Monday, July 24, 2017
Is. 41:19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.
The words of Isaiah were an encouragement for those who were suffering in exile. They were praying and dreaming about the day in which they would return home. Now, there comes a promise of recovery for God’s people. On their return there will be water in the desert, but also shelter where there would normally be none. The trees mentioned are those which grow tall and offer lovely shade from the heat of the day. It would have been uncommon to find them in the desert but this was God’s promise of care and provision for those who would be recovering from their time in exile. All of the needs of God’s people would be supplied.
The promise also foreshadowed a time when God’s people would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they themselves would become the trees growing in the desert. Within the dry and barrenness of this world, God’s holy people grow up like strong trees that would not normally belong. Watered by the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s holy people provide shade and protection for those who are suffering. The promise is for recovery from suffering for the Israelites, and the vision of holiness which reflects the hope of Christ in Jesus followers to an entire world which is suffering. The promise provides hope for all of humanity then, and now.
We are invited to lean into both of these promises of God. For those who are suffering and finding themselves in a place of exile, God promises relief. That relief comes in the form of spiritual water which refreshes our soul. No matter the circumstances in a dry and barren land, there is refreshment which comes from the Lord. The promise is not for sustenance on a minimal level, but enough for complete and total recovery.
God wants to restore in ways that may be beyond our comprehension. The Lord takes our broken lives and transforms them into a new and beautiful life through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we have been wounded, God brings healing and refreshment. There is no need to hang onto the past or allow the wounds to fester. We are all wounded and live with the scars of life. The promise of the Holy Spirit and recovery is not just for some, but for all. Let go of the past and embrace the beautiful new future — the return from exile. Recovery is promised for all of those who will be fervent followers of Jesus Christ and open themselves up to the healing power of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope which we may embrace today!
That hope of transformation leads us to a life of holiness. The promise of Christ for all is adoption into the family and the resultant life of holiness. This is not a holiness on our part, but a holiness which is found by our participation in God. The Holy Spirit begins the transforming work within us so that we can clearly reflect the Image in our lives. It is the holiness of Christ, God incarnate, which is visible in our lives.
The more clearly we reflect Christ, the more we participate in God’s plan to provide shelter in the desert. We become the cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, plane and pine trees. These are the trees which do not belong in the desert, and in the same way, we are transformed into much more than we could ever imagine. God is glorified because it is obvious to all that this has been done above and beyond our own strength. The world around us receives an outpouring of God’s love, strength, and shelter, because we are present. The call for God’s holy people is to step out into the wilderness unafraid, for God will provide all that we need. In the meantime we become instruments of God’s grace for those who are suffering and in need.
The voice of Isaiah reaches our ears today. Live into the beautiful recovery that God has in store, and feed upon the nutrients of the Holy Spirit, embracing holiness that will become the salvation of those dying in the desert.
Lord, thank you for the promise of recovery. Instead of hanging onto things from the past, may your waters flow like a healing balm and may your Spirit flourish in and through my life. Please, use me to be a tree of shelter for those who are in need. Amen.
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Is. 36:4 The Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah: Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you base this confidence of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me?
The Rabshakeh was an assistant to the King of Assyria, more than likely his cupbearer. He appeared before King Hezekiah with great pride and viewed Hezekiah’s defiance as arrogance. The Rabshakeh viewed himself, and his nation, quite highly and found Hezekiah’s confidence in Yahweh odd. The leaders of the nations often made political alliances so that they could survive, paying tribute to one king or another. Suddenly the people of Judah were without any protector, but God alone.
Taunting Hezekiah, the Rabshakeh couldn’t imagine a dependence upon a god who was not visible. Somehow Hezekiah seemed very confident, but to the Assyrians it seemed absolutely foolish. Words which had been spoken in prayer were mocked. How could praying out to Yahweh be a strategy against one of the mightiest armies of the world? Hezekiah’s dependence upon God was seen as rebellion against the Assyrians. This was very dangerous territory, to stand up against the rulers of the world, but Hezekiah had determined to follow God. The jeering continued for the Rabshekah could see no one on whom Hezekiah was relying, but Hezekiah refused to budge.
