Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bearing Burdens and Carrying Your Own Load

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Scripture for Sunday, May 21:  Galatians 6:1-10

"Carry each others' burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."  --Gal. 6:2

Throughout Galatians, Paul goes to great lengths to debunk the myth of self-made righteousness.  He minces no words characterizing the "teachers" who had disrupted the Galatian church, and he pleads with these new believers not to fall into the trap of believing that they needed "Jesus-and...."  "Jesus-and-the-law-of-Moses."  "Jesus-and-circumcision." 

The problem with self-made righteousness--besides the fact that it can't ultimately make us right with God--is that checking the right boxes can foster spiritual pride.  It becomes very possible to think too highly of our own life of faith while judging the sins and failures of others from a distance.

Paul will have none of it.  There's no room for spiritual pride in a divine economy of grace.  He tells the believers to restore brothers and sisters caught in sin "gently," watching out that they are not tempted to think too much of themselves in the process.  And he calls the Galatian believers to carry one another's burdens--fulfilling not the law of Moses, but the law of Christ.

Unlike judging from afar, carrying each other's burdens can't be done pridefully or from a distance.  It requires getting close enough to shoulder a burden together.  It means listening to understand, not formulating our response as we listen.  It also means having the humility to let others in on our struggles--asking them to shoulder our burdens. 

Sometimes asking for help with our own burdens is harder.

Paul goes on to say that "each one should carry their own load"--the unique call that God has placed on each life to represent him daily.  Together we carry burdens; individually we plant seeds of God's love in our own Spirit-appointed ways, expecting a God-grown "harvest if we do not give up." 

For Reflection:

1.  Whom might you be most prone to judge from afar? 

2.  Is it easier for you to be the person who carries someone else's burden; or the person who asks for help?  Identify and thank God today for people who have walked alongside and carried burdens with you.

3.  Given your own personality, gifts, and season of life, what is one way that you are currently "planting seeds"; or one way that God might be leading you to plant?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Reason for Hope

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Scripture for Sunday, May 14
1 Peter 3:8-22, focusing especially on verses 15-16

Additional selected Scripture on hope: 
1 Peter 1:3-21, Romans 8: 18-25

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...."  1 Peter 3:15-16

I misuse the word "hope" all the time.

"Mom, can we go to the park today?" 

"I hope so.  Let's see if we can get all our chores done." 

Translation:  "That park outing is looking unlikely."

"Could we have our school friends' family over for dinner?"

"I hope so.  Let's find a time."

Translation:  "Not happening unless we schedule it."

In my vocabulary, "hope" frequently communicates a wished-for but uncertain outcome.  It lives in the realm of my day-to-day world.  That way of speaking bleeds over into my thinking about hope.  It's teaching my children something about hope, too. 

"Hope" in this sense often results in disappointment.

But biblical hope is something else entirely.  It is a treasured certainty.  It is complete confidence in a future held by God.  It is guaranteed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us.  It is granted to us through the completed sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.   

Biblical hope is an unshakeable foundation for living.  It's a foregone conclusion.  We can fully trust that God is working in ways that we cannot see toward a final goal that we can hardly imagine. 

In this passage, Peter assumes that Christian hope is visible.  In fact, he says to be ready to defend or give reasons for the hope that others recognize!  Biblical hope can't be disappointed or put to shame--even when the reasons for earthly hope are few. 

Questions to ponder:
When or how have you noticed biblical hope in another person? 
How would you distinguish biblical hope from a sense of duty to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" when the going gets tough?
What personal stories come to mind when you think of someone giving a reason for their hope?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Church People"

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Read the Scripture for Sunday, May 7:  Colossians 4:7-18

Many of the "church people" listed in Colossians 4 have backstories that are included in the New Testament.  Paul greets a bunch of people who would have had no other reason to spend time together if not for the fact that they all belonged to Christ. 

Read the related passages below to dig into the backstory of some of the people Paul greets--John Mark and Onesimus.  What light do their stories shed on challenges and joys we face in "being church" together?

