Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Turn Weeping into Joy



Scripture:

Psa. 126:5     May those who sow in tears
        reap with shouts of joy.
Psa. 126:6     Those who go out weeping,
        bearing the seed for sowing,
    shall come home with shouts of joy,
        carrying their sheaves.

Observation:

This is a Psalm for the Israelites as they return from exile. They had hung up their harps in Babylon but now they were picking them up again as they made the journey home. There had been many long years of tears and sadness. They had mourned all that they had lost but through that process God began to bring healing and restoration. They sowed the recovery of that relationship in tears and how they would return home with shouts of joy for God has set them free!

Application:


We may not have to spend time in a physical Babylon, but we may have gone through our own personal exile. This could be for a variety of reasons, but the Lord knows our hearts and where we have found ourselves. There has been hurt and pain and struggle. For some it has been a lengthy exile for others a short period of time but whatever the reasons, the exile has been experienced. Now, after a time of repentance healing has come and it’s time to return home.

The tears of pain and agony have dried up but in that awful time of weeping and lamenting new seeds were planted. Those little seeds are beginning to take root and grow up. We begin to see green grass. It’s just a little bit and yet, it’s there. In that little view of green the joy begins to return. The weeping is replaced by joy because of the anticipation and hopefulness of what lies ahead.

The Israelites returned home and a new life and harvest began. The Israel they returned to was never the same as it was before, but there was new life and a new harvest. They built a new temple — not like the one before, it was much smaller, but Jesus came and visited the new one. Returning from our own exile may mean that things will never be the same again, but the presence of Jesus can turn what we have suffered into joy because of his holy presence.

Weeping may last for a season, but the joy will come again as we trust in him.

Prayer:


Lord, may we trust in you and await your joy. Amen.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Will We Do With What We Have?



Scripture:

Luke 13:6 ¶ Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
Luke 13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
Luke 13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.
Luke 13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Observation:

In this parable Jesus is referring to the Jews. They are the ones that have been planted in the vineyard, receiving spiritual food and nourishment for years. Now, for three years the Messiah has been visiting the vineyard and looking for the fruit which the tree should be bearing, and yet there is no fruit. The Messiah himself intercedes for the life of the fig tree — give it one more chance. The fig tree receives all the investment and care necessary for it to grow and is given one more year. It has been given everything necessary to bear fruit, and yet, she will put to death the one trying to give life.

Application:

Many of us who have grown up in the church find ourselves being well nurtured and fed. We have been raised in the vineyard and we have been give the best of all opportunities to grow and to bear fruit. Sadly, not many are bearing fruit these days. The fig trees are quite barren and we wonder what the problem might be! Could it be that we are a bit like the fig tree in the story — using up all the nutrients, enjoying the presence of the Messiah and yet, not producing fruit. In a strange sense it was as if the fig tree enjoyed all it could receive, but refused to give. The Jews were fed all the nutrients but somehow they didn’t get to the roots of who they were and the presence of the Messiah did not move them. They were oddly barren.

Do we find ourselves oddly barren as well? Maybe we ought to see whether we are absorbing — truly absorbing all that God has provided for us. If not, we are just enjoying the vineyard. The fig tree was not there just to be an ornament in the vineyard but to produce fruit. We are to be fruit bearers. That is why the Lord has cultivated us — and the Church.

We have been given all that we need to bear fruit. What will we do with what we have?

Prayer:

Lord, may my life bear fruit today and every day for your glory.  Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Sense of Responsibility



Scripture:

Luke 12:43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.
Luke 12:44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
Luke 12:45 But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,
Luke 12:46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.
Luke 12:47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.
Luke 12:48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Observation:

Around the fringes of the conversation stood the religious leaders. These were the ones who had studied the law and knew the intent. With this knowledge came great responsibility for they were to be the spiritual leaders of God’s people. As leaders they were to be God’s messengers and servants in the world and were to be caretakers. The warning was clear, those to whom much responsibly had been given, were required to act in faithfulness. If not, their punishment would be severe.

Application:

Intentional disobedience to the will of God by those who have been called into spiritual leadership has serious consequences. The problem is that we try to trick ourselves into believing that our decisions affect no one but ourselves. I remember sitting in a theology class and having one of those “aha” moments. Our professor was talking about the “Day of Judgment” and how it has to await its appointed time because the decisions we make while living here on this earth continue on with a trajectory into the future with long-lasting consequences. When we die the results of our life will live on and therefore we await the final judgment.

Think of the responsibility that we have as parents. The way in which we raise our children will affect our grandchildren and our great grandchildren into the future. Should we serve the Lord, there is a good chance that they will serve the Lord. However, if we make a decision to pull away from the Lord and the Church, we are not just making a decision for ourselves but possibly for future generations. Is that the kind of legacy that we want to leave?

