Sunday, February 26, 2017
Matt. 17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
This is the amazing scene of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Right before the eyes of Peter, James and John, Jesus’ full nature is revealed. Jesus is God, shining in white radiance, in the line of the great prophets who have come before. The reality is that he is even more than those who have gone before, for he is the incarnation of God which is affirmed by the voice of his Father. It is in this moment that Peter is completely overwhelmed, and not quite knowing what to say, says something inappropriate. Why not build three tents on the top of the mountain so that the presence of God, manifest in this experience be contained. It was an idea that popped into his mind and probably sounded pretty good to him. It would have been lovely to simply try and contain God and remain on the mountaintop. The problem was that it made no sense in light of who God is and what God intended to accomplish. God’s presence was not to be contained but to be revealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of chiding Peter, Jesus and the others simply and quite tactfully ignored what he said. Actually, his words were interrupted by the presence of the bright cloud and the voice of the Father. This was not the time to sit in the glory of God, but it was a time to endure the days ahead. The transfiguration of Christ, while glorious, became a testimony to the long-suffering servanthood of the disciples. They had seen God’s glory on the mountain top but realized that they would have to endure the day-to-day difficult life of ministry as faithful servants of Jesus. Glory would come, but not until they had endured.
Peter, whose comment is tactfully ignored, continues on his spiritual journey, and empowered by the Holy Spirit leads a new movement and church. Eventually he dies a martyr’s death, but I imagine that he was eternally grateful for the lessons which he learned from Christ, including being tactfully ignored.
The call to discipleship doesn’t result in perfection of behavior. Peter is certainly a testimony to that truth. As he grows spiritually he stumbles, and often over himself. He does things that are embarrassing and there are times when Jesus does say something to him, but others, such as this incident, where nothing has to be said. Peter learns his lesson by being tactfully ignored.
Not everything in life is worth a lengthy discussion. Yes, sometimes people will say something stupid, but we don’t have to always point that out. From time to time the graceful response is simply to tactfully ignore. A lack of response may be used as a discipleship technique, just as it was by Jesus. I’m sure that Peter realized that what he had said probably wasn’t really appropriate after he had said it. He didn’t really need Jesus to point that out.
Not everyone needs us to point out what they may have done wrong. About the moment something is out of our mouths we know that it was something we should not have said. There is also the possibility that we hit “post” before we think about the consequences of that action. It’s far too easy to have a disagreement with someone when you don’t have to look them in the eye. The use of social media has turned criticism into an art-form. I think we need to ask ourselves whether it is always useful. If not, maybe it’s better to simply and tactfully ignore something that someone has written, said or done.
We are invited into a discipleship relationship with Christ, and with others. Jesus teaches us how to gently nudge people into Christlikeness as we continually learn and grow.We are to graciously allow others the space to grow, which may include tactfully ignoring somethings in life.
Lord, thank you for tactfully ignoring some of the dumb things I do. Amen.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Psa. 2:1 Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
This Messianic Psalm has been quoted numerous times in the New Testament. It really expresses a misunderstanding about power and kingdom which is transformed by the coming of the Messiah. The people simply do not understand the power of God’s kingdom. Therefore the nations and the people try to plot ways in which they can take on the kingdom of God. The rulers and authorities of this world establish themselves in places and ways in which they believe they have control. Eventually they come to believe that they are more powerful than God and in their egocentrism they refuse to follow God’s laws. They choose to break away from God’s precepts and they throw the cords of God’s law far from them. They falsely slip into the assumption that their human systems have more power than God.
People and nations will continually plot in vain when they refuse to accept the authority of God. While this statement is in regard to nations it can be applied to any type of institution. This includes businesses, organizations, and even religious groups who refuse to submit to the authority of the kingdom of God. The sad result can be an abuse of power because when power is not placed in submission before God it can be abused. When the world says let’s burst the bonds of God’s oppressive laws, we have a problem, and yet that is what has been happening for thousands of years. The Psalmist knew it, and we know it. Casting the cords of God’s laws far from us creates a false experience of freedom, when in fact, this simply creates new bonds which lead to oppression and the use and abuse of vulnerable individuals.
