Friday, January 24, 2020

JANUARY JEWELS 2020 24-31

The days are flashing before us as we near the end of January.  
Morning skies glow a little earlier and light remains longer as we embrace the beauty of a colored sky and read bedazzling jewels of wisdom.  
Hopefully your soul feels lighter as God’s tidbits nestle within.  
Perhaps these cool, crisp days of winter afford the opportunity to linger a little longer in the presence of God.
Again, a few words of wisdom before we continue gleaning further epiphanies that will ‘lighten’ our journey.

"O my God, teach me to be generous, to serve you as you deserve to be served, to give without counting the cost, to fight without fear of being wounded, to work without seeking rest, and to spend myself without expecting any reward, but the knowledge that I am doing your holy will. Amen.”    Ignatius of Loyola

"One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life; but one should say that it is not easy. Nor do those who have reached it find it easy to maintain.”   Anthony of the Desert.


1-24     Genesis 11:27—12:8; Psalm 31,35; Hebrews 7:1-17; John 4:16-26 
 Genesis 11:31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan but when they came to Haran they settled there. :32 The days of Terah were 205 and Terah died in Haran.  

12:1-8 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  So Abram went as the Lord had told him and Lot went with him.  Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.  Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord.

A new beginning, walking into the land God promised to Abram took decades.  Just to leave Ur was a wonder.  National Geographic enlightened the world when, a few decades ago, a library was discovered in Ur, the most sophisticated city of that time.  Hundreds of small clay tablets with symbols representing words were discovered in one place in some sort of order as if they had been conserved for reference.  What we might think to be modern conveniences centuries later were found here in Ur.  Why would God instruct Abram and his father, Terah, to leave?  Terah did not believe in ‘one’ God but Abram must have sensed a ‘higher being’ beyond any pagan gods.

      And so they traveled by way of the Euphrates river, across the fertile crescent to Haran where they would reside for some time.  Then Abram sensed the need to move on after his father died.  By this time the voice of God was strong and the promise of a ‘new land’ drew Abram and his extended family into a desert-like dustbowl populated by scattered clans, descendants of Ham, the one called “Canaan.”
Abram, Sarai, Lot, other family members, servants, sheep, goats and whatever else belonged to this massive group, traveled into Canaan slowly.  This journey may have taken years as this nomadic family settled in one place, made peace with the clan whose land they ‘borrowed’ for their stay and moved on.  
         It’s the journey that established in Abram a solid
relationship with God.  It’s as if God were saying to this mass of humanity, “Keep going after you rest in this place and build an altar to recognize My presence with you.  Yet, I have another special place set aside for you to rest more permanently.” 

So Abram built an altar of thanksgiving to the Lord with whom he had become more intimate, the One who became very present to him.  This altar in Schechem would become a focal point, a place of worship and a place of contention in history for generations to come.  
     The altar represents God’s promise to Abram and to his offspring, the twelve tribes of Israel, that this is a land promised to Abram by God, a land that would eventually be named after Abram’s grandson, Jacob. 
 [Remember Jacob’s fight with the angel of God at the Jabbok river?  When Jacob finally realized his fight was with God and when he finally submitted his life to the God of his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob was given a new name, “Israel,” which means "wrestle with God." ]  
       In the mean time, Abram moved further south to a place between Beth-el and Ai and settled there.  Abram, through friendly persuasion, made peace with the clan leader where he settled in land he did not own.  By this time the ‘family’ of servants and animals had grown extensively even though Abram and Sarai had not yet produced offspring.

Think about it:  Find an ancient map of the area that shows Babylon and Israel.  Most study bibles have these maps. Make a copy for yourself.  Draw a line from Ur to Haran and then continue the line into Canaan to Shechem and Bethel.   Imagine yourself on this journey.
      To move from wealth and sophistication, fertile land on the Euphrates river, and easy life into baron nothingness seems to boggle the mind.  Yet, Abram followed God.  

Indeed, we are called in the opposite direction when we accept Jesus, the Christ, as Lord of our lives.  If we truly seek understanding in our journey and follow God’s lead, we will very soon learn that we are invited to leave the baron dustbowl of secular life and journey into the fertile regions of God’s presence.  
What we knew and loved and considered the ‘bling’ of life before our journey into Christianity, eventually should seem desolate and barely habitable.

That’s why the journey is what it’s all about.  If we follow Abram’s example, we will simply move forward knowing God will lead us where we are suppose to go.  If we keep our eyes on our Lord, He will show us where to stop, take a breath and be refreshed until we are ‘called’ to move into the next space of our growth.  Abraham moved to a new ‘place’ and new destination.  We may be called to move to the next level in our Christian growth.
Do you recall the beginning of your journey or a renewed journey with Christ?  
Did your heart move to a new place?  
Was your physical journey into a church?  
Did God call you to step away from some life-style?
Were you drawn into a new life-style that was like imbibing in a banquet of delicious morsels that taste of new life?
Map out your emotional, spiritual, ‘soul’ journey into new life in Christ.  Then map out your physical journey, if
there was any physical change, as you moved more deeply into your faith and responded to God’s call to serve others.

May we each experience new understanding of our faith-journey and keep moving forward according to God’s lead.  



