A Pale Reflection

Photo curtisy Yinan Chen

Photo courtesy Yinan-Chen

Psalm 17: 1-7, 16

Genesis 32:22-31

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

Show me the wonders of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.NIV

Jesus preformed miracles.  He fed people, healed them, cared for them.  But most were not convinced.  He cannot be the Promised One, the Messiah.  He must be from the Evil One.

They had every advantage as Paul wrote, family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes! MSG  Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, wrestled with the Son of God, earning the name Israel, he who struggles with God, other people, and overcomes.

God picked this small band of people, the smallest of the Semite tribes, to be His representative on earth to set the stage for His Son.  Just for the record, according to Merriam-Webster, Semites are any:  Person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews. Semitic tribes migrated from the Arabian Peninsula, beginning c. 2500 BC, to the Mediterranean coast, Mesopotamia, and the Nile River delta. In Phoenicia, they became seafarers. In Mesopotamia, they blended with the civilization of Sumer. The Hebrews settled at last with other Semites in Palestine.

The selection of Jacob to become the father of the Nation explains a great deal about how God works in the world.  To put it mildly, Jacob was a rogue.  His life story would fit into a supermarket tabloid and not stand out.  Yet God chose him.

God chooses you and me as well.  He fed 5,000 men, their wives and children, without asking for anything from them, without any proof of being a member of Club Jesus.  That is the way God works.  He loves Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Hassan Rouhani of Iran as much as he loves me.  God does not play favorites.  His love and mercy are too massive for us to comprehend.  The most loving human is a pale reflection of the Love of God.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

2 Corinthians 5-9

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Monday, August 4, Chapter 5

At the end of chapter 4, Paul wrote, The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. Message  Once we have that glimpse of Heaven we want to live there.  As he opens this chapter:  For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Message

In this world, in this tent, we struggle with sin.  It surrounds us like air.  It corrupts us in ways we do not recognize.  We hide it under the rocks of our lives, but it will be exposed and judged in the end.  One of the Grimms’ fairy tales describes a long ago murder that comes to light.  They wrote this proverb for it:  The Bright Sun Brings It to Light.

We deceive ourselves into thinking that what happened long ago no longer matters and we deceive ourselves into thinking we can hide what we do not want others to see or know.  That may work with our fellow humans, but not with God.  God is Light.  He sees all and knows all.  He does not have to wait until we die to know what we have tried to hide.  He watches as we hide it.

If we give ourselves to follow Jesus, we do not need to worry about judgment because the Son of Man will be our Judge.  God, who hates sin, has given the job of handing out punishment and rewards to his Son.  So, if I am a part of the True Body of Christ, if I am doing what Christ did, if I am his slave, the fix is in.

Matthew 25:31-46 explains how that Judgment will work.   ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ NIV

Dietrich Bonhoeffer concluded his sermon of November 19, 1933 in London with:  The good is nothing other than our asking for and receiving his grace.  The evil is only fear and wanting to stand before God on our own and justify ourselves.

For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.  What a promise!  I cannot put on my new Heavenly body yet, but I can get a sense of what it will be like.  I get a fresh start, a new lease on life.  I get to live my life for others and for God.

Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. Message

Tuesday, August 5, Chapter 6

The word of God through Isaiah:

Here is what Adonai says:
“At the time when I choose, I will answer you;
on the day of salvation, I will help you.
I have preserved you, and I have appointed you
to be the covenant for a people,
to restore the land and distribute again
its ruined inheritances to their owners
. Phillips

What Isaiah promised is now fulfilled, God has answered with the gift of his Son.  Paul wants us to know what he has been through to give us the news about this great gift.  Just looking at what Paul, Timothy, and the others have gone through shows us how seriously they take the message.  We need to be just as serious.

Paul does not suggest that we never have anything to do with unbelievers; that would make it impossible to share the Good News of the Gospel.  Paul does warn us against marriage with non-Christians.  That was a big problem in Corinth.  It is still a fair warning for us.

Wednesday, August 6, Chapter 7

Paul now explains how thrilled he is with the news from Titus about the Corinthians and their love for Paul.  It is a great relief to hear that.  And the report came at a troublesome time, so gave him some comfort.

Paul almost apologies for the first harsh letter, but is glad that it brought a change in the people’s attitudes.  In this section, it seems that Paul’s first letter was intended for a very few who were causing troubles.  Those people were infecting the whole congregation so Paul had to write.  Now it seems either the people have changed their ways or gone away.  Paul is happy.

