Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Withdrawing for Prayer


Scripture
 
Luke 5:16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Observation

Jesus not only taught us words to pray, but his life gave us a pattern for prayer. Jesus often would withdraw to a deserted place to pray. This was not the only occurrence that we read about in the New Testament. What’s interesting about the use of withdraw here is that it implies that it happened frequently, and that Jesus found prayer so important that he made himself intentionally inaccessible. To be able to spend the time that Jesus needed in prayer, he had to stop the preaching, teaching and healing and get completely away from the people to spend time alone with the Father.

Application

Sometimes I think we set up a dichotomy and begin to argue over which is more important in our spiritual lives. Is it getting to know Christ? Or is it participating in Christ’s mission in the world? The reality is that we need both and it is in getting to know Christ that we can then join with Christ in participating in his mission in the world. But the only way in which we will really get to know Christ is by spending time with him. This means that we have to make knowing Christ a priority in our lives and that means prayer has to become a priority.

The most revealing thing about Jesus’ activity was that he intentionally withdrew to pray. There were always people who needed to be healed. There were always people who wanted to hear him preach. He could have worked 24-7 and still not reached everyone and yet, he intentionally established boundaries for his personal life.

If we are going to get to know Christ and be empowered by uniting with him, then we have to be intentional about our prayer life. We have to withdraw from everything else that we have on our plates and spend time alone with Jesus. If Jesus had to do this, how much more so do we? Jesus had to spend time with the Father and in doing so the Father’s passions became his passions, and the Father’s strength became his strength. The Father’s desires were his desires. The result was Jesus’ very effective ministry.

Slow down. Take time to withdraw to pray. The work will still be there, but just like Jesus, we will be recharged and able to tackle our work more focused and empowered.

Prayer

Lord, please help me know you more. Amen.
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Monday, September 26, 2016

Trusting Jesus


Scripture
 
Luke 5:1   Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,  2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Observation

Simon, James and John were all professional fishermen. They had been doing this for years. Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth and fishing was not his profession and yet, he seemed to understand much about it. What’s amazing about this story is that the fishermen, who knew their profession, trusted Jesus. He told them to put down their nets, even thought they had already been fishing all night. They trust Jesus and do so, probably not sure of any response. But in trusting Jesus they suddenly have a huge haul of fish and Simon Peter is a broken man. How can this man, Jesus, have known that they could catch this many fish — right now, and in this location? Jesus has something larger in mind. He has simply gotten the attention of the fishermen by revealing his power in the midst of their own personal strength. If they could trust Jesus in a profession they knew well — maybe they could trust him in something they had never done — and that was to become fishers of men.

Application

We may say that we trust Jesus — but do we really? Just as he did with the disciples, Jesus wants to come into our ordinary lives and reveal his power. When we learn to trust him at home and at work — then we will grow and will be able to trust him for the bigger things he has in mind.

Following and trusting Jesus was always meant to be a growing experience. We are to be stretched beyond our own comfort zones. The fishermen were comfortable fishing. We are comfortable in our own world and with the things that we know we do well. Jesus brought fish to fishermen and we will discover him as we go about the ordinary daily business of our lives, if only we will trust him.

Learning to trust Jesus means that we are willing to step out of the boat of our comfort and follow him wherever he may lead.

Prayer

Lord, may I trust in you and follow your leading throughout this day. Amen.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Best Thing Ever


Scripture

 
Matt. 13:44   “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Observation


Jesus gives several parables in a row regarding the kingdom of heaven. It was not unusual for people to bury their money somewhere on their land for safekeeping. Within the last 12 months there have been three major discoveries of caches of ancient Roman coins. These were treasures of 3000-4000 coins from the Roman era. That’s why this parable spoke to the people of Jesus’ day because they understood that throughout history people had hidden their treasures in fields. If you knew that a field contained 3000 ancient Roman coins, you would sell everything that you owned just to buy that field.