1-25  Acts 26:9-21; Psalm 67; Galatians 1:11-24; Matthew 10:16-22
Conversion of Paul, the Apostle
Acts 26:9-12  “I, Paul, was hostile to the name of Jesus . . . I locked up many saints . . . I voted for their killing . . . I tried to force them to blaspheme . . . I was enraged at them, I pursued them to foreign countries . . . even to Damascus.  :13 At mid-day I saw a light brighter than the sun shining around me and when I fell to the ground I heard a voice in Hebrew dialect  [Aramaic] saying, “Saul . . . why are
you persecuting Me?”  :15 “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting . . .  Get up.  I appear to you to appoint you a minister and witness in things you have seen and things that will appear to you. . . “  :17-18  “I’m sending you to Jews and gentiles to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from dominion of satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” 

Paul’s conversion was not only a turning point in his life but it was also a turning point for the Christian movement.  Jews who became Christ-followers were being stoned to death for their belief.  Paul truly thought good Jews were turning away from God and giving their lives to a mere mortal named Jesus. Paul jumped right into the fray of eliminating ‘unfaithful’ Jews.  As bull-headed as Paul was in his pursuit of Christ-followers, God knew this same determination could be used to further the kingdom of God.
Yet, it took a stroke of powerful light to bring Paul to his knees.  Paul melted.  Paul, the bloviator.  Paul, the pharisee of pharisees.  Paul the one who was brilliant in his knowledge of God and the Law and the Old Covenant scriptures.  Paul, the unshakable one . . .  shaken . . .  to the ground . . . blinded . . . in need of another to take him into the city of Damascus, to a safe place.  
God planned Paul’s turn of events well.  
In this passage Paul relates his story to others who do not understand his plight.  Jews do not know what to
make of him.  First, Paul is a zealot for cleansing the world of those who worship one whom Paul thinks is ‘other than God.’  Then, in one instant, Paul’s life changes. 
 God comes to him in a flash.  God speaks to Paul.
          Almost instantly Paul is totally at the mercy of others who lead him to safety.  For four days Paul sits, blind, refusing food, refusing any hospitality that is right there for him.  Paul simply sits . . .  contemplates what just happened to him . . . listens to voices who may be sharing with him but mostly to the voice of God.
Paul finally “got it.”  He finally understood what God was telling him and stepped into this new life with just as much zeal as before.  This is not the first time Paul shared his conversion story.  At the beginning if this ‘new life in Christ’ Paul jumped in with all he had.  Wise leaders, including Peter, the Apostle, encouraged Paul to step back, study, contemplate, learn more about his walk with Jesus, which Paul did.  When the timing was right, Paul began his ministry, surrounded by great Christian leaders who supported him and prayed for him daily as Paul spread the ‘Good News’ not only to other Jews but to the Gentiles all over the known world.
        
Think about it:  We know the story of Paul’s journey.  Some of us wonder how this guy could be so bull headed. 
Others of us can totally identify with him.
That’s the whole point. 
 Paul is just a regular guy who is brilliant and loves God.
           Paul set his eyes on God as he swept through the land making sure fellow Jews remained faithful to God.  Paul just got one little part wrong: the fact that God sent His only begotten Son to be “The” sacrifice, once, for all, through Jesus’ crucifixion and then resurrection.  This huge turning point in history seemed to evade Paul’s world.

        Some people are so hard-headed they cannot understand God’s soft, intuitive nudges to look in His direction.  
Sometimes we are so set in our ways that we cannot see that which is right in front of our eyes.  
Paul needed an intervention and God provided.
Do you think Christ-followers were praying for Paul’s salvation?  
Do you think God heard immediately but had to deal with Paul’s very strong will?  
Do you know any who are like Paul?  
Do you know of any who could be used by the Lord to spread Jesus’ love to others in mighty ways but who cannot understand submitting to God, the Son, Jesus Christ?  
Even if the person thinks they are in a ‘great’ place
physically and emotionally, the soul is what needs God's presence.  When people shared their stories with me about Jesus Christ, I was in a great place and simply listened patiently.  I did not need this ‘Jesus’ whom they leaned upon . . .  or so I thought.  
        I was definitely as hard-headed as Paul.  It took many people, years of their prayers and loving influence, to bring me to the foot of the Cross.  When I did, my world changed completely . . . 180 degrees . . . from a good life to the best life ever!
If you do known of any who are ripe for the Lord’s intervention, set up a prayer/action plan.  
On a 3X5 card, print the name of the person.  
Draw lines that divide the rest of the card into 4 parts.  Quadrant 1: write that person’s interests, 
2: write that person’s physical, emotional and/or spiritual needs.  
3:write your personal action beyond prayer . . . act of love . . . phone call, personal note, activity together if possible.  4: write the date of your action and then response to that action.  ie. 1/25 sent a text “Thinking of you, hope all is well.”  Response comes quickly: 1/25 “Thanks for thinking of me, I’m great!”   
Continue #4, action and responses on the back of the card.  Use this card as a bookmark in your bible so you can pray through the responses and create new 'actions'.  
God will do the rest.


1-26    Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 5-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Third Sunday of Epiphany 
Isaiah 9:2 “Those who walk in darkness will see a great light . . .  the light will shine on them.”
Psalm 27:1  “The Lord is my Light and my salvation.”  
Matthew 4:16 “Those who were sitting in darkness saw a great light . . .  a light dawned upon those sitting in the shadow of death.  :17 Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  :19-:21 When Jesus saw Andrew and Simon fishing He said,  “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed.  Jesus then saw James and John, sons of Zebedee, mending nets in their boat.  Immediately they followed.”
        I have read and heard this story dozens of times. “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”  This time my eye caught ‘the light’ because I gleaned highlights from the verses selected for today.   Epiphany is like turning on a light bulb in our soul . . .  we see something more clearly than we would without the light.  So, Isaiah, the Psalm and the Gospel of Matthew seemed to ‘light up’ as I read them together.
It’s like the Lord has been telling us from the very beginning of creation, all the way through the Old Covenant scriptures, through the Psalms and into this New Covenant scripture, “When the light turns on, you will really see what God wants you to see; the darkness of your soul will see something new when the Light shines in!”  The prophecy of Isaiah becomes a reality in Matthew.

