Monday, January 26, 2015

Witnessing Miracles



Scripture

Ex. 14:30   Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.  31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Observation

The Israelites witnessed one miracle after another. The plagues had consumed Egypt and the Israelites watched as one thing after another brought destruction upon the Egyptians. Now, this final and decisive act is brought upon the Egyptian army before their very eyes. This time it’s the total destruction of the symbols of Egyptian power which are brought down. God is the decisive winner and he is leading his people to freedom. Finally we read that the “people feared the LORD and believed.” They had witnessed incredible miracles.

Application

The sad truth about the Israelites was that they seemed to soon forget this miracle. Before long they were grumbling and wondering whether God could take care of them. They had witnessed things that may be beyond our imagination and yet, they wondered if God had abandoned them in the wilderness, or whether he had thought about how to feed them, or whether there would be good water. Hadn’t God thrown the horse and rider into the sea? This was their hymn of thanks after all of this happened. But then what happened to their faith?

I think of the ways in which I’ve been blessed to see the hand of God at work. Especially while we were living in the former Soviet Union there seemed to be miracle after miracle. And yet, here is my confession, there are days when I begin to doubt. It’s in those moments that God reminds me what he has already done in the past and that he will continue to care for and make provision into the future.

We are somewhat like the Israelites. While God may have provided in the past, there are days that we struggle to hold onto that faith going into the future. We must go back to the shore of our personal Red Sea experience and hold onto the faith.

The LORD who parted the Red Sea and saved the Israelites is the same God that we serve today. He is able to do more than we can ask or imagine but we must trust in him. We have witnessed miracles in the past and we will see them again, as long as we continue the spiritual journey with him. Don’t forget what he has already done!

Prayer

Lord, thank you for presence and leading in life.  Amen.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stargazing



Scripture


Acts 1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Observation

Jesus had just told his followers that they would be his witnesses around the world. They had been commissioned to go and make a difference but now, suddenly, Jesus was taken up into heaven from right there in their midst. They were absolutely stunned, and so we find them staring up into heaven. They are stargazing, looking for something…and there may have been something improper about their response. Just imagine what they were thinking:

1) He didn’t restore the kingdom to Israel.

2) If we keep looking we’ll be able to see him.

3) We need him back here with us.

John Stott writes: "There was something fundamentally anomalous about their gazing up into the sky when they had been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth... Their calling was to be witnesses not stargazers" (The Message of Acts [IVP, 1990], p. 51). The duty was not to stand by in idleness staring at heaven and hoping for Jesus’ return. The apostles had great work to do and they needed to get out and do it. The angels spoke words of truth, helping them refocus their attention, shifting from stargazers to witnesses.

Application


The early leaders in Christianity spoke in strong words about this passage of Scripture. God’s followers were to be engaged in his work in the kingdom here on earth. One was not to waste their time trying to discern when Christ might return again. This was considered stargazing.

Let’s be honest, there’s been a lot of stargazing going on. We like to stand and look up into heaven and wonder when Jesus will be coming back. In the meantime there is work that needs to be done in the kingdom. We are called to be witnesses to what God is doing in this world. There are more and more people every single day who need to know about Jesus. People are leaving Christianity in droves and it just might be because we became too engaged in stargazing and not enough in going to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.

Jesus had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come. This empowerment of the Holy Spirit transformed the lives of those simple witnesses into powerful voices in the kingdom. God needs powerful Spirit-filled voices witnessing in the kingdom today. We, too, must respond to the challenge of the men in white robes, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It’s not the time to be a stargazer.

Prayer

Lord, please help me be your faithful witness today.  Amen.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Random Thoughts: Joanna and Augustine



Scripture

Luke 24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

Observation


My mind is filled with random thoughts this morning as I read again through the resurrection story. There are those moments when it dawns on you that you’ve never paid attention to all the names mentioned somewhere. Mostly when we think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ we think about Mary Magdalene’s presence at the tomb. She’s the one who’s made it into all the Easter musicals and lives on in our memories. Today my eyes fell on the name of Joanna. Nobody sings about Joanna. Her name is never really mentioned and yet, here she is captured in the gospel written by Luke and she goes with Mary to the tomb, only to discover that it is empty.

This Joanna should not be new to us. She has been serving Jesus for a long time. She is the wife of Chuza who manages the household of Herod Antipas who lives in Galilee. We first hear of her in Luke chapter 8, “2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. “ These were women of influence and financial resource who traveled with Jesus and were his disciples. Later on they were included in the list of the Apostles. Two contemporary scholars, Ben Witherington and Richard J. Bauckham believe that she is Junia who is mentioned later by Paul in his greetings in Acts 16.

The conclusion that can be drawn is that Joanna is a successful woman of great means who consecrates her life in service to Jesus Christ. She gives what she has to follow him and becomes one of the first evangelists —sharing the good news about Jesus to the world! Among those who knew her and her reputation in the early centuries of Christianity, she was considered an apostle.

