Sunday, March 29, 2015

For the Love of an Olive Tree!



Scripture

Psa. 52:8        But I am like a green olive tree
        in the house of God.
    I trust in the steadfast love of God
        forever and ever.
9     I will thank you forever,
        because of what you have done.
    In the presence of the faithful
        I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

Observation

The Psalm is one of comparison; those who are faithful and those who are not. David is faithful and like a green olive tree; young and full of life! Surgeon says, “But I, hunted and persecuted though I am, am like a green olive tree. I am not plucked up or destroyed, but am like a flourishing olive, which out of the rock draws oil, and amid the drought still lives and grows.”

David has seen spiritual drought and the onslaught of enemies and yet, he still lives and grows. The secret to that growth comes in the second half of the verse, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” David trusts, but God’s love is steadfast, enduring throughout all of eternity.

God’s love for the olive tree is the sustenance which makes the tree fruitful, even in the midst of trials. The sustenance is possible as we are grafted into the main branch.  He is the vine and we are the branches and as long as we remain in him, then his steadfast love pours through us and keeps us green and new and fresh, bringing forth new and fresh fruit. Because God loves the olive tree!

Application

Today is Palm Sunday and we will celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into the holy city. People will be excited about Jesus and what they thought he might have to offer them. However, the week will make a swift departure from this scene into a garden where Jesus will be found among the olive trees. The olive trees will bear witness to his preparation for death.

While there will be olive trees around Jesus when he is praying, so there will be disciples. Sadly, the disciples will fall asleep as Jesus travails in prayer.

Just as this Psalm is one of contrast so are the disciples and the olive trees. Which kind of follower will we be?

God’s nature, holy love springs from him and to those who are grafted into the family. His love flows through his children and they are fresh and vital! They are the beloved olive trees.

Then there are the children who try to make it on their own who try to look green and fresh, but are not grafted into the Father. They are the palm branches which will be waved today. There is nothing in them to sustain them and while they may look good at first, they will soon wither up and die.

Oh for the love of an olive tree! God needs more olive trees, not more palm branches. Faithfulness for the long run, grafted into the family, and flowing with God’s holy love. This is the invitation for this holy week.

Prayer

Lord, may the celebrations of this day be seen in rootedness in you.  Amen.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Love!



Scripture

1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never ends.

Observation

The great chapter on love is one that moves us and that we enjoy reading again and again. The reality is that it reveals to us the very nature of God — holy love. In these three words, found in verse eight, we catch a glimpse of the quality of that love. It goes on forever.

God reaches out forever in holy love, drawing all of his creation to himself.

God’s love for those who have turned their backs on him never ends.

Love never gives up and always keeps on trying.

Holy love is optimistic and believes that all may be transformed as his holy children.

God’s nature cannot be changed — he is love, and that never ends.

Application

What we tend to call love is incredibly shallow compared to God’s nature. We think that we love our house, or our new car, but what kind of an emotion is that compared to God who continually gives of himself to us so that we might be children of God. The things of this world are simply trinkets in light of what God has to offer. And yet, they capture our attention and distract us from true love which comes from God alone.

Jesus instructed us to love God and love neighbor. This becomes a channel — through God to our neighbor — in which holy love reaches out to this world. It is in the depth of these relationships that the love of God is revealed.

Holy love never gives up on the wayward child.

Holy love continually reaches out in reconciliation.

Holy love is patient.

Holy love is not stuff — it is transformative.

God’s nature is to be revealed in his holy children, those who are in a right relationship with him and reflecting his nature to the world. His nature, reflected in our lives is this unending love.

Prayer

Lord, may I be a reflection of your love today.  Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Let’s Be Serious!



Scripture

Joshua 24:16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

Observation

Joshua was concerned that the Israelites would not remain faithful to God. I find this whole passage quite troubling. In verse 16 the people respond to Joshua, acting almost astonished that he would suggest that they might not be faithful to God. “Who us?” “Does Joshua really think that we would serve other gods?” They said all the right things — “God…brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Yes — those were the right things, but Joshua knew that their words didn’t match their actions!

In verse 23 he has to point out to them that they have foreign gods among them. They are already an unfaithful people!

But they insist they will do the right things, and a stone is put up to remind them of this covenant between the people and God. But were they serious? The foreign gods were still in their homes and when Joshua and the elders passed away they forgot to serve God.

Application

It’s easy to say the right things in an emotional moment. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

We are in an amazing worship service with the presence of the Lord and we we say, “yes,” I’ll commit myself to serve God faithfully.

Or, we are at the funeral of a relative who has meant a great deal to us. They’ve been faithful, serving the Lord, and praying for years! In the emotion of the moment we say “yes,” “I’ll follow in their footsteps and serve God.”

But let’s be serious! Do we really mean it, or are we just like the Israelites, saying one thing while harboring foreign gods in our homes?

To be truly serious followers of Christ, action must back up our words. They should have brought out the foreign gods and destroyed them in front of the entire company. The people of God needed to be accountable to take actions that would lead them to a place of faithfulness, rather than simply saying what a dearly loved leader wanted to hear on his deathbed.

Serious followers of Christ are needed today.