After spending time in prayer and calling upon God, Hezekiah heard from the prophet Isaiah. God had heard his cries and the one on whom he was relying would supply the needs of the people of Judah. Without ever raising a sword the entire Assyrian army, nearly 185,000 of them, mysteriously died leaving Jerusalem unscathed. The God on whom Hezekiah relied was far more powerful than the mightiest of human armies. It was worth the rebellion to rely only upon God.
The world taunts us into dependence upon any and everything, but God. The challenge for the followers of Jesus Christ is radical dependence in the midst of so many distractions. We are tempted to depend upon other people, jobs, finances, relationships, business transactions and the advice of specialists. How do we look all of these in the face and say, “no thanks!”
Our prayers and dependence upon the Lord are seen as “mere words” and the world laughs as we consider them as a “strategy and power for war.” Prayer truly is a strategy for living in the world and for spiritual warfare. God is already at work in this world and we are invited to participate in the stream of the Holy Spirit. Can’t you imagine that the wisdom of God is far greater than anything that we can find from any consultant here on this earth? Of course, that is the case! And yet, we are constantly seeking the advice and direction of others. Meanwhile, God is waiting patiently for us to reveal our dependence upon the Lord.
It was when Hezekiah rejected the ways of the world and declared his reliance upon God that God responded. No one would have imagined that the entire Assyrian army would die! God wants us to participate in plans far beyond our own comprehension. It is then that God will be glorified and our confidence will grow. Words of prayer are a great strategy for power, therefore I choose to rely on God.
Lord, may my dependence upon you grow daily and may the temptations surrounding me hold no sway. Amen.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
The author is writing to the followers of Jesus Christ who were actively engaged in the life of the “ecclesia.” This was the gathering of those who were called out and seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Many of these were well-to-do individuals who had resources and were looking after their business practices, planning where they would go next and expand their enterprises. The problem was that they failed to see the needs surrounding them on a daily basis and instead, were concerned with building their wealth. The judgement here is straightforward. They were not sinning by the things they were doing, but by what they were not doing.
John Wesley expressed that condemnation was increased for those who committed sins of omission. When one is being led by the Spirit and the soul is impressed upon to act but does not, it becomes sin. This was not only because the act would not be delivered, but the longer the nudging of the Spirit is repressed, eventually we cease to recognize the Lord's voice. This will lead to our own spiritual demise, as well as hurt those to whom we should be ministering.
It’s so easy to allow our lives to become so occupied with the activities of the day that we fail to leave space for the nudging of the Holy Spirit. The distractions and noise of the world can create a space where we simply cannot hear the voice of the Lord. If we can’t hear the voice of the Lord, we cannot act!
I spend a lot of time in airplanes and I’ve noticed quite a trend with regular business travelers. No longer do people want to engage in conversation, but want to tune out the surrounding world. Ear buds are a hot commodity and most of the people who fly around me pop them into their ears even before they get settled into their seat. The message is loud and clear (or deafeningly silent) that they are going to become engrossed in their own little world and have no engagement with anyone around them. I feel sorry for the flight attendants who want to ask them a question or get their drink order. I’ve noticed more and more that the flight attendants have to touch people on the arm to get their attention. No one hears. I can’t imagine what would happen should there be an emergency, because people are no longer tuned into the announcements given on the plane. That means that the possibility of simply not acting on a command is very real. The instructions might be given, but never heard. In that case, who becomes responsible for the lack of action?
In the spiritual realm we are responsible for deafening our ears to the pleas of the Holy Spirit. Just because we weren’t listening, someone may go hungry tonight, or the sermon God intended may not be preached, or the child for whom we are to pray at this moment may step into an unhealthy situation. All of this is more about the sensitivity of the one who is to be growing spiritually than it is about acts of mercy. At the same time, we begin to see that the acts of mercy are simply a revelation of the relationship one has with the Lord. The more time one spends with the Lord, the more one will engage in acts which resemble the work of Jesus Christ. When we fail to do the things Jesus would do, then we are failing at reflect him to the world around us.