        Indeed, when Jesus began to preach, he stated the same words John, the baptist, had been preaching for months before he baptized Jesus.  There was one difference.  A light turned on inside souls when Jesus said the same words.  It’s like a bolt of lightening shot through Andrew who went home to tell his brother, Simon.  Both Simon and Andrew were ready to follow when Jesus encountered them fishing.  It seems as if Jesus mere presence became a bolt of lightening to their fellow fishermen, James and John.  All of these young men were ready to “immediately” answer Jesus’ call.
       The word, “immediately” is important in this story. 
These young men did not give Jesus a date when it would be best to follow Him.  They did not ask questions regarding what Jesus wanted of them, how long they would be with Him, what they should take with them, where they were going or whatever else we might say in preparation for an extended trip away from current way of life.  ‘Immediately’ they followed Jesus.  

      Jesus’ magnetic power pulled these fishermen into a whole new world where they would learn to let go of their own agenda and become ‘fishers of men.’   Immediately, life changed for Andrew, Simon, James and John (the beloved, not John the baptizer).  
Immediately, they became Christ’s own forever.
          It may have taken a bit longer, like three years, to become ‘fishers of men’ but after Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus' Apostles were filled with a bolt of lightening to become ‘fishers of men.’  The power of the Holy Spirit moved these fearless disciples into ‘full power’ mode.  They spoke, they healed, they taught and grew other disciples who would, in turn, fill others’ souls with the Light of Christ.  These fishermen made others fishers of men.  And so it will continue, through the power of the Holy Spirit, for centuries to come.  There is still a lot of fishing to do.

Think about it:  What if Jesus dropped by and said, “Follow Me?”  What if we were asked to let go of the world we had carefully carved out for ourselves?  Would we immediately follow Jesus call?  
         Each of us has a different story regarding the length of time it took for our soul to be ‘en-Lightened’ and turn our full attention to following Jesus as Lord.  It may have taken even longer to become Christ’s own forever and still longer to become ‘fishers of others’.  Some of us have yet to have that holy boldness to ‘go fishing’ for souls.
        God is patient.  There is no timeline.  We can make choices that leave our soul in the darkness.  We can choose to reject those flickers of light or even a bolt of lightening that the Holy Spirit sparks within us to enlighten our soul.  The Lord will not love us less.  
        We just miss out on so much more we would be able to see and do and be when we are fully enlightened.  
We miss out on that joy that draws others into the love of Christ.  We miss out on that ‘holy boldness’ that enables us to tell others of our wonder-filled life in Christ.  We miss the fishing.
Ask yourself what is holding you back.  What excuses have you created to keep you from responding ‘immediately’ to what the Lord wants of you?  We are never asked to do anything that is not a logical next step in our Christian growth.  We are not asked to give up anything.  We are only asked to ‘follow’ . . . and to become ‘fishers’ of those whose souls are darkened and crave the ‘light of Christ’.

Talk to a Christian leader you trust if you have something deep in your soul that keeps you from receiving the full light of Christ, that keeps you from the joy that comes from a natural ‘holy boldness’ to share Jesus’ love with others.  Our Lord wants us to enJOY fishing!



1-27  Genesis 14:8-24; Psalm 41,44,52; Hebrews 8:1-13; John 4:43-54
Genesis 14:17 After Abram’s return, King Sodom met Abram at Kings valley.
:18 and Melchizedek, King of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 
:19-:20  He blessed him and said, 
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, 
maker of heaven and earth; 
and blessed be God Most High 
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
:21  and Abram tithed to him ten percent of his spoils. 
:22  Sodom told Abram to keep the goods but give him the people.  Abram took nothing.

       This story shows us another side of Abram, the peacemaker, Abram the easy-going friend to his pagan neighbors.  If you read the whole story you will see Abram as focused, directed in one purpose . . .  to rescue his nephew Lot, who resided in Sodom and Gomorrah.  This is only one story where Abram drew Lot out of the pit of danger but it is not the one we usually read.  This time Abram took 318 of his ‘trained men’ to meet the ‘enemy’ who kidnapped Lot and destroyed many villages from the Dead Sea all the way to Damascus.  Many ‘kingdoms’ and much land was destroyed in Canaan but a remnant was saved.
Abram returned with his men, the king of Sodom, and Lot.  On the way back to “the Oaks of Mamre” where Abram resided, he stopped in what we now know as Jerusalem to give thanks.  Most theologians tag “Salem” as Jerusalem, where Melchizedek, the Priest of the “God Most High” resided.   
     Melchizedek is an enigma, one who has no beginning and no end, no generational history.  He just is.  Abram sees Melchizedek as one sent by God to receive offerings, a tithe, from the ‘spoils’ obtained through all these battles.  Abram wants none of the spoils, only his nephew, Lot.  But before the king of Sodom disburses them, Abram stops to give ten percent to “God Most High” through the priest, Melchizedek.
To learn more about Melchizedek, read today’s
selection in the book of Hebrews.  Melchizedek brought out bread and wine for all those present.  And he blessed it saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”       
            Melchizedek gave blessing to the bread and wine but most important, he gave blessing to Abram who had not yet made ‘covenant’ with God. Abram’s  name had not yet been changed to ‘Abraham.’  This blessing is a ‘setting apart’ for Abram.  It’s a pre-curser of all future blessing that is to come upon Abram and his household.  Abram knew only to give a portion to God.  He was faithful to the God Most High before he experienced his intimate time, pleading with God, for another rescue of Lot . . .  when Sodom and Gamorrah turned to a sea of salt.  But that is later in the story.

