January 28 – Who’s in Control?

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 71:1-6 (You have been my strength); 2 Chronicles 34:1-7 (Youthful Josiah inaugurates reform); Acts 10:44-48 (Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit)

Every four years we witness the same thing. Iowa, in the dead of winter, becomes a tourist attraction. Anybody who’s thinking of running for president and all of their supporters head to Iowa to get people to vote for their candidate. We hear how horrible the other party is, and how evil the other people running for president from their own party are. By the time these politicians finish, you begin to think that they really believe that they are the only hope the United States has, and if you don’t elect them, the country is doomed.

I admit, I have my favorite candidate. And sure enough, the other party and the other people running from my candidate’s party spell doom for the country. (Not really) But the real truth is that what America needs is for people to return to God. “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me; turn your ear to me and save me.” (Psalm 71:1-2) Our hope for the present and the future must be found in God. Only God can deal with every problem we face. Even the person I support for president this year isn’t perfect. Perfect leadership, perfect hope is only found when we turn to God. As we cheer on our favorite candidates this year, may we never put the candidate in the place of God.

Lord, in this election that is upon us let us we seek Your wisdom before voting. Give us enough wisdom to know that You are in control, but we also pray for leadership that honors You.

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January 27 – God’s Word Endures

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 119:89-96 (The law of God gives life); Jeremiah 36:27-32 (Jeremiah dictates a second scroll); Luke 4:38-44 (Jesus heals and preaches in synagogues)

If you want people to move you down to a lower tier of humanity these days, mention that you believe the Bible and practice what it says. Our society pays lip service to the Bible, no doubt about that, but if you happen to be enough of a fanatic to claim to believe the Bible and that you seek to do what it says, well, you might just be a little fanatical. In their eyes, society has disproven the Bible and seeks to show it unnecessary for modern life. Their favorite sentence construction is something like “I can <insert noble deed here> without the Bible.”

Reports of the Bible’s irrelevance in modern society have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. Some may seek to bury it on the ash heap of history, but the truths in God’s word will never fade away. Jehoiakim literally burned the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah. God wasn’t finished yet. “So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.” (Jeremiah 36:32) Perhaps Jehoiakim thought that by burning God’s word he would make it go away or become ineffectual. Perhaps he thought that if God’s word was gone, he couldn’t be held accountable for obeying them. He discovered that God will speak as He wills when Jeremiah dictated the words from God to his scribe again. So many today who laugh at God’s word, especially the parts about needing a Savior and how God loves them, will learn that God will continue to speak no matter how they seek to evade God’s message of truth. Our job is to continue to proclaim God’s message of salvation even to those who might mock us now. In the long run, God’s word will prevail.

Lord God, there are so many today who turn away from Your word and show it by their deeds, words, and attitudes. Let my life remind them daily of Your grace and Your message of salvation.

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January 26 – I’m Sorry

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 119:89-96 (The law of God gives life); Jeremiah 36:11-26 (Jehoiakim burns the scroll); 2 Corinthians 7:2-12 (Grief leads to repentance)

We live in a time when it seems like the worst thing you can do is disagree with someone and act on that disagreement. Disagreements like that tend to cause hurt feelings – and we can’t have any of those lying around. If someone’s feelings are hurt, who knows what they’ll do? It will be all your fault because you hurt their feelings and damaged their self-esteem.

Paul wrote a scathing letter to the Corinthian church because they were not only allowing an obvious sin, they were celebrating it. He was afraid that he might even drive them away from the faith. And so it was with joy when Paul found out that the Corinthian Church not only accepted the rebuke, they had repented of their sin. “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) Paul pointed out the results of godly sorrow as opposed to worldly sorrow, and it’s an important distinction. Godly sorrow is when you realize that you have sinned against God and it causes you to repent of the sin that brought the problems about. Worldly sorrow is a kind of anger that you got caught. We see it in the person forced to apologize who bites off his words and says, “I’m sorry,” and then tells the person who forced them that they apologized – can they go now. In a world that shies away from true sorrow, we have the responsibility to experience that sorrow when we sin and use that sorrow to turn back to God.