More than lip-service is needed.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live in the power of your Holy Spirit that enables us to live transformed lives.  Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Experiencing the Work of God



Scripture

Josh. 24:31   Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel.

Observation


This is the end of Joshua’s life and the result is a great turning point in the life of the Israelites. As long as those who had experienced God’s work in freeing the Israelites from the Egyptians and had experienced his protection and leading through the wilderness and into the promised land were alive, the nation publicly worshipped God. There may have been some individual worship of pagan gods but as a people, they were directed toward God.

When Joshua and his contemporaries passed away it seemed that the collective memory of society passed as well. God knew that the people would forget and he had established ways in which to keep the memory alive by annual festivals and events — which slowly they stopped celebrating. The blessedness of the founding generation gave way to the wretchedness of the succeeding.

Under Joshua’s care and influence the religion stayed alive. Sadly, those who had not experienced the work of God (for numerous reasons) did not remain faithful.

Application

Each generation must have their own experience of God! Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live and move among us so that we could experience the work of God in our lives and in our world on a daily basis. The Israelites had the opportunity to be a faithful people and to be obedient to God’s laws. He would be their God and would supply their needs but they didn’t call on him. They chose to be more like the world and the corruption and decay came swiftly.

We need to keep our relationship with God fresh and alive, experiencing him in our lives on a regular basis. God is good and faithful to his people and we are blessed when we live in the movement of his Holy Spirit.

But just like the Israelites we can get caught up by the distractions.

We don’t spend time with God so we don’t experience God.

There are no stories to tell the next generation and far too quickly we, as a people, fall away.

We cannot live on the experiences of those who have gone before us. I’m a historical theologian and believe me, I love the stories of the past, but they are not my stories! I cannot survive spiritually on the things that happened to my parents and grandparents. My religion must be mine — alive and fresh for me and my life.

We cannot expect the younger generation to survive on our stories but we must walk them into the promised land of a fresh and vital relationship with God. Each generation must experience the work of God and this must be our prayer. May God use us to lead others to a place where they truly experience him and his mighty activity in the world.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the incredible experiences of your leading and power. Please help me to live a life of faithfulness that points others in the direction of you.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Shields of the Earth Belong to God



Scripture


Psalm 47:9     The princes of the peoples gather
        as the people of the God of Abraham.
    For the shields of the earth belong to God;
        he is highly exalted.

Observation


This Psalm celebrates God’s uniting activity in the world. There is only one God, one King, and one people and this will be revealed throughout history. In many ways the Psalm is prophetic, looking forward to a time when Christ will come and in him, the peoples of the earth will be united.

The shields of the earth represent the different nations and secular authorities. Looking prophetically into the future the Psalmist sees a time when every nation of this earth will submit to the authority of God through Christ. The influence of the gospel will be extensive reaching to those from every walk of life. Not only the poor will come to know Christ, but those who are wealthy and in positions of authority.

The promises to Moses will be fulfilled and God continues his work in the world today, leading to the day when every shield will willingly submit to his authority.

Application

It seems as if we are still waiting around and wondering when the day will come — when the shields of the earth will belong to God. It certainly doesn’t look like that’s happening very well today. There’s far too much fighting going on and much of it being done in God’s name — which must drive God crazy! However, we know there will come a day when all the shields (rulers) of this earth will bow their knee and submit to his authority.

In the meantime, maybe we need to look to ourselves and our own personal shields. The shields represent the family coat of arms. Royal families and their coat of arms or shields, are quite proud of their heritage. Interestingly, Princess Kate didn’t come from a royal family and didn’t have a coat of arms. Her parents were business people who became quite successful and so, just before the royal wedding, her father petitioned (and paid a sum of money) to have a coat of arms and family shield designed. Not everyone gets to have a coat of arms of a shield. “The late Peter Gwynn-Jones, a former Garter King of Arms, once said: 'In practice, eligibility depends upon holding a civil or military commission, a sound university degree or professional qualification, or having achieved some measure of distinction in a field beneficial to society as a whole.’”(Read more)

Shields are produced for those who are successful and who have money. Therefore, you don’t have to be born royal to come into possession of a shield. You and I can, physically or metaphorically have a shield and it can become a sense of pride in our own lives. I don’t think the Psalmist was only talking about nations coming under complete authority of God. Every person, every bit of pride and desire for worldly success needs to submit to God. This is God’s plan for his people, for the shields of the earth belong to God. Our lives, our successes, they are his to be used for his purposes in his kingdom — under his shield. That’s why our shields should submit to the authority of his shield. He is our leader, we are his servants and all that we have is truly his.

Prayer

Lord, opportunities abound as they are submitted to you, your working and your authority. Please help me to be a servant today in your kingdom.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Running the Spiritual Race


Scripture:

1Cor. 9:24 ¶ Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
1Cor. 9:25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
1Cor. 9:26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
1Cor. 9:27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Observation:


I wrote about this a couple of years ago but the scripture grips me again. Paul was talking to the Corinthians about the need for spiritual discipline in their lives.  He spent quite a bit of time around the athletes of the day for there was a major sports arena between Athens and Corinth.  Paul, as a tent maker would have been kept busy at such events making tents or repairing the tents of different participants.  Can't you just envision the brightly colored tents surrounding the stadium where each participating athlete stored their equipment and made themselves at home during the events?  And there was Paul, in the midst of it all. 

Paul had watched as these racers had disciplined their bodies day in and day out.  They were cautious about everything that they ate, they exercised regularly and would push their bodies to run further and faster than ever before.  And all of this was to win a prize -- a wreath of olive leaves!  Multitudes of athletes participated and were willing to show this type of self-discipline and yet, only one would win the prize. 

And now Paul switches scenes and brings us to the life of the believer.  The hope of winning for the believer was much greater than that of an athlete.  Everyone can win the prize -- and if that is so -- why wouldn't we want to bring self-discipline to the spiritual life. Paul is making an example of himself.  He knows that he must show self-discipline in his daily life so that he can continue to live the life of faith.

Application:

In the west we will soon celebrate Palm Sunday, a day in which the Church celebrates Christ's entrance into Jerusalem.  The crowds were chanting and the palm branches were being waved as he entered the city to prepare for the final lap of his mission.  Jesus, the incarnate one, knew very much what it meant to be human and to live life in the flesh.  Jesus Christ is our ultimate example when it comes to self-discipline.  He was going to face the greatest challenge of his life and we know that later in this week he will struggle with the temptation to run from what he knows lies ahead.  And yet, he knows that he is in this for the long haul with his eyes on eternity and the salvation of all humanity.  He showed incredible self-discipline as he began the holy week and then ran with perseverance the final lap of the race -- in incredible pain and humility. 

No one ever promised that the Christian life was going to be easy.  There are the uphill runs and the flat open wide territories, but all must be run with perseverance.  As followers of Jesus Christ we must be willing, just as Paul was, to discipline ourselves.  Just as the athlete cannot survive without training his/her body, neither can the Christian survive without discipline for the spiritual life.  How much time did Jesus spend in prayer during that final lap?  He had to go to the Father again and again for the strength and power to make it through that final lap.  If Jesus needed that kind of help and support -- how much more so do we?  As we run the laps of life we need sustenance.  This will only come from the One who provides all that we need for life and that can only happen as we set-aside time to be in his presence in prayer and in Scripture reading and study.  We are not asked to run this race without the training of a skilled athlete.  However, if we take off and run without working at getting into shape we will slip and fall laying on the ground in agony.

My oldest daughter and her husband ran a half-marathon this last Sunday. For them to prepare for this event they had to train for months. Every day they ran a different distance as they trained their body for what would lie ahead. They were careful about what they ate and drank and studied up on just the right things to do. All of this was in an effort to run the race well!

Just as Palm Sunday was a great high in the life of Jesus, we will celebrate highs, but then came passion week, and so come our weeks of distress.  They will come and we need the grace of God to take us through.  The grace of God was with Christ because he continually disciplined himself to be with the Father.  If we are to make it through the final laps of life, we must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the one who has already run this race before us, and is cheering us on into his presence.  The grace of God will sustain us as we dwell in his holy presence.  Make time for him -- and he will bring us through.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me in the weaknesses of my flesh to bring them to your feet, to be graced by you as I run this race.  Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Contentment in Life



Scripture

1Cor. 7:17   However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.

Observation


Even a follower of Jesus Christ can struggle from time to time about the place in which they find themselves. This was happening in Corinth and there was a certain amount of pressure to climb the social ladder. Too often the focus of life became acceptance by the world and promotion rather than reflecting Christ. Paul wanted the Corinthians to be content with where they found themselves in life rather than striving for the world’s approval.

One of the biggest challenges in the social strata was being a Jew. Circumcision meant that there was a visible sign that one did not belong to society — even for a Jew who became a believer. There was an instant social divide — even in the church, depending on your personal history.

The gymnasium was a major focus of Greek social life and the men wanted to be able to participate — but gymnasium literally meant “to train naked.” The pressure to “fit in” meant that Jewish Christians were considering plastic surgery so that they could climb the social ladder! The power and draw of the world continued to infuse the world of this church filled with new believers. Paul knew that becoming God’s holy people was possible, no matter the circumstances and it was vitally important for believers to be content with the life that the Lord had assigned.

Application

Plastic surgery — really? Can we imagine people going to such extremes to fit in with society? Of course we can! I heard once about a young adult Sunday School class where every woman in the class chose to have some work done — and it became the centerpiece of conversation on a weekly basis! What would Paul have thought and/or said?!

We may have other temptations that push us to live a lifestyle that reflects a certain social standing so that we gain greater acceptance. Far too many are overextended in life because of the lifestyle they’ve chosen to live!

The goal and focus of life is to know Christ. Seeking success in the world and acceptance can become a distraction from that goal. The response of the believer may not be what the world expects, but that’s the whole point! Jesus followers are to be different. The things that the world sees as successful shouldn’t really matter to us.

Jesus is what matters to us — and living our lives as his holy people. We must learn to be content with all the rest.

Prayer

Lord, I thank you for the life you have given me. May I rest in you and live in and through what you have provided.  Amen.