John Mark:  Acts 12, 15:36-41; Onisemus:  Philemon

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Our Cup Overflows"

In this season after Easter, our worship preparation blog is on hiatus to allow Rev. Manion to prepare for future series. 

The sermon texts and related texts will continue to be posted for your reflection in anticipation of Sunday worship. 

Scripture for Sunday, April 30, 2017:  1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Scripture for additional reflection:  Romans 5:1-15

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Peter, However Got Up and Ran

Image result for empty tomb

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Scripture for Sunday, April 16, 2017: Luke 24:1-12

The women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, don’t know it is Easter Sunday morning.  When they go to the graveyard they come looking for the dead body of Jesus.  He died on Friday.  On Saturday they rested.  On Sunday they search for the dead, where the dead can be found.  They come to the tomb.  But they cannot find the dead body.  Did robbers come?  Have wild animals dragged the body away?  Were they in the right graveyard?  It couldn’t be resurrection.  Could it?  While they wonder what happened to the body two angels begin asking hard questions, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

What kind of question is this?  With their own eyes they had seen Jesus dead and buried in this very tomb.  That was the sad end to what began as a glorious week.  On Palm Sunday hope soared.  The long expected Messiah, who would establish the Kingdom of God, was acknowledged by the crowds.  But then on Friday the hopes of the women and the eleven disciples died and the seeds of doubt were sown.
The angels’ question pushes the women past the doubt that is growing in their hearts by reminding them of Jesus’ own testimony, “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”    
I suspect our instinct is to go easy of the women and on the disciples.  After all, we are familiar with doubt and acquainted with unbelief.  We all have hopes that God’s plan for us will include success, happiness and security.  When failure, sadness and insecurity strike our hopes die and we bury them.  These buried hopes can be seeds of doubt.  There was that relationship that you hoped and prayed would be reconciled, but it ended in divorce.  Hope died, was buried, and now you are doubting that God values marriage.  There is that addiction you thought had been conquered, but when you least expect it overwhelms you with a ferocity that cannot be combated.  Your hope to be free from addiction is buried, and you begin to doubt that God has conquered sin.  Grief wells up at an awkward moment.  And your hope that you were moving on dies a little, and you doubt that God gives the victory over the sting of death. 

Friends, Jesus is risen.  Although we might enter Easter with seeds of doubt because of dead hopes, our doubt cannot stop Easter life.  The resurrection is powerful enough to enliven the hopes that lie dead and buried in our past, present and even our future.  Easter teaches us that even dead hopes can be transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

1.       What hopes for either yourself or others have died in you?
2.       Have these dead hopes sprouted into doubt?  Do you carry doubt into this Easter season?

Using your sanctified imagination, imagine the hopes that have died being buried with Christ.  Imagine these dead hopes being raised with Christ.    

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Standing in the Rain with Rizpah

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Scripture for Sunday, April 9, 2017:  2 Samuel 21:1-14

David's release of seven of Saul's sons and grandsons to be executed by the Gibeonites is as hard to read as it is to understand.  It's an ugly story.  Why does David, a man after God's own heart, turn over to death the descendants of a man whose life he spared again and again? 

The Gibeonites were Canaanites who, under false pretenses, made a treaty with Joshua to live at peace with the Israelites (see Joshua 9).  Even though the Gibeonites had lied to them, Israel honored the peace agreement made in the LORD's name.  While Saul was by no means innocent of slaughtering unsuspecting people (see 1 Samuel 22:17-19), there is no biblical account of Saul killing the Gibeonites.

As this passage opens, David finds his kingdom in trouble.  The country has had a famine and continues to experience political tension.  David's handover of Saul's sons and grandsons both attends to the issue of Saul's guilt and appeases the Gibeonites.  But it also serves to solidify David's rule: young men of Saul's line who could have threatened David's throne are executed.

It's interesting that David inquires of the Lord about the famine; but not about a way to remove Saul's guilt.  That question is reserved for the Gibeonites, who are not known for their trustworthiness.  Was the only way to make peace with Gibeon truly to execute the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Merab?