Lord God, I know that I have sinned against You, and that my sin has hurt other people in the process. I am ashamed and sorry for my failure. Please forgive me because of Your grace, not because of anything I have done to earn it. Restore to me the joy of my salvation.

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January 25 – Clarity

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 119:89-96 (The law of God gives life); Jeremiah 36:1-10 (The scroll is read in the temple); 1 Corinthians 14:1-12 (The assembly’s gifts)

What is it that draws us back into the mind of God? We believe our lives are right with God and don’t realize that we are slowly drifting away from that strong relationship we once had. It is so easy to go through the motions without that intense love for the Lord that we had when we began our relationship with Him. For Peter, it was the call of the cock in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. What draws us back? What draws me back?

Paul reminds us that one of the best ways to get back on track in our relationship with God is hearing His word proclaimed and hearing teaching that I God-inspired. In dealing with the issue of spiritual gifts, Paul reminded the Corinthians to focus on the proclamation and understanding of God’s Word. People were, dare I say it this way, fooling around with lots of gifts that had showy appeal and they were confusing others and being confused themselves. Paul described the effect like this: “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:9) We need a clear message from God, today. So often those outside the church seek to find ways to mute the message of the church or dilute the witness of Christians. God calls us to go in power. As we draw closer to Him, we know more of what He wants, and we enter the battle for the world with confidence. As we share the message that God has for us with others, we clarify our call and we can go into the daily battles with the world with full confidence.

Lord God, help us to prophesy in Your name. Help us to proclaim Your word clearly and be prepared for the battles that lies ahead.

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January 24 – The Body

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-3 5-6 8-10 (Ezra reads the law); Psalm 19 (The law revives the soul); 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a (You are the body of Christ); Luke 4:14-21 (Jesus reads the prophet Isaiah)

There is something sweet about the fellowship of a church that is in harmony with God. The preaching may not be perfect; the song service may even be a little off key, but you can tell that God is working in that place. There is joy among the people. They may not always agree with each other, but they always respect each other. When a brother or sister is dealing with sin, they are loved, not condemned.

I think that’s what Paul was thinking about when he described the church as a body. In the reading from 1 Corinthians today there are a couple of interesting ideas. In verse 12, Paul mentions Paul talks about many parts forming one body so it is with Christ. Did you catch that? You might have expected the phrase “the Church” but Paul is making the point that the church is a living body…and it is the body of Christ on earth today. He goes on to talk about the purpose of the body. “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 24b-26) Each part of the body, and he means us when he says that, is important in building the body up. We should have no division in the body. If someone promotes division on anything but the essentials of the faith, they are tearing down the body of Christ. Can we have differing opinions on what God’s teaching may be in some areas? Yes, of course. But our differences in those areas shouldn’t drive us apart. Differences in dogma; in the essential beliefs of Christianity will drive us apart. If you are in a church that is arguing over the divinity of Christ, the Resurrection, or the Virgin Birth, for example, you may need to rethink your presence in that church. (Those are some of the things I think are faith essentials. It would be interesting to see your list in the comments) But God put us together to perform His work, to be the body of Christ in a world that still needs to know His love and redemption. Because of that we laugh together and cry together. Most of all we share His love together.

Lord God, help me to get my heart right with You every day. Let me be a part of Your work in Your church that is working in unity to show Your love to others.

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January 23 – Economic Slavery

(Yes, a day late)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 19 (The law revives the soul); Nehemiah 5:1-13 (Nehemiah deals with oppression); Luke 2:39-52 (Jesus increases in wisdom)

Economic justice is a tricky concept. As Nehemiah led the people when they returned to Jerusalem after the exile trouble arose. A famine hit the city. Some people had grain, others didn’t. Those who were poor sought to stay alive. They mortgaged their fields. Then, in desperation, they sold their children into slavery. As they grumbled about that need, soon the muted grumbles became an outcry that reached Nehemiah. Nehemiah wasn’t happy: Jews were holding Jewish slaves. It was the kind of thing that would make the Gentiles living in the lands around them attack.