Think about it:  Abram honored God with action.  He rescued Lot, dealt with the king of Sodom and stopped to give thanks and offering to the God Most High through God’s intermediary, Melchizedek.  This story gives us an idea what is to come in covenant relationship with God.  Jesus, our High Priest, “broke the bread and gave blessing . . . and it multiplied.”  Abram’s blessings would multiply exponentially after this point.
Throughout the old covenant scriptures we see God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit weaving Himself into history.  God is.  God is working in and through Melchizedek.  God is present as we see future blessing that will come to Abram.  

    Has anyone prayed a blessing over you?  
Was it early in your Christian journey?  
Do you remember words of affirmation, encouragement, promise from friends or from those leading you and showing you the right path in Christ?
         If you cannot recall words of blessing, ask someone in your accountability circle to give you a blessing.  It’s OK for peers to bless one another.
      If you are a leader of a group who is growing in Christ, give blessing to others.
Read Aaron’s blessing, a benediction prayer, Numbers 6:24-26.  It’s a blessing that makes life more full and helps us anticipate the abundance God has in store for us if we remain focused on Him.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”   Amen.

  


Friday, January 17, 2020

JANUARY JEWELS 2020 17-23

We continue our journey with ‘aha’ moments, as light dawns a little earlier each day.  God’s enLightening Word takes us back to the beginning and moves forth through
one sin-filled generation after another.  This is life as we know it.  With God . . .  without God . . . . turning from God . . .  seeking God.  Humanity is in flux but God’s hand upon us is steady.  The more we seek, the straighter our path becomes.  As we journey we glean more sustenance for our soul.  
Come along, let’s journey together as we enjoy quotes from wise souls and then continue to meditate on God’s Word.

“We see in the Gospels that whenever our Lord was about to undertake some important step, He always paused for a moment to raise His eyes to Heaven, and only after this moment of recollection did He take up the work He had to do. 'He lifted up His eyes to Heaven' is a phrase that recurs with significant frequency. 
      And doubtless, when there was no outward sign of this prayer, there was the inward offering. The ideal is the same for us. The constant subjection of self to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is made easier from the fact of His presence in the soul, where He is asked explicitly to preside over all our doings . . .  We shall not submit wholeheartedly to the invisible Guest unless He is kept in close proximity to us.”    Raoul Plus, S.J., p. 37-8 “How to Pray Always.”

"Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”   Isaiah 40:31


1-17  Genesis 6:1-8; Psalm 16,17, 22; Hebrews 3:12-19; John 2:1-12
Genesis 6:3  God said, “My spirit will not strive with
man forever.” :8 Noah found favor with God and bore Shem, Ham, Japheth.  :14 Noah was called by God to make an ark of Gopher wood.  :18 God made covenant with Noah’s family . . . :22 Noah did all God commanded.”
The book of Genesis is heavy with stories of God’s good and man’s indifference the moment humanity was ushered out of the garden.  The world as this populous know it was so filled with sin that God needed to ‘cleanse the earth.’
       Yet, this earth was parch-dry.  No lakes, no streams, only wells dug deep to sustain this desolate soul-parched generation.  Men chose idol-worshipping wives from the surrounding pagan communities and did evil in the sight of God.  God allowed them to live long (about 120 years) perhaps in hopes they would turn to God in grief for their sin-filled lives.  God grieved.  
 God reminds us that if there is even one who seeks, God will be with that person forever.  Noah was the odd one of all.  Noah sought God, focused on God, remained steadfast with God and weathered the mocking, jeering crowds who thought he was crazy.  Amazingly, his wife did also and so did their obedient children, Ham, Shem and Japheth.  God made covenant with them and directed the mighty work of the Ark in the middle of parched land, arid surroundings, with no rain in sight.  Noah did all that God commanded as he built this edifice 30 cubits long, 30 cubits high, 50 cubits wide, with 3 decks, windows at the top and one door on the side. Then God told Noah to open the doors for two of every kind of God’s creation . . .  including the sin-filled people who mocked this holy family.
Now let’s imagine we were present at the time.  Here is a crazy guy building what looks like something that would hold far more than the current population of everything.  It must have taken Noah years!  Where did he find the materials?  How did he know the plans?  God provides as  we see throughout scripture.
Think about it:  Would you accept the invitation to board this edifice knowing full well there has been no rain  and there would be no rain?  What would you do if you did
come along?  The rain did not come until the ‘boat’ was full and the doors were closed.  In fact, Noah and family must have wondered what was going on?
      How could anyone have such faith? We know the story but the others did not.
Do you have a “faith” story that seemed wild and crazy when God directed you?
Did that story turn out to be a ‘life saver’?  
        How about the church you currently attend?  How did God direct you to choose this particular place of worship?  Is the preaching life-saving?  Are you attending a Bible study or a group that challenges you to grow in Christ?  Are you actively feeding on God’s word while ‘serving the Lord with gladness?’
If we call our selves Christian, we believe that God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . .  three in one . . . all together . . . is directing our path.  In so doing, we are to get on the boat.  We are called to actively grow and learn about the One who called us into HIS boat.  
Think about where you are in your journey.  
Are you fully on board?


