Monday, October 20, 2014

God’s Provision



Scripture:

Acts 12:20 ¶ Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.
Acts 12:21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them.
Acts 12:22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”
Acts 12:23 And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Observation:

Christians would have been living in the region of Tyre and Sidon and would have been suffering the consequence of a strained relationship with Herod. He was certainly no friend to the Christians having already murdered James and put Peter in prison. This man’s continued leadership could, quite possibly, mean terrible persecution for Jesus’ followers.

Evidently there was some kind of a dispute with the people of Tyre and Sidon and while they were autonomous towns, they had were part of the Roman Empire. They were not allowed to go to war but Herod had, for some reason, restricted their economies and they were struggling to have enough food. Wanting to come to some kind of a compromise with the man they probably bribed Blastus. Blastus’ position was that of right-hand assistant to Herod. He was highly influential and so, while Herod was often unreasonable, the leadership of Tyre and Sidon found a reasonable individual in Blastus. He worked to bring about reconciliation between Herod and these cities which included an event at which Herod would try to impress the people with his great wealth and authority.

All of Herod’s power had made him extremely prideful and this became his downfall. He allowed the praise that was due God to be showered on him. He ended up dying a horrible death and not only Tyre and Sidon, but the Christians of that area were set free from his tyranny. God had provided.

Application:

We must be careful not to try and take matters into our own hands, when God can and does make provision for our needs. We don’t know the back story to what happened but I can only imagine it had to do with little prayer meetings of disciples who were crying out to God for his help. The chapter opens with the story of Peter’s release from prison. God had provided! It ends with the death of the one who had orchestrated Peter’s imprisonment. God had provided! Neither Peter’s release from prison nor the death of Herod would have been anticipated.

The ways in which God’s provision is revealed may be different in each and every circumstance and sometimes we simply don’t understand what is really going on. Why is it that James had to die? Where was God’s provision in his life? We don’t know — all we know is that James becomes the first Apostle to be martyred. However, after his death God provides for Peter and then for the Christian community in Tyre and Sidon — and beyond with the death of Herod. We see Herod being punished for his outrageous behavior.

I’ll be honest with you — I don’t know what to do with James in this story. Why does God seem to provide for some and not for others? I don’t know but I know that there is a bigger picture that we don’t understand and my job is to trust in him. Peter trusted in the Lord and was let out of prison so that he could go on to preach to many more people. In the end he was not spared and history tells us that he was crucified upside down.

The people of Tyre and Sidon were spared economic calamity - at least for a time. The Jewish Christians running from the persecutions in Jerusalem were now able to find peace and food in these cities. God had provided and the word about Jesus was spreading.

Ultimately the lesson becomes one of trust — trusting in the God who provides. We may not always understand the ways of God, but we are to trust! We may never expect God to work in particular ways — but he provides.

Prayer:


Lord, may I keep my eyes focused on you and you alone. May I trust you to take care of things around me.  Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sending Relief



Scripture:

Acts 11:27 ¶ At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
Acts 11:28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius.
Acts 11:29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea;
Acts 11:30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Observation:

Prophets were leaving Jerusalem because of persecution and they arrived in Antioch. These prophets were speaking to the church words about the future so that the church could be prepared. It is known that a terrible famine did affect the area in the time mentioned. Much as the vision came and Joseph was able to help Egypt prepare for the famine, so God’s people were responding to the upcoming need. Instead of stockpiling supplies for themselves these Christians sent relief, probably in the form of offerings, to the people in Judea. This was a part of Saul’s discipleship training under Barnabas in Antioch and was, more than likely, Saul’s second trip to Jerusalem since becoming a believer.

Application:

The attitude and spirit of response to need here reflects the growth in Christlikeness among the believers. This entire story can be seen as a parallel to the one in Egypt so very long ago. There are similarities, but there are also differences.

Since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there were prophets who were able to speak regarding the future. They were suffering great persecution in the city of Jerusalem and probably came to Antioch in order to survive. They did not cease to speak about their visions and dreams. God was able to use them in a variety of places as a result of the persecution. More people were hearing about Jesus and Christianity was growing. They were able to speak clearly without the need for interpretation. Remember, it was Joseph who had to interpret the vision of Pharaoh. Now, the vision comes directly to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and they are able to share the vision and its meaning.