Not only is this responsibility required within the family, but also in places where we may have authority. A pastor must lead with integrity. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine and she was saying that we shouldn’t expect more from our Spiritual leaders than we do from ourselves. In a sense I agree with this, but on the other hand I don’t. Jesus was saying that those to whom much has been given, much would be required. If God gives a person a place of Spiritual leadership over others — this is much! There should be a high standard placed upon the lives of these individuals for they are in positions where their very lives lead others. Either their lives will point in the direction of Christ or not. Much will be required!

We have seen too many spiritual leaders fall when they have taken their eyes off of the responsibility placed before them. What is that responsibility? To love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. This must always come first. When there is great responsibility there is even greater need to be dependent upon the Lord. And then responsibility carries us out into a needy world where we are to love neighbor as ourselves.

We must take seriously any places of influence in which God has placed us and be responsible for our actions. There is a higher standard for leadership and no way to meet the expectations without knowing the Master.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to know you more and more every day.  Amen.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Splitting Hairs



Scripture:

Luke 10:25 ¶ Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Luke 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
Luke 10:27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:29 ¶ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Observation:

The lawyer had come to Jesus to ask him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus had answered him with another question regarding the law. The lawyer may have found this embarrassing because Jesus’ response was one that made the assumption that the lawyer should have known the answer — for he knew the law! Trying to justify himself and sound as if he knew what he was talking about, he decided to test Jesus for the definition of neighbor. For Jews their neighbors were fellow Jews. The lawyer was trying to get this answer from Jesus so that he could let Jesus know that he had followed this law perfectly!

More than likely Jesus’ response stunned the man. Here’s a new definition of neighbor brought in the form of a parable, for Jesus’ response is the story of the good Samaritan. The thought of a Samaritan being the good neighbor in this case would have been quite repulsive to the lawyer. He had wanted to split hairs with Jesus, walking the fine line of a definition to make himself sound good before the Savior. It didn’t work!

Application:

We may discover that we are also trying to justify just who our neighbor is supposed to be. It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us, to those who are like us and do things the way that we do them. But Jesus was saying that anyone in close proximity to us is our neighbor and other than that, we don’t get to pick the definition. We are not just supposed to be nice to them, we are to love them as God loves us. God loved us enough that he sent his own son to die for us in an effort to bring us back into a relationship with him.

Think about how we treat those who are close to us — where we live. Do we know who our neighbors are or do we simply push our garage door opener button and slide inside without ever needing to talk to anyone? Do we know who those people are that work at our local store? Do we talk to them or simply ignore them?

Many of us gather on a regular basis at church. Our neighbors are also those who attend church with us and we are to reach out to them. Unfortunately when new people come they often find it difficult to break into the family that has already built close-knit relationships. It’s hard to feel like you can really become a “neighbor” if you are not intentionally invited in to be a part of the community.

Our neighbors include those with whom we rub shoulders that may make us uncomfortable. Sadly there seems to be a growing divide in the world of those whom we perceive are like us and those who are not. For much of Christianity there is a great fear of Islam. Jesus praising the Samaritan as the “good-guy” in the story is the equivalent of the Muslim being the “good-guy” for us in the story today.  That would make many “Christians” uncomfortable. Just as the Jews had made the Samaritans the bad guys in their world, sadly Christians are making Muslims the bad guys today. Instead, what would happen if we responded the way in which Jesus responded to the Samaritans. Jesus went right in the midst of them, sat down and talked to a woman who desperately needed salvation. He never avoided them, but reached out and loved them, bringing transformation to their lives.

I’m afraid that we are creating barriers just as much as the lawyer. We want to split hairs and create our own definition of “neighbor.” Christians — we cannot create, what we see as our own “safe” definitions and boundaries. We are to love our neighbor — no matter who they are or what they believe. Some of them may be putting us to shame by their response to those in need. The religious officials walked past the man who had been attacked. Only the Samaritan took the time to pick him up and care for him.

Splitting hairs may make us feel better for a short period of time, but it is our day-to-day response to a world in need that will demonstrate whether we truly love God and neighbor.

Prayer:


Lord, please, help me to love all those you place as my neighbors.  Amen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

And On a Practical Note…



Scripture:

Psa. 127:1     Unless the LORD builds the house,
        those who build it labor in vain.
    Unless the LORD guards the city,
        the guard keeps watch in vain.
Psa. 127:2     It is in vain that you rise up early
        and go late to rest,
    eating the bread of anxious toil;
        for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Observation:

God is the one who is responsible for the results of our labor. We must be wholly dependent upon him in all that we do and allow him to lead and guide us in ways we may have never even imagined. If not, we really are laboring in vain.

