016

3 November 2016

Good afternoon, welcome. We have finally visited all seven churches. While each church had a specific message, each message was also intended for all churches past and present. Taken as a whole, there is a progression of falling away just as relevant today as when John had his visions. Loss of love for Christ opens the door to questionable doctrinal practice. Once doctrine becomes corrupt discernment is lost, resulting in immorality and dead works.

Love for Jesus and for His church-our brothers and sisters throughout the world-is the foundation upon which everything is built. Love is important enough for Paul to devote one whole chapter-1 Corinthians 13-to it. John himself emphasizes love in 1 John; the word occurs some 24 times there. Without love doctrine runs the risk of becoming just another set of soul-killing rules and regulations.

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me John 14:21-24 (NRSV)
Obviously, love for God is more than just some sentimental feeling. Jesus clearly equates love with obedience. But look at the promise-we will come to them and make our home with them. Now consider the promises of our Lord to His seven churches. Eternal life, a new name, Jesus Himself, a permanent place with and knowledge of God, intimate fellowship. Paul writes “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NRSV). The taste of fellowship in John 14:21-24 becomes a full-fledged banquet in Revelation. I have said this before but it bears repeating-if we do not learn to enjoy God here and now, how can we expect to enjoy Him for eternity? Study of scripture and the spiritual disciplines are relevant and necessary but only to the extent that they allow us to experience and be transformed by the perfect love that is our Triune God. Anything else is self-serving and self-defeating.

One final point. Jesus rebukes five of the seven churches. Rebukes, but not condemns or discards. Even the Thyatira prophetess Jezebel is given time to repent. All of us have and will continue to think, do and say things we will need to confess and repent of. When we do God welcomes us with open arms; it is incumbent upon us to do the same for our brothers and sister. Consider these words from the prophet Ezekiel “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live” Ezekiel 18:31-32 (NRSV) and” Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die…” (33:11; NRSV). Words spoken to Israel to be sure, but what they say about God has eternal significance. Consider too Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” My point is this-in our eagerness to judge and condemn anyone who thinks or believes or acts or looks differently from us, we “…may even be found fighting against God” Acts 5:39 (NRSV).

Listen to what Jesus says to His church. Remember. Repent. Return.

May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

2 November 2016
Revelation 3:14-22
Good morning, welcome. Today we visit Laodicea, the last of the seven churches. Laodicea was a wealthy city close to Colossae; Paul mentions Laodicea in his letter to the Colossians. Laodicea was a wealthy, independent city known for the manufacture of a very soft wool; it was also a major medical center noted for its eye salve. Leveled by an earthquake in 61 A.D., Laodicea refused Roman assistance and was able to rebuild with its own resources.

The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation (3:14)
These words echo Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus is the last Word (the words of the Word), faithfully and accurately representing God to humanity. Everything has its beginning and finds its meaning in Him.

I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. (3:15)
There may be a bit of a double meaning here. The Laodicea church is neither refreshing nor soothing. In ancient times, however, cold and hot often referred to for and against. This church had taken a middle ground approach, attempting to worship both God and emperor without committing fully to either.

For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (17-19)
Consider the contrasts-wealthy vs. bankrupt; clothed in fine woolens vs. naked; healthy vs. blind. What a difference a point of view makes. Gold, white robes, eye salve giving true vision are not things which can be purchased-they are gifts freely given by our Lord.

I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (19-21)
Once again, an earnest call to repent. Even though our Lord had nothing good to say here, He does not give up on His church. The invitation stands-open the door, let me in. Although often depicted as a call to individuals, this invitation is to the church. Jesus walks among all His churches; He seems to have been excluded from this one. He does not force His way in; rather He remains outside, waiting to be invited. The promise to eat together implies fellowship-day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute fellowship. The church-the worldwide church-is Jesus’ presence on earth and He desires to be present in and among her.

To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (3:21)
Fellowship in the present has its reward in the future. This church may be wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked, yet here they are being promised a place on the throne of Christ. Our Lord sees what we are; He also sees what we can become. He is not comfortable in the role of idle spectator; rather, He longs to be an active participant in our lives, so that we may become an active participant in His.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. JRG

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

1 November 2016

Revelation 3:7-13

Good morning, welcome. Today being All Saints Day, it seems somewhat fitting that we are visiting Philadelphia, the Church of the Open Door. Nothing to condemn here; only words of commendation and encouragement.

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of the holy one, the true one,
who has the key of David,
who opens and no one will shut,
who shuts and no one opens:
“I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
The message to Philadelphia contrasts power with opportunity. Opportunity comes from our Lord, who, as the holy and true one, the last Davidic King, alone has the authority, and the power. This message is well worth remembering today, especially in this country where, all too often, power is pursued in a more secular manner resulting in loss of moral authority. The open door itself may refer to missionary work, to entrance into God’s eternal Kingdom, or both, with the first leading to the second. Any evangelistic endeavor must be grounded in the Gospel of Christ; in the Kingdom of God power is not the point. Jesus is.

