Saturday, April 15, 2017

Revelation 7:9-10 By: Andy Wilson

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
-       Revelation 7:9-10
Throughout Lent we’ve focused on the dire needs of refugees and immigrants. Let’s remind ourselves once again of the facts.
First, we’re currently witnessing the largest mass migration of people since World War II. There are more refugees in the world today than there have been at any other time in history. And a huge number of those refugees are escaping from places where, if they returned or were ‘repatriated’ by force, they would be killed or would live in abject poverty under the thumb an oppressive government.
Second, the general trend among developed nations over the last few years has been to tighten border security, severely limit immigration, and admit a small fraction of the refugees seeking asylum. As a result, millions of refugees are barely getting by in dismal camps and slums in developing nations bordering the nations from which they have fled.
Throughout Lent we’ve also been asking ourselves: What is the Lord’s message to his church as it relates to immigrants and refugees? What is his message to each one of us? The Bible tells us again and again to welcome the stranger in our midst and to care for those who are most vulnerable. 
But isn’t that na├»ve? 
Many well-meaning people (including many Christians) think so. They believe the risks these days are just too great, and that restrictive immigration policies are necessary in order to protect our economy, our culture and our lives.
Probably we can all agree: every nation has a right and an obligation to protect itself from bad characters, especially those who seek to kill innocent people and sow terror. Moreover, in an age of terrorism, vetting procedures need to be sophisticated and rigorous. Border control is essential. 
Yet history teaches us that immigration, over time, brings many blessings. Most immigrants struggle when they first arrive. But as they begin to put down roots, their presence leads to increased economic and cultural dynamism, as well as a strengthening of church and family structures. The people of Israel learned those lessons as they obeyed God’s commandment to welcome the stranger. And so have we in America, where, after all, the vast majority of us are the descendants of immigrants.
Today’s Lenten reading gives us a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come. There people of “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lord’s throne. This signals to us that God loves variety, and that the glory and strength and joy of his kingdom are derived, in part, from the fact that everyone there is an immigrant – everyone there has arrived as a foreigner from a foreign land.
The reading ends with a reminder that salvation is from God alone. It’s good to keep that in mind when we’re faced with divisive issues, and we’re gripped with fear, and our instinct is to hunker down and take care of our own. Salvation is from God and not from us. Therefore, it always makes sense to obey his Word and trust his promises.

Friday, April 14, 2017

1 Peter 2:13-14 By: Darren Pollock

1 Peter 2:13-14
For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.
 Many of the Scripture passages from this year’s Lenten blog have addressed the responsibility of those at the center of a society towards those at the margins. Here we have an example of a counsel directed toward the exile himself. 1 Peter is addressed to Jewish followers of Christ living in exile in Asia Minor. Peter writes throughout the letter of the need for continued obedience to Christ in the midst of the various trials that this community was suffering. If the letter was written in the mid-60s, then the emperor referred to would have been Nero—no friend to people of faith. So we have God’s people living as refugees in a land that had been conquered by a foreign power that was ruled by a tyrannical king—the last thing we might expect Peter to say to this persecuted community of believers is for them to submit to this authority that had been imposed over them. Indeed, as Calvin writes of verse 13, “It seemed an unworthy thing that God’s children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies.” So why would Peter, then, include this counterintuitive advice? One reason is that he views the witness of this community to be more important than their rights and their freedom to do as they please. As we saw in the previous verse (2:12), the conduct of this community is to be such that their Gentile neighbors (even their oppressors!) might be moved to give glory to God.
How should we receive this message—we, who (while “exiles” in a theological sense) are mostly pretty secure in our societal position? How might Peter have framed this message for us, being as we are in a radically different social context than his diasporic readers? One key theme that I believe would predominate is the importance of living in such a way that those who don’t know Christ are moved to glorify him—and to prioritize this over our instinct to protect our own rights and freedoms. When God’s people were the exiles, this meant submitting to the authority of those exercising dominion over them; when the Christ-followers are the ones in the position of cultural dominance, might this mean willingly submitting ourselves to the needs of the exiles among us?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

1 Peter 2:11-12 By: Rachel Woflick

1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Let me start by telling you all that writing this blog causes me great stress. I am not a theologian and I am not a great student of the bible. However, I am still thankful for the opportunity to write this. We need to be “pushed” in our walk with Christ and never settle for where we are. 

Of course I went to the great biblical expert, Google, for thoughts on these two verses. That was more overwhelming than helpful.

I read the verses that followed and the previous Chapter to better understand the context of the message.
Who was Peter writing to? The letter is addressed to various churches in Asia Minor suffering religious persecution. This is likely in about the year 65 A.D. so the church is in its early formation and in these areas of Asia Christians would have been a very small minority.