1-18    Peter, the Apostle, confessed Jesus as the Christ  
Acts 4:8-13, Psalm 23; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19
Matthew 16:15  Jesus said, “Who do you say that I Am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ the son of the living God.”  Jesus: “Bless you Simon Barjona because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Father who is in Heaven.  :18  You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  :19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
We celebrate special days for great women and men in this country.  We celebrate St. Patrick and take a day off to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Yet, we do not give a second thought to celebrating the Apostle Peter, whom Jesus selected to manage the leaders of this New Covenant movement after Jesus’ ascension. 
     Jesus chose Peter to take charge of furthering the Gospel. He chose Peter, who stated from his heart, “You are the Christ the son of the living God.”  Yet, Peter, in a moment of fear when Jesus was arrested, denied that he knew Jesus to save his own skin.  Jesus knew Peter’s heart, his steadfast spirit, his charisma with crowds, his holy boldness and his determination to help others live
this ‘new covenant’ life that Jesus’ could only provide through His death.
Peter was given the authority to lead the way of repentance through faith  in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Peter gave direction to potential leaders who would, in turn, teach others.  Peter’s writings focused mostly on the leadership as this ‘Way of Christ’, later called Christianity, spread throughout the outermost parts of the world.
1 Peter 5:1-2  says, “. . . I exhort the leaders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it . . . “
Think about it:  Have you read much about Peter? 
 Read the Gospels, the book of Acts and then 1 & 2 Peter to give you some idea how Peter developed into an honored leader who had access to all the treasure of heaven, as we do. 
Do you think you have some ‘Peter’ in you?  
Do you have Holy Boldness one minutes and another minute become complacent or say things that Peter might say that are not so polite?
I bet there is a little Peter in all of us who are faith-filled and eager to get the message out to the world that will give all eternal life.
Take a few moments to digest the leadership qualities that Peter gained as he grew in Christ.  
Do you have some of these qualities?  
Perhaps you have been chosen by the Lord to be a leader in your church or your circle of Christian friends.  
Tap into that Holy Boldness that you have within your soul as Peter did.
Step out in faith as you share the love of the Lord with the world.
You may be in for a bumpy ride . . .  but so worth it as you lead others into the loving, grace-filled arms of Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Let’s follow in Peter’s footsteps.
Use your holy boldness to tell others your story.
Tell others how Jesus changed your life and wants to change hearts and lives of generations to come.
That’s what Peter would do if he were with us today.

1-19  Second Sunday of Epiphany  
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Isaiah 49:2b “He has also made me a select arrow, He has hidden me in His quiver.  :5 . . .  who formed me from the womb to be his servant.”
John 29:35  “The next day John again was standing
with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  :37  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  ”When the disciples asked Jesus where he was staying, :39 Jesus said to them,”Come and see.” :40 One of the two was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. :41 He first found his brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.”  :42 He brought Simon to Jesus who looked at him [Simon] and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Cephas, (which is translated Peter).”

The ingathering of Jesus' disciples begins.  One is curious, then two, then others follow.  “Come and See,” was the only instruction Andrew heard before he scampered off to find his brother, Simon.  Of the ‘two’ who followed Jesus, only one is identified as Andrew.  Andrew and the ‘other’ disciple only heard John’s testimony of what happened the previous day . . . when John baptized Jesus.  They so trusted John’s declaration, they simply followed.

       Andrew and his companion were drawn into the world of Jesus as if a very strong magnet were pulling them.  Jesus’ magnetic-like presence seemed to overtake all whom Jesus ‘called’ to “Come, follow Me.”  It’s as if they’d been chosen by God when they were conceived.   As the prophet, Isaiah says, “He has hidden me in His quiver . . . who formed me from the womb to be his servant.”  These men knew, deep in their spirit, almost unconsciously, they must follow.  Although they only had John’s testimony, this was enough.  They would never turn back.  They were ready to say, “yes” to Jesus, drop everything to come- and-see.
Not only did Simon “come and see” at the request of
his brother, his entire identity changed the moment he met Jesus. Simon-Peter was transformed.  Not that he became perfect by any means.  Yet, Jesus knew who Peter would become and changed his name.  Identity, in those days, was locked into their name.  Names had meaning that dictated their future.  
     Almost instantly, Simon’s new identifying name became Cephas.  The Greek translation is “Peter,” which means “rock.”  Simon, called Peter, was part of Jesus’ plan from the very beginning.  
Jesus know Andrew would seek him out.  
Jesus knew Simon-Peter would come.  
Jesus knew Peter would choose to drop his profession as a fisherman to become a “fisher of men.”  
From that day forward, Peter’s life was turned up-side-down.  He and the other disciples were in for a life journey they’d never expected.  
What a ride!

Think about it:  “Come and See.”  Powerful words.  Think back to the beginning of your journey with Christ. 
Did someone say to you, “Come and see?”  
Did you drop everything and “Go?”  
Did you attend a bible study to see what it was all about? 
Or, did you visit churches seeking to understand more about Jesus?  
Perhaps you were very young and eagerly visited Sunday school where you came and saw and learned and loved the One who loves us unconditionally.
Each of us has a story about how we were drawn into the loving arms of God through His Son.  Your story may not seem significant but it is.  Peter was minding his own business, fishing, when his brother said, “Come and see.”  The rest is history. . . and the history of Peter’s contribution to further the good news of Jesus Christ is astounding.  He was just a fisherman.  
Many of us are like Peter, moving along in our lives, when we make a choice that changes our world.  
We are now disciples . . . or are we?  
     Identify a turning point when you expressed a holy boldness for Christ Jesus as did the disciples.
      List ways you currently cling to God’s precepts in scripture that guide you in your Christ-journey.  
     Set a goal to share your life-changing story [no more than 3 minutes long], as Jesus’ disciple, with . . .  [list one person or a dozen within a specific time period.] 
     For instance I might say,  “I will share 1 of many life-changing stories I’ve experienced since coming to Christ with 1 different person each month for 1 year.”  
The Lord has already chosen those who will listen.  
We simply have to invite those on our heart to come . . .see . . . hear . . .  seek.  
God will give you holy boldness to share your story.
Pray about it. 
See what happens.


