Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Doing Things Differently

Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. John 21: 5-6 NRSV

This scripture has been rolling around in my head lately. Perhaps it is because I will be going back into parish ministry in two months. I have served four churches so far in my ministerial "career" but I can only see all the mistakes I have made. This time I want to do it differently. But not differently in terms of how I think it should be done. Differently in how Jesus tells me to do it.

I really admire how the disciples - many of whom were professional fishermen- listen to what Jesus tells them. What would Jesus know about fishing? He was a builder, a worker of stone and wood. He could walk on water but his fishing skills are never brought out in the scriptures. I think my first reaction would have been: "What is he talking about? He doesn't know anything about what we are doing? We've been fishing all night long! I'm not going to listen to that stupid suggestion. You aren't supposed to fish on that side of the boat!" If I had obeyed him at all, it would have been with the most reluctance.

But he is the resurrected Jesus. He has been through torture, betrayal, death and now new life. I think the disciples must have seen something in him - some authority, power or knowledge that made them obey his words.

Or perhaps something had changed in the disciples. Peter only recognized Jesus after the fish are hauled in. Maybe that meant that the disciples were more open to suggestions. Could it be that they realized that what they were doing was beyond their capabilities? Could it be that being filled with the Spirit had loosened them to a new way of thinking?

I want to do things in the new way that Jesus asks me to. Would you join me?

God, we want to do so many things our way. Help us to listen and try things - even the most impossible and crazy things- YOUR way. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, April 27, 2009

Read John 20:11-25.

It has been over 10 days since I last posted a devotional - things just got a bit stressed in my life this last week! I have really missed writing, though, and hope you have missed a new devotional or two. Today's devotional is again about Easter. I am finding I really love this season and want to delve more deeply into the resurrection.

We often hear about the seven last words of Jesus from the cross but what about what he said after the resurrection? In John's gospel (see above reference) we can really find Jesus' Top Ten Instructions given to his followers:

1) Don't hold onto me - I am in the process of ascending to God
2) Peace be with you!
3) I send you as God has sent me.
4) Receive the Holy Spirit
5) If you forgive sins, they will be forgiven; if you retain sins, they will be retained.
6) Do not doubt, but believe!
7) Blessed are those who have not seen yet come to believe.
8) Try casting the net on the other side of the boat.
9) Feed my sheep.
10) Follow me!

Jesus really puts his followers to work with all these action words: receive, sent, forgive, believe, cast, feed and follow. Although there is some passivity in the gifts of peace and the Spirit, Jesus doesn't want his disciples to stand still. Movement is the key to the Resurrected Life!

Thank goodness that Easter comes in the Spring. There is such a thing as Spring Fever that makes us want to get outside and move. And Jesus wants us to do more than wallow in the freshly mown grass. He wants us (his followers) to go out just as God sent him.

Don't just sit there reading this blog! Get out there and spread the Good News of the Resurrected Life!

Thank you, Jesus!

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Seeing Jesus

Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20: 28 NRSV

I have preached on this bible passage many times - usually using the same sermon. The reason - beyond being extremely tired the week of Easter- is that my son's name is Thomas. For years, I struggled with introducing him to his doubting namesake. Who wants to share a name with the man who doubted Jesus? But on further study of this passage, I have come to understand that Thomas should be known more for understanding who Jesus is: my Lord and my God!

I think we should all applaud Thomas for seeing Jesus for who he really is, despite some drawbacks. For some reason, Thomas is not with the others when Jesus appears the first time. In other words, Thomas is absent on Easter morning. We don't know where he was or what he was doing. But he got left out big time. He missed seeing the risen Lord on the most wonderful day of the world. He didn't receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (according to John's gospel). Then he had to listen to his buddies go on and on about seeing Jesus for an entire week. I am surprised he even showed up again.

But he did come back and so did Jesus. And Jesus invited him to touch him. I am thinking that Thomas may have been the only one invited to do that. Jesus didn't allow Mary to do this because he had not yet risen to the Father. But Thomas doesn't need to touch him to see Jesus for who he is. No one announced who he was when he appeared on Easter morning. It is Thomas, the one who missed out, the one who had not received the gift of the Spirit, who actually sees Jesus for who he really is.

Do you see Jesus for who he is?

My Lord and my God, bless you for your gift of life and the Spirit. May we see you always for who you are. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Being Fond of Jesus

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter," Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." John 21:15 NRSV

I often wonder how much we English speakers/readers miss in not being able to read the New Testament in it original Greek. I know I tried to learn Greek in seminary....but that is for a future post on falling short of our goals. Anyway, here is one such verse that really makes no sense in English. Why does Jesus keep repeating himself? Simon Peter seems to be understanding him the first time - he even repeats what Jesus has said! What is going on here?

Well, what is going on is that Jesus and Peter are using two different words for love: agape (whole, complete and total love) and philo (fond of as in friendship). Jesus keeps asking if Simon Peter loves Jesus completely and Peter keeps responding that he is very fond of Jesus. In the final question, Jesus changes his question to ask if Simon Peter is very fond of him. It is after this affirmation that Jesus tells Peter what is going to happen to him.

I think many of us are very fond of Jesus. He is, after all, our brother, and he is due our brotherly (or sisterly) love. Our fondness for Jesus shows in our somewhat casual attitude in our worship, study and struggle with his teachings. We go along with it or put on a good performance but inside we are still rebellious. We may give Jesus lots of wonderful lip service but then we turn and do our own thing.

However, Jesus asks Simon Peter (and us) for complete, total, whole and uncompromising love. That is what he really wants. But he seems to settle for fondness in the end.

Jesus, have we, like Simon Peter, let you down with the kind of love we have for you? Forgive us, we ask, and help us to open up our hearts and lives completely so that we can love you with agape love. It is in your name we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nameless Witness

Now on the same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened....Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" Luke 24:13 & 18 NRSV

Have you ever wondered why we don't know the name of the second follower or what it might be? Not long ago, I discovered that some scholars think that second person in the walk to Emmaus story was a woman, possibly Cleopas' wife, and that is why she was never named. This makes me think of the story of the woman who broke the expensive perfume on Jesus' feet, wiping them with her hair, causing Jesus to say that she would be remembered but we don't even know her name. Another faceless, nameless witness to the risen Christ.

What is it like to be a nameless witness to Christ? I am one of those people who resists having my name in lights or promoting myself in front of others. When congratulated or lifted up, I tend to try and turn attention elsewhere. Usually this involves admitting a weakness or not accepting the affirmation with grace. Yet, I discovered recently that part of my personality or make-up needs recognition. I crave being affirmed and noticed. And when my work is either ignored or hijacked by others, I am deeply hurt and depressed. I think being nameless is not a strong point of mine.

Yet it is not I but Christ who needs to receive the glory. The emphasis here is not really the followers meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus but their recognizing him in the breaking of the bread and their giddy recklessness in running back to Jerusalem to share this Good News. It isn't about us. It is about sharing the love of Christ and the joy of his resurrection.

God, sometimes you call us to be nameless witnesses. Help us to let your love and grace shine through us so that you alone receive the glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, April 13, 2009

The View from the Day After

...But God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Acts 10: 40-41 NRSV

Here it is the day after Easter. And what a day it was! I always struggle to get up for Sunrise Service on Easter but this year was really special because the youth led our service. What a great job they did, too! One of the things I liked was a video done by one of the youth. She went around her school interviewing other teens about "What Easter Means to Me." She got what I see as typical responses, mostly about bunnies, family and candy. A couple of teens seemed to really understand Easter. But the majority did not. It made me realize that there are a lot of people in the world who really do not "get" Easter.

In fact, according to Peter's testimony, Jesus only appeared to those few after his resurrection. This means is was then up to them to spread the Good News about Jesus' triumph over death. There are only a few people who actually witnessed the resurrected Christ. But somehow they were able (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to spread the news to others who came to believe.

Jesus did not appear to all the people. Not all the people we will encounter this day, this week or even this year went to an Easter service. Not all the people we have relationships with can really answer what Easter means to them. We have a responsibility, as the witnesses of that marvelous day, to spread the good news of what Easter means for all of us.

God, thank you for the resurrection of Christ. Help us to spread the life-changing power of Easter to all the people. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Spirit of Adoption

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father! it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ - if in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15-17 NRSV

This is the scripture that began my whole journey in looking at fear of God in the Bible. You will probably be happy to know that this concludes my series of devotionals on fear. This is also one of my favorite Bible passages, as I am adopted and have a personal grasp of what that means.

Paul is reminding the church at Rome that fear belongs to our lives before Christ. Because God has adopted us as God's children, we now have a spirit of adoption. I equate that kind of spirit with love.

You see, as and adopted person myself, I know what great love it took for my blood mother to give me to strangers. I also know what great love my parents had for me in adopting me and claiming me as their own with no reservations. And I know that God's love has been with me from conception until today. Love, not fear, is the Spirit of adoption.

God give us that Spirit of love so that we are freed to love God in return. And in loving God, we also love our neighbors as ourselves. We are not slaves but are free children of God. Praise God! Hallelujah!

Happy Easter!

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Silent Fear

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:8 NRSV

Here is a bit of reverse psychology. The women are instructed by an angel to go and spread the Good News but they flee and say nothing to anyone. They are too afraid.

Fear seems to be a good way to keep silent.

My commentary from the new Interpreters Study Bible says that this was Mark's way to motivate the reader to spread the news themselves. To see the silence of the first witnesses would trigger an emotional response of telling everyone what had happened.

The real outcome has probably been more along the rationalized lines of: well, if they couldn't say anything after being instructed by God's angel, I don't think I should be expected to do any differently.

Fear seems to be a good way to keep silent.

But we are all told to not be afraid, to go and to speak. We would rather cringe in fear than do as we are told. Fear of rejection, fear of being ridiculed and fear of not doing it right has paralyzed more evangelistic moments.

We do fear. But we fear the wrong things. We do fear God but we don't love God. Instead, we run away in terror, and miss out on the good stuff God has for us.

God, help us not to flee and remove our fear. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, April 10, 2009

What your bank account says about fearing God

He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water." Revelation 14: 7 NRSV

This verse quotes the first angel making an announcement to the world. The angel instructs everyone to fear God the creator because of the upcoming judgment. It is God, not the emperor or society or money, who should be worshipped. Fear God because you have not been worshipping your creator!

Fear is a great theme in the book of Revelation. What we Americans must really understand is that this book is truly not written for us. We are too rich and spoiled to really understand it. We are also quick to say it was written for others, yet the great Babylon [code name for Rome] referred to in Revelation was just as rich and spoiled as we are. We tend to miss the point and overlook what Revelation says to us.

For example, pull up your online checking account or pull out your checkbook. Take the last twenty checks/ATM charges on your account. How many of them were made out to your church/your tithe/a religious cause? What about your last fifty payments? Glancing at what you spend your money on, could a stranger figure out what your true commitments are? Do you place God before all else in your life? Is your life an expression of worshipping your Creator?


God, we seem to be lacking in real fear let alone admiration for You. You are way down on our list of priorities in our lives. Yet, you gave your only Son for us. Thank you for your love. May we not squander it. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No Fear in Love

There is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1 John 4: 18 NRSV

Fear has to do with punishment. That is what has bothered me during this whole season of looking at fear (over 23 devotionals on the subject). If I fear God, then I am worshipping, obeying, following and praising God in order to avoid punishment. God doesn't want a relationshhip with me based on avoiding being punished.

In addition, fear is a basic emotion and fearing God could be seen as merely instinctual. What takes true trust and bravery is love. Striving to love God is going to take some work on my part. It does not feel natural. It means that I will have to show my love in tangible ways rather than cower in the corner. I will have to step out on faith if I am going to perfectly love God. In fact, the more perfectly I love God, the greater risk for physical suffering in this lifetime. Perfect fear tries to get away from suffering. Perfect love will move toward and risk suffering.

Perfect love is hard. Are you willing to move toward perfection? Let's go there together.

In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fear God but not the Government

Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1Peter 2: 17 NRSV

Honor everyone - check.
Love the family of believers - check.
Fear God - okay, I'll do my best - check.
Honor the emperor - say what???!

This verse gives some guidelines for believers of Christ to live peacefully within the Greco-Roman world. To honor others, love the community of Christ, and even fear God are good guidelines which I can agree with. But to honor the emperor- not sure about that one. In those days, one didn't just honor the emperor, one worshiped the emperor. Just to honor him would not cut it in their society at all. For the Roman world, if you didn't worship the emperor it wouldn't matter if you gave him any honor! Today, most Christians could honor their civic leader but there are some real exceptions to that and I think many Christians would have to decline.

It is interesting that one should fear God but not the emperor. Were the martyred Christians honoring the emperor at their deaths? What does one do when the fear of God negates honoring the emperor? What should we do today when our fear of God creates friction within our world and our society? How can we maintain a fear of God when the world is so much with us?

God, we tend to rub the world the wrong way when we follow You. Please give us strength and courage to continue to journey in Your Way. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fear of God or Love of Power?

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 2 Corinthians 5: 10-11 NRSV

Well, if there were ever a scripture that was behind the terrifying "evangelistic" question: "If you died tonight would you go to heaven or hell?" this is it. Paul is in the process of defending himself and heading toward bringing reconciliation to the church at Corinth. Here is admitting that he too will have to stand before God's throne for judgment for his actions. He knows that the fear of God will keep him in the straight and narrow. He also hopes that the church members see this in him and know him well enough to know that he is trying to meet God's standards.

Paul admits that he stands within the fear of God and that is his motivation to reach others for Christ. His motivation is very admirable. Too many times I find church leaders being motivated by selfish and ungodly posturing. So many times I see church members and church pastors caught up in the power game. They do things in order to keep their power over others in the church intact.

What if they did things out of the fear of God rather than wanting to be in control? I think that many things in the church would change for the better.

What motivates you within the church? Fear of God or love of power?

God, we often love the power we receive as church leaders. Forgive us, we pray. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Monday, April 6, 2009

Struck Dead?

Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it....And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things. Acts 5: 5,11 NRSV

Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, try to pull a fast one on Peter and the disciples. But what they don't realize is that the One whom they are trying to trick is God. If they had kept their land and not sold it, they would have been alright. But because they both tried to keep some for themselves - and we don't know why- they end up being struck dead for their misdeeds. And their deaths strikes fear into everyone who hears of it, especially in the church.

Okay, so God doesn't want us to worship God with fear in our hearts. However, God still wants us to be true. God does not want us to keep something back. God wants us to give our all. The message seems to be that we don't need to fear God but we do need to fear a lack of right relationship with God. If we hold back, if we lie or tell half-truths, if we don't give God our all...well, we'll be struck dead?

Maybe not dead but our relationship with God will be dead and I think this will also impact our relationships with other people. An unhealthy relationship is usually one that we should give up for dead or try to make it healthy again.

God, you want the best possible relationship with us. May we have a healthy dose of fear that will motivate us to work on our relationship with You. In Jesus' name.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fear of the Jews

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." John 20:19 NRSV

At the risk of having an anti-Semitic sounding title, I would like to point out that "fear of the Jews" occurs three times in the gospel of John. This is significant because it makes us aware of the tension that existed between the followers of The Way and the traditional Israelites. There was real fear that believing in Jesus would get you kicked out of the synagogue - and being exiled from that community was a scary thought. I also wonder if there was not also a fear of the Romans who would also bring down dire consequences on those who refused to worship Caesar. So, no matter where a person originated, believing in Christ would most likely bring about some kind of punishment or exclusion.

In this instance, wouldn't fear be the motivation to not believe in Christ? This is less about fearing God and more about fearing others. The doors are shut and we are locked in because we fear others outside our doors.

I think this same type of fear prevents us from reaching out to our communities - whether in service or in evangelism. We are afraid of being hurt, afraid of being rejected, and afraid of change. So, we keep the doors closed and locked.

Thank goodness Jesus shows up in our midst, giving us the Holy Spirit, and sending us out into the world.

Thank you, God, that fear will not keep us from going out into the world in Your name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Friday, April 3, 2009

Serve God Without Fear

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Luke 1: 72-75 NRSV

God has mercy (later identified as tender mercy) so that we can serve God without fear but in wholeness and in right relationship to God. With the birth of John the baptizer, our relationship with God gets turned around and changed completely. Instead of serving the One whom we fear, we serve the one whom we are in right relationship with. Being holy rather than being fearful becomes our motivation.

I really want to bask in this kind of motivation! God seems to be saying that God wants our hearts to be in the right place rather than to be feared. If we work on our healthy relationship with God, we won't need fear to serve God. In fact, our service becomes an act of righteousness rather than an act of fear of punishment. Somehow, I feel I am barely scratching the surface of this idea and the change that the New Testament brings in our overall relationship with God. But it is all good!

God, you want us to be in a whole and right relationship with You. You prefer this over our fear. May we spend our energy turning our hearts and minds over to You. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fear in God's Presence

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. Luke 1:12 NRSV

Zechariah becomes so full of fear in the presence of the angel of the Lord, that he ends up not believing that what God is telling him will happen. Here is where fear is not the right emotion to have in the presence of God!

I looked up the word fear on the Internet recently and learned that fear is a basic emotion that even animals have. Fear is good for survival but it is not a good thing to have on a continual basis. In fact, fear is one emotion that can be overcome and might someday even be extinct.

This makes me wonder if our modern society has not already overcome their fear of God. Would having a healthy dose of fear be good for us? If we find ourselves in the presence of God or even God's messengers and have no fear, where will we be? If we use Zechariah as an example, I suppose we can say that we would actually believe what we are told. But I am not so sure we would.

I think we must at least have a healthy respect for God in order to avoid thinking we think we can do it all without God's help. Healthy respect is not fear but it is certainly a related emotion.

God, may we always have a healthy respect for You! In Jesus' name. Amen

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Fear of the Lord is....

The book of Proverbs has much to say about the Fear of God. In Proverbs, we find that the fear of the Lord is

...the beginning of knowledge (1:7)
...the hatred of evil (8:13)
...the beginning of wisdom (9:10)
...prolongs life (10:27)
....a fountain of life (14:27)
....better with a little (15:16)
...instruction in wisdom (15:33)
...a way to avoid evil (16:6)
...a way to rest secure and suffer no harm (19:23)
...rewarded by riches, honor and life (22:4)
...a way to be praised (31:30).

Obviously, Proverbs gives several reasons why someone should fear God. Personally, when I look at my life in the past month alone and see the hand of God moving, forming, changing, and challenging me I am overcome by the total awsomeness of God. Is this fear that I feel? It doesn't seem to be and yet there is a healthy respect that goes beyond just trust and love. I know I am a different person today (April 1) than I was on March 1. And it wasn't just because of life experiences but of God's obvious hand in my life that changed me. God has done more than I could ever imagine. My response to God is more than just an "Amen." Maybe there is something to this fear idea after all.

God, you are more than awesome! Your majesty, power, mercy and love are beyond anything we can comprehend. We praise You and give You the glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Copyright 2009 Amelia G. Sims