Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Matt. 16:24 ¶ Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Matt. 16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Matt. 16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
John 13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Jesus’ entire life was one in which he was restoring humanity. Before holy week even arrived Jesus was speaking to his disciples about taking up their cross and following him. The symbolism of bringing their entire lives into submission to the authority of the kingdom was seen in this statement. And yet, it was also a foreshadowing of what was to come.
On this Wednesday of holy week, we are called to follow Jesus on the journey that would lead him to the cross. It was a journey in which everything related to the world was to be abandoned. Those who wanted to save their lives from their own perspective didn’t realize that holding on to the way of the past would lead to death. Instead, giving up that life and wholeheartedly following Jesus Christ meant that their lives would be saved.
And what were they holding onto? All the things of the world. The materialistic things would ultimately mean nothing in light of life in the kingdom which came through submission to the way of the cross.
Jesus was carving out the pathway — and it was time for the disciples to follow him in all things.
It was holy week. He would physically take up a cross. Were they ready?
The same question is posed for you and for me. Are we willing to give up all the things of the world for what the kingdom has to offer? It requires complete and total submission to Jesus. This is not just something half-hearted, but it is complete and entire devotion and service to Jesus. There can be nothing that distracts from loving him.
It’s holy week. Jesus has taken up the cross. Are we ready to follow?
Lord, as you lead, please help me to follow. Amen.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
1Sam. 17:28 ¶ His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.”
1Sam. 17:29 David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.”
David had been sent by his father to bring food to his older brothers who were lined up for battle against the Philistines. When he arrived he began to ask questions about the situation. This short exchange allows us to catch a glimpse of the relationship that existed between David and his oldest brother Eliab. David must have been the pesky little brother and Eliab was annoyed at his sudden appearance. David had a curious nature and was asking questions, taking stock of the situation. David was probably being a little more assertive than Eliab had been and this touched a nerve.
What right did this little punk have to be coming and asking these kinds of questions? It was time for Eliab to put his little brother in his place, and he decided to do so publicly. His intention was to embarrass him. He questions David’s motives, when clearly David had come at his father’s instruction. Notice he mentions “those few sheep” — belittling the work of his little brother. Then he accuses him of having evil in his heart. In fact this is quite the verbal lashing given in front of all of those who can hear.
Eliab appears to be very jealous of David and his method of coping with his feelings is to attack David. If only he can make David sound small, then maybe Eliab will feel better about himself. The sad truth was that this big brother had done nothing about Goliath. David had come and already assessed the situation and discovered that the very dignity of God was being challenged. He wanted to make a difference.
You can hear the defensiveness in David’s response. I doubt this was the first encounter of this type with his big brother. “What have I done now?” Yes, David had been challenged time and again by this big brother. Probably every time David did something right, Eliab did his best to make David feel like it was something wrong. David was weary of this whole scenario. He defends himself, “It was only a question.”
David had the opportunity to respond to this situation in one of two ways. He could have allowed the jealousy of his older brother to define the way in which he lived. If that were the case he would have kept his mouth shut. He wouldn’t have asked questions and he certainly would not have offered to fight against Goliath.
On the other hand David could have, and did decide that he would not be defined by the taunting of his jealous older brother. David was indignant about the way in which God was being taunted and the way in which the Israelites were being treated. This mattered more than his own ego. He was determined to continue to do what was right and he decided to challenge his brother, asking him “What have I done now?”
Jealousy is very destructive and it would be pleasant to know that it didn’t exist within the ranks of followers of Jesus Christ. The reality is that it should not exist because God’s people are called to be filled with God’s nature of holy love. That love should so infill every part of our being, sanctifying us and making us holy that we would not allow attitudes like jealousy to creep in. Sadly, it still happens and there are those who would call themselves members of the family who would treat one another just like Eliab treated David.
The destructive force of jealousy ruins relationships within the family. This, in turn, ruins the witness of the family to the world who should be seeing how we love one another. Jealousy stifles the work of God because we may decide not to ruffle any jealous feathers by doing what God would ask us to do. David could have packed up his things and gone home. That would have made Eliab happy.
The difficult response is the one that David gave. He chose to be faithful to the living God. He endured the verbal abuses of his big brother and continued to do what he knew was right. Was his relationship with Eliab ever a happy one? We don’t know, but we do know that David was a man after God’s own heart. Sometimes we have to break beyond the destructive nature of jealousy and press on toward obedience to God. Just like David, we can learn that this is possible when we trust in him!
Lord, thank you for your enduring strength. Amen.
Monday, April 14, 2014
1Sam. 15:22 And Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
Saul and his army had gone to battle. God had instructed them to destroy the enemy and everything that they had. Instead, Saul had saved the very best of their enemy and brought it home with him. His excuse was that he would be using these in sacrifice to God. However, that wasn’t what God had asked him to do and now the prophet Samuel has to come and confront him with his disobedience.
God didn’t ask for the burnt offerings — he asked for Saul’s obedience. Somehow Saul was rationalizing his behavior and saying because he was going to sacrifice these animals it was okay to take them, trying to appease God and Samuel. It didn’t work. Saul’s motivation came from selfishness and not out of a love and desire to be obedient to God. The sacrifice isn’t what’s important, the heart is!
Samuel went away sad, never to see Saul ever again. God instructed him to anoint David to become king. Saul’s disobedience led to his demise and failure.
Saul went off to war and responded in a way that “he thought” would make God happy. The problem here is that Saul got too busy doing things “for” God that he forgot to spend time really “knowing” God. By lacking that personal and intimate knowledge of God, Saul did what he thought God would find pleasing. The problem was, Saul had wandered so far from the heart of God that he didn’t understand what God truly wanted from him.
This temptation to wander away from the heart of God is very real. Even followers of Jesus Christ get so busy in doing the work that they believe they are called to do that they fail to spend time with the Lord and to get their instructions from him. In this way it’s far too easy to become disobedient because we fall into a trap of thinking that God wants certain “things” from us. God doesn’t want or need our “things.” God wants us.
When I was a little girl my mother planted hundreds of roses and flowers around our house in Germany. She loved to give bouquets of flowers as gifts to people, and she enjoyed having the beauty in our home as well. I remember once when I was very young my mother sent me outside to cut some daisies to put into a vase in the house. I didn’t really pay attention to the instructions that mom was giving me and so I went outside with the scissors and began to look around. Not having listened well I cut down my mother’s gladiolus instead of the daisies. There is a HUGE difference between these two. I remember proudly walking into the house with the gladiolus (which were not meant to be cut and brought into a house!) and presenting them to my mother. I thought she would be proud of the beautiful flowers I had brought her, but she wasn’t all that happy with me. While they were lovely flowers and she would end up using them, I had not listened and I had not been obedient to what she had been trying to tell me. In my haste I had not done the right thing. I don’t recall her being upset at me, but I do remember feeling a bit like she was disappointed in me. Not so much about the flowers, but because I hadn’t listened and obeyed.
Our heavenly father doesn’t want us to bring him things. He wants us to listen at his feet and soak in what he has to tell us. His desire is for us and for our lives and when we go off in too much of a hurry without really listening to what he trying to tell us, we will fail. He doesn’t want our sacrifices or our stuff. He just wants us!
Lord, may I slow down and hear your voice so that I may live in obedience to you. Amen.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
2Cor. 13:13 ¶ The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
This is Paul’s benediction for the people of Corinth and it is one in which we clearly see the Holy Trinity. Jesus’ grace reaches out to all of humanity while the Father’s love characterizes the very nature of God. All of this is brought together by the communion, or fellowship, or participation with the Holy Spirit. It is in this revelation of God, seen in the Trinity, that we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and desire for all of humanity to be united together in holy loving fellowship. It is a fitting benediction for the people of God.
Today is Palm Sunday and a great reminder of all that our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem was celebrated by the myriad of residents. Unfortunately many of them had no idea who he really was, nor what he was bringing to them. They only wanted to experience a little bit of what he had to offer.
May we be willing to experience all the fullness of God! Jesus’ grace continues to reach out to all of humanity to this very day. All that he encountered and endured during Holy Week reaches out to all, drawing us into a relationship with the Father. Yes, the loving heavenly Father, who willingly gave up his son so that you and I could be brought back into relationship with him has never changed his nature. God’s love remains as he gazes in our direction, ever desiring for us to be in communion with him. And this communion is possible through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us into fellowship with God.
Why would we desire anything less than the grace, love and fellowship found in God?
May this prayer of benediction be our prayer on a daily basis as we are privileged to fellowship with our Holy God.
Lord, thank you for this Palm Sunday and all that you have done for us. The blessings are greater than what we truly can imagine. Thank you. Amen.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
2Cor. 12:8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,
2Cor. 12:9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
People have speculated about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Many suspect that it was his poor eyesight and that his prayer was that God would remove this burden from him. Whether it was his eyesight or something else that he considered a weakness, Paul knew that he had issues in life. Even the great Apostle Paul who daily lived out his love for Christ struggled with human frailty or infirmity. He seemed to struggle with the fact that he wasn’t the greatest preacher, or that he had to work as a tent-maker for a living and then he may have also prayed for 20/20 vision. But these things did not change in Paul’s life, and yet he did not waver from the faith.
I’m sure there were times that Paul thought he could serve God so much better if only…. Yet here we catch the understanding of Paul. The power of God is made perfect in weakness. It is in our weaknesses that God can be glorified.
Let’s be honest, there always seems to be something that we wish we could change about ourselves. The problem is that we can use our weaknesses as an excuse when it comes to serving God. We begin to create an “if only” list of items that “if only” I had these abilities God would be able to use me.
Paul is telling us that it’s time to put away the “if only” list and jump in wholeheartedly in service to the Lord. Why? Because it is when we bring our weaknesses to the Lord that God becomes glorified. When God takes a shy little girl and uses her in the work of the kingdom, then it is God that is revealed and he is glorified! When God takes a half-blind man and has him write letters that change the world — it is God that is glorified, and not the skills and abilities of the man. When God takes a young man who has struggled with dyslexia throughout his entire educational process and transforms him into an articulate preacher of the word, then God is glorified!
God’s grace reaches out to each and every single one of us and touches us at the point of our human frailty. Only when we submit that frailty to the infilling of the Holy Spirit can it be made whole. Power is brought to completion or perfection in weakness. If we are filled up to the brim with our own skills and abilities, then how do we leave room or space for the working of the Holy Spirit? When we are weak, then we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and it provides space for the “power of Christ” to dwell in me.
Do you really wish you could change anything in life, or might we be grateful for our weaknesses for it is in these that we get to experience the strength of the Lord! Maybe we ought to stop trying to change things and embrace the One who wants to fill us with everything!
Lord, thank you for your promises and sustaining grace today. Amen.
Friday, April 11, 2014
2Cor. 11:19 For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves!
2Cor. 11:20 For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face.
Paul was frustrated that the Corinthians had been tolerating false prophets. His writing is laced with irony as he chides them for being so wise as to put up with fools.
The Corinthians had been so taken by some of these false preachers that they were willing to fall into the slavery of legalism. More than likely this had to do with following Jewish law to the extent that they were not experiencing the freedom to be found in Christ. And these great and powerful preachers were taking advantage of the ordinary people, preying on them and taking money and resources from them.
These kinds of leaders don’t have the best interests of others in mind, instead they have themselves in mind and how they can use others for their own benefit. And the abuse went beyond financial, it went to the physical. The worst personal affront of the day was to be slapped in the face and yet, the Corinthians were allowing this to happen. What a misuse of power! Interestingly this abuse of power must have continued until the 7th century when it was determined at the Council of Braga that a Bishop could no longer, at his will, strike his clergy.
Paul was frustrated that the Corinthian church was willing to put up with this kind of abuse, rather than exercise the freedom that he had presented them in Christ.
The freedom which Christ is offering us really is beyond our imagination. However, it is a freedom which can only come from daily walking and talking and being formed by him and this takes a commitment to being open and vulnerable before him.
Instead of this kind of vulnerability before God we tend to be drawn toward strong human leadership. Unfortunately this kind of power and/or leadership can be used and abused, whether in the workplace, government or even the home. When we place ourselves under this type of authority, rather than the authority of God, we allow ourselves to be used and abused. How was it that the clergy became tolerant of being hit in the face by their Bishops for 700 years??? What makes us submit to behaviors which go against the very nature of Christ?
Paul was stunned that the followers in Corinth would be willing to put up with this behavior. While we may not have Church leadership hitting people in the face, there are other abuses that we have tolerated. It is just easier not to rock the boat? Or is it that we allow others to have such power over us that we get our eyes off of Christ! All of this becomes a distraction to the real goal of life — knowing and becoming like him. Paul was trying to wake up the Corinthian church.
Maybe there are those who need a wake-up call today! What or who are we allowing to become a distraction in our lives? What are we tolerating because we refuse to seek the face of God?
It is time to break the cycle of abuse. We must allow Christ to have full power and authority and follow his leading or we will discover that we are simply putting up with fools!
Lord, help me to seek you today and every day. Amen.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
2Cor. 10:18 For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.
Even in Paul’s day there were those who were considered the “great” and “successful” leaders from a human perspective. They must have “boasted” about their abilities and felt “proud” of their successes. Christianity was spreading rapidly and there were those who enjoyed the preaching of certain leaders. Apparently the ones who were more engaging in their preaching were the more “successful.” Paul, who himself said he was strong in his letters, wasn’t sure that he was that forceful in person.
Paul’s concern was about faithfulness to Christ and not popularity among the people. His goal was to know Christ more and more each day. Therefore his commendation was not coming from the people around him, but from the Lord himself. Human commendation of success within the kingdom may actually take us in a direction that is not in keeping with God’s intention. Paul understood this and wanted to make certain that the people understood success from a different perspective.
Christianity itself has adopted many of the “success” principles of this world. We want to measure “success” by the numbers and by popularity. Success also seems to be equated with power and an ability to manipulate and motivate. But what about servant leadership? What about the Jesus model that did not set up an earthly kingdom but instead went to a cross? Isn’t this what Paul is really talking about here.
Jesus didn’t boast about himself. Paul wanted to imitate Christ. Paul said to follow him as he followed Christ. And all of this leads to success from a different perspective.
This success is about total obedience to Christ on a daily basis. This means that God gets the glory — not the human leader! God should be the only one who is lifted up. It is the power of God that should shine through in the life of every one of us — not our own human strength. It is in my weaknesses that he is glorified! We should allow him to take our weaknesses and fill them up with his power and strength to change the world. Then, it is always about him, and not about us.
If the world only sees strong and capable humans using their own talents and abilities they will not see God. Success for a Christian is for the world to see Christ. If we are being ever transformed into his likeness, and if this is the goal of life, to be like Christ, then success is for others to see Christ in me. Nothing else. It makes human boasting ridiculous!
May God help us to keep our eyes on Christ and the focus be on ever knowing Christ. Anything short of this is not success!
Lord, thank you for loving us and being patient with us so that we may grow in you. Amen.