We must take seriously the call to growth in grace and the importance of hearing and acting upon the nudging of the Holy Spirit. Each evening we may want to take inventory of the day and ask ourselves, “what have I failed to do today?” In doing so, we open ourselves up to the correction of the Lord in our lives and hopefully tomorrow we will be able to serve even more faithfully.
Lord, open my ears to hear and act on your direction. Amen.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Psa. 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
The city of Jerusalem has no river running though it, while most major cities of the world find themselves connected to water. I live in Kansas City where we have the Missouri River. Just down the road in St. Louis they have the mighty Mississippi. How in the world were the people of Jerusalem to think about a river running through the city of God? Obviously if there were a river, the inhabits would rejoice and be glad.
This was an understanding of what life would be like in the city when God's presence was real. The city would be filled with God’s presence and providence which would rush in covering everything in its path. Everyone would be invited to jump into the river, swimming in the provision of God. The city would be filled with gladness because they were not simply preserved from difficulty but lovingly cared for, by the streams of the Holy Spirit which filled every corner.
On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out again in the city of Jerusalem. Things were different from the Old Testament period for God’s presence had long ago left the Temple and the voice of God had been silent for over 400 years. The promise of the Old Testament was now to be fulfilled in a new and exciting way. The river of the Holy Spirit would be poured out into the living temples within Jerusalem. The people themselves would become the vessels, holding the river which would flow through their lives.
God’s holy people will take the river of the Holy Spirit into the cities and allow the streams to flow to the places which are dry and to those who are thirsty. There will be great rejoicing because the holy habitation of the Most High is now within humanity. All of this has been made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ. The Psalmist was rejoicing in God’s presence in the city but now we rejoice in God’s presence in us.
This rejoicing is not simply for us to enjoy on our own, but to be shared with others who are desperately in need. These days in Kansas City we are experience a lot of hot weather. Almost daily there are heat warnings so that people will take seriously the need to care for their bodies and for one another. Everyone is admonished to drink as much water as possible, to stay well hydrated! Why is it that we recognize the warning signs when it is physically hot outside, but we fail to see our friends and neighbors who are suffering in the heat of life without spiritual drink? When our neighbors need water, we buy it by the caseload and have it delivered to them in their time of need. When people are spiritually in need we are worried that we may offend them or come across as overbearing in our faith.
Somehow we need to find a way to take our stream of living water into the places that are in desperate need of a cool drink. In this way the city will be made glad, people’s lives will be changed and the world transformed. Let’s not hoard the spiritual water for ourselves, but find ways to intentionally share it with those in need.
Lord, your river does make us glad. Please, help me to share your stream today. Amen.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Heb. 11:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
The things of this world are only temporary and can be shaken in many ways. Governments, economies, natural resources, and physical structures can all shift beneath our feet, but we are invited into participation in the heavenly kingdom. That’s why we give thanks to God on high and participate in the unshakable kingdom, filled with overwhelming awe and reverence for the power of God. Our powerful God is a holy, loving, consuming fire who can take our simple lives and transform them as we live in the unshakable kingdom.
We are shaken by earthly kingdoms on a daily basis. All we have to do is to read the the news headlines and discover that things in this world are not all that stable. Worldly kingdoms are shaken by complex factors which influence geopolitics. Sometimes the activities of leaders are influenced by selfish desires, and at others by being forced into a corner and seeking for ways in which to survive. The earthly kingdoms are all interrelated in one way or another and we create shaky scenarios when resources get out of balance. Concerns over water, the ability to grow food, and the questionable possibility to provide for the next generation can create stress, and when one nation loses its resources, it must look elsewhere. Generally neighbors don’t freely give to one another and as tensions increase, eventually people will fight for survival. The kingdoms of the world become shakable and the feeling of being boxed in a corner creates a need to break through our human barriers or constraints.