1-20  Genesis 8:6-22; Psalm 25,9,15; Hebrews 4:14 —5:6; John 2:23—3:15
Genesis 8:6 “At the end of forty days Noah opened the window and sent out a raven, then a dove seven days later.  the dove returned with an olive branch. :12 Seven more days and the dove was sent out again, not to return.  :13 In the 601st year, the first month, the first day, the water dried from land.  The second month, 27th day, the earth was dry.  :15  God spoke: “Go out of the ark.” :20 Noah built an ALTAR to the Lord and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.  :21 God said, “. . .  I will never again  destroy every living creature as I have done.”   :22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
 It’s in the details.  
       We know the story from childhood but deep study reveals some nuances.  This story is like twisting two separate vines together. As they grow up the trellis they become one.  God’s ‘new’ beginning, re-creation, comes from two sources and intertwines the ‘Priestly’ (P) version and the ‘Jahwist’ (J) versions together.  Same God but different way to address: “G-d” or YHWH.  One version has Noah floating around for 150 days and the version we often refer to, YHWH, is only 40 days long.  In both, God is in charge, God directs Noah, God destroys the land, and all that is in it, with flood, God brings the ark to new land, God directs a new beginning.  Noah and family wait.  Trust. Wait a little longer for God’s direction to disembark.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!  This is a new year!  First month, first day . . . new beginning!  It took two months of waiting before the land was dry enough to unload.  God promises never again to cause hardship when tilling the soil as was told to Adam when he was escorted out of ‘perfection’.  
This is a new, softer, beginning with promises that
continue to this day. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”  According to notes in the NIB,p.20, a year is actually defined with seasons!   NRSV defines these as follows: “Seedtime” is the sowing of barley and wheat in the fall. “Harvest” is the grain harvest in the Spring. “Summer” is the summer fruit harvest. “Winter” is the harvest of autumn fruits such as olives.  Beside these ‘seasons’ of growing, the year is divided into two parts.  There is the  ‘cold’ season in winter, which is rainy, and the ‘hot’ season of summer which is parch-dry in the Mediterranean.  And then, as in the creation story, we have night and day, dark and light, rest and work.
  And then we see a new phenomenon in this story.  Noah takes a ‘time out’ for God.  He sets aside a moment, perhaps a day of rest, for God.  He and his sons built an ALTAR and gave sacrifice to God with the best birds and animals from the ark.  This comes from the "P  version.  "J" version does not have the first sacrifice until Moses’ offering on Mount Sinai [that’s even after Abraham’s covenant-sacrifice with God] . With close scrutiny, this ‘first’ sacrifice makes sense.  
Noah knew God, intimately.  Noah and family followed God’s direction when doing what seemed foolish or, at the very least, impossible.  Noah honored God, in the same way Cain and Able honored God, with sacrifice before doing anything else.  Instinctively, God drew humanity to Himself and covered our sin with what would be the only type of sacrifice that would be a “sweet incense to the Lord,” a blood sacrifice.  Noah only had provision for a blood sacrifice from ‘clean’ animals.  [Study of Leviticus tells us which animals are clean and unclean]

Think about it:  Can you imagine just sitting there, waiting, knowing you are safe, yet doing nothing until the the right time?  Waiting.  That’s the challenge we all have in life, isn’t it.  Doing what we think is unimportant even though it is God-directed.  Waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled while we slog through the ‘daily’ waiting for that miracle we asked our Lord to bring to us.
      Much of life dedicated to God is waiting for His
direction.  In today’s world can you imagine sitting with a bunch of smelly animals and waiting for your next move?  Can you imagine no computers, no social media, no texting, no help from any source but that which God sends your way?  Impossible?  Some of us grew up with very little technology.  Life was slower.  The whole family set aside time to worship God.  Stores closed for “God’s day,” Sunday.  No soccer games, no football games, no extra-curricular activities at all.  This was the day set aside to first worship our Lord and then we would visit family members and actually talk to each other and share a meal together, much like Noah did with his family.
Today we must carve out moments to acknowledge the One who enabled us to live the life we live with the gifts God gives us.  If, indeed, we set aside a place in our home where we meet our Lord daily, and go to that place - daily- and give the sacrifice of our time and our openness to our Lord, we will bear immeasurable fruit in every season of our lives.  We’ve already accepted, by faith, the giving of the ‘blood-sacrifice’ by acknowledging our sin that has been covered by the blood of Jesus, the Christ . . . His blood shed on the cross.  
        Now our only sacrifice is the giving of our whole selves . . .  our time, our attention, our hurts, our unforgiveness, our ‘baggage’ to the Lord . . . daily.  Sit . . . wait . . . breathe deep . . .  hand over your thoughts, hurts, wonders . . .  wait some more . . .  listen . . . read God’s Word . . . wait . . . listen to your soul . . . wait . . . breathe . . . 
You have just built “Altar Time” with God.
Do it daily.
Drop what comes forth at the foot of the Cross.
Breathe.
Wait.
REJOICE in what our Lord sends forth and plants in your soul !
Each day is a new beginning!


 1-21 Genesis 9:1-17; Psalm 26,28,36,39; Hebrews 5:7-14; John 3:16-21
Hebrews 5:9 “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”  :12 “By this time you should be teachers but you are still in need of milk and not solid food. . . unaccustomed to a word of righteousness and still an infant.  :14 But solid food is for the mature who, because of practice, have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

Wow. Those are harsh words to eager followers of Christ Jesus.  Who could be so brash?  For centuries theologians have wondered who wrote this book.  Opinion keeps swinging back to the Apostle Paul, who most certainly did not mince words.  He would not hesitate to ‘say it like it is.’  
Especially in this current era, sensitive spirits reign.  We think we are doing a great job sipping insights from our little cups as we sit in church once a week.  Today is no different from the time this book was written.  The writer is trying to tell these Jewish converts to Christ about the ‘priestly role of Jesus.’  Jesus, because He was ‘begotten’ of God, has all the credentials to be God’s high priest to all humanity who follows God in the same order as Melchizedek. 
Our reading today begins right after a verse that is important for us to understand.  Hebrews 5:5-6 says,”So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a hight priest, but was appointed by the One who said to him,’You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” [read more about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7]  The reading goes on to state Jesus’ affirmation from God that He is a ‘priest of priests.’  Then we continue with, “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.”
These concepts take time to digest.  Perhaps this

group of Jews, to whom the letter of Hebrews is written, had been apathetic in their walk as faithful followers of the Law of Moses.  Perhaps they did not comprehend their own salvation history.  If they had done so, they would have understood this conversation.  It’s as if they are like ‘toddlers sipping milk,’ glued in one place, who could not move past a certain basic teaching.  
        Perhaps these people were the “YK” and “P” of their generation just like we have the “C” and “E” people of our generation.  [High Holy Day called Yam Kippur and Passover for the Jews, Christmas and Easter for the Christians.]  Whatever the reason, they ‘claimed’ to live a life honoring God but were still drinking from ‘sippy cups’.  We are slowly discovering that, since the beginning of creation, humanity is a ‘slow learner.’  There are people in all stages of understanding our faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . . .  our faith on one God who is over all in all and through all, whose sacrificial blood of the Lamb covers our sin.

Think about it:  Are we walking slow with our God?  Do we recognize the risen Christ, being awed by the new life we profess and then stop right there, knowing full well we have eternal life because of our faith in Him?  Do we take shortcuts in our walk and tell ourselves we are doing fine just attending church?  

       If you are reading this, you most likely eat ‘meat’ and
are among the few who choose to read and apply scripture to your life by ‘chewing’ on tough concepts.  You choose to study about the priestly concept of Melchizedek to better understand your walk in Christ.  However, you may have difficulty finding a few others to ‘dine’ with you weekly.  “It’s too much to digest,” they say.  “I’m on a diet,” they say.  “I don’t have the time,” they say.  You’ve heard it all.
God knows this and loves us anyway but our Lord grieves for us.  We, who choose to dine on meat are the leaders.  We are the shepherds of whatever flock the Lord has set before us.  It is up to us, not that other person who works full time at the church, to reach out and help others move away from their ‘sippy cups’ and begin to chew on meat.
When I worked in a huge business tower I would take my ‘brown bag’ lunch down to the atrium and munched away while reading my bible.  One day it dawned on me that there are dozens of small businesses in this building.  One by one, I met others who were eating alone.  Soon we enjoyed lunch together.  Before too long I brought up the subject of God . . . in a very secular city by the way.    
          Little did I know that these women were hungry for more even if it was just a lunch-time discussion.  The group grew, split off to other tables and . . . God did the rest.
We can help others grow past “Sippy Cups” if we are willing to chew on meat, step out in faith and invite those in our sphere of influence to join us for a shared meal of faith-filled concepts.
Try it.
See what happens.

1-22 Genesis 9:18-29; Psalm 38, 119:25-48; Hebrews 6:1-12, John 3:22-36
Genesis 9:23 “Shem and Japheth covered Noah with a garment and walked backward so as not to look at him. :25 Noah, upon waking, said, “Cursed be Canaan
[Ham]; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers; :26 He said, “Blessed be the Lord, God of Shem.”  :27 Japheth expanded in clan size and dwelt with Shem.  :28 Noah lived 350 years after the flood. [950 years].
Hebrews6:4 “For those who have been enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gifts and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit :5 and have tasted God’s word and powers of the age to come :6 and then fallen away, it’s impossible to renew them again to repentance.”

      I chose to focus on two verses because they have a common theme.  Honor God or our soul dies.  Soul-death is death since God sees our soul, not our body, the ‘house’ that covers the soul.  
     The story of Noah continues.  Noah was the patriarch, the leader, the head of the clan.  He was the example to his household.  Like Cain, Noah was a farmer before and after the flood.  He may have imbibed a bit much in the fruit of the vineyard and become intoxicated to the point of being in an ‘indelicate’ state.  Ham did not honor his father in this state but Shem and Japheth did by ‘covering’ their father.  
     The story shows us how to honor our leaders and provide grace when they err slightly so as not to be a good example to the clan.  Noah did exceptionally great things as he followed God’s path but, just as any leader, he had his moments of non-perfection.  God’s grace helps us continue our journey with Him in the same way as God’s grace given through Shem and Japheth allowed Noah to live many centuries as a highly respected leader.
     Ham was named ‘Canaan’, the ‘Canaanite’, the name of the land that God would promise to Abraham.  It was a rugged, baron dust-pit, a picture of Ham’s life.  This would change when Jacob, Abraham’s son, would be given a new name, “Israel”. The ‘curse’ given to Ham was simply a way of elevating Shem, the son chosen to carry Noah’s inheritance to the next generations, the son who would follow God with his whole heart and be known in the genealogy of the ‘Israelites’.  Japheth knew a good deal he had in Shem so he tagged along. 
     This story was written during the ‘Monarchical’ period
in which nations vied for power and dominion.  The story becomes the foundation for all the stories that follow as families divide, some seeking God’s way and some not-so-much.  Families would become clans and clans would become nations and nations would be ruled by those chosen to lead.  Some followed God and some did not.  Shem’s line followed God.  
     So we jump ahead a few millennia to this phrase in Hebrews regarding continuing, active, pre-meditated sin.  Sin did not just appear in the book of Hebrews.  We know sin began with Adam and Eve.  God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created from the beginning and continued to create great works through the lives of those who remained focused on Him.  
     From the beginning we see God’s powerful presence feeds lives, like those of Cain and Ham, who eventually turn against God and continuously do ungodly things.  It is ‘mortal’ sin that eventually consumes the life of a person who chooses a path that does not give honor to God.  
     God’s love and grace ‘saves’ us from ourselves, our self-focused actions, if we ask for forgiveness and re-focus on God’s best for us.  However, some, like Cain and Ham, make a choice to kill God’s presence in their soul after having experienced God’s powerful presence in their lives.  They make a choice.  God or self.  It’s not once but a continuous action, a perpetual choice, to turn away from God’s path for them.  This perpetual choice kills the soul.  Death of the soul is death in God’s eyes.

