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“Goodness?  Where?”

Psalm 27: 13: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Church tradition tells us that this was one of the prayers Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane as He looked ahead to today, when he would be in the land of the non-living. No wonder he sweated blood! But even there, His faith helped Him believe that His Father would see Him through His passion, from the cross to beyond the tomb. If Jesus could believe, knowing what He knew lay in store for Him, can we not also believe in the goodness of God for us? That’s what makes Holy Saturday holy!

“Tagalongs”

John 13: 36: “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later.’” When Jesus made this same statement to the Jews (John 8: 21), I’m sure the disciples thought Jesus didn’t mean them, too. How disappointing! Why couldn’t they follow right away? What they couldn’t know then was that yes, Jesus was ascending to His Father, but first He had to make a little side trip to Sheol (1 Peter 3: 19)which He had to make alone. Because He made that trip, we don’t have to, and can join Him directly at the Father’s throne; but in this trip we follow later, missing Sheol. Didn’t wanna go there anyway! That’s what

“Cup and Loaf"

1 Corinthians 11: 16: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” This ‘cup of blessing’ and ‘bread we break’ is not just any old cup and bread. St. Paul is referring to one of the cups drunk at the Passover, and the unleavened bread eaten at the same meal. They had very specific roles of remembering Israel’s deliverance from the death angel and their exodus from Egypt, and pointing forward to the greater reality of the Promised Land ahead - the Kingdom of God. And this cup and bread - or, as it is now known, the body and blood of Christ - still fulfills this same role today (plus more), a

“Satanic Schemes”

2 Corinthians 2: 10, 11: “But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” You don’t need to spend a lot of time pouring over the scriptures looking for tricks of the devil. No, devote that time to studying the ways of God. Satan’s schemes are obvious, and not as complicated as he would have you to believe. For instance, here we see one of his most effective strategies - unforgiveness. You may think you are punishing someone by not forgiving them, but instead you are falling into the de

“Long Term / Short Term”

Mark 11: 20: “And as they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.” You may notice that when St. Matthew tells this story he says that the fig tree withered “at once.” (Matthew 21: 19) Another error in scripture? More proof that the bible is “full of contradictions”? Of course not. Matthew told it his way to teach us how faith has the power to work instantly, and Mark told it his way to demonstrate the need of faith to work together with patience. (Hebrews 6: 12; 10: 36) The ironic thing here is that it is usually St. Mark who says “immediately” - forty times, to eighteen for St. Matthew. So we learn another lesson - be open to people surpris

“You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone”  (with apologies to Joni Mitchell)

Lamentations 1: 7: “In the days of her affliction and homelessness Jerusalem remembers all her precious things that were from the days of old.” Funny thing, when Jerusalem still had the temple, the law, the monarchy, and the very presence of God, she didn’t seem to appreciate it. It is only now that Babylon has seemingly taken it all away that she realizes its value. Only now, as Nebuchadnezzar razes the temple and blinds their king, do they realize that they’ve been blessed among all nations. One purpose of Lent and Holy Week is to remember what’s truly important while we still have it, before it’s too late. Dare we, like Jerusalem, ignore the warnings of God?

“The Purifying Power of His Suffering”

On the first Palm Sunday, the Jews hailed Jesus as the King who comes in the name of the Lord, the Deliverer who would ransom captive Israel, the warrior Son of David who was mightier than he, so that if Saul killed thousands of enemies, and David tens of thousands, Jesus would kill hundreds of thousands. But He burst their bubble and entered Jerusalem, not on a war horse, but on a peace donkey, signifying that His kingdom is not of this world, its invasion of nations is not by might nor by power but by God’s Spirit, it wins people not by fear but through kindness, its platform is not enemy-destruction but enemy-love, it's founded on the giving of self for the life of others, it's about the

“The Purifying Power of His Suffering”

What can be said about this Passion Gospel? Here is a simple commentary: As it begins Jesus is in deep agony, battling in His heart and mind over what He knows He is supposed to do. Does He face the bitter cup that is given Him, or escape it? Praise God, in obedience He is willing to take it “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Jesus is wrongfully accused by the chief priest and his allies. They envy Jesus, not just for His great understanding of the law and ordinances for the people of God, but also because of the many wonders and miracles He has performed in front of them. Jesus is a threat to their dominance of the society during that time. Even the high officials of the government

“What Distinction?”

Exodus 11: 7: “But against any of the sons of Israel a dog shall not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” OK, if here the Lord says He makes a distinction between Israel and Egypt, then what does St. Peter mean when he says that God does not show partiality? (Acts 10: 34) He means just what he says – but you have to finish his sentence. “In every nation, the man who fears Him is welcome to Him (v. 35). It was a mixed multitude that came out of Egypt; not all were Israelites. Others believed, and were welcome to make the trip. If even an Egyptian had put the Passover blood on His door, his first-bor

“James and John, Modern-day Role Models”

Mark 10: 35, 36: “And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You.’ And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’” Do James and John sound like they came right out of today’s Church, or what? The prayers of many believers are carbon copies of this prayer of the Sons of Thunder, and most people’s most intense desire is to hear the same answer Jesus gave to them: “Sure, whaddaya want?” But give the J & J boys credit, when Jesus shot them down (and made an object lesson of them in the process), they didn’t get offended or quit; they proceeded right on to Jerusalem with Him. How do we respond w