In contrast we are all invited to become citizens of God’s kingdom. The geopolitical, racial and gender barriers are destroyed in this kingdom and the golden rule is supposed to be actively at work. The kingdom is unshakable when her citizens respond with the love of Jesus Christ and willingly give up what they have for the sake of others.
We are given the gift of this unshakable kingdom. Our response is to be one of gratitude and worship. We participate in the unshakable kingdom on a daily basis and yet, we must set aside specific time for worship. When we gather for worship we focus upon the One who has given us the gift of the Unshakable Kingdom. With awe and reverence we come before our heavenly Father who purifies us from the things of this world that keep us attached to the shakable kingdom.
In the midst of all that is shakable, we are invited to participate in the unshakable.
Lord, please lead me into fun participation in your kingdom. Amen.
Friday, July 14, 2017
Heb. 11:13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
The great chapter on faith brings inspiration, for there are those who have gone before who become mentors for all who will come later. The faithful died without seeing the end, or the completion of God’s plan. They saw from a distance and yet, they were inspired. They didn’t have to experience it all in the here and now, for they could live in faith. Recognizing that they belonged to God’s kingdom, they articulated that they were strangers, or foreigners on earth. Faith inspired them to see the homeland from a distance, and yet, not to give up hope.
Once they began the faith journey, they didn’t look back. Remaining attached to the things of this world would never have allowed their spirits to soar and become entirely connected and devoted to God. Faith drove them to leave earthly attachments and therefore God proudly loves and cares for these dear earthly children. A new city is being built and there these faithful will dwell as citizens in a new homeland.
My great-grandfather left the Volga region of Russia as a young man, traveling to the United States. He and his entire family made a decision that they had to leave behind the life which they had loved and move on to a new land. Their family had lived in the village of Messer for generations, having brought their German heritage with them during the time of Catherine the Great. The Russian-Germans, as they came to be known, had built a lovely life and culture in these colonies along the Volga river. For one hundred years they had lived as a protected people, but now the official contract with the government had come to an end and there were some who could see the handwriting on the wall. They had heard about life in America, and seeing from a distance, they chose to pack up what they could and make the arduous journey to a new land. Somehow they had faith to believe that life might just be a little better in a new homeland.
The extended family traveled by ship to the United States and then by train to Nebraska where the Russian-Germans congregated before setting off to varied locations in the new land. Somewhere in that journey my grandfather was born. A new baby, born in a new land, with a new citizenship. They desired a better country for themselves and their progeny. By faith they made a difficult journey, but one which would affect the lives of so many.
About twenty years ago I traveled to one of the German colonies along the Volga to meet up with some of the Russian-Germans who had not made the journey to the new land. They had chosen, for various reasons, to stay. The old Lutheran church in Messer (now Ust-Zolichka) stood in ruins, a silhouette against the beautiful blue sky. We went to the home of an elderly aunt of a friend, also a Russian-German, who was traveling with us. As if stepping back in time we bounced along on pot-hole ridden mud roads, passing by the ox drawn carts and gaggles of geese. The small ginger-bread houses of blue and green looked as if they hadn’t been touched in a hundred years. When we arrived at the home of the Auntie, we discovered the only modern convenience was electricity, a reward of one of Stalin’s five-year plans.
That day I learned something about longing for the old homeland for Auntie told us stories that made us tear up and cringe with fear. After many had left for the new land, those who had stayed behind began to suffer terribly. During the time of collectivization they lost their farms and their animals. The result was a terrible time of starvation. “Did you know that we ate grass like the animals?” we were asked. Not all survived the terrible famines, but if they did, they then faced the impact of the Great Patriotic War against the Fascists (we know it in the west as World War II). Stalin, fearing that these people with German roots would suddenly show loyalty for the homeland they had left nearly 150 years previous, decided he had to be proactive. In the night they gathered the men of Messer, took them to the edge of town and buried them all alive. Auntie told us of the horrible night as the women and children heard them screaming until finally everything became silent. Next the trains appeared and those who remained were put on cattle cars and shipped to Siberia or Central Asia. They had only returned to this home in the last five years.