Even followers of Jesus Christ need to evaluate whether they are submitting to the power and authority of God, or have taken matters into their own hands. It’s easy to get caught up in following a set of rules or practices of religion without really knowing Christ. We plot in vain if we think that we can live a godly life without daily interaction with God. True freedom is found in our personal relationship with Christ. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit transforms our lives in ways that give us more joy and freedom than we can imagine. We don’t have to become bound by the ways in which the powers and authorities view our circumstances because we have a newfound freedom in Christ. Loving God with our whole heart opens up a wideness in which we can grow and flourish. God’s love provides us the opportunity to overcome the obstacles which may have been created by misplaced power.
Dependence upon man-made systems or structures for our salvation has always been a false assumption of power. God’s kingdom power will always transcend that which we create on our own. We don’t need human systems to empower us. That’s the folly of the nations and the people who literally, plot in vain. It simply reveals the misguided dependence upon structures which will always fail. True power is only found in submission to God.
Lord, may I find my wholehearted dependence in you. Amen.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Hebrews 11:24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.
Here Moses is presented as an example of faith. So much of his life is a reflection of faith in God, but also a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah. Moses gave up the crown which he could have had in Egypt in order to identify with God’s people. This was his choice to identify with his own people. This meant that he chose to be treated poorly by the world — even the world that had previously been his home. He intentionally left that home to because he understood the long-term nature of things. The Egyptian kingdom was fleeting when it came to the eternal kingdom of God.
It’s interesting the way the language changes in this next phrase. Obviously Christ had not yet come and yet the author tells us that Moses intentional suffered “for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.” Moses’ activity in the Old Testament was already being drawn into a future in which the Messiah would transform the world. Moses and his activity was already a part of that trajectory. Moses was obedient to the call of God and God’s plan for all of humanity. He was an intentional participant, choosing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God, rather than live in the wealth that he could have enjoyed Moses was looking ahead and somehow understood that he was a part of something much larger than that which he was experiencing. He chose to intentionally participate together in God’s plan and this was his life of faith.
God is still drawing people into the eternal plan. There is something much larger at work on a daily basis than what we can see on the human level. Just as Moses chose to participate with God, so we are asked to make a choice. What will be most important to us? The things of this world, or the things of God?
The idea of intentional suffering doesn’t sound very pleasant, but there is a question of our intentional participation in the activity of Christ. Christ suffered for the sake of the kingdom — and for all of us. Life will not always be easy and the intentionality of following Christ means being willing to suffer for the sake of the lost. Moses loved his own people and wanted them to be saved. He was willing to suffer for their salvation. How far are we willing to go to help the lost, even the lost in our own families? If we are to become participants together with Christ in his mission in this world, then we are also to intentionally suffer for the sake of Christ and for those who are in desperate need of the one who can set them free. The love of Christ motivates us to a life of intentional action on behalf of those who are lost, and that just may include suffering.
Love of Christ will result in love for this broken world. To make a difference in this world means we will need to go against the natural flow of things and stand up for what is right, and this may not always be the popular decision. A choice to suffer intentionally is to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Lord, please help me to have a heart willing to suffer for the sake of the lost. Amen.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.
The ruler had been so careful about following the letter of God’s law. He believed that it revealed his love for God, but he didn’t realize that true love of God was revealed in his love for others. In reality he was consumed with a self-centered love that focused on himself and his personal wealth. Beyond that he wanted the approval of those around him that he was a religious man. Jesus got to the heart of the man’s motivation when he touched on what was most important to him. To be a disciple would have cost him much more than he was willing to pay for it would have cost him his place at the center of his own life.
We may not be aware of what we might find at the center of our affections. I think that the ruler was probably surprised that day at discovering the motivations of his own heart. He had thought that he was doing everything right. These were the things he had been taught since he was young, but now Jesus was talking about the things of the heart.
We may be doing a number of things right in the eyes of the church and the world, but when Jesus begins to touch on our motivations we can become quite uncomfortable. Sometimes we simply don’t want to be that vulnerable, nor are we always willing to do the things that Jesus may want us to do. It’s at that moment that we discover what really is at the center of our love.
Lord, in that moment of self-evaluation, please help me be obedient to your call. Amen.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Psalm 119:59 When I think of your ways,
I turn my feet to your decrees;
60 I hurry and do not delay
to keep your commandments.
The Psalmist’s prayer reveals spiritual growth. Prompt obedience was not always a way of life but now a new obedience was developing in the heart and life of the one who spent time in the presence of God. No longer is time spent in the sinful pleasures of this world, but the desire to follow God is immediate. Hearing and learning from God’s heart means a desire to hurry up and following the Lord’s leading in all things.
We don’t always want to respond to God’s leading in a prompt way. Mulling things over and taking time to try and decide whether God’s leading is a good thing — is never a good thing. The Psalmist would never have known how to promptly obey had he not spent time in the presence of God. When we do not act promptly, it may be that we unsure if we are hearing the voice of God. Responding promptly to the voice of God comes when we are familiar with the Lord’s voice.
I’ll admit it’s a little tough having my time with the Lord this morning. I’m writing this as my 19 month old granddaughter is next to me watching a little video with sing-a-long songs. This devotional comes with “The Wheels on the Bus.” At the same time she is fascinated by pictures she sees on my computer. Whenever she sees a picture of my husband she calls out “Pa!” While she hasn’t spent tons of time with him, she knows who grandpa is. She has become familiar with him and gets excited when she simply sees his picture.
Just as a little child learns to know the voices and faces of family members that they can trust, so we must have this kind of relationship with our heavenly Father. Then, when we hear God’s voice of leading we will know that it is from God. It takes no time to decide whether to follow, but we do it promptly and immediately. To delay would mean more pain and struggle in our own lives. This is not what God wants for us. Our loving “Pa!” wants to lead us away from sin and its devastating effects in our lives. This may be a new obedience for us, but we follow with hearts overflowing with love for the one who loves us.
Obedience comes from knowing the heart of the one who is ready and willing to lead. Prompt obedience will be life-changing.
Lord, please help me to listen to your heart and follow you today. Amen.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
Leviticus 19:1-10 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
Matthew 5:42-48 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In Leviticus God charges the Israelites to be holy, because God is holy. Then, there are descriptors provided of this holiness, much of it being of the relational nature. When caring for the crops of their land, they were always to leave some extra for the poor and the foreigner who was living among them. It was this exact law that Boaz was following when Ruth began working his field. Boaz is remembered as a holy man and Ruth becomes the grandmother of king David. God’s holiness was revealed in the way that Boaz farmed the land and cared for the poor, and the foreigners who had come to Israel.
Next we jump to the New Testament where Jesus is preaching. Jesus’ sermon includes the importance of caring for the poor and those who have less than we do. We are to give to those who beg, and loan to those who ask to borrow. Then, Jesus tells them to go above and beyond what they had come to accept as law and not only love their neighbor (and friend), but to love the enemy as well. Jesus’ expectations for behavior were very high. Loving the enemy meant praying for them, and, in essence, reflecting the love and prevenient grace of God revealed in Christ, to the rest of the lost world.
Jesus didn’t come to just love those who loved him. To become holy like Christ means to be transformed into his image. Jesus loved the tax collectors and many other outcasts of society. He went to their homes, visited with them, loved them and healed them. Finally Jesus ends with, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the same construction as what we find in Leviticus where God calls the Israelites to be holy. The call is for all of God’s people to be holy, reflecting the very image of the incarnate God, Jesus. Jesus interprets this holiness of God as perfection; perfection in the sense that this is the goal, or the telos of our lives. To be perfect is to reflect the holiness of God in everything that we do. Holiness is our perfection — holiness is the goal — transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ is the final completion of all things.
This weekend I have gathered with a group of friends to talk about issues of our environment and how these relate to being followers of Jesus Christ. Many of us present have received questions from people as to the importance of this conversation, or rather, concerns that the main thing of being a follower of Jesus Christ is not being discussed — evangelism! The truth is evangelism is seen, or should be seen, in everything that we do. I think that’s what these two passages point out. God was instructing people in farming, and in doing things differently than the rest of the world. They were to use the land well, but make sure they left some of what they had for the poor and needy. This was the way to reflect the holiness of God. Jesus was instructing his disciples in a lifestyle as well. This was one in which you prayed for and loved your enemy, showing generosity to the one who just may persecute you — and all of this leads to becoming the holy individual that God intended.
I read a book this week that talked about some of the issues related to global migration, or why we have so many people trying to move from one place to another. In certain parts of this world there has been a shift in weather patterns and communities of farmers are no longer able to raise their crops. Their land has become very dry and the seasonal rains are now coming on a different cycle. They don’t know when to plant their crops or when to harvest. Because they are so dependent upon the food that they grow this has created a real challenge and so the people are moving from the land to the cities where they hope to find work so they can feed their families. Cities around the world are burgeoning with people who are migrating with the hope of finding work and supporting their families. One such city is Aleppo in Syria. Suddenly the city is filled with more people than the system can support. Food shortages are a common occurrence and the prospects of getting married and being able to support a family no longer appears to be an option for young men. In abject frustration and disappointment they look for a cause which may inspire them — and pay them a little money to simply survive. There in the midst of their deepest need they find one group willing to pay them to join their cause and so, out of desperation — they sell their souls to the cause.
Why should I care about what God says in caring for this planet? Because it has to do with the trickle down effect and the way in which it hurts my neighbor and even my enemy. Because God and Jesus commanded us to care for others in ways that reflect the holiness of God. Because my consumerism just may be contributing to someone else’s hunger. Because I want to tell the world about Jesus, but to do so means that I must enter into the midst of others’ pain and be present when they are in need. I must share what I have with the poor and the needy and care for that which I have been blessed to experience. And all of this is important because God has called us to be holy people. Jesus defined this holy living for us and it was always in relation to the ways in which we loved and cared for others.
The early Nazarenes were very cognizant of the ways in which their lives would affect the lives of others. Birthed in the pre-prohibition era the Nazarenes were strong proponents of the need for prohibition. Alcoholism was ravaging many families leaving women and children destitute. In solidarity with the poor and needy Nazarenes chose to abstain from drinking alcohol. Today we have additional issues where our consumption may lead to the poverty of others. How do I bring others to Christ if I do not show them the overabundant love of Christ? That was Jesus’ challenge in Matthew 25. 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The goal — the telos of God’s holy people — is to be holy as God is holy. The result of this is holy living that reaches out and lives self-sacrifically for the sake of a dying world. This is reflecting and living like Jesus.
Lord, thank you for making me wrestle with things that make me feel uncomfortable. Amen.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Lev. 6:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 When any of you sin and commit a trespass against the Lord by deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, 3 or have found something lost and lied about it—if you swear falsely regarding any of the various things that one may do and sin thereby— 4 when you have sinned and realize your guilt, and would restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found, 5 or anything else about which you have sworn falsely, you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it. You shall pay it to its owner when you realize your guilt. 6 And you shall bring to the priest, as your guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish from the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. 7 The priest shall make atonement on your behalf before the Lord, and you shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and incur guilt thereby.
God is displeased when humanity sins against society. The reach of those sins goes beyond the individuals, but to the whole of the community and thus to God. Any type of wrongful gain is a sin which must be confessed, but not only must there be confession, but there must be restitution. Because this sin not just been against God, but against the community of faith the penalty of repayment must also go to those who have been victims of the fraudulent behavior. Restitution is a double-tithe which must go to the individual or community which has been harmed. This is not just a fine, but it is a sacred duty for those desiring to be God’s holy people.
Far too often we have divided up our lives into two spheres; the spiritual and the physical. We talk about getting our “heart” right with God, but I don’t hear much about restitution these days. Since the very beginning of time, God’s language has been wholistic. We can’t be spiritually whole if we don’t deal with the physical. Whenever we read of Jesus’ healing powers we discover that he was dealing with the whole individual, people healed physically and spiritually at the same time.
There is a sacred responsibility for one to provide restitution for the wrongs they have committed. Yes, this is in relation to money, but it is more than money. It is restitution that comes out of an overabundance of gratitude for what God has done in our lives. Restitution is a reflection of God’s character to those who have been victims.
One area in which we struggle to respond in this way is to victims of sexual abuse. Sadly, even the church tends to look upon the victims with scrutiny and wonder whether they “deserved” it, or whether they helped to bring this on. Far too often we focus on the restoration of the individual who perpetrated the activity and forget that there are victims. Not only has God been wounded, but God’s children have had their lives damaged, creating a trajectory from which they may never recover. Marriage partners with deep scars often go ignored. It is the responsibility of the guilty party as well as the community of faith to work toward this double-tithe restitution. In other words, the victims are the ones who need an overabundance of God’s love and activity (counseling, etc.) to help them recover and have a healthy life.
Trying to divide the spiritual without physical restitution will never bring us to the place where we reflect the image of God. Double tithe restitution is our sacred responsibility.
Lord, thank you for the reminders of our responsibilities in life. May we never lose focus of the wounded who are among us and please help me to live out of a spirit of generosity. Amen.