The kingdom of heaven is so much more than a treasure of Roman coins. Just as someone is not sad to give up their measly personal belongings to purchase a field with Roman coins, so giving up what we have now in comparison to the kingdom is also nothing. The kingdom is of such great value that we are joyful, almost giddy, to give up what we had before, just so that we can enjoy new life in the kingdom, for this is the best thing ever!

Application

Treasure buried in a field for future consumption is called a hoard. It was a common practice and, in case you are curious, you can see a list of Roman hoards found in Great Britain alone here.
People regularly buried their goods in anticipation of finding them at a later date and using them.

We can find ourselves all over this parable. There are plenty of us these days who are hoarders, so much so, that there are even television shows about people who are hoarders! Somehow we find comfort in collecting stuff — to the extent that the stuff overtakes our lives. It’s similar to investing in something that we are willing to put into the ground in hopes that we will dig it up some day and find it useful. Considering the fact that over 1200 hoards of Roman era goods have been found in Great Britain alone — it seems that plenty of people never got to use their hoards. The things that they thought were precious remained buried in the ground for hundreds, if not more than a thousand years.

Jesus reminds us to store up our treasure in heaven. The heavenly kingdom is eternal and everything in this world pales in comparison. It really is the best thing ever!

Giving up the things of this world should not be a sad or mournful endeavor. If that is the case, then somehow we are not comprehending the beauty of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is of such great value that we willingly and joyful give up what we have and take ownership as citizens of the kingdom. Our problem is that we fail to understand that eternal life in the kingdom is far better than anything we can imagine now. At this point we only have a little foretaste of the fullness of the kingdom. It’s like digging for buried treasure and finding just one or two coins. We are excited about it and we purchase the field in anticipation of locating the entire hoard. Life in the kingdom will eventually lead to the entire treasure and it will be better than anything we could ever begin to imagine. Jesus is inviting us into this space, giving us a glimpse of what lies ahead and providing for us citizenship in the heavenly kingdom. It really is the best thing ever.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for eternal treasure, far greater than anything we can imagine. Amen.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Not a Little Comforted


Scripture
 
Acts 20:7   On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting.  9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.  10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”  11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left.  12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Observation

The power of the understatement occurs at the end of this scene in the ministry of Paul. After Eutychus falls down from a third story window and dies, Paul runs to his side and a miracle occurs as the boy comes back to life. The conclusion is that the people take the boy away alive and they “were not a little comforted” which is a great understatement. However, this statement seems to punctuate a story which gives us great insight about Paul and his ministry.

Paul used every single opportunity that he had to preach Christ and he didn’t want anything to go to waste. Paul was up preaching all night long because he had to catch a boat in the morning. His time was very limited and his heart was so full of Christ that he was simply bursting with desire to tell others about Jesus! Yes, he probably droned on an on and Eutychus couldn’t stay away, but that wasn’t what drove Paul. Love for Christ drove Paul and his desire that others would know all that they could in a very short period of time.

Paul would not allow distractions to keep him from his cause. Even after the incident with Eutychus, Paul went right back to teaching. Whether he was in front of the group or reclining at a table and breaking bread, Paul did not stop. He knew he had to make the most of every minute that he had been given. Ultimately the fall took place for the benefit of Paul, for it literally brought to life the message he was preaching. The people experienced the comfort that Jesus brings as he reaches out and touches the lives of individuals. The understatement is written for the benefit of those present and for us, for because of the incident with Eutychus, the evening would never be forgotten. They were more than “not a little comforted” but they were confronted with the passion of Paul for a Messiah who could bring about transformation.

Application

Just when you think something in life has happened to derail your plans, you discover that God just might be using it for greater purposes. The understatement may be the exclamation point on what God is trying to accomplish and if we get hung up on the incidents, we will miss the real mission.

I am challenged by the way in which Paul lived his life. He remained focused on the goal of Jesus Christ in everything that he did and didn’t allow anything to distract him. His own personal sufferings were never a barrier to knowing and serving Christ. My prayer is that this kind of a passion for the Lord would burn in you and me. That what appear to be distractions in life would not be a frustration but as God-appointed moments to be used as accents on Jesus’ work in and through us. That we would use every single opportunity which comes our way to focus on Jesus.

We may not have a boat to catch in the morning, but our time really is limited. May we live in the joy that God is in the understatements and using them for glory.

Prayer

Lord, may the “distractions” of this day be transformed by you. Amen.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Spontaneous Evangelism


Scripture
 
Esth. 8:15   Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced.  16 For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor.  17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

Observation

Haman had planned for the destruction of the Jews who were still living in the land. Those who had not returned home after the exile had become members of their adopted society. Lest we think that they completed assimilated within those communities, this story of Esther is a great reminder that they were counter-cultural and remained Jewish. Haman’s plan backfired and instead of destroying the Jews within the land, people converted to Judaism. People suddenly realized it would be advantageous to be Jewish and almost a complete change of mind by the public happened overnight. Haman’s plan for evil was used for good and the result was spontaneous evangelism.

Application

Within the scope of the story of Queen Esther we remember the salvation of the Jews, but rarely do we mention that people converted to Judaism. These were God’s people who were a remnant living in a land where they had been taken during the exile. They could have returned back to Jerusalem but after decades they had settled down into this place where they had been brought. This had become home for them and they had been trying to live peacefully among those who had been their oppressors. Haman represents the oppressors who wanted to rid the land of the Jews.

How does a community go from wanting to destroy a people, to wanting to join a people? This was not on the mind of the Jews who were simply living life for the long haul. As we live our lives faithfully day in and day out, without compromise to the culture surrounding, God will continue to be at work. The Jews lived for a long time feeling very oppressed and then, suddenly, things turned around. They turned around because God used a series of circumstances and used them for the kingdom’s sake. That’s what God does with our circumstances as well. We may not see what is going on behind the scenes and we may feel quite oppressed and yet, God is the one who is at work. We are to live faithfully, day in and day out, for the long haul.

The church is not in a condition of growth these days. In the United States, even with the advent of new large mega-churches, there is not a county in the US with more church attenders today than twenty years ago. (Rahner) We are just shifting around Christians when what we really need is a movement of God’s Holy Spirit in which there is spontaneous evangelism. This doesn’t come about by our own personal designs, but by God’s work. We are called to live as faithfully followers of Jesus Christ, day in and day out, for the glory of God. There will be times of difficulty and trials, but as we remain faithful, we just may get to see God’s spontaneous revival break out among those who suddenly realize that God is real.

Prayer


Lord, please help me to live in patient submission to you for the long haul. Amen.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Problem of Envy


Scripture
 
Luke 4:20   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;  26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Observation

Jesus had returned home to Nazareth and attended the regular worship service at the synagogue. The people had heard about things that he had done in other places but they wanted him to do his “magic” here at home. This wasn’t “magic” for the sake of doing tricks, but Jesus’ works were about the glorification of the Father. This was of no interest to them, but rather, they felt that they had ownership of him because he was from their own town.

He knew that they would not accept him for who he really was and that they simply wanted to have some personal advantage because they knew him. The problem with envy is that it becomes a barrier to the work of God. They didn’t need to be envious because the reality was that they had raised up the Son of God. They had a lot to be proud of — that he had come from their small town. Instead, they wanted to be able to control and manipulate him and that was not to happen. Instead, Jesus hints that the good news will reach out beyond the borders of Nazareth, and even the Jewish world, and transform those who do not "belong." When barriers of envy obstruct the flow of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will find an unobstructed path and pour out on Jew and Gentile alike.

Application
 
Ultimately, problem of envy becomes obstructive to the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The people of Nazareth didn’t understand their own problem and their envy led them to the edge of a cliff, wanting to destroy the very one whom they had raised. The destructive power of envy can drive good people into ugly behaviors as they succumb to the motivations of their heart.

Jesus lived into the life and ministry which the Father had set before him. He could not be troubled by the envy of those from his home town and he could not allow their attitudes to keep him from ministry. The Holy Spirit would eventually flow beyond the barriers of their envy and reach out to all of those who were open to receive what Jesus had provided. He was not to be manipulated.