Why did Frederick Schmidt have faith to believe that he could make it to a new world where the destiny of his entire family would change forever? I don’t know — but that day sitting in a small village home in Russia I realized that I was the recipient of a citizenship in the new homeland and I never had to suffer the way in which those who had remained behind had. But by the grace of God, this was my family’s story. But by the faith of someone who could see from a distance, it would have been my destiny.
We owe it to those who will come after us to have a vision of the new homeland. By faith we walk through this life in a way that will lead us to our citizenship in the kingdom of God. By faith we see now from a distance and we continue journeying in that direction. Our decisions today, as we live by faith, will take us, and generations to come, to the homeland which we now only see in the distance.
Lord, please help me to continue pressing on in the direction of a better country. Amen.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The need for spiritual growth and maturity is placed before the believers. They are a community of faith and they share responsibility for one another. Given permission to provoke, the community is to be one which reflects the love and good deeds of Jesus Christ. This ability to “provoke” will only happen if they continue meeting together on a regular basis.
Some have made excuses that they are too busy and so they have given up the habit of meeting together regularly. The danger is being lulled into complacency without regular provoking from their sisters and brothers in the faith. With regular fellowship one will be provoked, but it will feel like encouragement on the part of fellow believers.
When the world looks in on Christianity do they discover a people who reflect the love and good deeds of Jesus Christ? I’m afraid that these are not the descriptors that are usually used in relation to Christianity — at least not in the part of the world in which I live. Sadly, Christianity has been provoked, or possibly enticed, to seek power through political channels. Maybe we’ve thought that it’s easier to seek the power of the world to try and make things the way we want them to be, than to regularly meet together and to provoke and encourage one another to love and good deeds!
The reality is that we are meeting together more and more infrequently. Even those who say they attend church regularly are now attending 2-3 times a month. Our lifestyles have changed with more opportunities and events clamoring for our attention. Little by little regular church attendance has become a thing of the past, and even those in leadership are gone on a regular basis. It’s all good stuff that takes us away. We want to invest in our children and grandchildren by allowing them to participate in the best sporting events possible. Our financial resources provide us with the opportunity for travel and fellowship with family and friends from far-off places. It’s all such good stuff but upon evaluation, is something missing? None of this has been an intentional plan to neglect our spiritual life. We still have time with the Lord in prayer and devotion — even while being busy (we do, right?). And yet there is something missing when the community is unable to get together and have iron sharpen iron.
It’s time to provoke! If we do not make gathering together with a community of faith a priority, we will all fail to be the complete reflection of Jesus Christ that we are called to be. When I only drop in to church from time to time, my actions and behaviors become hidden. No one will feel comfortable provoking me, because they’re not really sure what I’m up to. And if I don’t have time to go to church regularly, can I be intentional about minister to those on the margins and reflecting love and good deeds? I don’t mean dropping a dollar in the cup of the homeless beggar, but taking time to get to know the homeless beggar and find out the real needs!
I lead a life in which I travel a great deal and being part of a “home” church and community is not easy. However, one of my favorite things at our church is the Wednesday night prayer gathering. If I am in town, I will adjust my schedule to make sure that I get to be at Wednesday night prayer meeting. This has become my group with whom I want to meet. They pray for so many needs and burdens and I know that they lift me up when I am not present. I remain inextricably tied to this group of individuals because we have spent intimate time together in God’s holy presence. They can provoke me to love and participate in good deeds. I cannot neglect meeting with the Wednesday night prayer group.
We must all find a place of accountability; a place where we are willing to be provoked. Our lives will become spiritually fat and unhealthy if we do not allow ourselves to be prodded by those who love us and only want the best for us. Somehow, in our busy schedules we must intentionally create a space for regularly gathering together so that we can be provoked. Without being provoked, we just may begin to die spiritually.
Lord, please help me listen to the voices of those who are seeking your face, and may need to provoke me. Amen.