Joseph had to organize the people for response to the famine. Immediately God’s people organized to respond to the physical needs of the people. The Egyptians built store-houses so that people could come to them to get what they needed to supply their needs when the famine began to spread. The Christians took an offering and determined to take what they had to the needy. They didn’t collect things for themselves but instead collected with the intent of taking it out to the places where the need was the greatest.

The sending here is important and each person was to send according to their ability. It’s an important concept, that we are each to share as much as we can with others who are in need. Interestingly the aid was sent by Barnabas and Saul. This engagement in relief to the needy became a part of Saul’s formation and discipleship. Participating in the helping of others is important to our own spiritual development. The people who received the aid were blessed, but so were those who participated in the collection and the sending.

Sending relief in times of need is a reflection of our spiritual condition. May God help us to have ears to hear the prophetic words with which he may be challenging us today.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be faithful to helping those who have need.  Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Intentional Leadership Development



Scripture:


Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

Observation:


Barnabas had obviously spent time with Paul and was convinced that he had experienced the saving work of Jesus Christ in his life. He was willing to disciple Paul and when seeing the potential in this man, brought him to the inner circle of leadership in Jerusalem. He made the necessary introductions and vouched for Paul. Later he traveled with Paul on his missionary journey until they had a dispute at which time they went their separate directions, but by then Paul was ready to be on his own and his missionary efforts changed the world.

Application:

Barnabas gives us a great picture of what it means to be engaged in intentional leadership development. Too often people feel threatened by developing leaders, fearing they will lose their own positions of power and authority and therefore refuse to give space or nurture those whom God is raising up. Barnabas didn’t react in that way, but instead saw something in Paul and was willing to nurture his giftings.

We learn from Barnabas that we should have our eyes open, looking for those whom God is raising up. Somewhere along the way he saw Paul and he did not ignore his presence. It can be easy to be so self-focused that we simply miss seeing what’s in front of our eyes. We should pray that God helps us to see the people he is sending our way, ones whom we are to disciple and in whom we should develop gifting.

After seeing Paul, Barnabas took the time to get to know him and to listen to his testimony. God had done a genuine work of transformation in the life of Paul. Unfortunately this is not always true in the life of an individual. There are those who may testify to a life-change because it is convenient but they have not allowed the Holy Spirit to cleanse them deep down in their depths! A genuine work of God must be seen in the life of an individual — something that could never have been done on their own. This is not about a human desire for leadership but about God’s calling and transformation in the life of an individual. We must pray for God’s discernment when working with people.

After hearing Paul’s testimony, Barnabas evaluated his giftings. Paul was a talented and gifted individual and Barnabas seemed to understand that these gifts needed to be directed into service for God. Some people have more talents than others and when it comes to intentional leadership development we must recognize that we may be the person with the keys to unleashing those talents for kingdom use or not. The reality is that a gifted person will use their gifts. If the church doesn’t give them a place to serve, those gifts will go elsewhere. We should never be jealous of the gifts of another person — God has given them those gifts for the sake of the kingdom. We should provide every opportunity for those gifts to shine through and give glory to God.

It’s easy to become comfortable with the same old players! Not only is it comfortable but it is powerful and retaining power within the same group of individuals then becomes reciprocal. Intentionally inviting someone into the inner circle and sharing power with them is a huge thing. Barnabas was willing to bring Paul into the inner circle because he was engaged in kingdom business, not in Barnabas business!

Barnabas did all that he could to help Paul flourish and eventually Paul’s leadership superseded that of Barnabas. Somehow I think that in the end, Barnabas was okay with that because he could look at what Paul had accomplished and know that he had a part in it all. This is what happens when we intentionally develop leaders that God has placed across our path. Our joy should not be in the things that we accomplish, but in the people that we develop and their accomplishments. We are to invest in people whom God is and will use mightily in kingdom work.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to have the eyes to see those whom you are wanting to develop around me.  Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Increase and Complaint



Scripture:


Acts 6:1 ¶ Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

Observation:

Things were going well in the new church. People were coming to Christ on a daily basis and yet, this resulted in growing pains. While some were rejoicing at what was happening, others were complaining. The growth revealed a lack of organization and an inability to keep up with the ministries in an orderly fashion. People complained.

Application:

We get so excited when God works and people are becoming disciples and yet, soon there comes a moment when people start complaining. Honestly, the complaints can feel a little like being punched in the stomach. Why do people have to complain when God is moving? Maybe it’s just human nature, or maybe there’s a lesson for us to learn.