The other random thought that fills my mind today is the way in which we have understood Augustine. There have been some things that he has written about women that make us a bit uncomfortable. This is especially true regarding some of his comments in regard to the image of God and whether the image can be restored in women or not. However, his writings on today’s passage are an encouragement to me. In Sermon 232 he writes about this Scripture and notes that humanity’s fall through a woman is now restored through women.

 So in this fact we have to reflect on the goodness of the Lord’s arrangements, because this, of course, was the doing of the Lord Jesus Christ that it should be the female sex which would be the first to report that he had risen again. Humanity fell through the female sex; humankind was restored through the female sex. A virgin gave birth to Christ; a woman proclaimed that he had risen again. Through a woman death, through a woman life. But the disciples didn’t believe what the women had said. They thought they were raving, when in fact they were reporting the truth. SERMON 232.2.

Augustine was writing near the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century and these were words of affirmation for the women who were suffering under the changes within Christianity. Christianity was aligning herself more and more with the official government authorities and while women had been leaders in the early centuries of the Church they would now be pushed into obscurity as the Church adopted the government’s power structures. Augustine’s sermon was radical when placed within the context of his time.

Random thoughts on a woman named Joanna and a great church Father by the name of Augustine. Two individuals who helped to shape Christianity.

Application

Random thoughts, or blessings of individuals who were willing to make a difference by giving their lives wholeheartedly in service to God?

This week has been filled with encounters of individuals who are making a difference by what they were doing in the kingdom. Every day we are blessed by random encounters with people who are serving God faithfully and are continually pointing the way to Christ.

My random encounter today was in the word. Maybe there will be another random encounter in an airport. Or maybe you’ll encounter someone through whom God can speak and minister to you. I’ve overlooked Joanna for a very long time. Who else have I overlooked in my life? Maybe we have overlooked too many who could have not just been random encounters but regular ministrations to our spiritual well-being.

Prayer
Lord, thanks for this morning’s encounter and may there be more throughout the day.  Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Search for Good Water



Scripture


Ex. 7:14   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.  15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake.  16 Say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened.’  17 Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD.” See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood.

Observation

The water of the Nile was vitally important to the life of the Egyptians, just as water is important to all life. We need both physical and spiritual water and contamination of either will be life threatening. The Egyptians had shed innocent Hebrew blood when they had determined to kill the small children. That river had been stained with their blood and now God made them drink from the bloodied waters of their sin.

It is the power of God that turns the bloody water into the drinkable water that brings life. It is the power of the Messiah who can turn water into wine, or wine into a symbol for new life in Christ. In the physical sense human blood in the drinking water, living in the flesh, was destructive. In the spiritual sense the presence of the blood of Christ turned the ordinary into the extraordinary, the water was transformed into living water which provides for life eternal. 

Application

When you go to a restaurant these days you can become overwhelmed with the options of water which may be purchased. All kinds of bottled water may be available, both still and sparkling, heavy in minerals and light. Some quite expensive and other quite cheap. I pretty much just like good tasting tap water but I do like a bottled water from Armenia called Jermuk, however it’s rare to ever find it outside of it’s homeland. But the variety of options is a vivid example of what we do spiritually — as we search for good water.

The Egyptians were hung up on the “source” of their water, which was the Nile. These were the material and human resources which were directly in front of them on a daily basis. Our temptation is to look for the “source” of what we need right in front of us. The Egyptians had no idea what God might be capable of providing.

I’m not sure we have any idea of what God can really provide for us for we, too, find ourselves on the journey, looking for good water. We are tempted to try out all the things that the world places in front of us, failing to realize that the really good water is plain and simple and comes from God. For all the fancy bottling of water in the world, often the best someone can find is right in front of them, coming out of their own tap. Sadly, we aren’t attracted to that water because it doesn’t come in a fancy bottle! Isn’t that the way the world works — enticing us by fancy packaging?

We need the living water found in Christ. This is transformative! This is good water.

Prayer

Lord, please keep me from the fancy bottling of the world and may I enjoy what you have to offer.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Generous Church



Scripture


Luke 21:1   He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury;  2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;  4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Observation

The treasury was really the bank for the poor. It was the place where people donated so that the poor and needy, the orphans and widows could be cared for by the religious community. This wasn’t just the offering plate being passed at church, but it was the place from which this woman would have received her help and yet, instead of asking for help, she gave with a heart of generosity. She represents the Church, called to help the poor. With generous hearts, out of our her own poverty the Church is called to give all that she has to minister to the needy.

Application

What would happen if the Church gave “all that she had to live on” to the poor and needy? That’s not really the picture of the Church today and it forces us to ask some hard questions of ourselves.

In the early years of Christianity’s acceptance within the Roman Empire the Church received its “tax free” status because she cared for the poor. The intent was to keep the Church free to be able to be the system by which the needs of the sick, poor and needy were met. It was the church that through the centuries provided the hospitals, orphanages and often schools.