When Peter refers to those in the church as “foreigners and exiles” I think he means that we are all “foreigners and exiles” in this world. As new creations in Christ, we don’t belong to this world, we belong to a heavenly kingdom where we will one day reside for eternity. Wherever we travel or settle in the world, Asia or Rome, Jerusalem or Egypt, we are as Christians all “foreigners” because we are not of this world.
As such, we should not be seduced by the things this world usually cherishes: wealth, power, possessions, beauty and all of the related trappings. These are the things that wage war against our soul. If we do nothing but seek these “trappings” while here on earth we will be just like the pagans that Peter refers to in this verse. As a new creation in Christ we should be seeking the fruits of the kingdom, to love others as Christ showed us, to live a life according to Christ’s teaching of humility, compassion for others and forgiveness.

While here on earth we will be constantly seduced by the things of this world. How do we  “abstain from sinful desires which wage war against [our] souls?” I think Peter’s message urges us to have pure thoughts. To reflect on what is good and not what pollutes our spirits. If al I am doing is thinking about how to get a bigger house or more money, I am not thinking about the suffering of the world, I am blind to the needs of others because I am focused on me and my needs and wants.

Every morning when we get up we have to make a choice. I can allow my thoughts to be seduced by the trappings of this world, or I can focus on the things of the kingdom. Where our thoughts go, so will our actions. Throughout the day we will struggle with this but with God’s help we will overcome. It all starts with our thoughts and our discipline to focus on what is good and of the kingdom.

Finally, I believe that Peter is urging the reader to set a good example and to live “good lives” and perform “good deeds” even in the face of persecution and rejection by others. If we only love those who love us we are not much better than the pagans. If we only forgive those who first forgive us we really don’t understand the message of Christ.  We are called to be different even when it’s hard, even when we feel rejected by this world.

This Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His hope for us is that the desire of our hearts for the trappings of this world will die with him on Good Friday and be replaced by the hope, joy and promise of new life offered to each of us through his  resurrection on Easter.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hebrews 13:2. By: Shawn Kelly

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

When Scott and I started talking about renting out rooms in our empty nest to tourists via Airbnb, some of our friends were aghast. Really, you’re going to let perfect strangers from other countries stay in your house? While you are there? Seems dangerous. I would never do that. 

Three years later, we have hosted hundreds of strangers from dozens of countries and most states, and the experience has been overwhelmingly enriching, inspiring and fun. We began with the firm belief that the vast majority of human beings are inherently good, and that being open to new cultures and languages and traditions would enhance and invigorate us. We were hoping that we might make the world just a bit more friendly and less fearful. We love to travel, and figured that this would be rather like traveling, but without the jet lag and TSA patdowns.

We have shared many meals, hours by the pool, and neighborhood walks with our guests. We’ve had lots of fun with guests who speak almost no English. You just can’t beat chicken wontons made by hand in your own kitchen, barbeque prepared by Argentinians in your backyard, or Danish meatballs whipped up by actual Danes...and then sharing these delicacies around your dining room table amid raucous laughter and fascinating conversation. We often bid our guests goodbye with hugs and selfies. Our belief that all humans are fundamentally alike was entirely confirmed. 

Now I realize that Airbnb is probably not what the author of Hebrews had in mind. We aren’t taking in refugees nor the homeless, and we are getting paid for our hospitality. But our Airbnb experience is what first sprang to mind when I read the words “hospitality” and “strangers.” I’m so saddened by the atmosphere of fear and judgement that has reached a fever pitch in our country and elsewhere in recent weeks amid the ongoing refugee crisis. As has been eloquently pointed out by numerous others on this Lenten Blog, fear is definitely not how Christ instructs us to react to the stranger. Instead, we are called to put our fears aside and see the face of Jesus in every person, regardless of class, race, gender, religion, or nationality. In fact, we are to treat “the least of these” with MORE respect and love than the privileged, who already have more than they need. 

While preparing to write this entry, I read that the word “angels” in this context could be interpreted to mean “messengers.” What message could we receive as Christians by showing hospitality to strangers, to refugees, to the homeless? Scott and I have learned so much from our guests from all over the globe. If only we could replace fear with wonder, and trepidation with curiousity. 