God is our protector and he is the one in whom we must depend. We must have common sense and place the guards on the city walls, but at the same time, trusting in him.

Working ourselves to death and not getting enough sleep will not build the house! God builds the house.

Application:

And the practical note is that we need to trust God and get enough rest. Workings ourselves to death and losing our health will gain us nothing. Allowing God to move and have his way strengthens us in ways we could never have imagined. So, let’s stop trying to do it all ourselves and go to bed at a decent hour, awakening refreshed in the morning so that we can be bright and shining reflections of him in this world.

Prayer:


Lord, thanks for a practical reminder.  Amen.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shouts of Joy and Weeping



Scripture:

Ezra 3:10 ¶ When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the LORD with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel;
Ezra 3:11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
    “For he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
Ezra 3:12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy,
Ezra 3:13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

Observation:

The children of Israel had returned from Exile and were now home, able to rebuild the Temple. The emotions were mixed that day as they celebrated the laying of the foundation of this, a new Temple. There were those present who remembered the glory days of old and the beauty of Solomon’s Temple. They recognized that this new Temple would be much smaller and they were disappointed. Instead of singing with great joy, they wept when they saw this new place. They were overcome with grief over what it was that they had lost.

While they were weeping over the loss of the past, the younger people present were rejoicing. They had never seen the Temple and now a new one as to be built. They were praising God for what he was doing in their midst in these days. God was good and faithful and they were singing his praises!

The new Temple would never be like the old Temple. All that they could see was the exterior plan. This one was going to be smaller. It was going to be surrounded by ruins. It wouldn’t be the entire complex of buildings that the old one had been. But what they could not see was that this Temple would be visited by Jesus and his presence would far outstrip any of the glory of the good-old-days of Solomon’s Temple. It was not the physical structure of the Temple which made a difference, it was the presence of the glory of God. Some wept at what they had lost. Others shouted with joy in anticipation of what they would have.

Application:

I’m afraid that it’s far too easy to find ourselves standing and looking at what was and weeping. So much in the world is changing and at an incredibly rapid pace. We grieve what was and wonder about what will be.

Many within Christianity are looking at the world in this way. They are disappointed that Church doesn’t look like it did in the past and they weep. Sadly their weeping doesn’t allow them to see the joy and hopefulness of what God is doing in the present, and leading us into the future. God is good and “his steadfast love endures forever.” This is an eternal truth and we can live into this truth.

When God is building something new, it may not look like the things of the past. We need to be okay with that and rejoice for God is not slighting us. He is doing something new! Little did the people know that this new and smaller Temple would be the one that the Messiah would visit. All the glory of this world would make no difference in light of the presence of the Savior.

The presence of the Lord is what matters in our midst — not the size of buildings, nor the ways in which things have been done in the past. May God keep us from weeping and instead, shout with joy over his handiwork.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your hand which we see at work today.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Desire for the Lord



Scripture:

Psa. 84:1     How lovely is your dwelling place,
        O LORD of hosts!
Psa. 84:2     My soul longs, indeed it faints
        for the courts of the LORD;
    my heart and my flesh sing for joy
        to the living God.

Observation:


The Psalmist has experienced worship in the presence of the Lord. We hear the cry of the heart for one who has been in the dwelling place of the LORD of hosts. The passion or desire to be with the LORD becomes overwhelming and there is a sense or feeling of drawing this one back over and over again to the courts of the LORD. The experience of being in God’s presence evokes a response in which heart and “flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

Application:

There are times in life when I have been blessed to experience the presence of the Lord in a very powerful way. Psalm 34:8 says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Once you have had that “taste” there is nothing else like it in this world and the desire to return over and over again can become overwhelming.

So much of our worship experience has to do with our own spiritual well-being. I am called into the very presence of Jesus and if I’m not attuned to him then I may not even recognize that he is there. This is when we become distracted by the elements of the worship service, instead of really experiencing the Lord.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry for the LORD today. My agenda is full from morning until night and yet, my hunger is to know the LORD. I need to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” If I don’t, then everything that I do is simply on my own power and I know that I have a very limited extent of resources. The Lord is my resource. The Lord is my strength. The Lord is the one who wraps his loving arms around me on a daily basis.

Yes, the dwelling place of the Lord is lovely and my desire is to be with him. No matter what comes of the day, I always want to come back to that place where I can be in gentle fellowship with him. This is the cry of the Psalmist and it is mine today as well. May his dwelling place be within me and may his presence be a constant reminder of the one my heart desires.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the sweetness of your presence and for continually drawing me back to that place.  Amen.