Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Holiness and Happiness



Scripture:


Psa. 128:1     Happy is everyone who fears the LORD,
        who walks in his ways.
Psa. 128:2     You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
        you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
 
Psa. 128:3      ¶ Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
        within your house;
    your children will be like olive shoots
        around your table.
Psa. 128:4     Thus shall the man be blessed
        who fears the LORD.
 
Psa. 128:5      ¶ The LORD bless you from Zion.
        May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
        all the days of your life.
Psa. 128:6     May you see your children’s children.
        Peace be upon Israel!

Observation:

This is a Psalm which declares the results of a life lived in humble reverence before God. Henry tells us, “Only those who are truly holy, are truly happy.” God’s desire is to set women and men free from the things of the world which entangle them in such a way that it makes it nearly impossible to be truly happy. Being set free from the bondage of this world means that we can enjoy the freedoms and happiness brought to us from the Lord.

Application:

It’s a bit dangerous to tread in this direction as I recognize that there are many dear Christian friends these days who are suffering. I know those who are battling cancer and others who are struggling with the loss of their child and somehow this Psalm may seem inadequate in all circumstances. At the same time I think of the friend with whom I spoke last evening who has experienced the transformational power of the Holy Spirit in her life and she is living a new life.

For those who are entrapped by the things of this world, the snare becomes so tight that often one becomes unaware of the place into which they have been drawn. Alcoholism and drug abuse can eat away at a life and yet the person can be deceived into believing that they are okay and can manage all the things happening around them. They fail to see the loss of work and the destruction of personal relationships. This is what sin does — it drags one down and yet fools one into believing that this is the good life!

The fear of the LORD brings about something completely different. A clear mind focused on God also brings with it a good work ethic. One can get up in the morning and produce a day of labor, one which can bring satisfaction to the heart and soul. It feels good to earn that paycheck and not waste it!

Your spouse will flourish because they will be able to trust you. You will actually work at your marriage, choosing to love your spouse! You won’t spend money behind your spouse’s back on things that only feel the greedy place in your own soul. Your spouse will love and trust you and simply do things because they love you — not expecting anything in return.

Having a clear mind means that you see and respond to the needs of your children. They are not ignored in favor of your nasty habits. Your desire is for them to do well and flourish — and they do because their parents are together engaged in their lives. It is in this way that those who have chosen to be married will be blessed.

Let’s return a moment to Henry’s comment, “Only those who are truly holy, are truly happy.” God’s desire is not for us to live sad and boring lives. God’s desire is for us to enjoy the true joy and happiness that comes as a result of putting God first in our lives. It will save us from much heartache and the ugly baggage that are the result of living life in the world. Being happy is not being on a drunk binge with your friends in which you wake up the next morning in your own vomit, having lost your spouse and children. This leaves a deep and enduring pain in your soul which may be numbed by the activities in which you engage, but will never replace the true joy and happiness which may be experienced by living in relationship to the one true God. Happiness and holiness truly are related.

Prayer:

Lord, may I seek to live in the center of your will and presence today in all things.  Amen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Praising God from One Generation to the Next


Scripture:

Psa. 145:4      ¶ One generation shall laud your works to another,
        and shall declare your mighty acts.
Psa. 145:5     On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
        and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
Psa. 145:6     The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
        and I will declare your greatness.
Psa. 145:7     They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
        and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

Observation:

This Psalm is attributed to David and it’s another one of his acrostic poems that takes us through the Hebrew alphabet. We don’t know if it was written for any certain occasion and the reality is that it doesn’t need to be! There are times when our hearts simply explode with love and gratitude for the God whom we love and serve. This seems to have been one of those occasions in the life of David. In the midst of the acrostic he focuses on the importance of praising God and sharing God’s good deeds from one generation to the next. This is a part of David’s praise.

Application:


I’m afraid that we may be facing a breakdown in passing our faith from one generation to the next. We are seeing an increasing number of “nones” when it comes to those who are expressing their faith. These are the ones who don’t affiliate with anything. They are not non-denominational, they are simply not religious. At the same time they may be spiritual, but not in a religious way. There are numerous factors which are influencing this trend but could it be that Christianity needs to take an honest look at herself and see whether we have been so self-critical that we have left no place for praise! And when this is the case, the only thing that our younger generation hears is what we don’t like about the Church or about this or that preacher. Why wouldn’t they turn away?!