The comments about Titus give us a picture of a happy and healed church.  Now Paul can talk about more worthy matters.

Thursday, August 7, Chapter 8

The Corinthian church started a collection to help the Christians in Jerusalem, but the troublemakers interrupted it.  Now Paul is pleased to tell them that the churches in Macedonia insisted on giving what they could to add to the mission gift.  Paul assures the Corinthians that it is not more than they had already collected and that the Macedonians made their pledges first for their own church’s functions.  Paul hopes Corinth will be spurred to increase their collections.  They have more wealth than most churches and they need to finish what they started.

I like the way Phillips translated verse 12:  After all, the important thing is to be willing to give as much as we can—that is what God accepts, and no one is asked to give what he has not got.

Verses 13-15 describe how the early churches dealt with money.  Sharing was the common practice, even to the point of real communism as described in Acts 4:32-37.

In verse 18 Paul says he is sending Titus back with another man, unnamed, but Luke seems likely.  Paul makes clear that the money will be in good hands and none will be stolen.  Just to make sure, Paul is sending several men from other churches to keep watch.  It was always safer to travel in large groups anyway.

Friday, August 8, Chapter 9

Paul continues with the pep talk about the offering for Jerusalem.  He is using some of the cultural attitudes to promote the offering by first telling the northern Greeks in Macedonia what the Corinthians of Achaia were doing, and then telling the Corinthians what the Macedonians accomplished.  He set up a contest without saying so.

Paul also repeats the need for the gift to be freely given, not as a duty, but as a powerful desire to help people in need.  We must remember that the offering for Jerusalem was an “extra” gift, over and above regular giving.  We do not know how the early churches went about paying for their various activities, but we know they had expenses.  Even when they met in people’s homes, there were small expenses for items used in worship, the cost of writing letters (hiring a scribe), sending people to other towns as missionaries, etc.  It would be interesting to see an annual report of such expenses.

Paul reminds his readers of the presence of God in the giving.  It is easy for us to focus on the need to pave the parking lot or buy a new computer for the church office and forget that it is really about God.  Does God need the parking lot paved?  Does He want us to pave it?  Staying in touch with God as a congregation can be a difficult thing.

Paul quotes Psalm 112:

Halleluyah!

How happy is anyone who fears Adonai,
who greatly delights in his mitzvot.
His heart is set firm, he will not be afraid,
till finally he looks in triumph at his enemies….
He distributes freely, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness stands forever.

His power will be increased honorably.Orthodox Jewish Bible 
Paul then reminds us that God will take care of us.  Some people take such statements as guarantees.  When Jesus said that God takes care of the birds of the air, he did not mention that those birds are eaten by other animals, including my cats.  We live in a world where such things happen not only to birds but to people, Christians included.  God will help us through those difficult times, even to the point of death.  He does not leave us just because we are unemployed, dying of cancer, or crying for a teenager who hates his parents.  The more we trust God, the easier it is to make do with what we have.

Paul ends this chapter with:   Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  We receive gifts from God that we do not recognize.  We fail to receive gifts that we think God should give us.  Which is the greater gift?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

John 21 to 2 Corinthians 4

DSCF0168

Monday, July 28, John Chapter 21

A number of the disciples returned to Galilee.  Peter decided to go fishing and others joined him on the lake at night.  The next morning, having caught nothing, a man on shore told them to throw their net on the right side.

When the net proved to be so full of fish they could not get it in the boat, John realized it was really Jesus and they came in quickly.  Jesus had breakfast ready for them, the same meal as the 5,000 shared, bread and fish.

For them, the catch was a miracle, especially since it did not break the net, but Jesus was no longer of this world.  For him it was a simple matter to have fresh baked bread and fish ready to eat.

Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved him.  It was a way to tell him that he was forgiven for denying Jesus three times.

Of John, Jesus said, If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.  Personally, I believe that John wrote this Gospel rather late in his life after most if not all the other Twelve had died, his own brother James being the first.  This statement seems to me to be an explanation for why he was the only one to die a natural death.

William Barclay writes:  People in the early Church…may have wondered what was the function of John who had lived on in Ephesus until he was so old that he was past all activity.  Here is the answer:  Paul might be the pioneer of Christ, Peter might be the shepherd of Christ, but John was the witness of Christ.  He was the man who was able to say:  “I saw these things, and I know that they are true.”

Isthmus of Corinth
Isthmus of Corinth, the white line is a modern canal

Tuesday, July 29, 2 Corinthians Chapter 1

Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth dealt with a long list of problems.  That letter was written in the spring of 55 AD from Ephesus.  This second letter was likely written in the fall of the same year, this time from Macedonia.   But it may have been written in the fall of 56.