The attitude of society toward the Church has changed and the role of caring for the poor and needy has been abdicated to the government. Today the Church struggles with giving away very much and prefers to keep a larger percentage for herself. No wonder the government wants to tax her! Sounds like the picture that Jesus was painting on a personal level. We only want to give away so much — or as much as we feel comfortable giving away. The wealthy gave away money to the poor but probably never sensed the loss to their income. The widow gave away that which was precious to her — she gave up her own resources to help others. She gave up all she had to live on.

I’ve been a leader over a group of Churches and the issue of money is a serious one. Things are tight and sometimes it’s hard to keep the lights on. Sadly I see a culture developing where the Church is becoming more concerned about herself and her own survival than about what she can do for others. Rarely would one find a church who was willing to give the last of what she had to help others but instead, would cut her help to others to make sure she could take care of herself. This seems to be the instinct and yet, that’s not what Jesus wanted, either on a personal or corporate level.

The call is to be generous as a Church. The call is to good stewardship and a generous heart that gives away all that she can. I believe that out of her generosity the widow’s needs were provided for she put her trust in God. So should we.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the timely reminder today.  Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Picture of Wickedness



Scripture

Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
    let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
    those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”;
    all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5 Their ways prosper at all times;
    your judgments are on high, out of their sight;
    as for their foes, they scoff at them.
6 They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved;
    throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
    under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
8 They sit in ambush in the villages;
    in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9     they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
    they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
10 They stoop, they crouch,
    and the helpless fall by their might.
11 They think in their heart, “God has forgotten,
    he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    do not forget the oppressed.
13 Why do the wicked renounce God,
    and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”?
14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief,
    that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you;
    you have been the helper of the orphan.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers;
    seek out their wickedness until you find none.
16 The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more.[a]

Observation

This is not a very pretty Psalm, but instead serves as a reminder of the encompassing corruption of evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of this Psalm, this is “the picture of a proud sinner who lives their atheism.” —Class Notes on the Psalms Therefore it stands for us as the anti-example, or the true vision of the anti-Christ.

The tone of the entire Psalm changes around verse 16 when suddenly the Lord, our king appears and his eternal nature becomes abundantly clear. He has been and always will be! For those who are living under the oppression of the wicked, there is a call to prayer. The Lord will hear the desire of the meek and strengthen their hearts, doing justice for the orphan and oppressed. This is the foreshadowing of the coming Messiah who will break the bonds of evil forever! Wickedness will not prevail.

Application

As we live into the life of the Messiah, we become overcomers! Clothed with Christ we become his ambassadors on earth and the things that we touch are the things that he touches. In the process, the bonds of the wicked are broken and the picture of the proud atheist begins to fade from popularity, but only as we are genuinely clothed in Christ and used by God to answer the prayers of the meek. This is what happens as God’s holy people live into Christ! The picture of wickedness in the world begins to fade — but only, if we are genuinely living in Christ. The powerlessness of Christians could be a result of an external form of Christianity without truly being “in Christ” and if this is the case, the picture of wickedness will continue to grow. We must live into Christ and therefore live out our faith, touching the world with his power and presence.

Somehow I’m afraid that we’re awaiting God’s moment when he will “zap” evil from the face of the earth. We are God’s secret weapon, God’s people united with Christ and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. If we refuse to reach out to the places where evil resides then God will not be there. For the picture of wickedness to fade, God’s Holy Spirit filled people must be willing to be used as instruments of transformation to his glory.

Prayer

Lord, please use us, your children, today.  Amen.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

As An Infant



Scripture


Luke 18:15   People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.  16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Observation

Luke is the only gospel writer that refers to the children as infants and it is in this place that we must find ourselves. I think it may be easier to try and put ourselves in the place of children because they are already at a level of independence. Infants on the other hand, are completely and totally dependent upon their parents. Luke’s emphasis here is on the need for complete and total dependence upon God when one is living and serving in the kingdom.

Application


I remember with great joy the day that we brought our first-born, Christy, home from the hospital. It’s amazing how that little person was able to change our lives. Everything about life had to revolve around caring for her if we wanted her to grow up and be healthy. She had to be fed at regular intervals. She had to be changed when the diapers were wet or dirty. But beyond the physical care, we wanted to sing to her, read books to her, pray with her, play with her, hug her and just generally love on her. She didn’t resist any of it and as she began to grow and develop, her response to us gave us great joy. That first little smile was amazing. The first words came quickly and were followed by many, many more. The voracious hunger for books started from an early age and just snuggling with her on the couch was such fun!

Here's Christy a little older, helping her daddy with the newer infant -- Cara!


Our heavenly father is providing everything we need to be healthy. He loves us and just wants to snuggle on the couch with us! He rejoices in our smiles and laughter and spiritual growth and maturity.

We are to be as an infant, completely dependent upon the sustaining strength and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is God’s desire, not just children, but babes in his arms, looking upward, cooing and smiling at the loving face of the father. He will provide all that we need, if only we relax in his loving arms.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for what you do for us — which is more than enough.  Amen.