Friday, July 25, 2014

Move on!



Scripture:

Is. 43:18     Do not remember the former things,
        or consider the things of old.
Is. 43:19     I am about to do a new thing;
        now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness
        and rivers in the desert.

Observation:

God is speaking to his people who are being held in captivity.  They are going to be set free, released from the power of those who are oppressing them.  Of course the people recall the freedom brought about by their release from Egypt.  This was to have been remembered year after year as they celebrated the passover.  But now, God was wanting to do something new for his people.  The freedom that they would experience in release from this exile would be even greater than what had been experienced when they were led out of Egypt.  Something new was springing forth that would lead to a deliverance for God’s people, one which would be transformational in the lives of each and every person.  Therefore it was time to move on and not to dwell on what had happened in the past.  God was moving. 

This scripture was about the present circumstance of the Israelites but it was also a foreshadowing of the arrival of the Messiah.  God would make a way for the Israelites to go home.  He would provide for them on the journey, leading through wilderness, providing in the desert.  At the same time we see that the Lord is going to provide these resources for his people through his Son.  His Son provides the river of living water that will provide for our needs as we travel through the wilderness and deserts of life.  As he provides for our needs we are to move on and not dwell on the things of the past.  Open our eyes, perceive what it is that he is doing and live in the abundance and overflow of his living stream.

Application:
How often to we spend time living in the doom and gloom of the past?  We love to remember the things of the past and dig them up from time to time.  My husband accuses me (and probably rightfully so) that I’m really good at remember little picky things from the past.  It seems in the heat of the moment, when we may be a bit frustrated with one another, it’s easy to remind him about something he forgot to do twenty or thirty years ago.  That really is ridiculous and the longer we’ve been married, the more the Lord has helped me with this.  The fun of being married this long is that those little things that had once bothered you become a distant memory and instead fade into the patchwork quilt of life and become one of the pieces that create a beautiful picture. It’s a part of who we are and how our lives have been woven together.  There is no need to focus on the former things because it’s too much fun participating in what God is doing in our relationship now. 

The same is true in every facet of life.  Why waste the time and energy digging up the past, instead we are to live in the anticipation of God’s new springing forth.  For the Israelites they were going to experience freedom from exile.  We have had the privilege as Christ followers to experience freedom from sin!  And once we experience this freedom from sin we continue to press on, to move forward.  John Wesley encouraged his followers to continually press on in their faith in anticipation of the next work that God wanted to do in their lives. 

We must be willing to move on if we are to reach the way that he has prepared for us in the wilderness.  We don’t find the way by sitting around, it takes a little action on our part but the way is there and it is the way out of the wilderness that life may have created.  In the barrenness and desert of life he has also bought fresh water.  His living water is there to sustain us and to lead us through victoriously to the new which he is preparing in advance for us all. 

If we choose to live in the past and simply dwell there we will never find what he has for us.  It’s time to move on.  Don’t you perceive it?  God is on the move, preparing the way out of our wilderness, if only we will leave the past behind and be willing to move on.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to look in your direction, living and moving in you every day.  Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Hope in You



Scripture:

1Pet. 3:13 ¶ Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
1Pet. 3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,
1Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
1Pet. 3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

Observation:

God’s people are to do good.  Does this mean everything always turns out the way that we want, or in a way that seems good to us?  No, but we are to press on anyhow and even when there may be suffering as a result, we are blessed. 

The world fears many things, many of which may appear to be harmful but they should not be intimidating to the Lord’s people. Instead the Lord’s people are to look to him.  In our hearts we are to “sanctify Christ as Lord.”  The holiness of our Lord is to consume our hearts and his very nature, his holiness becomes a part of who we are, with his holy love providing a defense against the intimidations surrounding us.  This is why we can provide a defense.  Our defense is Christ’s holiness, “the hope that is in you.” 

The power of God’s Holy Spirit to radically transform our lives is our hope and yet we should never boast about what the work that God is doing in us.  We are to live in “gentleness and reverence.” Sounds a bit like the way in which Christ lived!  He was maligned and abused and we should expect the same, but we press on for Christ is in us and our human behavior and responses are a result of his presence.  Christ is the hope that is in you.

Application:


Airplanes often seem to provide an opportunity for conversation.  People usually begin with a little chit chat and if the conversation progresses beyond this eventually we get to the question, “what do you do for a living?”  When I share what it is that I do it can either shut down the conversation or spark a great deal of interest.  The reality is that there are those who don’t want to talk about religious or spiritual things at all, or there are those who, once they understand that I’m a minister want to open up and share with me where they are in their spiritual walk.  (Maybe it’s the way we all share our latest physical ailments with our friends who are doctors!)  However, it is in that moment that I have the opportunity to give “an accounting for the hope” that is in me. 