God moved and stretched the little band of disciples beyond their comfort zones and into realms they had never before imagined. The complaining of the people actually helped them to work on an action plan. No longer could they function in the way they had in the past. There had to be more organization to minister effectively.

The complaining made them seek guidance from the Lord. They’d never been in this situation before — having too many disciples! It was a good problem and yet it created new problems.

We must realize that when God moves there will be accompanying “problems.” There will be those who will complain about what is happening because they may feel short-changed in the process. These are opportunities to seek the Lord and make changes that will respond to the needs. This is how we grow to the next level — by having complaints! If there had been no growth, there would have been no complaining.

Rejoice in complaints and see them as opportunities to adjust and become better at ministry. This is what the disciples did in the early church and the ministry began to take form. We have a choice to make when it comes to our response. We may become defensive and frustrated, or we can work together with God to find solutions. The solutions of the disciples led to the structure of the early church with an ability to multiply ministry over and over again. The complaining was for their good and they learned and adjusted. Let’s find the solutions to the good problems God is providing today.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for increase and complaints.  Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tide vs. Fuller’s Soap



Scripture:

Mal. 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? ¶ For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;
Mal. 3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

Observation:

A prophetic voice about the coming Messiah. The highway of holiness would be the new way ushered in by the coming Messiah and for those who would journey on the path he would provide for purification. The fire of the refiner is used to remove impurities. Fuller’s soap was used to clean and bleach new wool so that it could be made in to fresh garments. The priesthood of Levi would be made clean and pure so that they could serve in faithfulness and righteousness before God.

Application:

In the New Testament we are invited to the great wedding feast and are to wear our new garments. New garments are clean and fresh — made from bleached wool. The bleached wool is only possible because of the Fuller’s soap. This soap made with alkali was used in the Fuller’s field just outside of Jerusalem. The people all knew what Fuller’s soap was used for — it was the instrument which made the wool white and clean so that new garments could be sewn.

Jesus Christ is the instrument — he is the Fuller’s soap.

Clothing doesn’t just wash itself. Clothing cannot make itself clean. There must be something that works the process and this is the soap.

Yesterday I was shopping for laundry soap here in my neighborhood. I was shocked to discover that Tide Laundry Detergent is a hot commodity! At my local Walgreens they have had to put alarm devices on the laundry soap. At the check out I asked what the issue was with the soap. I was told that the management can’t put out more than three bottles of Tide at a time because it is almost always stolen.

I did a little “google” search to see if there is any news on the Tide “grime wave” and yes, there is. Evidently there is great prestige in using Tide laundry detergent (it’s why the other brands did not have alarms on them). Drug dealers are willing to take Tide in exchange for drugs. Why? Because it is so highly valued and they can sell it back to retailers at an enormous price. Therefore people steal Tide, trade it for drugs and the drug dealers sell it back to the stores.

Just as Tide is highly valued, Fuller’s soap was valued in Malachi’s day. This illustration helped people to understand the power of the coming Messiah. He would be the instrument of cleansing and purity — he would be the one who could set things right again.

150 ounces of Tide sells for nearly $20 today. It’s an amazing commodity!

Sadly Tide is purchasing all the wrong things — those which will only bring momentary satisfaction and ultimately destruction. What we need is the Fuller’s soap — the work of the Messiah in our lives to cleanse us and purify us from the ravages of sin.

Which would we prefer in our lives?

Fuller’s Soap — What Jesus has done for you and me — priceless!

Prayer:

Lord, may you do your work in me.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Failure of the Priesthood



Scripture:

Neh. 13:4 ¶ Now before this, the priest Eliashib, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah,
Neh. 13:5 prepared for Tobiah a large room where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.
Neh. 13:6 While this was taking place I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king
Neh. 13:7 and returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.
Neh. 13:8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room.
Neh. 13:9 Then I gave orders and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Neh. 13:10 ¶ I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields.
Neh. 13:11 So I remonstrated with the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.
Neh. 13:12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.

Observation:

The corruption found among the priesthood was a serious problem in Israel. Nehemiah had been working hard to rebuild Jerusalem but in his absence the priest Eliashib abused his situation and power. He misused God’s resources, using them for one of his relatives, Tobiah. Talk about corruption!

This, I’m sure created frustration among the people and we may assume that the people stopped tithing because of what they saw among the leadership and the misuse of funds at the temple. Unfortunately those hurt by this were the Levites — the faithful ministers who were simply trying to do their work on a regular basis. No longer was there enough money to support them and so they had to become bi-vocational. They had to go back to working in fields so that they could survive, for they and the house of God had been forsaken.

When things were set right within the temple the people responded and again brought their tithes and offerings into God’s house.

Application:

There seems to be a lot of finger point these days related to giving and finances in churches. People just don’t seem as committed to tithing as they had been in the past, or people want to give to specific causes. Is that really much different than what we read about in this passage today? People were directing their giving elsewhere because they could see that their offerings were going to support the lavish lifestyle of a family member who was living in God’s house! How long do you keep giving to something like that?

There is a misconception these days about the desire of young people to give to churches. Millennials are generous givers — if they believe that what they see is authentic. Could it be that the decrease in giving to churches is a failure in the authenticity of the priesthood? The sad part of this story is that it was the failure of Eliashib that affected the rest of the priests. The Levites were good ministers — the singers were good song leaders — but they were hurt by the failure of Elisahib.

Nehemiah stepped in to act and intercede on behalf of the priesthood. He removed Tobiah from God’s room in the house! He would not allow this corruption to continue and he acted to set things right again! The temple was cleansed and God’s room again became consecrated to him. A priority was made on supporting the Levites, so that they could give themselves wholeheartedly to the ministry of God. They were returned to their positions so that the house of God would not be forsaken. Everyone sacrificed to care for God first and when the people of Judah saw the authenticity of the priesthood the tithes began to flow, filling the storehouses.

When the community of faith suffers, the priesthood must examine themselves to see if there is any impurity. Yes, the standard is high for those in spiritual leadership — and it should be! It is a frightening place in which to find oneself and yet it must reveal a greater and deeper dependence upon God. If there is not an increased dependence upon God, even the priesthood will take matters into their own hands and misuse God’s resources, tempted by power and “success.” Convincing words will be spoken, justifying the actions and behaviors.

The challenge is for those of us serving in the priesthood. May God examine our hearts and motives and may we constantly keep our eyes fixed on him, exposing ourselves to his examining eyes. May our behaviors and responses reflect him on a daily basis and may the world experience the authenticity of meeting Jesus in an encounter with the priesthood.

For the laity — pray for the priesthood! If you are withholding your tithes and offerings in frustration, examine and ask whether that is really helping the house of God and the ministers? Is your minister bi-vocational because you are withholding your tithe? Could your response simply be making a difficult situation even worse?

The failure of the priesthood hurts so very many people but somewhere, someone, must be Nehemiah and say enough is enough. Let’s set things right, stop reacting and allow God to once again work in and through his house.

Prayer:

Lord, may those who are called into your service be strengthened by the power of your presence today and live out a life of authentic faith.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Delightful!



Scripture:

Psa. 1:1      ¶ Happy are those
        who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
    or take the path that sinners tread,
        or sit in the seat of scoffers;
Psa. 1:2     but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
        and on his law they meditate day and night.
Psa. 1:3     They are like trees
        planted by streams of water,
    which yield their fruit in its season,
        and their leaves do not wither.
    In all that they do, they prosper.

Observation:

Many people will want to give advice to us along this journey of life. They will try to encourage us to go in one way or another. The Psalmist has had this same experience and is keenly aware of the destructive nature of some advice that we receive. Instead we are happy and delighted in the law of the LORD. The law of the LORD may be contrary to the advice given to us by others and it may radically counter-cultural, but it is into this space of dwelling where we are invited.

What is delightful is meditating on the law of the LORD. Really soaking in the word of God and getting to know God through what has been passed down to us. This is not something that is supposed to happen on occasion, but we are to be intentional about meditating on the law on a daily basis. From the time we get up until the time we lay down again, we are to focus on him.

The laws of the LORD can carry us through the rough times in life because they are rooted in the foundation of God. That’s why they will provide for us at just the right time and with all that we need.

Application:

Probably the word “delight” hasn’t come to mind when we think about meditating on the law of the LORD. However, the more that we meditate on the law and we spend time with our LORD, the more that we discover the joy that comes from God. The law leads us directly to knowing the nature of God. In knowing the nature of God we are invited into participation with God and we are transformed in God’s very presence. This is delightful!

Experiencing God in this way is transformative to our lives. God invites us to be his children in a very intimate holy and loving relationship. This relationship is one in which we experience the deep and abiding love of God. That is delightful.

Soak in God’s law today, and in this way — soak in him.

Prayer:

Lord, your love and law is sustaining. Thank you!  Amen.