If we allow envy to grow in our hearts, we will suffer. Just because someone is more “successful” than we are, or more “popular,” or has more stuff is no reason to envy. God has gifted each and every individual in unique ways for the sake of the kingdom. If we are all faithfully serving in the kingdom then there is no need to become envious of another because of their gifting. We should celebrate what God is doing in and through the lives of servants dedicated to the glory of God. If we refuse to respond in this way, we will become an obstruction to the flow of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and we are the ones who will suffer. The people of Nazareth missed out on what Jesus really had to offer because they had their own ideas of what they wanted. Allowing our own ideas of what we want to dominate our lives means we will miss out. The problem of envy is that it can only hurt you.

Prayer


Lord, please help me to live into the unique life and ministry which you have placed before me. Amen.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Power to Overcome


Scripture
 
Luke 4:1    Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,  2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.  3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Observation

Jesus’ own life becomes a blueprint for living. At his baptism he is filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for the life of ministry and service which the Father had intended for him. Now, filled with the Spirit he spends forty days in the wilderness, and for forty days is tempted by the devil. Just as the first Adam fell by eating, Jesus becomes an overcomer by not eating. The first Adam was deceived by the devil and gave in to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit. The devil turns to Jesus, the second Adam and again begins to deceive with food but Jesus will not be tricked. When the food is not deceptive enough, the devil tries to prod him into proving who he really is. This won’t happen either, for Jesus, filled with the Spirit is in the process of sanctifying human flesh, and setting aright all that had gone wrong through Adam. What was lost by eating in Adam is now found, and we are made more than conquerers in Christ who had the power to overcome.

Application

Our spiritual life, empowered by the working of the Holy Spirit, has the possibility of a very wholistic response. Maybe we have created a misnomer by speaking about a "spiritual life," because we may think that this only relates to life in the Spirit. We may equate this to our devotional and/or worship life. In reality this is an early church heresy, that of gnosticism, in which we divide the individual into the physical and the spiritual. The “spiritual” life can grow and have knowledge of God, but there really is no hope for the physical life, for in this world it will remain tainted. Jesus’ action in the wilderness refutes this. He suffered a very physical temptation and overcame that temptation to provide the opportunity for us to be set free.

We can be set free from our physical temptations. We may receive power to overcome many physical temptations by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

We can overcome our unhealthy relationship with food by the power of the Holy Spirit. Food has become much more than sustenance to many people in this world. For some it has become a joy and comfort. For others it has become entertainment. We eat more than we need and we have a generation of young people looking at Christ-followers, who may have enjoyed a few too many church pot-lucks, and are asking whether we have succumbed to the temptation of food. I believe this is why Jesus often demonstrates a lifestyle of prayer and fasting, to provide an example to God’s people that we do not have to be ruled by our stomachs.

We can be set free from sexual immorality. The early church was radically counter-cultural because they refused to accept and engage in the sexual practices of their society. The power to overcome means that God’s children do not have to succumb to the lifestyles of the age. Let’s be honest, pre-marital sex has become a common practice among “Christian” young people. The world has been telling us it’s okay for a long time. Without a strong call to following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as God’s holy people, people will simply follow the pattern of the world. Without examples of those who are overcomers in the flesh, Christianity will become a purely “spiritual” endeavor and we will end up back in the first century as gnostic heretics. It’s why we think we can get away with watching pornography in the secrecy of our homes and go to church on Sunday and feel good about how we are doing spiritually.

Jesus’ entire life is one which creates a pathway to union with God. The Holy Spirit draws us into this relationship with God and we are given the power to overcome. This doesn’t happen because of our own will-power, but because of Holy Spirit power. At the same time we must be active participants in what God desires for all of us. Jesus willingly, on his own power, walked to the wilderness. He went to the place where God wanted him to be and there, full of the Holy Spirit, he overcame the temptations which had come in the flesh and began to set everything aright. With our own two feet we can follow Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit can take us to the place of overcoming.

Prayer

Lord, may your Holy Spirit lead me today and help me to follow you in the flesh. Amen.

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