I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.
This is an important verse. The synagogue of Satan appears in Smyrna and Philadelphia and does not necessarily imply Satanic worship; rather it describes Jews who, believing they are worshiping and serving God, are in fact persecuting Him by persecuting His church (cf. Acts 22:7-8), thus doing Satan’s work for him. These Jews thought they were doing God a service, yet they did not recognize Him when He came. We must be careful not to make the same mistake today. Anyone who persecutes God’s people-and His church-wherever they are found is doing the work of the Accuser and will be held accountable. The point here is this-before you persecute someone for who they are or what they believe, think about to whom they may belong.

Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. Revelation. (10-11)
The phrase ‘keep you from’ could mean the church will be present but protected during the time of trial, or that it will be removed before the time of trial. Protected during seems to me to be more consistent with the general message of the New Testament, and with the mission of the church to be a faithful witness to our Lord. What do you think? Why?

If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (12-13)
Pillar implies a permanent place in God’s presence. The reward for faithful endurance is knowing God now, and a permanent place with God in His new city. Once again we see-what we do here and now matters for eternity. Those throughout the ages who persevere will know God and they will know where He lives and they will be with Him there. Those who reject Him will not. Many today invest and plan for retirement in the hope that they will be able to live comfortably when their working days are over. There is a spiritual parallel here-those who invest their lives in God’s Kingdom on earth will in rest in God’s Kingdom-and enjoy His presence-for eternity.

May the Lord Himself bless, strengthen and keep you this day. JRG

Monday, October 31, 2016

31 October 2016
  “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Revelation 3:1-6 (NRSV)

Good morning, welcome. Today we visit Sardis. Sardis was an important commercial and industrial city. Situated on a hill with sheer cliffs on three sides, its residents considered the city impregnable. However, due to a lack of vigilance by its watchmen, the city was conquered two times; once by the Persians and again by Antiochus the Great. Sardis was destroyed by earthquake in 17 AD. The Roman Emperor Tiberius waived tax collections for five years, allowing Sardis to rebuild (and endearing himself to its citizens in the process).

The church in Sardis was alive in reputation only. Our Lord reminds them all churches belong to Him; He is the source of power and control. It is important to note here Jesus does not condemn this church. His words-wake up, strengthen what remains, remember, obey, repent-are meant to encourage the Sardians, to arouse them to vigilance.

If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. (3:3). Jesus does not say ‘if you do wake up I will not bother coming’. I think the message here is, if the Sardinians do not wake up, they will miss Him when He visits. These are words of warning for us as well, in our individual and corporate lives. We must be careful not to focus on the what to the point that we forget (or misunderstand) the why and the for whom. Let us not forget that the point of our Christian life is to be in relationship with, to be transformed by, our Lord. Keeping this in mind, His times of visitation may become occasions for transformation, not missed opportunities.

The promise to the faithful remnant and those who conquer-white robes, walking with Christ, names remaining in the book of life, names being confessed by Christ before the Father-have implications for the present as well as for eternity. White robes are the gift of Christ and make fellowship possible. Acknowledging Him in this life ensures He will acknowledge us in the next. These words echo Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:8-9 and Matthew 22:1-14, reminding us what we do now matters for eternity.

The Sardians had a reputation they were not living up to. In a sense, they were not living at all; they were simply going through the motions. We all, at various times in our lives, are probably guilty of this, or something similar. That Jesus does not condemn but rather offers the remedy should be of great comfort to Christians everywhere. It should also encourage us to examine our lives regularly, to see how we live up to the name ‘Christian’. Wake up, strengthen, listen, obey, repent. Walk with Jesus. Confess His name today.

May the Lord Himself bless and strengthen you this day. JRG

Thursday, October 27, 2016

27 October 2016

And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come.
To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Revelation 2:18-29 (NRSV)

Good afternoon, welcome. Today we visit Thyatira, an industrial center with many merchants and craftsmen. Trade guilds were present in abundance there-wool and linen workers, coat makers, leather workers, tanners, potters, metal workers and slave traders all had their guilds and gods. Membership would have included participation in pagan ritual worship; economic survival would have demanded some form of compromise. The situation posed a serious dilemma for the Thyatiran Christians.

The description of Christ-“eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” implies refining purity and strength, something metal workers would have been familiar with. No fault is found with the works themselves. In contrast to the Ephesians, love here has led to faith, service, and patient endurance. What does not withstand our Lord’s purifying gaze is “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet”. Adultery in the Old Testament often referred to idolatry; this woman was probably teaching some form of compromise which allowed for participation in guild practices under the guise of ‘the deep things of Satan’.  Worthy of note here is that our Lord gave her time to repent, which she did not do.

This message has particular relevance for the modern church in this country. Cultural compromise for economic, social or political gain continues today under the theory the end justifies the means. The message to Thyatira-and Ephesus and Pergamum as well-tells us compromise justifies neither the end nor the means. While we may no longer be worshipping at the altar of Baal; we do see oppression and greed occurring-or at least condoned-in the name of sex, power, possessions, pride, and prestige; anything that has become more important in our lives than worshipping and following Jesus is an idol and pursuing them is idolatry. There can only be one first thing in our hearts.