There is historical evidence that Paul wrote as many as four letters to Corinth, but the other two are lost.  There is further evidence of Paul writing to other churches with those letters also being lost.  Paul had a large mission field to deal with and many assistants like Timothy, so it is reasonable to assume he wrote numerous letters.  I believe God helped preserve the most important letters for our use.  And on that point, I am sure other Apostles wrote letters that have also been lost.

Paul opens with his usual praise of the church.  The idea of comforting the church was on his mind.

He described some of the trouble he faced in Ephesus and the churches around that city, even to the point of facing death.  But God carried him through as he will for you.

Paul changes his plans, now intending to spend more time in Corinth than originally set up.  In the words of Paul Tillich:  A change in his traveling plans and the angry reaction of the Corinthian Christians to this change is used by Paul for profound and far-reaching assertions about Jesus “the Christ”:  “In him it is always Yes, he is not Yes and No.”

Paul was facing a determined group of opponents in Corinth who chose to twist his every word.  They no doubt were telling the others that you cannot trust Paul.  “Look, he said he would make two visits, now he will make one long one.”

Paul Tillich goes on:  There is only one reality where there is not Yes and No but only Yes:  Jesus as the Christ.  First He also stands under the No, as completely as a being can stand; this is the meaning of the Cross….But we are told that in Him all promises of God have become real, and that in Him a life and a truth which is beyond Yes and No has become manifest.  This is the meaning of “Resurrection.”  The No of death is conquered and the Yes of life is transcended by that which has appeared in Him…. He shows the final Yes without another No.  This is the Easter message.

Wednesday, July 30, Chapter 2

In verse 3, Paul writes, I wrote as I did… which has been taken by many recent scholars to refer to a letter sent just before 2 Corinthians.  This is the most direct Biblical evidence of another letter.  However, none of the early histories (which go back to 90 AD when John was still alive) make any mention of this possibility.  The lack of a statement is not proof, but it supports all the early copies of 2 Corinthians and early references to it as being the second letter.  As I have already indicated, it is likely that Paul did write at least two other letters to Corinth, but we do not have what a historian would call solid proof.

We will take it that Paul referred to 1 Corinthians.  I wrote as I did… certainly fits the blistering nature of the first letter.

In verse 5 Paul says that the person has been punished and needs to be forgiven.  We do not know who the person was or what happened, but enough was enough.  We cannot overdue forgiveness.  Jesus had something to say about that (Matthew 18:21-22):  At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”  Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

Paul traveled to Troas, still in Asia Minor, hoping it seems to meet Titus there.  When that meeting did not happen, Paul moved on to Macedonia.  Even with the disappointment of failing to meet Titus, Paul was able to do some good work in Troas.  Work where you are.

Thursday, July 31, Chapter 3

Corinth was having an influx of people who claimed to preach the true gospel, but they had no one to recommend them and they generally did not know the gospel.  Paul opens with a small joke, do I need to send my credentials again?

Of course not.  I know you and you know me.  You know I preach only the True Gospel.

With verse 7 Paul compares the glory of the Law and of the Messiah.  Exodus 34:29:  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.  At first the people and even Aaron ran away from Moses.  Paul says if the glory of God can have that impact on Moses, imagine the power of the Messiah.

By putting our faith and trust in our Messiah, we can achieve great things.  Only the Messiah can remove the veil that came with Moses.  The Law shows us that we sin, but the Law separates us from God just as the veil inside the Temple kept us from the presence of God.  Under the Law we cannot approach God.  Under the Messiah we can live in the presence of God in a way that even Moses could not imagine.

Because Jesus has torn that veil away, we are filled with the new Spirit and shine in the world with the Light of the Messiah.  Our radiance is an arc lamp compared to the 5 watt bulb of Moses.

Friday, August 1, Chapter 4

Paul refers to the false teachers in Corinth and contrasts himself with them.  He continues the image of shining in the world with the Light of the Messiah.  Only the Truth can be a beacon to people surrounded with the Lie.

In verse 7 Paul reminds the Corinthians that we are mere clay pots in which the power of the Son of God has come to live.  With that we take in the death of Jesus, for without his death there is no life.  With his death, we must also die to our current lives and take up his life which is the only Life.  John 14:6:  I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Paul is writing about the great paradox that we must die to live.  And we must die for others so that they can live in Christ the Messiah.