The verse just before this one, the first verse of Hebrews 13, reads simply, “Let mutual love continue.” I will pray that we as Christians can look towards the stranger, the refugee, the least of these, with mutual love. That we can welcome all into God’s big hospitable family.  And that if each of us does this, we might together set a shining humanitarian example for the rest of our planet. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Philippians 3:20 By: Greg Cary

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20 (We recommend reading the entire chapter)

  It seems that Citizens of Planet Earth are selfishly territorial.  Spend enough time in the ocean and chances are a shark will try to make a meal of you, spend enough time hiking in Deukmejian and an unnerving mountain lion or bear encounter becomes probable.  “Those wild animals!” we say with a civilized tone…… but go to Music in the Park six hours in advance and you will see people putting up caution tape to mark their territory for later.  Where money or prestige is involved it gets even messier – What If I live west of Pennsylvania Avenue am I a Citizen of Glendale only or can I say I’m from La Crescenta? If I could just live North of Foothill, maybe people would finally accept me!  How about the children living in the Sagebrush Area should they really be in La Crescenta Schools or La Canada?  If you are a Dodger fan and want coffee and cookies at the LCPC Party in the Breezeway you will be forced to mingle with a few of those Cubs fans.  Good or bad, innocent or not, it seems that we Citizens of Planet Earth are selfishly territorial!

  So, if that conversation was all about Citizens of Planet Earth what about Citizens of Heaven? Are we who know Christ as Savior selfishly territorial about our Heavenly Citizenship?......or do we eagerly invite and invest in all who are willing to listen to the gospel of God’s love and mercy? 

  The story is told of a Canadian gospel preacher back in the middle of the last century who was going to take an over-seas trip.  He walked into the Yugoslavian embassy and spoke to the ambassador’s deputy about travel to Yugoslavia.  By the time the preacher left the Embassy he was greatly energized about leading people to Christ and a Heavenly Citizenship based on three observations he made of the ambassador’s deputy:
1.) He spoke enthusiastically of his home country
2.) He faithfully laid out entry requirements, and
3.) His speech gave away his citizenship. 

  We too have been deputized as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) and as we let our light shine today let’s remember that there is only one thing we can take with us to Heaven - the people around us!

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:2-3

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ephesians 2:14-18 By: Karen Gee-McAuley and Grace McAuley

By Karen Gee-McAuley and Grace McAuley

Ephesians 2:14-18:

Oneness and Peace in Christ: 

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility  that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

These passages seem especially disconnected to the realities of2017 in light of the latest Syrian crisis involving chemical warfare on civilians followed by the U.S. bombing of the Syrian government airfield where the chemical attack was reportedly launched.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written when he was imprisoned in Rome and was meant as a grand vision for the Christian church. But we can’t help but want to scream that thisvision is far from becoming reality with the number of civil wars, terrorism and prolific suffering taking place in our own backyard and around the world. 

How could Christ allow so much strife, unrest and death take place? Why can’t the walls of hostility be broken by “ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations? It’s as if today’s oppression is so complicated, extreme, cruel, inhumane and widespread that Paul’s teachings are too simplistic and, frankly, unrealistic.

Rational thinking can only surmise that until the forces of evil are destroyed, only then will there be peace on earth and freedom for the oppressed.

God isn’t simple. He knows all, everything and everyone. It is by his grace  that when humanity suffers we realize we can’t do this alone, that we need to lean on him more now than ever. This is what makes suffering almost too difficult to bear, but also special in that by trusting Him, he brings us closer, more united and “together as one body.”

But how can you, I, our community so far away contribute to eradicating the forces of evil, which, in turn, will help and free the oppressed?  Can it be done? As one drop of water does not feed a plant, but 100 drops will, the same can be said of the power of people and prayerWhether we pray individually and as a congregation,  donate resources and supplies to humanitarian organizations or using your skills in medicine, social work or education to augment an organized effort, the more “good” that is directed toward the oppressed will, we believe, eventually make these psalms reality. 

By living in and with Christ, and reminding ourselves every day what he sacrificed for us, we can begin to tame the hostility that exists today.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Romans 12:13. By: Austin Granier

I just came back from a Youth Leaders Conference in Irvine this past week and one of the speakers said something that was so relevant to the verse we are going over today. This Pastor,  by the name of Drew Worsham, spoke and he said something that has been in my head ever since I left. He said "In your everyday life, is it evident that you have been with Jesus." He continues asking, "Is it clear that you know the Gospel? Because just like how you can't get up and walk away like nothing has changed if you were to get hit by a car, you cant just get up and act like nothing has changed if you get hit by the Gospel." I have been reflecting on those words, thinking to myself, is what I do in my own life truly reflective of Christ's character and truly honoring to Him at all? I think a great way to tell if that sentence is true is by asking yourself, do I have marks of a true Christian? Coincidentally, that is the title of the passage which our verse of the day  comes from, "Marks Of A True Christian." Our verse today is Romans 12:13 and it states:

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So here is a start. Here is one thing that we all can do in the next few weeks that can show others that Christ is in our lives. Here's just a super simple thing that will make others feel the same love that we are blessed to feel every single day. A practical way to practice hospitality is maybe you sacrifice and afternoon and feed the homeless. Or maybe you join us on Men's Mexico this May and serve others and give to others. My encouragement is that we all just make a small step, so that it will be more clear we have been with Christ and we have marks of a True Christian.