Saul's concubine Rizpah, mother of Armoni and Mephibosheth, is given no recorded words in Scripture.  But her life speaks. 

Rizpah has lost the protection afforded to her as a member of Saul's household; and now by King David's authorization she loses any protection offered by her sons.  She has nowhere else to go and no way to appeal.  So she climbs the hill where her sons lie dead, spreads out the fabric of grief, and camps out on a rock. 

There she is with Armoni and Mephibosheth, day after day.  There she is, shouting at the sky, chasing off the birds.  There she is, threatening the wild animals with sticks.  There she is--for months!--from the time the barley begins to ripen in March until the autumn rains begin to fall on the land.  She will not forget them, and she won't let others forget either.

Rizpah's protest reaches King David.  David gathers the remains of Saul and Jonathan, killed by the Philistines; and the remains of Saul's seven sons and grandsons, and gives them all a suitable burial in their family tomb.

And then, after David honors Saul's family, God answers prayers for famine relief.


1.  Rizpah is good company for those who grieve for the lives or injustices done to their children.  She has limited power but demonstrates courageous protest in the wake of grief.  How might God bring you encouragement through her? 

2.  We serve a Savior who knows each one of us and calls us by name.  We are precious to him.  Rather than "hand us over" to the destruction we deserve, in his great mercy Christ handed over himself.

Using your sanctified imagination, imagine how the story of 2 Samuel 21 would be different if David handed over himself to the Gibeonites to atone for Saul's sin.  I can hardly imagine it.  Yet this is what Christ, our King, has done for us.            

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Things That Make for Peace

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Scripture for Sunday, April 2:  1 Samuel 25
Additional Scripture: Colossians 1:15-23
(Be sure to read 1 Samuel 25 before reading on.)
Any one of the named characters in the account of Nabal, David, and Abigail is interesting in his or her own right. 
Nabal, the fool who lives up to his name, values his wealth and lifestyle above the breath of life itself.  His foolishness backfires, and Nabal's life gets cut short.
David, the LORD's anointed king, has just demonstrated extraordinary restraint in sparing Saul's life--because Saul, too, is the LORD's anointed king.  Yet here, David's anger burns against Nabal.  He is more than ready to take vengeance into his own hands.  
And then there's Abigail, whose reputation for wisdom and loveliness blooms despite a marriage environment that could shrivel wisdom and loveliness in a hurry.
But Abigail sees the crisis coming upon her household with clarity.  She responds decisively.  She hears the news that David and 400 men are marching on her household and takes action.
She brings an ample gift--probably from Nabal's food supply for the shearing festival:  200 loaves of bread; two containers of wine; five prepared sheep; roasted grain, raisins and figs. 
She takes her life into her hands, riding out to seek peace between the enraged David and the members of Nabal's household. 
She speaks with humility, courage, and vision about the LORD's purposes in David's life.  With wisdom and tact, she calls David to consider what effect his intended actions will have on his future kingship. 
Abigail's courage, humility, and wisdom are remarkable.  And her appeal douses the flames in David's soul.
When I read this story, I want to identify with Abigail, the level-headed hero.  She takes a stand between folly and anger--potentially at great personal cost--
and brings peace. 
Abigail reminds us of another intercessor--
one who left his Father's household at great personal cost, who gave us the bread and wine of the new covenant, and who calls us to a new kind of life. 
For Reflection:
When I read this account, I realize that maybe Abigail is who I want to be; but sometimes I am foolish Nabal.  Sometimes I am angry David.  The Bible "reads us" when it points out elements of our living, thinking, and being that are out of line in God's kingdom.
What aspects or elements of this account encourage you as you live in God's presence? 
What aspects or elements of this account may the Spirit be drawing to your attention to correct you?
Hallelujah!  We have a Savior who intercedes for us; a Spirit who strengthens us for lives that please God; and a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.  Thanks be to God.