Even as our bodies waste away, we are gaining greater life in Heaven.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Walk the Straight Road

Photo curtsy of Odan Jaeger
Photo courtesy of Odan Jaeger

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 128
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

 

We will begin with the first two verses of Psalm 128 to set the tone of this reading:

All you who fear God, how blessed you are!
how happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
You worked hard and deserve all you’ve got coming.
Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!
MSG

This is what we can expect when we plant that mustard seed and pour in the yeast; growth occurs.  Not the growth we might choose, as Jacob discovered, but the growth of the Holy Spirit.

When I choose to live in God’s way by following Jesus, I have to change my way of thinking.  Humans tend to think in terms of today only.  What will I wear, what will I eat, what will I do?  God’s time is geologic; He blesses us in His time.  I want it today, He gives it seven years later.

That is because God sits outside of time; He can see what will happen to us because for Him it has already happened.  If I visit Niagara Falls, I can look at the water half a mile up the river and see exactly what will happen to it at the waterfalls and below.  That is similar to God’s position in our lives.  He knows just when we need his help; when we need that barrel to survive the waterfalls.

Jesus gave his disciples several images of what heaven is like.  It is like a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, pearl, a net full of fish, and much more.  Why do we need all these images?  “You can see, then,” returned Jesus, “how every one who knows the Law and becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old.” Phillips  We as followers of Jesus need to understand the Gospel so that we can both live it and share it.

With Paul we say, Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, pain or persecution? Can lack of clothes and food, danger to life and limb, the threat of force of arms? Indeed some of us know the truth of the ancient text: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter’.  No, in all these things we win an overwhelming victory through him who has proved his love for us. Phillips

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

John 16-20

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JOY

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Monday, July 21, Chapter 16

In verse 2 Jesus predicts Paul’s actions, and all the others, who killed the early followers of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit help us understand what is sin, righteousness and judgment.  The last is not our concern but that of God.  As Jesus said, But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is.  If we trust, have faith, in God, the Spirit will lead us in the Right Path.  Jesus does not intend to leave us alone.

Grief will come into all our lives.  We can identify with the disciples in that loss.  To mix quotes from A Tale of Two Cities:  My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  I have heard and read many comments by veterans of wars who said it was the most exciting and exhilarating times of their lives; not because of the tremendous pain and suffer, but because of the sense of doing good for other people, if only for their fellow soldiers.

Paul Tillich reminds us that the lack of joy is a consequence of man’s separation from God, and the presence of joy is a consequence of the reunion with God.  Humans want that joy, we crave it.  In our efforts to experience it we all too often use other people in ways that demean both ourselves and the others.  Joy can only be experienced by me when my actions bring joy to the others.  Everything I do must be done with others in mind.  We should, as Christians, follow the guide of The Hippocratic writing Epidemics:  to do good or to do no harm.

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.

Tuesday, July 22, Chapter 17

Three prayers make up this chapter.

The first is a prayer for Jesus by Jesus.  He asks only that he may glorify God in his final hours on earth as he has already glorified Him in his first 33 years.

His second prayer is for his disciples, those who followed him through three years of learning.  Jesus thanks God for them and for their belief in him and in God.  He also asks that God continue to support the disciples when Jesus dies.  Jesus asks for protection from Satan, but does not otherwise ask that his followers be excused from living in the world.

It would be nice to be immune to all diseases by being a Christian.  It would be nice to live in comfort year around.  No, we have to live in the world and tolerate its unpleasantness.  But we also get to find real joy in its beauty.  We share in the creativeness of our fellow humans.  We get to laugh as well as cry with them.  For Christians, life in this world is the best of times and the worst of times.

His final prayer is for us, those who have heard of Jesus second-hand and have come to believe in him.  We are to receive the blessing of disciples.

Wednesday, July 23, Chapter 18

Have you noticed?  John did not in any way suggest that chapters 13-17 occurred on Passover.  We will see it specifically later, but John has Jesus arrested on what we call Wednesday night and crucified on Thursday, the day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs.

Which details are correct?  Do Matthew, Mark and Luke have it right or wrong?  I think they are both correct in that what we think of as important details (at 9:06 AM, Jesus said,) were not important to any of the Four Gospel Authors.  John is writing about Jesus fulfilling the Word of God and bringing glory to God in all his actions.  John is revealing the Word of God as a human, the Son of Man.  John is describing the Lamb of God sacrificed for the whole world.  The death of the Lamb occurred at the time of the deaths of the lambs of the Passover so that the Angel of Death will pass over us as well.