“So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest!” (Nehemiah 5:9-10) Those in poverty had a number of problems. They didn’t have enough food. They traded their lands for food which meant that they had given up the means to pay back those loans. The loans, meanwhile, carried a high enough interest that it made payback impossible. (Yes, think of the ancient equivalent of payday loans.) Their only choice was slavery. Nehemiah rightly chastised the Jews over this issue. Economic Justice is still a tricky concept. While we have protections in place through our government today, those protections and other laws in place make it next to impossible for people to crawl out of poverty. We allow payday loans. When people are on government assistance, we take away incentives to get out of poverty. I could continue. We in the church must work to establish economic justice. Yes, God cares about that. Jesus didn’t die to free us from the oppression of our sins only to leave us and others in the economic oppression. Poverty may never be eliminated, but we must work to get rid of the structures that oppress those who are economically disadvantaged and keep them under the thumb of poverty.

Lord, I look on those in poverty and often turn my head. Make me aware of the needs of those who are suffering from economic injustice. Where I have sinned in this area, forgive me and help me repent. Give me the strength to speak about and work to abolish forces that perpetuate economic injustice.

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January 22 – Living Sacrifice

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 19 (The law revives the soul); Nehemiah 2:1-10 (Nehemiah seeks the welfare of Israel); Romans 12:1-8 (One body in Christ)

In many, mostly ancient, religious traditions worship revolves around a sacrifice. In order to appease their god, or gain blessing from him/her, the worshiper would bring an animal which the priest would kill in the appropriate fashion. Parts of the animal were offered to the god being worshiped, which often became food for the priest, and the rest of the animal was returned to the worshiper for a meal, or the meat was sold in the market. This is one of the major reasons why we read about controversies over eating meat in the book of 1 Corinthians. With that understanding of a sacrifice in the religious sense, Paul’s words in Romans give us pause.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2) As followers of Christ we are recipients of God’s mercy and grace which came about because of the sacrifice of Jesus. If His sacrifice brought us mercy and grace, our “living” sacrifice should then be a way of bringing mercy and grace to others. We become a living sacrifice, then, by renewing our mind and being able to show God’s will to others daily. Our lives should be designed to draw others to God. Our lives should show God’s grace and mercy to others who need to experience His forgiveness. This world abounds in condemnation. As followers of Christ we are not to conform to the practice of this world and condemn others, we are to be agents of His good, pleasing, and perfect will. We are to be agents of His mercy and grace. It’s not an easy job, especially in the middle of rush hour or when we are dealing with “those” people. It is why we are called to be living sacrifices, though. We willingly undertake the responsibility of showing God’s love and grace to people who are just as ornery as we once were.

Make my life a living sacrifice, O Lord. May my life not only be pleasing to You, but may I draw others to Your mercy and grace as I reflect Your love towards others. Help me avoid conforming to the desire to condemn others and let my life lead others to fellowship with You.

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January 21 – Serving With Joy!

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 19 (The law revives the soul); Isaiah 61:1-7 (The spirit of God is upon me); Romans 7:1-6 (The new life of the Spirit)

The Law of God makes an interesting transition from the early days when it was given until the time of Christ. When it was seen as the right way to live so that everything that people did honored and worshiped God, it was a joyful celebration of God’s presence in their lives. Slowly it devolved until it was viewed a taskmaster designed to keep people in line. The Law, designed to unite God’s people, became a dividing line. Some people were able to keep the Law, or so they thought, and they flaunted their “holiness” in front of the common people who either couldn’t keep the Law or had given up trying to keep it.

Enter Jesus Christ. He came to fulfill the Law. When He died on the cross to bring forgiveness for our sins and restore that fellowship, that joy with God, everything changed. Paul described it as a death and life issue. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6) Now longer are we compelled to follow a written code hoping that somehow we might gain God’s favor; now we live and serve in the Spirit of God. Our actions, words, and thoughts should actually show a deeper understanding of the love of God. I’ve jokingly told my wife that some people are alive just because it’s not worth the jail time. In truth, I look at people who cause problems and I see them as people who need redemption. (Ok, that’s what I should do, not always what I do.) We don’t live each day looking over our shoulder, fearful that God will deal with our sins. We eagerly anticipate God’s presence in our lives because He has already dealt with our sins. We should always remember that right and wrong don’t change because we died to the Law. What changes is our attitude and our willingness to do right. We are no longer voluntold the things we should do to serve God, we see a need and we find a way to meet it. The new way of the Spirit should lead us to serve our God with joy. Experience that joy today.

Oh Lord, how much I have missed out when I went through life thinking I had to find some way to please You; some way to make You love me. You have loved me far more than I can ever imagine! You have forgiven my sins because of Jesus, and You empower me to live for You each and every day. Let me serve You with joy each and every day.

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January 20 From One Generation to the Next

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 145 (Praise God’s faithfulness); Song of Solomon 4:9—5:1 (A love song); Luke 5:33-39 (Christ the bridegroom)

One of the greatest frustrations in church work is the number of people who claim to be followers of Christ and yet they not only don’t attend church themselves, they don’t take their children to church. When asked about it they will say something like, “I want my children to make their own choice about which religion to follow, if any.” While that may seem like an admirable sentiment, in truth, the children get the message from those parents that worshiping God is not important.

The good news of Jesus Christ is more than a “religion to follow.” It is a relationship with Almighty God. In Psalm 145 we are reminded that “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” (vs. 4-5) Make no mistake about it, the gospel is one generation away from extinction. It is the responsibility for each generation to pass down to the next the amazing message of God’s love. Oh sure, some of us are skeptical. I think if we really examined our lives we would see examples of God’s sustaining power. Yes, some children were forced to be in church too much – my own children might agree with that sentiment. The truth is that unless we cultivate the love of God in our children from birth, the message of the gospel will begin withering on the vine. An even greater truth is that we as parents need to cultivate that love for God for our children and not leave it to the church. Speak to your children of the amazing love of God and His mighty acts – show it in your life – and we will see children following Jesus not because they have to, but because they want to.

Oh Lord, I come before you to confess my failings as a parent in showing my own children Your love and grace. I pray for this next generation of children – let them see the joys of following the God of Mercy and Grace. May the message of Jesus Christ continue to make a difference in our world.

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January 19 – Who’s Right?

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalm 145 (Praise God’s faithfulness); Song of Solomon 4:1-8 (The bride’s beauty extolled); 1 Corinthians 1:3-17 (Appeal for unity)

The political primary season tends to be divisive. People get behind their candidate and say all kinds of good things about their candidates and why they should be elected. Often, they accompany that with all kinds of bad things about their opponents and why they shouldn’t be elected. Then, once the primary takes place and there’s only one candidate, everyone is supposed to unite around this person that a lot of people said bad stuff about.

The early church had issues like that. Hard to believe, isn’t it? In Corinth one of the many problems the church had was who the people followed as their spiritual leader. “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas [Peter]’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12) If your first thought was, “Well, at least that last group had it right,” then you fell victim to the game of spiritual one-upmanship that they were playing and we all play today. All of those factions were prideful in their pronouncements, or so it seems from Paul’s discussion of the issue. Today we have major splits among Christians called denominations. I understand that. I understand that people will read the Bible and reach different conclusions as to the meaning of the passage. I understand that those differences will lead to different practices. That being said, rather than proclaiming “I follow Christ” in an arrogant manner, can’t we follow Christ by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what the differences may be. It was said of the early Christians that they loved each other before they even knew each other. May that also be said of us.

Lord God, it’s so easy to get stuck in our understanding of Your word and think that we’re always right. Remind me that I am never right in my beliefs if those beliefs don’t lead me to love Your people in spite of our differences. Help me to love other Christians when they are wrong – and help them to love me when I am wrong.

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