To those who remain faithful Jesus promises a reversal of authority-the same reversal taught in the Gospels and accomplished by His death and resurrection. This reversal will bring about the dawn of a new era ushered in by the morning star-Jesus Himself. Those who are faithful in this life receive Jesus Himself in the life to come. The Thyatiran church also receives the promise of ‘authority over the nations; to rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are shattered’. The implication of this promise is that we will have something to do for eternity, and that something depends on what we are doing here and now (cf. 1Cor.3:10-15).

What we do in this life is important. The depth of our relationship with Jesus in this life is important. Both will affect our eternal destiny. The question for today is this-how’s the planning going so far?

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Monday, October 24, 2016

24 October 2016

And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
Revelation 2:12-17 (NRSV)

Good evening, welcome. Today we visit Pergamum, the site of Satan’s throne. Pergamum was filled with pagan cults, worshiping Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asclepius (whose symbol-the snake-remains to this day as the symbol of medicine and medical healing). Pergamum was also a center for emperor worship, required by Rome as a demonstration of loyalty. Paul had already instructed the Corinthians concerning meat sacrificed to idols that buying such meat in the marketplace was permissible. There must have been some in the Pergamum church who went beyond this teaching and participated in banquets and feasts honoring the Emperor-which probably would have been required for all citizens-and other pagan gods. This is an important point-life for any Christian who remained faithful to worship Christ and He alone would have been extremely difficult and dangerous.

Balaam, unable to curse Israel from without, sought to corrupt them from within by encouraging intermarriage between the Israelites and Canaanites, with the result that the Israelites began to adopt the very customs God had sent them to purge; this seems to have been happening here as well. The temptation is always present for the church-and individual believers-to conform to, rather than transform, the surrounding culture.

The Nicolaitans also show up here. That they are mentioned separately from the teachings of Balaam leads me to suspect they were involved in something other than Balaam’s stumbling block. A quick internet search reveals two interesting possibilities; that the name itself refers to leaders who impose their beliefs by force, and that the grace of God implies freedom to sin rather than freedom from sin (the heresy known as antinomianism). The Nicolaitans may have been leaders in the church who assumed authority they did not have and sought to gain followers by granting license to sin with impunity. Those who followed Balaam’s teaching may have tried to ‘sneak immorality in the back door’; the Nicolaitans would have sinned boldly, assuming God’s grace covered it all.  

The good news is some here resisted these false teachings and held fast to faith in Jesus to the point of death. Persecution was real here and resulted in martyrdom. These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword and Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth indicate the Word of God properly understood will effectively counteract compromise and false doctrine (see also 2 Timothy 3:16); also our Lord graciously offers time to repent, although, at some point, the offer will expire.

Those who conquer receive hidden manna and a white stone with a new name. Jewish tradition held that the miraculous feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness would be repeated in the last days. The white stone with a new name had a double meaning. White stones were often given as tokens which would grant entrance to banquets and feasts; this stone will grant entrance to the wedding banquet of the Jesus and His bride (see Matthew 22:1-13). A white stone with a divine name was thought to have power to protect from evil spirits and cure illness; the name of Jesus has ultimate authority for the salvation of all who believe (Acts 4:12).

Jesus warned the Ephesian church against works without love; here the warning is against false teaching leading to compromise. The Word of God is the one effective cure for false teaching; however, care must be taken to ensure the study and use of the Word will ultimately lead to the Living Word-Jesus, the Christ. The one must always lead to the other.
May the Lord Himself bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

19 October 2016
Good morning, welcome. Today’s message is to the church in Smyrna. Like Ephesus, Smyrna was a large, important city in Asia Minor. Unlike Ephesus, Smyrna remains to this day, as Izmir in modern Turkey. In John’s day Smyrna was a center of emperor worship; the city had a temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
Revelation 2:8-11 (NRSV)

Jesus has found no fault with the church in Smyrna. They have been faithful in the face of persecution from within and without. The Jews of the ‘synagogue of Satan’ may have been Jews who professed Christ but insisted on retaining their Jewish traditions and imposing them on Gentile believers. Or they may have been Jews who, fearing losing the protection given them by Rome, were accusing Christians of stirring up trouble by refusing to participate in emperor worship. Either way it is not intended to be taken as a blanket condemnation of all Jewish people, then or now.

 Emperor worship would have been a requirement for joining trade unions and such; refusal to participate would have resulted in sanctions and persecution-affliction and poverty-and most likely would have been seen as treason against Rome. The situation would get worse before it got better; Jesus hints at imprisonment and martyrdom, although ‘ten days’ would indicate this would be for a limited time.

The Smyrna church was not merely witnessing to some new philosophy or belief system or theology; it was witnessing to God Himself. As fully human Jesus had already suffered martyrdom at the hands of Rome. As fully God He is the first word on resurrection and the last word on death. The faithful in Smyrna will not experience anything Jesus has not already experienced. The first death is temporary and will touch some; the second is eternal and will not touch the faithful.

