Thursday, March 31, 2016

PRAY IT! Street Hero - John 1:1-18

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.  (John 1:14, MSG)

I live in an apartment.  Truthfully, I don’t really feel like I have neighbors as sung by Mr. Rogers.  Apartment life is not necessarily as inviting as it is depicted on Friends.  I have lived here for 4 years and have yet to actually see and/or meet everyone in my building, much less have a neighbor just let himself in to eat all the leftover lasagna in my fridge.  Despite not regularly seeing, well, anyone… I can tell you this:  someone new recently moved into my building.  I have not seen him.  But I have heard him.  Heard him?  Yes.  I have heard him singing in the hallway coming to and from his apartment.  (It’s an apartment… the walls are thin).  While I have heard others coming and going, loud music playing, someone’s late night and very lengthy conversation on his phone, or even someone practicing opera (no joke), I have not yet heard someone singing in the hall. 

There’s someone new in my neighborhood and he sounds different. 

The same can be said of Jesus.  John paints a beautiful picture of Jesus in this John 1:1-18 passage of Scripture.  The Message version states that becoming flesh and blood, Jesus “moved into the neighborhood”.  Not only did those surrounded by Jesus get to hear him, they got to see him and experience him and be forever changed and blessed by him.  And, as we follow along and really get to know Jesus, the Jesus who willingly and obediently moved in and settled down (for our benefit), who sounded and acted different (for our benefit), who from verse 16 we know bestowed upon each of us “grace upon grace” (for our benefit), we cannot help but be transformed as God intends.

So, how can we pray in light of this amazing passage – this blessing – in light of this Jesus, who moved into the neighborhood and saved us all, and who continues to want to move into the neighborhood of our hearts and lives and transform us?
Prayer involves both being heard and listening.  Not only is God listening to you when you pray, he is also wanting you to listen when he speaks.
“But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”  Psalm 66:19
“Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!”  Psalm 81:13
Sometimes it is easier to only talk and not listen… we keep on talking and keep on asking.  Maybe, on some level, we are afraid to hear from God.  What if we do not like what he has to say?  Or maybe we are afraid that if we shut up long enough to give God the opportunity to speak, there might just be silence on the other end.  What then?  Or, sometimes we can veer the opposite direction and just sit quietly, but not convey our true feelings in conversation with God. 
Just as I can discern my new neighbor by listening, so can we discern the voice of God as we listen.  Jesus donned flesh, he moved into the neighborhood, and he settled in deeply enough to rub elbows with those he came into contact with.  Sometimes change is intimidating and scary.  But Jesus, who gave us grace upon grace – unmerited favor – wants to truly be our neighbor and help us be neighbors with others.
Is Jesus truly your neighbor?  More importantly – is he your savior?  Spend some time in prayer both talking and listening to him now.  Accept him.  Invite him.  Thank him.  Share with him what both excites you and scares you.  Spend some time in quiet, listening to him.  Ask him to help you listen.  Ask him to help you be patient if he speaks differently than what you'd expect.  As you pray, consider picking one or two words or phrases that stuck out to you from this passage (ie:  grace upon grace or neighbor) and spend some time quietly reflecting upon their meaning and power.
Pastor Celia

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

FAMILY IT! — Wednesday Family Devotional — “Street Hero”

I am a book nerd.  I LOVE to read!  I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book.  My parents still complain that they took me across the country and back on vacation and the only scenery I saw was the story playing out in my mind.  I admit I don’t spend as much time reading as I used to, but part of that is just being responsible.  Once I get into a good book, I’m likely to ignore my family, skip meals, and even stay up all night until I’ve finished.  Once that world start building in my brain, once the characters become actual people in my head, I find myself inexplicably drawn to them.  I just want to live in that world with my new friends.  Do you feel that way too, or is it just me?