“Praying the Promises”

Psalm 132: 9, 11, 16: “Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness and Your godly ones sing for joy … The Lord has sworn to David, a truth from which He will not turn back … Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy.” If you sometimes wonder what you should pray, take a cue from the psalmists: pray the promises of God! The noble intercession he prays in verse nine is prompted by God’s vow in verse eleven, and promise of verse sixteen. Jesus knew this, too; every petition He prescribes in the Lord’s Prayer is a promise from elsewhere in Scripture. To make it clear: To know the Bible is to know how to pray! (And these are two great ways to

“Here’s Why”

Mark 10: 6-8: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh.” More and more people are opting to forego marriage and stay single, saying it is a matter of choice. But does God really give most of us that choice? Jesus here gives an exact, precise, word-for-word quote of Genesis 2: 24: God made them male and female, made them for each other, and for this cause – due to this act of God – man and woman come back together, as one flesh, and should be inseparable. To fight this is to fight God.

"Forbidding Is Forbidden!”

1 Corinthians 14: 39: “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” For centuries, the reaction of the Church to spiritual gifts of the tongue run amok has been terminal: “Not in this Church!” But this approach makes these words of St. Paul, along with those of Jesus concerning self-denial (Mark 8: 34), among the most denied in the Bible (Matthew 10: 33). St. Paul’s direction is not to ban them, but to practice them, so that the Church has both form and power (2 Timothy 3: 5).

“We’ll Study It Until You Get It!”

1 Corinthians 14: 5: “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy …” Remember the fourteen gifts of the Spirit we saw from chapter twelve last week? It’s two chapters later, and St. Paul is still going on about two of them: prophecy and speaking in tongues. Notice he doesn’t spend nearly so much time teaching about miracles or healings? That’s because, as it says in James, the tongue is a lot harder to tame, a lot harder to deal with (James 3: 8). This entire fourteenth chapter is devoted to bringing clarity concerning these two gifts. Why bother? Because, as Paul shows, these are gifts of the Spirit, given for our edification, and they should be in

“Deal, or no deal?”

For four television seasons, comedian and television host Howie Mandel asked that question countless times to contestants on the game show with the same name, Deal or no Deal. It didn’t take talent to be a contestant on Deal or No Deal. It only took guts — or maybe foolishness — to keep playing through the game. Contestants selected a suitcase with an amount of money that could be anywhere from one penny to $1 million. Then they opened the other suitcases on stage to determine the amounts that were not in their case and to narrow down the possible amounts that could be in their case. Every so often, the “banker” made a money offer to the contestant. Sometimes those offers even came wit

"Purifying Ourselves as God's People"

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Crucifixion is probably the most horrifyingly sadistic, inhuman and humiliating form of execution ever conceived. Our sinless Lord was crucified, which is the height of injustice. And He sees it as the hour of glory? Exactly. It is God in Christ, in utter love, enduring the worst that man could do to Him and turning it into the best He could do for man. The message of the cross is foolishness to a self-absorbed, self-advancing world but to us who are being saved, it is the power and wisdom of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of self for the life of others.

“Know Who You Are”

Exodus 3: 11: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’” Indeed, Moses had a confusing past. Was he still the Jehovah-worshipping Israelite of his birth? The Ra-worshipping Egyptian of his upbringing? Or the pagan Midianite of the past forty years? Thanks be to God Who was ready for an answer to that question asked by Moses (and us): You are My child, called by My name, with My brand-mark upon you, and ready to receive and carry out My purpose for you. Forget where you are now and the “long, strange trip” that brought you there, now it’s time for a new direction - God’s direction. It’s time to move!

“Unrecognized Gifts”

1 Corinthians 12: 28: “And God has appointed in the Church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” When we speak of the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, we are usually referring to the nine listed earlier in the chapter. But are not these eight mentioned here also spiritual gifts? Remember, when St. Paul mentions the apostle, prophet, and teacher in Ephesians, he calls them gifts (Ephesians 4: 7-11). So when he says in the beginning of this chapter “Be aware of spiritual gifts” he includes the knowledge that these ministries, along with the other five in this verse, are gifts fr

“Come With Power”

Mark 9: 1: “And He was saying to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God after it has come with power.’” It seems obvious that this “Kingdom of God coming with power” is not talking about Christ’s second coming, because all of those in that circle have already passed on, without witnessing first-hand from here on the earth that event. So what else could Jesus be talking about? What other “coming with power” event happened within the lifetimes of those standing there? Yes, there were 120 believers there in that multitude who were in the Upper Room in Jerusalem some months later, and they surely s

“Are You Aware?”

1 Corinthians 12: 1: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.” In the last century, especially in its last four decades, it seemed everyone was aware of spiritual gifts. These days, not so much, not even among so-called “charismatic” churches. But they were considered very important to St. Paul, to the point that he devoted the next three chapters of this letter to them. Even in this brief portion he makes us aware that spiritual gifts exist, that all varieties come from God, and that we can all receive them. We’ll see more in the coming days!

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