The promise is for us as well. The word translated ‘conquers’ implies a struggle resulting in victory. The idea of suffering (or not suffering) for the faith may be used to justify all sorts of behavior, not all of which would be pleasing to our Lord. In applying these words to our own lives it is important to remember it is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself we seek to know, worship and obey. The struggle for many of us-myself included-is to allow ourselves to be transformed daily into the image and likeness of Christ. Most of us will not be called to die for Christ in the literal, physical sense; all of us are called to live for Him in every sense (see, for example, Romans 12:1-2 and Luke 9:23).

The church in Smyrna is about to suffer. Jesus does not promise to take away their suffering. His promise is for the faithful who come out on the other side. Perhaps we would be better served today-individually and corporately, as the Body of Christ-to shift our focus away from avoiding persecution (and complaining about it when it comes, as if somehow we have been granted immunity) and towards being a faithful witness to our Lord whatever the circumstances.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you this day. JRG

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

18 October 2016

Good afternoon, welcome. For the next couple weeks we will be looking at Revelation Chs.2 and 3; the messages to the seven churches. My plan is to consider each message separately, then spend a couple days tying them together. I am taking the point of view that these letters were written to actual historical churches and the situations addressed, while specific to those churches, are also representative of the church universal throughout the ages as well as the lives of individual believers. As such, our Lord’s commendations and condemnations are universal and timeless.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(1:4-6; NRSV)
A quick qualifier before we begin. This is the revelation of, to, and about Jesus Christ-given by God the Father to Him, about Him, to be passed on by Him to John and then to us. He loves us always; He has washed us and freed us from the power of sin for a specific purpose-to demonstrate His Kingdom and mediate His presence to the world. These messages are, in a sense, His critique of how well the seven churches are accomplishing His purpose. This is the lens through which I believe these messages should be read. Each message contains a description of Jesus, a commendation or condemnation or both, and a promise for those who persevere.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: (2:1; NRSV)
The first message is to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a major city in the Roman world. Paul spent two years there; John was also associated with the church there. The city was home to the temple of the Greek goddess Artemis. That temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and generated a lot of revenue; Acts 19:21-41 describes a riot initiated by a silversmith who was losing money because “…not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” (Acts 19:26; NRSV).

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. (2-7; NRSV)
The Ephesian church evidently had sound doctrine-for the most part-but had lost its first love. Paul had warned them false teachers would come (Acts 20:29-30). The church would now be in its second generation. These false teachers-perhaps the Nicolaitans- may have caused severe infighting and division within the church, resulting in a hardness of heart from which they could not recover. The Nicolaitans will show up again in the message to Pergamum. They seem to have advocated some sort of compromise with the followers of Artemis-and the associated trade unions-that would have allowed the church to peacefully coexist with the surrounding pagan culture. The Nicolaitans could also have been church leaders who had assumed authority they did not have and had attempted to impose their will on the church; something like the situation with Diotrephes in 3 John. Or both. In any case it is easy to see how the Ephesian church could have devolved into the cold, divisive legalism that makes love difficult. Jesus’ words are clear-repent and return. This is not an either/or situation-sound doctrine must be accompanied by love. As Bruce Metzger writes “The presence of Christ departs when well intentioned people, zealous to fight the right way, depart from the ultimate way, which is
The message begins with Jesus walking among His churches and ends with the promise of the tree of life in paradise with God. Actually, Jesus isn’t just walking among His churches, He is holding them in His right hand-a place of power and protection. Today it is all too easy to forget to whom the church belongs. It is also easy to forget to whom we belong.
Jesus’ promise leads to our final thought. At some point history will end. Faithful believers will enter eternity with God-we will all eat from the tree denied Adam after the fall. At this particular point in time, in this country especially, love seems to be losing ground to fear, anger, and hatred. This situation may get worse but it will not last forever. Now might be a good time to consider what these seven letters might mean in terms of our own personal eternal destiny. We will certainly be doing something in paradise with God; I suspect that something is being determined by what we are doing in the here and now for God. Or rather, what we are allowing God to do in us and through us. Jesus begins His messages with the admonition to return to our first love. Jesus-first chronologically, first in priority, first in all things.

Let the church say “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” JRG  

[1] Metzger, Bruce. (1993). Breaking the Code Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville. Abingdon Press. P.32.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

13 October 2016
Luke 9:18-27

Good afternoon, welcome. Who do you say Jesus is? What does it mean to you to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him?

Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” (Vs.18-20, NRSV)
Jesus had been talking with the Father. The Gospel writers never come right out and tell us what Father and Son talk about; sometimes, however, we see a hint. The twelve had just returned from a successful preaching tour, and witnessed the feeding of the five thousand. In spite of all this, some doubt may have remained; if not about Jesus’ true identity at least about the nature of His mission. Jesus may have discussing their lack of understanding. The Father may have said ‘Ask them this’. Peter-the rock-speaks. The Father has revealed something to Him. Peter is us, coming to Jesus. We know something-Jesus is God’s Messiah-but we still are not quite sure exactly what that means.

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Vs.22, NRSV)
Those who should have recognized Him will reject Him. These guys weren’t religious lightweights. They would have had huge portions, if not all, of the Hebrew Scriptures memorized. They had laws upon laws, over 600 of them. The point I am getting to here is this-knowing about God is different from knowing God. Knowing about God without knowing God tends to make one a little legalistic. So how do move from knowing about to knowing?

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? (Vs.23-25, NRSV)
Ok, so what does it mean to deny oneself? Well, one thing it means is to give up the God you know about-who runs the danger of being a larger, more powerful version of you-in favor of the God who is. This is every bit as much an act of Divine revelation now as it was then. Keep in mind, the Father revealed Jesus as Messiah to Peter right where he was; Peter still had lots of growing to do. Same with us. We don’t need to get our theology straight or clean up our sinful habits or follow any prayer formula. God begins with us where we are and continues with us wherever we go. This is a process, a growth process. It is also why discipleship is so important-we need to be doing things that place us before God to allow the transformation-God’s progressive revelation of Himself-to take place. It will require some conscious effort on our part every day. It means choices, new habits. Remember, the mind takes on the order of what it is being applied to. For example, if you spend your morning coffee hour reading political posts on Facebook you will probably walk around angry the rest of the day. Paul puts it this way: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9: NRSV).

One final thought. Our lives are really not our own, they are the gift of God. He owns each and every one of us. That does not mean He is some cosmic dictator or puppet master but it does mean we are here for a purpose, His purpose. We are here for His glory, we are His crowning achievement: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10; NLT). God’s masterpiece, each and every one of us. Don’t ever let anyone tell you any different.  Spend some time today talking to God; see what the conversation reveals to you. Try to see the people God sends your way today as fellow masterpieces, treasures waiting to be revealed.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. JRG

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

12 October 2016
Luke 9:1-17
Good afternoon, welcome. Today Jesus sends 12 and feeds 5,000.

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere. (Vs.1-6, NRSV)
Back in Ch.4, Satan told Jesus authority over the earth’s kingdoms had been given to him and he offered that authority to Jesus. Jesus is now saying all authority is His to give. When God visited earth as a man there were any number of things He could have done with that authority. Jesus chooses to cast out demons and cure diseases. He is demonstrating what the Old Testament writers called ‘God’s steadfast love’. He sends His disciples out in total dependence upon the Father. They are to preach the good news, stay when they are welcome and leave when they are not. They brought the good news everywhere, demonstrating the Kingdom presence with power and authority.

On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. (Vs.10-11)
When the apostles return Jesus takes them to a private place for a little down time, but they cannot hide from the crowds. And in fact, Jesus welcomes them. All of them. He meets them at their point of immediate need. This is how God ministered to His people. This is a good place to pause and reflect; God the Son is caring for His people, the people He created. I don’t see any conditions being imposed here; I don’t see anyone being turned away. I do see God’s steadfast love in action.

And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Vs.16-17)
Jesus works with what He has to feed everyone there. Everyone. The love offering was five loaves and two fish and He fed the multitudes with it. After He had healed all who needed healed. After they hunted Him down while He was on a private retreat with His apostles. Jesus actually went beyond the need; there was food left over. Later Paul would say ‘[God’s] power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20, NRSV, Italics mine). This is how God operates.

Here are a few takeaways from today’s gospel.
1. Power and authority belong to Jesus and they are transferable. I’m not saying to go out and heal and cast out demons. What I am saying is, sometimes we just need to remember who has power and who does not.
2. Jesus presents and demonstrates the Gospel-the Kingdom presence-and leaves it for His hearers to accept it or reject it. Jesus preaching, and His disciples, was backed up by demonstrations of power. Today it is backed up by demonstrations of unconditional love; (not so) random acts of kindness.
3. Jesus accepted all who came. Nobody was required to get their life in order first. It was never ‘sin no more, then come’. It was always ‘go, and sin no more’. Encountering Jesus always came first.
4. Jesus met people at their point of need. All people. We should do the same. Anything less amounts to deciding who is worthy and who is not, which is simply not for us to do.

So, please spend some time today thinking about God the Son healing and feeding all who came to Him. What does this say to you about the nature of our God? We are all the multitude, needing healed and fed. These things befuddled Herod, as they will anyone who does not know or understand Jesus. Perhaps it’s time we cleared things up a bit.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

11 October 2016
Luke 8:40-56

Good morning, welcome. What do a synagogue ruler, a dead girl, and a chronically ill woman have in common? Today we have a story of healing within a story of healing. Let’s take a look.

On the other side of the lake the crowds welcomed Jesus, because they had been waiting for him. (40-41, NLT)
As opposed to the people of the Gerasenes, who had asked him to leave.

Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come home with him. His only daughter, who was about twelve years old, was dying. (41-42; NLT)
Jairus is desperate. His only daughter is dying. He has heard the stories, perhaps even witnessed the healing firsthand. ‘Please come home with me. Cure my daughter. Don’t let her die.’ Off they go.

A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped. (43-44, NLT)
This woman is also desperate. Anyone who has ever suffered with long term chronic illness can relate. She is not concerned about protocol; she wants to get to Jesus any way she can. She probably thinks she can sneak up on him, be healed, and slip away unnoticed. Remember, her bleeding probably would have made her unclean, an outcast. She shouldn’t even be there. ‘Please, just let me touch him…’

But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” (46-47, NLT)
This is a breathtaking statement. Uncontrolled power to heal, coming from Jesus before he even knew she was there. Was the Spirit working independently here? Was the Father? Somehow the woman was drawn to Jesus; her faith opened a door that let divine healing flow.

When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (47-48, NLT)
Busted! What had been done in private was now proclaimed in public. Fear and trembling gave way to peace. The woman too is a daughter of God, now fully restored.

While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”
But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”
(49-50, NLT)
While all this was going on Jairus’ daughter died. He was too late in coming to Jesus. Of course, Jesus has other plans.

The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. (52-55, NLT)
Jesus had said to Jairus ‘have faith, she will be healed’. Evidently Jairus believed; the child’s life is restored. ‘Her life returned’; where did it go? Jesus tells the parents to give her something to eat as proof she was alive; people of that time believed spirits could not eat.

Her parents were overwhelmed, but Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened. (56, NLT)
This has been a story of contrasts. The woman tries to come to Jesus in private but her healing is made public. Jairus comes publicly yet the raising of his daughter is to be kept private. Faith is the one common thread. The lesson I see here is this-it doesn’t matter how you come to God as long as you come. Sometimes we are struggling to the point where all we can do is reach out a hand and hope God does not respond in anger. Other times we may come with bold confidence that He will honor our requests. Sometimes we may think we have been denied only to find God had something much better planned. Doesn’t matter how we come; just come.

One final note about faith, and sneaking up on God. This is another great meditation story. Imagine being that desperate. Imagine faith as a sort of door which, when opened, allows God’s presence to flow into your heart. Spend some time thinking about what this woman’s story might reveal about the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. What does this say to you about the nature and power of God?

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all this day. JRG

Monday, October 10, 2016

10 October 2016
Luke 8:26-39

Good afternoon, welcome. In today’s story Luke gives two contrasting responses to Jesus’ demonstration of power and authority.

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” (vs.26-28)
The incident takes place in Gentile territory. The demons had evidently inhabited the man for some time. They recognize Jesus immediately and beg not to be sent back to the abyss. That Jesus asks their name reflects an ancient belief that there is power in the knowing and is reminiscent of Jacob’s struggle with the Lord. It is probably intended to demonstrate Jesus’ total dominance; I’m pretty sure He already knew who He was dealing with. The number of demons involved is inconsequential; Jesus has complete authority. They have no choice but to obey.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. (Vs.32-33)
There is some irony here, in that the demons thought they would be saved by the herd. They may have been expecting mercy but they received none-back to the abyss they went. The man, on the other hand, has now become totally transformed; he goes from naked in the tombs to sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (v.35).

Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. (Vs.36-37)
Contrast this with the Capernaum response, where the entire town turned up at the doorstep of Simon’s mother in-law to be healed. Weighing the healing of one demon-possessed man against the economic loss of an entire herd, local people ask Jesus to leave. Jesus’ power and authority may extend to the Gentiles; His welcome does not. At least not here. Later on in Acts Luke will relate how economic loss created problems for Paul as well.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. (Vs.38-39)
 The man, having been completely restored, responds with faithful obedience. Although he would rather stay with Jesus; at the Lord’s instruction he returns to the city and proclaimed what Jesus has done. Here Luke presents a picture of our redemption and restoration. The man is redeemed from life among the dead, restored to wholeness, commissioned to service and sent to testify, which he does.
Jesus’ presence will make some people uncomfortable and He will not stay where He is not wanted. 

Perhaps this is the lesson for us as well. A Gospel that compromises itself to achieve anything other than our redemption and restoration will probably be welcomed in places where Jesus Himself will not. In this story neither the swine nor the demons had any choice; the locals, however, did. As do we. Jesus did not force Himself on an unwilling populace and He does not call us to do so. We hear the same words He spoke to the demon-possessed man: go and declare how much God has done for you. Nothing declares how much God has done for us like the testimony of a transformed life; nothing demonstrates a transformed life like faith made effective through love (Gal.5:6).  

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Saturday, October 8, 2016

8 October 2016
Luke 8:1-25

Good morning, welcome. Since I didn’t get this blog out yesterday, today we will consider yesterday’s and today’s lectionary readings. Luke covers a lot of ground here; my focus will be a little more limited.