Maybe your favorite part of reading is getting to see your favorite characters come to life on the big screen.  I admit, I have stood in long lines to see how someone else has portrayed my best books.  There have been some wonderful versions!  I sit in the theater and think that if I had the book in front of me and was reading off the page, it would look just like what I was seeing in the movie.  And yet, as good as the films are, I still know that I’m not really seeing these amazing characters.  It’s still Elijah Wood or Johnny Depp, not Frodo or Willy Wonka.  How great would it be if we could meet real-life versions of these written down people?  What would it be like if your favorite friends from your favorite books introduced themselves as your new neighbors next door?  Ahhhh!  My brain is exploding with excitement just at the possibility!

This is the kind of thing I think of when I start reading the Gospel of John.  It’s starts off very differently from the other gospels, which are much more like regular stories.  Take a minute and read through John 1:1-18 together.  

Like I said, it’s different.  Different…and amazing!  Because what we see here is the impossible becoming possible.  There’s all of this talk about “the Word”—with a capital W.  It’s used as a proper noun, which means it’s a name.  But the name of what?  Is John talking about the Bible?  Is that “the Word” he means?  Answer: kind of. John is partly talking about the scriptures, about the record of God’s relationship with his people.  But he’s also taking that a step further.

Take a look at verse 14:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The Word became flesh.  Imagine you’re sitting there, in you living room, reading from the Bible.  You’re reading about who God is and what he wants for his people, for his children.  Suddenly, as you read, the words on the page begin to disappear.  Think ink jumps from the paper, and begins swirling in front of you.  A figure starts to form from the drops.  With each word you read, he becomes more visible.  Finally, you realize you are staring into the glorious face of “the only Son from the Father”; you’re looking at Jesus.

That’s who “the Word” is.  He is the Word of God made into a fleshy human being.  If you could create a character who was the perfect representation of everything God is, that character would be Jesus.  Cool, right?  But it gets even better, because the Word didn’t just become flesh, it also “dwelt among us.”  The Message says he “moved into the neighborhood.”  So that means Jesus is the real-life version of God who also actually lives right in your community.  Way better than Willy Wonka living next door!!  

Jesus isn’t just a character.  He’s a real, live person we can get to know.  And like any other person, the best way to get to know Jesus is to spend time with Him.  We love to spend time with our favorite characters from books and movies, right?  Well, if we’re going to be Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—we need to prioritize spending time with Him, too.  That means reading the Word (Jesus written down) and talking with Him in prayer.  We want to experience His presence daily!

Most of the time we think of praying and reading the Bible as something we do on our own.  After all, we each have our own relationship with Jesus.  But as Christian families, we also need to get to know Jesus as a family unit.  Does your family spend time with Jesus together?  Do you have family devotions or regular prayer time?  Now is a great time to start that discipline!  If you already have Bible time together, is there anything else your family can be doing to practice the daily presence of Jesus? 

As you close your time together in prayer, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance in how your family can get to know Jesus together.  Thank God for sending his Son into your neighborhood.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

EXPLORE IT! - John 1:1-18

The Gospel of John begins with a Hymn to the Logos, or Word which identifies Jesus as the Logos and the Logos as divine. 

It is an introduction to the Gospel as a whole, stating that the Logos is "God" and acts as the mouthpiece (Word) of God "made flesh", i.e. sent to the world in order to be able to intercede for humans and forgive their sins. 

This portion of John's gospel is of central significance to the development of the Christian doctrine of Incarnation. 

Comparisons can easily be drawn from this part to Genesis 1 where the same phrase In the beginning first occurs along with the emphasis on the difference between the darkness (such as the earth was formless and void, Genesis 1:2) vs light (the ability to see things not understood/hidden by the darkness, John 1:5). 

The summation of this comparison occurs in the statement, the law was given through Moses... grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). 

Here John successfully bridges the gap for the reader – including Jewish readers well-versed in the Torah – from the Law to the One who would fulfill the Law (such as the requirement of animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins), Jesus. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

-- John 1:1-5, 14

Monday, March 28, 2016

READ IT! - Street Hero (week 2)

“In the beginning…” Do John’s opening words sound familiar? They should. They are also the very first words in the entire Bible. But there are many creation stories in the Bible, and they all speak of the awesome glory and beauty of God – a God who is active and present in his Creation. Think about that as you read these passages.