When that opportunity arises, how do we respond?  Here we are admonished to share about the sanctifying work of Christ in our hearts and lives.  The whole message of the gospel is one of transformation, one in which God’s people are made holy, for this is his desire for all of us.  We are not to live our lives as out of touch saints, but as Holy Spirit-filled, Jesus-exuding followers of our Lord.  Therefore a response really should not be difficult, if Christ is truly in us and filling us! 

If that’s the case, why do so many followers of Christ have trouble sharing about their faith?  Why is it that we feel the need for someone to teach us what to say when the opportunity arises to share our faith?  I’m concerned that our inability to share about Christ comes from a watered-down easy Christianity that is not vibrant and transformational.  If Christ is in me, transforming me and sanctifying me, then I won’t be able to contain what he is doing in and through me.  So, if we are struggling with how to share our faith, maybe we ought to bring that to the Lord.  Maybe we ought to ask him to search our hearts to see if there is anything that we might be holding back in our lives.  Have we truly allowed him the space to sanctify us through and through?  Are we holding onto our last vestiges of self and pride?  If so, then we aren’t sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts. He wants all of us so that everything can be made clean and pure and overflow with Christ.  Then the hope of Christ will exude onto those around us on a daily basis. 

The hope in you — is Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the incredible hope which you provide every day by your holy presence.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Craving the Best



Scripture:

1Pet. 2:1  ¶ Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.
1Pet. 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—
1Pet. 2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Observation:

The spiritual journey of life should take us through a cleansing and transformation.  We should intentionally ask God to help us with our spiritual growth, shedding bad attitudes and behaviors and becoming more and more like him.  We may begin the journey as infants who need to be nursed along but eventually we should grow to the place where we crave more, and that is the pure spiritual milk provided by the Lord.  The more we taste what the Lord provides for us the more we crave him.  Our desire is to want more and more of him, the very best for our lives.

Application:

It’s summertime and it’s hot!  What’s the best thing on a hot summer day but great ice-cream.  You can find it everywhere from the McFlurry at McDonald’s to Coldstone Creamery and Foo’s Famous Custard near the Seminary here in Kansas City.  It is all amazingly good and on these hot summer days it seems like a pleasant thing to consume.  Honestly, there are days I’d simply like to have ice cream (with Reese’s peanut butter cups, of course) as the only thing that I eat. 

How hungry are we to know God?  How much time have we spent with the Lord until we know what it’s like to crave him?  This is God’s plan for humanity.  God’s spiritual food is so fulfilling and satisfying that we will constantly desire more, for what he has to offer us is the very best.  Sadly, too much of Christianity never gets to figure this out.  They’re still eating plain vanilla grocery store ice cream because they’ve never ventured forth in their spiritual lives.  All of the beauty of the depths of the flavors of a sweet relationship with the Lord lie before us and yet, somehow we never go for the taste test.  Notice the words if the author, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” There is an action required on our behalf to know how good he is!

I’m afraid that too many of us are living anemic spiritual lives and missing out on all that is available to us.  We must venture forth spiritually, spending time with the Lord, reading his word and in prayer and worship and simply experiencing how good he is.  The more that we are with him the more that we will crave him.  The Lord is good and wants to help us grow in our salvation.  There is more — probably more than we can even imagine available for us spiritually.  If the world can create great ice cream that we crave, just imagine how much more wonderful God is and what he can provide for us.  Let’s begin the taste test and we will discover that we crave more and more of the Lord in our lives.

Prayer:

Lord, may you satisfy my cravings today.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Genuine Love



Scripture:

1Pet. 1:22  ¶ Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.

Observation:

What was the expectation of a follower of Jesus Christ?  They were to be individuals who lived in obedience to the truth, to Jesus Christ himself.  In doing so their lives would be purified because Jesus himself is pure.  Walking and living life on the Jesus way results in a transformed life, one in which the very nature of Jesus Christ is revealed in the one who is reflecting him.  Jesus’ holy love becomes all consuming and this results in a deep love for the Lord and for others.  This is not a worldly kind of love, but a genuine love because it is the very nature found in the Triune God.

Application:

Unfortunately participating in the loving nature of Jesus Christ is not what Christianity has necessarily focused upon in the past.  This nature of Jesus Christ is to so fill his followers that we exude him.  We are to love one another deeply.  Notice, this isn’t just saying that we love other believers deeply, but we are to love others deeply.  This includes the sinner, or the person that is determined to do harm to us. The love of Christ compels us to take action that reaches out in love. 

Within the church we are to have “genuine mutual love.”  I think that sometimes we find it easier to love the “sinner” next door than to love the “saint” with whom we attend church.  Maybe it’s because we have such high expectations for those within the community of faith that we struggle with their “imperfections.” However, when we experience the intimacy of Jesus Christ then his love looks beyond our imperfections and we are equipped to see past the imperfections of others as well.  We are the Lord’s and his love for us overwhelms us and overflows onto those who are around us.

Too often these days we are attracted to the latest program to help transform the church.  A program will never transform the church, only God’s love can transform the church.  Instead of spending time and energy on the latest program, maybe we ought to get back to the foundational basics of a life of a discipleship.  This is a life that requires self-discipline, time and effort, getting to know the Father.  It is only in this place of intimacy that we can be filled to overflowing with his love and this will spill out onto those around us become more attractional than any program we could ever invent.  This is God’s intention for the church.

When we begin to experience and share the genuine love found in God we, and our world, will be changed.  This is God’s program and plan!

Prayer:

Lord, may your love fill me this day.  Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pray, Praise, Anoint and Confess



Scripture:


James 5:13 ¶ Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
James 5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
James 5:15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

Observation:

We find in this Scripture a pattern for our spiritual growth and development.  First of all, there will be suffering among those who are followers of Jesus Christ.  If we are to be like him, then we will also suffer as he suffered.  How did Jesus respond to suffering?  He prayed!  He spent time talking with the Father and we are to do the same.  In the midst of the difficulties that life sends our way we are to spend time with the Father.  We are to pray and to bring to him our needs and our requests.  Jesus was not alone in the garden of Gethsemane, instead he brought his burdened heart and laid it before the Father from whom he received strength and power to move forward and fulfill the purpose for which he had been sent. 

What about those who are cheerful?  There are times in life when things are good and we are experiencing God’s joy, peace and love.  Yes, things can be good and there are times that we need to simply embrace this as a gift from the Lord.  In the midst of the good take time to “sing songs of praise.”  Praise God and allow him to shine through in the good.  Don’t think that you have simply accomplished this on your own, but rather, rejoice and embrace what God is doing in and through you.  Be cheerful and let the music roll!

But what happens when someone becomes ill?  They are to call together the leaders of the church who are to “pray over them” and anoint “them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  This is the community of faith coming together, uniting in prayer over the needs of one who is ill.  Something synergistic happens when God’s people get together to pray.  Not just synergistic, but also exponential and therefore the community is called together, to be a united front in praying for the healing of the sick.  The anointing oil is symbolic, but may also be a form of treatment.  Ointments and balms were often used as medical techniques for healing.  Could it be that here we see the community coming together to pray while applying the necessary medical treatment and God used the two to bring about healing from ailments. 

Miracles would be witnessed by those who prayed.  There would be those who would be healed of their sicknesses both physically and spiritually.  Again this was something that was happening within the community of faith.  The elders were laying hands on those who were sick and the forgiveness of sin was occurring when there were those willing to confess their sins to one another.  It was accountability within the community of faith that led to a time of prayer and those leading the prayers were righteous.  This is why they saw the results that they did, the powerful and effective prayers of a community of faith.   They prayed, they praised, they anointed and the confessed and the result was “powerful and effective.”

Application:

This is certainly a pattern which should be emulated today.  Unfortunately I’m not sure that we place enough emphasis on our need for corporate prayer.  There are times that I attend a worship service and no time whatsoever is given to corporate prayer.  Are we really too busy to plan to pray together? 

I’m guessing that many who read this portion of Scripture would be concerned that we don’t see many of these kinds of miracles these days.  Why would that be?  Could it be because we are not practicing prayer, praise, anointing and confessing on a regular basis within our communities of faith?  Could it be that we are not genuine “communities,” but rather, individuals who gather together on a Sunday morning to worship but are not genuinely interconnected throughout the week — or throughout life?  These instructions are to be lived out within the community of believers.  In this we find support and accountability which leads to a powerful and effective prayer life.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to live out this life faithfully within the community you have provided for me.  Amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Heaps of Tithe



Scripture:

2Chr. 31:6 The people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been consecrated to the LORD their God, and laid them in heaps.
2Chr. 31:7 In the third month they began to pile up the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month.
2Chr. 31:8 When Hezekiah and the officials came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and his people Israel.
2Chr. 31:9 Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps.
2Chr. 31:10 The chief priest Azariah, who was of the house of Zadok, answered him, “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and have plenty to spare; for the LORD has blessed his people, so that we have this great supply left over.”

Observation:

Hezekiah was king over Israel and as the law was read he enacted decrees that would bring the people back into alignment in their relationship with God.  They had forgotten all the things that they had learned about God and had been serving and seeking foreign gods.  Hezekiah placed priests back into the ministry, reopened worship at the temple and called the people to be faithful.  They responded to his leadership and challenge to once again support the ministry of the Temple.  This included participating in the tithe and so the people brought in a tenth of their cattle and sheep and they did not hold back.  Everyone participated, so much so that eventually the tithe began to pile up in heaps.  There was no shortage of supplies for the Temple, nor for the priests that served the Lord.  When everyone participated in the tithe there was “plenty to spare” and a “great supply left over.”

Application:

Today I hear people questioning the concept of tithing.  Some think it’s a rather old-fashioned idea and they would rather “direct” where their money is going — making sure that they see it is used in a “proper” way.  The result is that many churches are suffering.  In many parts of the world the church is suffering from a lack of support, financially, and in every other way.  When we begin to think that we can “direct” our giving and “oversee” its use ourselves we are really becoming quite self-centered.  Who are we to determine this on our own without trusting in the Lord? You may justify yourself and say that you don’t like what’s happening at your church but it may be that there can be no change at your church because your church is not resourced to change.  If everyone would tithe and there were heaps of tithe around you would be able to resource the ministries and possibly the minister that your church needs.  Instead, by “withholding” tithe, you are not allowing God to work in the ways in which he has intended.  The tithe is not ours to manipulate, the tithe is to be brought into the storehouse and if all God’s people were faithful there would be heaps!

The problems with churches and Christianity today are not problems of the system of the church, they are systemic problems related to the spiritual condition of those who make up the church.  If all God’s people were faithful and if everyone who attended a particular church would tithe there would be more than enough resources.  God’s plan really does work.  We can complain about the condition of our church, or we can be faithful in prayer, emotional support and tithe so that there are enough resources to make a difference. 

There will always be things that we see in church that will bother us.  That’s what happens when humans are involved, but God had a plan for us to be a part of a community of faith.  Building community takes resources and God’s plan is for all of those who are a part of the family to help support the system.  Even when the family disappoints us, we go ahead and care for her needs.  We’re watching too many churches go hungry these days and some even starving to death for the members of her family refuse to feed her.  Would we do this to a physical family member — allow them to go hungry when we have what they need? 

We are challenged, every one of us to bring in the tithe.  It’s not ours — it’s God’s!  The church is not ours — she’s God’s.  Faithfulness in our Christian walk involves faithfulness with our resources and submitting to God’s instructions and directions for our lives, including our contributions to the house of the LORD.  I would love to see a faithful church community that brings in more than enough, with plenty to spare, so that they can reach the hurting world around them. This is what happens when all God’s people are faithful.

Prayer:

Lord, may we trust in you with our finances and resources.  Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Help In Trouble



Scripture:

Psa. 46:0 ¶ To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
Psa. 46:1     God is our refuge and strength,
        a very present help in trouble.
Psa. 46:2     Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
        though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
Psa. 46:3     though its waters roar and foam,
        though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
 
Psa. 46:4      ¶ There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
        the holy habitation of the Most High.
Psa. 46:5     God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
        God will help it when the morning dawns.
Psa. 46:6     The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
        he utters his voice, the earth melts.
Psa. 46:7     The LORD of hosts is with us;
        the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
 
Psa. 46:8      ¶ Come, behold the works of the LORD;
        see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
Psa. 46:9     He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
        he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
        he burns the shields with fire.
Psa. 46:10     “Be still, and know that I am God!
        I am exalted among the nations,
        I am exalted in the earth.”
Psa. 46:11     The LORD of hosts is with us;
        the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Observation:

The world was in trouble and it was time to recognize that God was the only real refuge and strength in the midst of difficulties.  Natural disasters and human wars and afflictions were surrounding the people of Israel and yet, they were called to a quietness before the Lord.  “Be still, and know that I am God!” 

In the midst of the trouble we are reminded of the river which flows — the very life-giving presence of the God’s Holy Spirit.  The description of the kingdom of God in the midst of trouble is a highlight.  This view of the future where the river of life flows and where God himself is eternally seated on the throne.  He is the victor over anything that nature and humanity can throw our way.  “The Lord of hosts is with us.”

Application:

Our world is certainly in turmoil this week and this is a timely reminder to focus on that which is eternal.  The already of the kingdom of God has been ushered in.  John the Baptist declared the preparation for the way of the Lord.  Jesus came and ushered in the new kingdom and God is already victoriously on his eternal throne.  We have a choice as to whether we want to live in the kingdom of this world which will continue to face decay and destruction or God’s kingdom which is already breaking into this world.  It is the place where we discover the “river whose streams make glad the city of God.”  Here we can be refreshed by his holy presence and continual filling of the Spirit. 

We can watch and listen to the news today with fear, or with a time of stillness to know that God is on the throne.  “Be still and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”  What better news can we have today than to be reminded that he will always be our help in a time of trouble.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your sweet presence. Amen.