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (vs.1-3)
Jesus has embarked on a preaching tour. He has His twelve, and ‘some women’. These women represent the full range of society from a demon-possessed outcast to the wife of an official in Herod’s court. Two points are noteworthy. First, the women heard and responded to Jesus’ message. Second, they support Jesus’ ministry from their own resources. The Greek word for provided implies not only financial support but serving, meeting needs; it is the same word used of the angels who ministered to Jesus in the wilderness, and of Peter’s mother after Jesus cured her of her fever. These women are demonstrating the response to Jesus’ teaching described in Chs.6:17-49 and 8:4-21. In so doing they take their place alongside the twelve, becoming part of Jesus’ family of believers.

He said, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that
‘looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.’
Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9. The women traveling with Jesus-and the twelve, even if they did not always understand it-have heard the word and, holding it fast in honest and good hearts, are bearing fruit. The secrets of the Kingdom of God are revealed by God alone. Here Jesus Himself reveals them. For others, God will reveal to whom He will, and will withhold from whom He will. The soils reveal a hard truth-the forces arrayed against God and His Kingdom are many and powerful and just as active today as they were in Jesus’ time. Holding fast to Jesus-who Himself is God’s Word to us-is imperative. There is no substitute.

No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light…he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (vs.6; 21)
Jesus requires believers to demonstrate His presence. Those who do become part of His extended family. Take a couple minutes to let that sink in. At some point history will end and eternity will begin. The family of which we are now a part will gather for a great banquet, a wedding feast. We will become what we already are-the Bride of Christ. Might as well get an early start on the celebration-I don’t think God will mind. Of course, in order to do that, there are a few people we may need to acknowledge as family members who might make us a little uncomfortable. That’s ok. God has already brought them in; we’re just getting caught up.

They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (v.25)
Who is this, indeed. Jesus doesn’t just command the winds and water. He created the winds and water and the disciples in the boat. He is directly responsible for every single thing that exists and everything that exists belongs to Him. This is not an option. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. (John 1:11) And what was His response? He could have trashed the whole experiment and started all over. He could have sentenced us to an eternal punishment. Actually, I do not believe He could have done those things at all; that is not how love operates. He did the only thing He could have done, from a love perspective-He became human-fully human-and went to the cross. Fully human, fully God, restoring what He did not steal (Ps.69:4). Restoring us. We are His family now. We are His presence now. People are watching, now.

To God be the glory forever and ever. JRG  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

6 October 2016
Luke 7:36-50

Good morning, welcome. What happens when a religious leader invites the Son of God to a banquet, and a sinful woman shows up? Another story of expectations, acceptance, and what God is really like.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. (Vs.36-38)
The Pharisee’s house must have been at least partially accessible from the street. At the very least, the woman knew who Jesus was (having learned he was eating [there]). The story seems to imply some prior meeting. On the other hand, merely hearing Jesus speak would have been enough to transform her heart. In either case supernatural power is at work.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” (v.39)
But Jesus did know what kind of woman was touching him-what she had been and what she had become. Luke is setting up another confrontation based on the expectations of a religious leader; expectations that prevented him from recognizing God when He visited.

A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” (V.41-42)
Now we come to the heart of the matter. The woman accepted God’s justice; now she was fulfilling God’s purpose. Note that from God’s perspective justice does not always involve receiving what we are rightfully due (see, for example, Ps. 85:10-11)-the woman’s sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love (v.47). This is a key Kingdom principle and well worth remembering as we reflect on our own behavior (and frame our worldview, as well).

Do you see this woman? (v.44)
Jesus could just as easily have said ‘What do you see when you see this woman?’ In fact, He is asking us the same question today. What do we see when we look at the poor, the homeless, those struggling with mental illness, the chronically ill who have no health care or cannot afford their prescriptions? What do we see when we look at people whose faith traditions are different from ours, or have no faith at all, or whose gender preferences or skin color are not the same as ours? The list goes on. Simon saw a sinner. Jesus saw a child of God, made in His image; one in need of restoration, not condemnation.

Therefore, I tell you, her sins…have been forgiven…”Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (vs.47, 50)
I believe the human heart was made to respond to love; this woman is making my point. Simon would have a ‘religious’ nation by legislation-imposition of will (see Mt.11:12; Jn 6:15). Jesus demonstrates (and grows) His Kingdom one restored heart at a time; accepting God’s justice and fulfilling His purpose.

 Luke does not tell us how Simon responds to all this. How about you? What do you see? How do you respond?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. JRG

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

5 October 2016
Luke 7:18-35

Good morning, welcome. Today Jesus addresses doubt, unbelief, and false expectations.

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Luke 7:18-19 (NRSV)
John knew Jesus was coming. God Himself had promised John a sign-he would be the one on whom John saw the Spirit descend and remain. John would tell his followers he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and rest on Jesus; he would tell them “I myself have seen and testify that this is the Son of God” (Jn1:24). Having seen these things, why on earth would he doubt?
John was in prison when he sent his followers to question Jesus; he had been there for months. Like most Israelites, he was probably expecting the Messiah to restore the Davidic monarchy which in turn would release Israel from bondage to Rome and establish her once again as a world power. This was how they had known and experienced God’s favor in the past and this is what they were expecting; this is what John was expecting.