From the Torah: Genesis 1:1-2:3
From the Former Prophets: 1 Samuel 2:1-10
From the Latter Prophets: Isaiah 51:1-23
From the Books of Wisdom and Poetry: Job 26:1-14
From the Late Books: 1 Chronicles 16:7-36
From the Gospels: John 1:1-18
From the Epistles: Hebrews 1:1-2:4

From the Torah

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 1:1-2:3

From the Former Prophets

Then Hannah prayed and said:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
    in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
    for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
    there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

“Do not keep talking so proudly
    or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
    and by him deeds are weighed.

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
    but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
    but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
    but she who has had many sons pines away.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
    he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
    and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
    on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
    but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;
    those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
    the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

1 Samuel 2:1-10

From the Latter Prophets

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
    and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
    and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
    and I blessed him and made him many.
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
    her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

“Listen to me, my people;
    hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
    my justice will become a light to the nations.
My righteousness draws near speedily,
    my salvation is on the way,
    and my arm will bring justice to the nations.
The islands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my arm.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment
    and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
    my righteousness will never fail.

“Hear me, you who know what is right,
    you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
    or be terrified by their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
    the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
    my salvation through all generations.”

Awake, awake, arm of the Lord,
    clothe yourself with strength!
Awake, as in days gone by,
    as in generations of old.
Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,
    who pierced that monster through?
Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made a road in the depths of the sea
    so that the redeemed might cross over?
Those the Lord has rescued will return.
    They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
    because of the wrath of the oppressor,
    who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
    The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;
they will not die in their dungeon,
    nor will they lack bread.
For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord Almighty is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth
    and covered you with the shadow of my hand—
I who set the heavens in place,
    who laid the foundations of the earth,
    and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

Awake, awake!
    Rise up, Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
    the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
    the goblet that makes people stagger.
Among all the children she bore
    there was none to guide her;
among all the children she reared
    there was none to take her by the hand.
These double calamities have come upon you—
    who can comfort you?—
ruin and destruction, famine and sword—
    who can console you?
Your children have fainted;
    they lie at every street corner,
    like antelope caught in a net.
They are filled with the wrath of the Lord,
    with the rebuke of your God.
Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
    made drunk, but not with wine.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
    your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
    the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
    you will never drink again.
I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
    who said to you,
    ‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’
And you made your back like the ground,
    like a street to be walked on.”

Isaiah 51:1-23

From the Books of Wisdom and Poetry

Then Job replied:

“How you have helped the powerless!
    How you have saved the arm that is feeble!
What advice you have offered to one without wisdom!
    And what great insight you have displayed!
Who has helped you utter these words?
    And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?

“The dead are in deep anguish,
    those beneath the waters and all that live in them.
The realm of the dead is naked before God;
    Destruction lies uncovered.
He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
    he suspends the earth over nothing.
He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
    yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
He covers the face of the full moon,
    spreading his clouds over it.
He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
    for a boundary between light and darkness.
The pillars of the heavens quake,
    aghast at his rebuke.
By his power he churned up the sea;
    by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces.
By his breath the skies became fair;
    his hand pierced the gliding serpent.
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
    how faint the whisper we hear of him!
    Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

Job 26:1-14

From the Late Books

That day David first appointed Asaph and his associates to give praise to the Lord in this manner:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
    tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Israel,
    his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
He is the Lord our God;
    his judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers his covenant forever,
    the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
    the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
    to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
“To you I will give the land of Canaan
    as the portion you will inherit.”
When they were but few in number,
    few indeed, and strangers in it,
they wandered from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another.
He allowed no one to oppress them;
    for their sake he rebuked kings:
“Do not touch my anointed ones;
    do my prophets no harm.”
Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place.
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
    Tremble before him, all the earth!
    The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
    let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing,
    let them sing for joy before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior;
    gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
    and glory in your praise.”
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.

Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.”

1 Chronicles 16:7-36

From the Gospels

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:1-18

From the Epistles

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
    and he will be my Son”?

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
    and his servants flames of fire.”

But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

He also says,
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”

To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet”?

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 1:1-2:4