What would happen if we made a conscious effort to declare God’s mighty acts from one generation to the next? God is alive and working in our world today and yes, he continues to work through the Church. Instead of picking the Church apart, we need to celebrate the glorious and wonderful works of God seen in and through the Church. With all of her blemishes, the Church is still the Bride of Christ. She might be a more beautiful bride if we would quit slinging mud in her direction. We desperately need to stop picking on the Bride and focus on the beauty and glory found in and through her.

We must intentionally laud the works of God to the next generation. I have been blessed to see the hand of God work in mighty and powerful ways. God’s daily provision became especially evident to me while living in Russia and this created a type of dependence that has been healthy in my own life. I praise the Lord for this. I have also learned that some of the most difficult times in life are the ones in which I am blessed to see God provide. My children have gotten to see God provide at just the right moment. I want the world to know that I serve a living and powerful God who has cared for us in the past and cares for us today. Share the stories and pass on the faith from one generation to the next for they need to know that they are a part of the continuation of God’s story.

Just a little challenge for today. Try telling at least three people something that God has done and for which you can give praise!

Prayer:

Lord, I thank you for answers to prayer.  Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Say Yes To the Dress!



Scripture:

Rev. 19:6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,
    “Hallelujah!
    For the Lord our God
        the Almighty reigns.
Rev. 19:7     Let us rejoice and exult
        and give him the glory,
    for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
        and his bride has made herself ready;
Rev. 19:8     to her it has been granted to be clothed
        with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Rev. 19:9 ¶ And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Observation:

The invitation is being prepared for the marriage supper of the Lamb. The bride is readied for the wedding, being clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure.” And this linen consists of “the righteous deeds of the saints.” The bridal gown has been made pure and white by the blood of the lamb. It is Christ’s holiness which has cleansed the clothing of the bride so that she is draped in the glory of his holiness. Now she is prepared to respond to the invitation and is ready to participate in the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Application:


Here we discover an understanding that we need to be dressed and prepared for the wedding! It’s amazing to me these days at the incredible variety that we discover at weddings. The bride might be arrayed in many colors and/or styles. However, here in Revelation we find that the bride is to be dressed in “fine linen, bright and pure,” and this is then described as “the righteous deeds of the saints.” It seems that throughout our Christian journey, as we participate with Christ, we take on the very behaviors and attitudes of Christ. In doing so we begin to act more and more like him. At some point we no longer know whether we are imitating Christ or whether it is Christ seen in us. Therefore these righteous deeds are those which we do as we clothe ourselves with Christ’s holiness. These are his holy and sanctified followers, those who make up the Church.

For us to participate in the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” we must be prepared. This preparation includes saying “yes to the dress!” While the television program with this name is about brides out looking for just the right dress for a wedding, the right dress has already been prepared for you and me. The problem lies in the fact that we may be saying yes to the wrong dress! In fact, we may be so attracted to the things of the world that we may be saying yes to the dresses that we think look good on us while they are missing the fine linen — “pure and bright” which comes to us only from and through Jesus Christ.  God, however, will not accept any imitations. The only acceptable wedding garb is that which comes from the one who has been made clean in the blood of the Lamb and then has continued to live within the “righteous deeds of the saints.” In other words, the dress reflects the very nature of Jesus Christ. This is what happens when we live as God’s holy people.

Saying yes to the dress may involve a deeper commitment to the faith than you have been willing to accept at this stage in your life. Unfortunately other dresses, no matter how attractive, will not be acceptable at the wedding feast. Why not wholly commit ourselves to Jesus — say “yes to the dress” and be clothed in his beauty! The day is coming when the invitations will be sent out and you will want to be prepared. Say yes to the dress!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your salvation and for the way in which you are working in our lives.  Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hearing but not Obeying



Scripture:

Ezek. 33:31 They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their hearts is set on their gain.
Ezek. 33:32 To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it.

Observation:

The people of Ezekiel’s day seemed to recognize his role as a prophet. They would gather to hear him speak the words of God. They would listen to what he had to say but they did not change their ways and the moment they left him, their minds were back on the things of the world. Just like attending a wonderful musical concert the people were moved with great emotion but their emotion never gave way to obedience.

Application:


The people love to come and sit in the worship services. They shop around for the one that is the best “fit” for them. Because we get to see and hear so many preachers on television and on the internet we know what we like and what we want and we have high expectations for the quality of the preaching they should produce. We want to be able to hear the very best. Sometimes we realize our pastor can’t perform in that way week after week but as we go out the back door of the church we do try to give him/her a word of encouragement. We thank the Pastor for the good words and say,  “Preacher, that was a good sermon today!” But the reality is that we are more concerned with how the message was presented than we were with the content. There is nothing about what the preacher preached that would make us change the way in which we are living our lives.

We have to hurry and get out the door because it’s Sunday and everyone knows what happens on Sundays!  Football!!!! It’s especially frustrating if the preacher goes too long and if there’s a response at the altar at the end of the message because it could all begin to interfere with the afternoon plans. We have to get to the restaurant in time to get home and watch the games for the remainder of the day.

At the restaurant there may be discussions of the morning service but they are more than likely to center on how well everyone “performed” that day. The music was a great performance — I mean, at some churches it is accompanied by a laser light show and smoke! We love to go to the show and we come away greatly entertained by what we have seen on the “stage.” The words of the preacher have been good and the message was challenging, but nothing about our lives will change. We were hearing but not obeying.

Oh, but this was just what was happening way back there in Ezekiel’s day.

Prayer:

Lord, may we hear your word and may we be moved to action.  Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Get a Mouth Full



Scripture:

Psa. 81:10     I am the LORD your God,
        who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
        Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

Observation:

This Psalm brings us to the Festival of Booths celebrating the Israelites' release from Egypt. It was a reminder of God’s provision for his people. God had provided for freedom in the past and would provide for his people in the present and into the future. Just as young birds open their mouths wide for their parents to feed them, so the children of Israel were to open their mouths and allow God to fill them with all that they needed. The result was a mouthful of God’s provision.

Application:


We are also challenged to remember that God has saved us. We have served our own time in slavery to sin, but Jesus has set us free. The Israelites celebrated this freedom from Egypt in an annual celebration of booths — or living out in tents or simple “booths” made of twigs and foliage. It was a time of camping out as families and remembering the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness.

When I think what God has done for me I am overwhelmed. I was never one who lived in horrible sin, but I was headed in my own direction. The Lord intervened in my life and led me in a direction that I never would have imagined. It’s important for me to take time to remember that it is God who has led me on this journey of life and thank him for his direction.

While we remember and praise God for the past, we must always live in the present. We are challenged on a daily basis to open our mouths wide and allow God to fill us. Notice the human response here. God does not pry our mouths open to feed us. Instead, we are to open our mouths — not just a little bit, but wide open and allow God to fill it until our mouths are full. He will fill us to the point of complete and total satisfaction, if only we will allow him.

Parent birds fill the mouths of their young with the things that are good for them. Food for nourishment is provided — the biggest and the juiciest worms! Our heavenly Father only wants to provide the very best for us when it comes to spiritual food. Today we are being challenged to open our mouths wide and allow God to fill us with everything that he has for us. However, I’m afraid that far too often we become distracted and we either forget to open our mouths, or maybe just open them a little, putting ourselves on a spiritual diet. Those little birds who are being fed by their parents open their mouths and fight for their parents’ attention — “feed me, feed me, feed me!”

What if we approached our spiritual lives in the very same way — with mouths wide open and asking God daily, “feed me, feed me, feed me!” Then we would receive a mouthful of spiritual food from the Lord, sustaining us day to day so that when the time comes we will celebrate his continual provision in our lives. It’s time to have a mouth full from the Lord. Turn toward him in expectation, opening our mouths wide and allowing him to fill us over and over again.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your overflowing love for us that sustains us and more.  Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where Does God Dwell?



Scripture:

Dan. 2:11 The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.”

Observation:

Daniel and his friends have been taken into exile in Babylon. They were now in royal service to the King. One night the King has a very disturbing dream and asks for the magicians, astrologers, etc. to come and, not only interpret the dream, but tell him what his dream was! They are dumbfounded at his request and their response is today’s Scripture. This could only be revealed by gods — “whose dwelling is not with mortals.” This was because they did not understand about the one true God, but Daniel did. This statement is also a foreshadowing of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God spoke through Daniel but all the way along the story is pointing toward the coming of Jesus Christ. God does come and dwell with mortals.

Application:


This understanding regarding God living among mortals is vital for us. Our God is not like anything the world has experienced. God is not carved out of wood or chiseled out of a rock. God is not mute. God is not blind. And yet these are the things that the people of the world worshipped back in Daniel’s day and, surprisingly, continue to worship today.

The magicians of Daniel’s day were terrified at the King’s request. They were to be put to death for not responding to what the King wanted for their gods were not capable of anything that the King was asking.

Our God is capable of responding and dwelling with mortals. Not only does God dwell with mortals through the presence of the Holy Spirit, but the invitation is for us to dwell with God. The true God has made it possible for us to have this type of a relationship with him, one in which we can fellowship with God who does dwell with mortals.

Daniel had a very powerful prayer life. He was always faithful to pray, even when it meant that he could be punished. We are invited into this type of intimate relationship with God who has chosen to dwell among, in and through mortals. This is an amazing mystery and yet it is for real! May God help us to live into the reality of his presence among us.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your dwelling place here with us.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Paying For Water



Scripture:

Lam. 5:4     We must pay for the water we drink;
        the wood we get must be bought.

Observation:

The Israelites have been defeated and Jerusalem is in despair. Nothing belongs to them anymore. Water and fire had always been free for the inhabitants of the city. Now, they had to pay a tax to drink the water from their own cisterns. They had to pay to use their own wood. And as they were marched into exile they had to pay to drink from the rivers along the journey. That which was needed to sustain life was no longer provided but instead, had to be acquired at a very steep price.

Application:

Portions of the United States are currently suffering from a severe drought. California is now in its third year of drought and people can be fined for wasting water. What, at times, seems so normal to use and consume becomes a very precious commodity.

In the Middle East people are fighting over water and who has control over the source as well as portions of rivers. Whose water is it? Who will pay for it? It’s not free!

Water is necessary for all life and there have always been times when it has been a very precious and costly commodity. And yet, we must do whatever is necessary to have access to water.

Just as we would do anything to have access to good water, so we need to be sustained from the spring of living water. Over and over again we read of the importance of living water to sustain God’s people. The woman at the well was thrilled at the idea of never thirsting again! In Isaiah we read of God providing “streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19) and him saying, “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Isaiah 41:18)

This language of water is used throughout the Scriptures to not only talk about physical water, but also spiritual sustenance. The Israelites were suffering for their disobedience and therefore had to pay for the physical water to drink. In the spiritual realm we may find ourselves ignoring the well of water provided to us by way of the Holy Spirit. This was God’s intent, the way in which humanity could be connected to a continual infusion of spiritual water. Just as many of us have potable water that comes from our faucets and we have water to drink, so our spiritual water is available to us.

Interestingly, many of us don’t drink the water that flows freely from our faucet. Instead, we choose to buy bottled water. This is a fascinating thing since so often, say at a restaurant, tap water may be free, and yet, we pay for a bottle of water. Why is that? Is it that sometimes we just have gotten into the habit of buying water? It seems to be convenient and yet, it is expensive! I recall when we lived in Russia it cost more to buy bottled water in a kiosk than it did Coke! Why would you pay for something that could be free? Why place restrictions on the size of something that we can have to drink when it is available and flowing freely?

Have we done this to ourselves spiritually? It seems that we are wanting our spiritual lives packed in little bottles that look nice. We are even willing to pay for it. And yet, is this really good for us? Our little doses of spirituality are not enough to sustain us. We need to be drinking deeply and often directly from the well of living water. Getting our bottled spirituality second hand will not sustain us and it’s costly.

We are invited to the eternally sustaining free water that comes from the living well. Even today we are free to sit at the well and drink long and deep from the cool and sustaining water that comes from the Holy Spirit. Why limit ourselves to bottled up and expensive spirituality when all that we need is already provided for us. The water is free! There is no longer any need to pay! Jesus has paid the debt and now we are simply invited to come and to drink.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of your living water today.  Amen.