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Luke 7:22-23 (NRSV)
Jesus does not criticize or berate John for this apparent lack of faith. He points to what He has been doing as demonstrations of the presence of God and says ‘blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me’. It may not be what you expected but know for certain I am fulfilling the Father’s purpose. The Kingdom of God has come and this is what it looks like. Now, it is up to you. Believe it, or don’t.

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? Luke 7:24 (NRSV)
Now Jesus addresses the crowd’s expectations. He says ‘when you went to see John, were you expecting a prophet? In fact, John was more than a prophet-he was my herald. He was preparing the way for me.’ Then Luke says something interesting-those who accepted John’s baptism accepted God’s justice; those who refused John’s baptism refused God’s purpose for themselves. Repentance and forgiveness are God’s justice; restoration is His purpose.

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” Luke 7:33-35 (NRSV)
Jesus now seems to be telling this crowd they are never happy; they are critical of everything and everyone. Their expectations for a Messiah were not being met, and whose fault is that? John says he’s a prophet but look at how he acts. Jesus says He’s the Messiah; He’s performing miracles left and right but He hangs out with sinners. What’s up with that? Do you see what’s happening here? Jesus is being judged from a human perspective; He is not living up to their expectations of what a Messiah should be doing. The problem here is Jesus is demonstrating who God is, which isn’t always who we would like Him to be.

 Expectations in and of themselves are not bad and are even necessary at times. However, judging others by whether or not they live up to your personal expectations-especially expectations you yourself cannot live up to-is a type of legalism that can be especially damaging. The opposite of expectation is acceptance; love is present when expectation and acceptance are in balance.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

4 October 2016
Luke 7:1-17

Good morning, welcome. Today Jesus heals a centurion’s slave and raises a widow’s son from the dead. Jesus taught His listeners to love their enemies, which He now demonstrates, healing the centurion’s slave. The widow’s son is the second time Jesus’ touch makes the unclean clean and reminds us of His full humanity.

And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; Luke 7:6 (NRSV)
Catholics use a minor variation of this verse in their Eucharistic liturgy as a reminder of our inherent unworthiness and our Lord’s power to heal our souls. The centurion also recognized these truths; the God he could not see but nonetheless trusted explicitly had the power to heal by simply speaking the word. In an ironic twist, the centurion-the symbol of occupying Rome’s absolute authority-denies his own worthiness while the Jewish elders, beneficiaries of the centurion’s kindness, proclaim him worthy. Still, there must have been a few who questioned why God would heal a Gentile sinner.

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:13-16 (NRSV)
This is the second time Jesus’ touch has made the unclean clean and is-with the centurion’s slave-a beautiful picture of the Son of God coming to the people He created, identifying with them in their brokenness, and restoring them to life (note the phrase ‘gave him to his mother’). I could just as easily say coming to us, identifying with us, restoring us. This is God responding to cries for help, the spoken and the unspoken. This is what God thinks about us-we may not be worthy but we are loved anyway, because that is who God is, that is what God is like. I believe one of the greatest problems facing the church today is a failure to fully understand how deeply and unconditionally God loves us. I do not know how else to explain the current insanity. But that’s just me.

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” Luke 7:16 (NRSV)
 How else could anyone respond to these supernatural displays of God’s healing power? Maybe that’s another problem today-we fail to see the supernatural in our day to day lives. The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, the day brings what is brings, we take it all for granted and assume it will all happen again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, but how often do we give God credit, much less thanks, for every new day?

I believe-and this is just me, here-every act of healing everywhere whether done by medical professionals or a mom’s prayers originates from God. I believe every sunrise, every sunset, everything in between originate from God, one way or another. Therefore, I believe we should all, on something approaching a regular basis, take time to thank God every day for looking favorably on us also; for every single thing we have and enjoy and daily take for granted.

When you go to bed at night, in the last few minutes before you drift off, thank God for what you have-everything, name it all before Him-as if it all came directly from Him. Recently I saw a comment somewhere-Facebook, maybe, I’m not sure-that said something like ‘imagine if you woke up in the morning and only had what you thanked God for the night before’. And when you wake up, remember to thank God for another day, and for allowing you to wake up with everything you went to bed with.

Lately, I have been asking God to protect my house overnight, and my little neighborhood overnight, too. We take so much for granted and I would like to think somebody is safe this morning because I prayed last night (on the other hand, I am also content not to know-it would probably just make me proud of what I did). Or that my wife will make it to the church and back and enjoy her time there because I prayed for her. I think we (some of us, anyway) need things like this-prayers like this-to make our faith real.

One final thought. I believe we need a divine intervention in our country. Not one that favor’s ‘the left side’ or ‘the right side’ but one calls us to unite around ‘God’s side’. If you agree and are willing to (at least temporarily) surrender ‘your side’, please join me in asking God to intervene. Remember, we are not praying for our enemies to see the light, we are praying that we all may see God’s light.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG