Thursday, December 8, 2016
Luke 22:7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” 9 They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” 10 “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” 13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
The disciples were living by faith as they followed Jesus day by day. While he had tried to tell them that the end was coming, they didn’t seem to comprehend what it was that he was saying to them. It was time for the Passover and before Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb, Jesus and his disciples would celebrate together. The symbolism of that night would ring out in history and so Jesus made provision for all of the details. They would need a space where they could gather and have this celebration together.
Peter and John were instructed to go and make preparations for the meal. Interestingly, they didn’t just take off and try to figure things out for themselves. Immediately they asked for Jesus’ instruction and it’s in Jesus’ response that we know that he had already worked out the details. They were to go to the city and follow a man carrying a jar of water. This was unusual because women were the ones who hauled water, not the men. It appears that this was a prearranged signal, because Jesus had already made provision. All the disciples needed to do was believe that Jesus had already taken care of the details and follow through on his instruction. All the provision had already been made.
The disciples' response in this situation becomes a template for us as modern-day followers of Christ. We are given our specific assignment by our Lord which is not the same as anyone else’s, but allows us to play our particular role in the kingdom. Peter and John were to go and prepare the passover meal. At this point in the story I have to confess that I probably would have responded differently. I like to think that I’m a “can do” person and if God gives me a task, I jump to it, but I may have missed turning around and asking the Lord for direction. Peter and John’s question of Jesus, “where do you want us to make preparations for it?” teaches me a great deal about what they had learned about being a disciple, and what discipleship ought to mean for me.
After spending much time with Jesus they had learned that Jesus always made provision. In some of the earlier stories of the disciples they try to figure things out on their own and get frustrated that Jesus would even ask them to do such a thing. By now they’ve learned that whenever Jesus asks them to do something, the first thing they do is go back to Jesus and ask him how they’re supposed to do it. They have come to realize that Jesus already knows how it’s supposed to work and they don’t have to figure it out on their own. They were to walk in obedience and so are we.
The man carrying the water jar becomes a visible sign of Jesus’ provision. Every detail had already been cared for and they didn’t need to worry. If we will listen and be obedient to the Lord, we will discover the markers along the way as well. We will have our own signs of promise that this is the way and we are to walk in it for the provision that has already been made.
In the meantime there is no need to worry or fear. Learning to stop and ask the Lord for direction before acting becomes empowering. Becoming dependent upon the Lord's leadership will bring great peace.
Lord, please help me to stop and ask the question. Amen.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Psalm 119:37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways. (ESV)
This section of Psalm 119 contains a series of instructions for those who are to keep God’s word. This verse reminds us of the inner threat to a life of faithfulness. That threat comes from a heart divided which results when the eyes begin to wander. What is seen with the eyes enters into the heart. Therefore we are to stop “looking at worthless things.” The enticement of those worthless things will take us in a direction away from the things of God. New life must be found in the ways of the Lord and for that to happen, we must follow after God.
The world has always been capable of creating worthless things that catch the attention of God’s people. Writing in the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem encouraged believers to “avoid an addiction to the theater, with its portrayal of sinful conduct, the lewd and unseemly antics of actors and the frantic dancing of degenerates.” (Mystagogical Lectures 1.6) He went on to talk about the gladiators who spent much time working-out and becoming beautifully fit so that they could fight with animals, and the grief of gambling on the horse races. Doesn’t sound like a lot has changed in this world, does it?
I think of the hours we can spend looking at worthless things. It’s so easy to get drawn into the vortex of social media. Seriously — as I was reading and writing this morning I went to check something on Facebook and before I had this post finished, I was scrolling through someone’s pictures of their home which they have decorated for Christmas. Sounds nice — but I don’t even know these people!!! I thought about the irony of the moment. Here I was, being convicted by a scripture reading about worthless things and I was being enticed to waste time looking at pictures that have no relevance to me or my life. Someone else mentioned the other day about being sucked into the YouTube vortex. Just before going to bed they clicked on a YouTube video, but that one led to another one, which led to another one, and finally they realized that ninety minutes had gone by and they had wasted all that time.
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking on the phone with Rev. Jerry Dirmann, a pastor in Anaheim, CA. His church is focusing on helping new believers be discipled to follow Christ. He said that they realize how much attention the world is getting and that it’s time to detox ourselves. They encourage new believers to commit to a four week fast from media. During the four-week period people are allowed two hours of internet or television a week, but that is all. (This does not exclude work related internet usage) Think about it — what would happen if we fasted from media. I think that’s what the Psalmist is talking about. It’s time for us to intentionally stop looking at worthless things.
The section from which today’s Psalm comes begins with asking the Lord to be our teacher. If we sincerely desire to know Christ, then we have to be intentional about knowing Christ! It’s time to turn off all of our devices and all the distractions and commit to time with the Lord. Instead of being tempted to surf the internet, spend thirty minutes just reading scripture. Allow God to speak in the quiet moments of life. Learn to hear the still sweet voice that is calling us and leading us to have life in God’s ways.
Lord, may my life be filled with you and not the worthless things of this world. Amen.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
Jesus had a routine while in Jerusalem. He would spend the day in teaching and then retreat to the Mount of Olives for rest. Evidently there wasn’t room for him in the city at night. Every morning he would get up early and come back to the temple to teach again. The people wanted to hear him so badly that they were willing to get up early in the morning to go and listen to him. John Wesley remarked on this passage, “And all the people came early in the morning to hear him—How much happier were his disciples in these early lectures, than the slumbers of the morning could have made them on their beds! Let us not scruple to deny ourselves the indulgence of unnecessary sleep, that we may morning after morning place ourselves at his feet, receiving the instructions of his word, and seeking those of his Spirit.” (Wesley’s Notes)
I had to chuckle a little at Wesley’s comment on “unnecessary sleep.” I’m guessing that in our busy world there are few of us that would think that we were overindulging in unnecessary sleep. At the same time, the point is well taken that there was discipline on the part of Christ and on the part of his followers to make learning about God a priority. They made it a habit to listen early in the morning to the things of God. In this way the pattern for the day could be established as the mind was already set on the Lord.
May we gather morning by morning in the word of God and allow those words to soak into our very being, shaping us into the image of Christ. May listening early in the morning become the practice of our lives and may we live in obedience to the still small voice that we hear in the quiet of those early morning hours.
Lord, thank you for meeting with me in the early morning hours and shaping me for the day ahead. Please, help me to listen and follow. Amen.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
At the conclusion of the epistle we receive this little nugget of truth regarding the Christian life. This is a life of growth, one that is never stagnant and never turning back. Growth in grace comes from God alone and allows for growth in knowledge. The result is moral and spiritual development which allows us to put our faith into practice. The more that we grow spiritually, the more that Christ is seen in us. Glory of the Lord is reflected in and through those who draw close to him. This necessary growth continues throughout all eternity.
While Peter’s epistle speaks into the moral life and development of the follower of Christ there is always the reminder of grace. If we are trying to do everything right within our own power, we will fail. But grace is always at work and we walk and follow in the pathway of that grace. Jesus continually reaches out to us, drawing us closer to him. To not grow spiritually is to refuse to respond to grace. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we grow in God’s knowledge without divine intervention. This is why the affirmation to growth becomes the final piece of this epistle. To grow is to be in living and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Growing in grace and knowledge comes from spending time with the Lord. This is especially true when spending time in the word. More and more studies are showing that the most profound place of spiritual growth comes when we get to really know the word of God. Committed times of reading and studying the Bible are necessary to spiritual growth. This can’t happen in just a five minute devotional, but needs to happen in intentional study. The study must be in the Bible and not just in other thematic books. Other books and materials are good but they aren’t the inspired word of God. God is revealed to us through the written word. Our study of the word becomes a means of grace for our lives and helps us to grow in faith and knowledge. That knowledge is found in personally knowing Jesus Christ. We are to get to know him better and in knowing him, we know his mind and we become formed to respond like him.
God is glorified in the lives of those who will continue to grow spiritually. Divine grace and knowledge will lead us to life eternal. We cannot live without growth.
Lord, please help me to follow your pathway of grace today. Amen.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Is. 4:2 On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. 3 Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4 once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. 5 Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. 6 It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
The words of the prophet remind us of what lies ahead for God’s holy children. The call to holiness is clear, as the city will be holy, filled with those whose names have been recorded in the book of life. They have been cleaned and purified and now make their dwelling eternally with God. This is not a world that is managed well by earthly leaders, but a place where the glory of God is present and serves as a shelter in all things. This is the hope and the anticipation for God’s children.
John Newton is probably best remembered for penning, “Amazing Grace.” He actually wrote more than sixty hymns and numerous letters and books in his lifetime. One of those hymns is, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” The hymn is based on this passage from Isaiah and ushers us into that space which we anticipate during this advent season.
1 Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God. God, whose word cannot be broken, formed thee for his own abode. On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? With salvation's walls surrounded, thou may'st smile at all thy foes.
2 See, the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love, well supply thy sons and daughters and all fear of want remove. Who can faint while such a river ever flows their thirst to assuage? Grace, which like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age.
3 Round each habitation hovering, see the cloud and fire appear for a glory and a covering, showing that the Lord is near. Thus deriving from their banner light by night and shade by day, safe they feed upon the manna which God gives them when on their way.
4 Savior, since of Zion's city I through grace a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in your name. Fading are the world's best pleasures, all its boasted pomp and show; solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion's children know.
May we live our lives in anticipation of the glorious presence of our Lord, which we can experience both now and forevermore.
Lord, please help me to rest in you today. Amen.
Friday, December 2, 2016
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.”
Jesus pointed out the significance of the woman’s gift. “God measures not so much the size of the gift as of what remains to the owner after it has been given.” (New Bible Commentary) Her contribution was given in faithful obedience to God. Too often we give away that which we will never miss.
This is a season for giving and the opportunities simply abound. There is the food drive at work, or the local church which stirs our heart. We go to the pantry and find the canned food items which may be close to, or out of date and put them in a bag to give away. We quite literally make giving a process in which we clean out that which we don’t want and give it away to someone else. In the meantime it’s no sacrifice to us because we will never miss it!
The same happens when there is a clothing drive. Searching our closets we clean out the items that are looking a bit worn, are a little too tight to wear, or are extremely outdated and we package them up to give to the needy. There is no sacrifice in giving away things that we don’t want in the first place.
Faithfulness and obedience requires sacrificial generosity. God doesn’t want our left-overs, he wants there to be nothing left-over because we give our all to Christ. The widow's gift reflected the love of God and our sacrifices are to reflect God’s great gift to us.
Lord, may your spirit of generosity fill our hearts to overflowing for others. Amen.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Luke 20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Luke 20:34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
Some Sadducees posed a problem that they thought would stump Jesus. They were materialists, that is, they believed only in this physical world — the things that can be touched and felt. Therefore, hearing Jesus’ preaching, they thought that they would try to get him to explain a difficult problem regarding marriage in heaven. What he made clear to them was that while they did not accept the resurrection, even what they did understand they were basing on their own teachings. Their understanding of the resurrection was based on their materialistic understanding of this world.
Jesus’ message was about more than what meets the eye. He preached about transformation in the physical world, but also about eternal life in the world to come. Jesus came to make it possible for God’s children to be restored in the image of God and to be perfected in holiness.
The need for marriage and procreation were necessary because of death, which was the result of sin. Where there is no sin, there is no death and this changes everything. The world and possibilities about which Jesus preached were far beyond the physical and more than what meets the eye.
We limit God when we restrict our faith to those things which we can see and touch. Knowing Jesus leads us into a daily faith walk. In this journey we discover the spiritual world is more than what meets the eye. When we try to explain the kingdom of God from our limited human experience we begin to set boundaries on what God can and cannot accomplish in our lives. The Sadducees couldn’t imagine the resurrection from the dead because they refused to allow their faith to be expanded. Jesus is stretching us, helping us understand that faith requires us to believe in more than what meets the eye.
Our current circumstances have more options for resolution than we can imagine for we are bounded by our finite understanding. When we are in a relationship with Jesus, we are on a journey of transformation or perfection into the image of God. Living daily in that relationship leads us to a deeper understanding of the things of God. We begin to see beyond the here and now and we embrace the things of Christ and his kingdom. It’s in that space that we begin to understand that kingdom life is much more than what meets the eye.
Lord, thank you for the experiences of life that become faith builders. Amen.