Think about it:  If we take just a moment to think about this story of Ham and our relationship to God, we have no fear of death to the soul.  Each moment we dwell on the Most High, we are in God’s presence.  Each time we err and say ‘sorry’ to God we are in His presence.  
     Noah was forever in God’s presence.  Even if he erred once in awhile, his focus remained on God.  Noah taught his family all he know about God.  The sons had a choice.  Shem made the choice to follow God’s path.
      We have a choice to listen to our Christ-centered leaders, listen to God’s voice speaking through His son, Jesus.  We have a choice to immerse ourselves in God’s stories that fill our soul . . .  or not.  The more we fellowship with the Lord through Christian community, worship, digesting His word and sharing with others the love of God, the greater our foundation in God’s presence.  
Find a sturdy piece of paper, an index card, that you can place in your bible as a bookmark.  Write down ways you focus on your walk with Jesus during the week.  As yourself each time you open your bible, “How often have I done each of these so that I may maintain my path following the Lord?”
      Here are some ideas: You may choose to write
whatever you do or the following:  Daily scripture reading, daily meditations, a weekly growth group, weekly worship, monthly fellowship with other Christians.  
You may not do all of these but perhaps this can be your goal.  
   After all, the Lord is shaping you to be a Noah . . .  a leader for others to come to know Christ so they can make Christ Jesus known to others.
      
1-23 Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 37; Hebrews 6:13-20; John 4:15
Genesis 11:1  The whole earth used the same words :2 and as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  :4 They used bricks
and stone and tar for mortar and made a city and tower to reach the heavens. . :7 “Let US go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” :9 It was called Babel , which means ‘confuse’, and the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the earth.
We think this is simply a story of people being confused and scattered but this passage is a bit more complex.  First, did you wonder why God was intervening in a grand building project?  Everyone ‘the whole earth’ . . .  the world as they knew it, gathered in one place like one large clan who spoke one language.  They were all on the same, “one” page.  Their minds clicked. They were creative.  They were ‘one.’  I would think God would be happy that this ‘new beginning’ looked so promising.
Why God did not like what was happening?  “They are building a tower to heaven,” just means they are building a ‘tall tower’ and has no other meaning.  God is concerned with their focus on “one.”  They choose to stay one group, not go out beyond themselves, but remain content in their little cocoon.  God’s plan is not to create this new beginning only to have His remnant remain ‘one’ and completely ignore the ONE who created them.
     God created us to be in fellowship with Him.  This intelligent, self-sufficient group became focused on this one clan and forgot that God must be in the mix.  It's like they squeezed God out of their lives and do very well without seeking God, praying to God, worshipping God.  Although the tower was simply a 'high and mighty' edifice, they were giving glory not so much to themselves but to their great achievements . . .  without God.
This remnant knows God but set aside their need for God.   God chooses to ‘scatter’ their language to get their attention.  It's as if God were saying, "There is ONE greater and mightier than humanity who can take charge here."  
       The people are suddenly unable to
communicate with one another.  God caused confusion so the place was called, “Babal” which people came to relate to the word ‘confused.’ The Hebrew word for confused is really ’balal’ but the literary sound seems similar to ‘babal,’ which became the commonly used word.  When we speak in circles so that others cannot understand a word we say, we seem to ‘babel.’

Think about it:  We take a simple story about God’s scattering and try to apply deep understanding.  Sometimes we just need to understand where some of our current language cames from.   No matter what we humans try to do, God always has the upper hand.  If God wants us to ‘scatter’ into all the world to, into unknown places so that we rely on God, this will happen.  We humans sometimes get in the way but our Lord is patient and waits for us to be ready to do what we were ‘called’ to do.  
     The story of Babal can teach us much.  First, we do not have to remain in one place, with like-minded people, to feel secure.  The Lord is our security.  It is important to remain connected to Christian community as an anchor for our journey in Christ.  Yet, as we grow our firm foundation in personal relationship with Him, we are then ‘called’ to go out into the secular world.  
     As we allow the Lord to ‘scatter’ us into varied secular
groups, the Holy Spirit will lead us, give us strength and fill us with the grace and love of Christ.  In so doing, we open doors to conversation about our faith in Christ.  Living a Christ-centered life in this secular world, through challenging moments, can be a great example for others.  We can share our challenges with others but, at the same time, share how the Lord is present with us even if the journey is very difficult.  We, being ‘one’ with God in Christ, need to be ready to explain why God is so important to us in clear language.  
Take a few moments to consider what you would tell someone who asks you why you believe in Jesus Christ.  Keep it short and simple, just a sentence or two.  Otherwise the person who is listening will think we are “babbling”.