John describes the arrest and trial in much the same way as the other Gospels with only a few details added.  Consider the crowd this time.  It is often pointed out in sermons that these same people were shouting Hosanna on Sunday and Crucify today.  There is some truth in that, but most of the crowd had been brought in by the leaders to make sure Pilate ordered execution.  We see that most clearly in John’s account.

Thursday, July 24, Chapter 19

The crucifixion is also described much the same.  Pilate comes out looking better than anyone else except Jesus, but the result is the same.

Verses 25-27 names four women at the cross.  There may have been others.  Mary, wife of Clopas is not otherwise known in the scriptures.  In the history of the church we learn that her son replaced James as the leader of the church in Jerusalem upon James’ death.

Mary the Mother of Jesus we know.

Mary from Magdala had seven demons removed from her by Jesus.  Her devotion is understandable.

With the three Marys was the sister of Jesus’ Mother.  We know from Matthew and Mark that her name is Salome and that her sons are the Apostles James and John, the John of the Gospel of John.  John’s face was probably well covered by his prayer shawl because all of them were risking arrest and death just by being there.  But he could not allow his mother to go unprotected to such a place.  I suspect he tried in vain to keep her away.

There are two more points with this short passage.  Jesus asks John to take care of his mother.  The responsibility would fall to James, the brother of Jesus, to care for Mary, but Jesus did not want that until James became a believer, as he knew he would.  Also, Jesus loved John and trusted him in ways that had nothing to do with his trust of Peter and the others.  Perhaps because he knew already that John would write two of the greatest books of the Bible.

The second point is that this picture has such a strong feeling of first-hand knowledge that it supports the contention that the Apostle John wrote the Gospel.

Psalm 69:21 is played out in verses 28-29.  John adds the symbolic touch that the sponge was lifted to Jesus on a limb of the hyssop, the very plant that had to be used at the time of the first Passover to smear the blood of the lamb on the post and lintel of each Jewish home.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are described as tending to the body of Jesus.  Both were Pharisees and on the day before Passover, it seems almost beyond belief that either of them would have touched the body.  Since it was common usage in ancient times to credit the master with the work of a slave, it is probably slaves who placed the body in the tomb.  Still, these two men were taking a great risk and deserve our respect.  I believe they became true believers and followers, even though we have no record of that happening.

Friday, July 25, Chapter 20

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and ran to tell Peter and John.  Compare all four accounts and some people have trouble believing any of the story.  Consider this:  Mary Magdalene came first followed by Peter and John.  They left in time for some women to come and encounter the angels of Luke.  In Mark, we find Mary, Mary and Salome arriving, just missing the others.  Matthew has much the same as Mark.  It is all possible.

More importantly, this was the single biggest event in the Gospels.  Everyone was so excited by the news that the details quickly faded.  I clearly remember hearing of the death of President Kennedy.  I remember several details of those minutes.  My next memory is sitting in front of the TV, along with most of the nation.  I have no idea what happened in between and it does not matter.

John adds a note in verse 9 that he and Peter still did not understand that Jesus had promised his resurrection.  With all they knew and with all their faith, they still missed the most important points.  That should give us all hope for our own lack of understanding.

John says that Jesus spoke with Mary Magdalene.  He does not say that she was the only one; he simply records what the others had not shared.

That Sunday night, after a day of excitement that must have left them confused and exhausted, Jesus appeared in a locked room where most of the Apostles were in hiding.  In that meeting, John contradicts Luke by writing, And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Luke made it very clear that the Holy Spirit did not come to them until Pentecost, fifty days later.

John likely had Genesis in mind when God breathed life into Adam.  Using that same sense, Jesus breathed his spirit into the Apostles.  The big descending of the Holy Spirit of God was yet to come.

As to Thomas, here is part of a sermon from Peter Marshall given in the 1940’s.  When Thomas returned to join the group, he heard the announcement told breathlessly with shining eyes as they gripped him by the arm that the Master had appeared unto them, and that they knew—beyond any doubt—that He was alive.  Partly because of his overwhelming grief, and partly because he was by nature and disposition a skeptic, Thomas would not believe them.  He was, as it were, from some Palestinian Missouri, he had to be shown, he demanded proof, he insisted that he would not be swept off his feet by any emotional reaction, he would have to be sure and he refused to believe until the Lord should appear before him and until he could stick his unbelieving finger into the nailprints of the hands of the Son of God.  Seeing the hands of Jesus, Thomas believed.

We can believe because Thomas and John and thousands of others have given us the Word.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence