Thursday, October 19, 2017
Acts 6:7 The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
As an ongoing process there were those who were joining the believers in Jerusalem. The word of God was spreading, or as some translations say, increasing. The evidence of this was that there were increasing numbers of disciples in Jerusalem. This idea of discipleship is significant for it is not just a conversion, but a wholehearted change of life, which is evidenced by the comment regarding the priests. The priests would have been those among the crowd who had jeered Jesus in the past and letting go of their lifestyle and livelihood to become a disciple would have been a major change. This inclusion of the priests in the multitude of new disciples is an indicator of the power of transformation. The old structures were beginning to crumble as the word of God continued to spread.
The fact that the priests became “obedient to the faith” meant that there was something about discipleship that included obedience. The spread of the word of God may be seen in the increased numbers, or it could be the increased revelation of the Word. It may have been that the word was not revealed more clearly because the barriers were being destroyed. The complaining among the new believers was quieting down because they had created better organization. This may have provided greater credibility for the spreading of the word and the result was that they were able to reach a level of society not before considered sensitive to the Spirit.
As we watch this new church grow and develop we see patterns begin to emerge. There are challenges along the way for the ministry and yet, they face every challenge head-on. The result is that they simply become stronger.
Jesus had commanded them to go and make disciples and it appears that they followed this well. Early on, they established ways in which to bring people into the faith and teaching of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t just an experience of conversion, but an invitation into a radically changed life-style. This was to be a day-to-day immersion of taking up their cross and following Jesus.
For the word to increase, there must be a depth to God’s people. Discipleship happens within the community of faith. We begin to take on greater responsibilities and reflect Christ in our lives. This result is disciples who become irresistible to the people of the world.
It is the imprint of the Church, lived out in the lives of believers that increases the word of God. The written word comes to life in the form of those who reflect Jesus — the word who became flesh. As we become more like Christ, the word spreads and increases.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of being invited to reflect you in the world. Please, help me to be one of those who joins with the cloud of witnesses to spread the word. Amen.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and their behaviors began to replicate those found in Christ. They were performing the signs and wonders that Jesus had performed while he was here on earth. They went regularly to Solomon’s Portico and publicly preached and spoke to the people. Not wanting to act too interested some wouldn’t come near, but overall the mood of the people was positive toward the apostles. Finally, there would be those who would simply leave the opinions of the world behind and join with those who were following Christ.
The power of the apostles was in contrast to that of other “magicians” of the day. Just as Jesus healed the sick, so did these, his Spirit-filled followers. Chrysostom tells us, “Earth was becoming like heaven, for their way of life, boldness of speech, wonders, for all besides. Like angels were they looked upon with wonder. They were unconcerned about ridicule, threats, perils. They were compassionate and beneficent.” (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 12) Somehow this presence of the Holy Spirit created a scenario in which the kingdom of God was breaking into the kingdoms of this world. As a result, ordinary people were offered a glimpse of heaven on earth.
Spirit-filled believers are to walk in such a way that they participate in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who provides the possibility for our fellowship with the Triune God. In this fellowship we begin to take on the characteristics of those with whom we spend time. If we are hanging out with our friends and loved ones — we will be like them. We will begin to take on the characteristics of the group and people will recognize that we have been in their presence.
When we intentionally spend time in the presence of our Lord, we will begin to take on the characteristics of Christ. The kingdom of God will be revealed through our behaviors and activities. We will no longer reflect the world, but the things of heaven.
The apostles were completely absorbed with following God. There was nothing of greater importance in their lives and everything that they did, day in and day out reflected this commitment. The Holy Spirit did the empowering.
Christ calls us to this kind of radical obedience. The Holy Spirit hasn’t changed from those early days, but our nearness to the kingdom and total participation may have. Earth becomes heaven when we participate, both individually and corporately in holy fellowship wth God. Participation in God is transforming and empowering.
The apostles, little by little, took steps of faith until there came a moment of complete, or entire participation through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost changed everything and from that time on earth was a bit like heaven.
Lord, please help us these days to participate in your kingdom every moment and every day. Amen.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Psa. 1:1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
This first Psalm becomes foundational to all the rest. Throughout life there will be days of trouble and yet, we discover the ways in which God leads. The wicked will always be nearby offering a tempting pathway for life that appears to be easy. The one who chooses to follow God must learn to stand firm and not give into the the temptations of the ego. Getting strokes from other people means nothing when it comes to kingdom life.
Learning to delight in God’s law and making it a priority in life will change everything. Taking the time to meditate on the word provides a new type of nourishment for life. We are transplanted from the dry desert of trying to do life on our own and planted firmly beside everlasting waters. We read about the river in the garden of Eden, and then again in the closing chapter of Revelation. The water of the Spirit will be eternally refreshing, allowing us to bring forth fruit in the God’s timing and season. When we remain fed by God’s water we do not wither, but continue to prosper spiritually.
The Psalmist brings this promising word right at the beginning. All of life must be grounded in this foundational understanding and be eternally fed by the living water so that we can walk, stand and sit, day in and day out, in the ways of God. This is a lifestyle to be embraced.
Is there anything distinct about my lifestyle, or would it be indistinguishable from those around me? I believe this is what the Psalmist is asking here from the outset. If we are to be followers of God, then there must be a commitment to a lifestyle which is dedicated to following Christ.
The streams of living water are available to all today who are willing to be transplanted. It’s easy to complain about the desert of our lives when we refuse to be transplanted into a place where we just may flourish. The trees needed to be planted by the water so that they could grow. We need to be planted in a place where the Holy Spirit can provide us with all that we need for life on a daily basis. That means we have to take time to have our thirst quenched by the Holy Spirit. This includes time in the word and prayer, as well as fellowship with other believers and worship.
We know that in many of the later Psalms the Psalmist laments the difficult situations which he encounters. We will come face to face with trials and tribulations, but to be able to persevere, we must first become grounded. To become grounded requires commitment to Christ and a lifestyle in which we will be continually fed and filled. Take time to grow deep roots so that when the winds blow we will be able to stand.
Lord, please help me to be nourished by the Holy Spirit’s presence today and lead me along life’s journey, whether good or bad, rooted in you. Amen.
Friday, October 13, 2017
Neh. 9: 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
Nehemiah was reminding the people what God had done for them. Every detail of their needs had been cared for during the time in which they walked in the desert. The reference to clothing and feet was an indicator that everything had been taken into account. How in the world did clothing last for forty years? When people walked day in and day out in the desert, hot in the day and cold at night, their feet did not swell. This was all supernatural and not explainable in any way, but for divine intervention. The promise of the God of the details remained true to those who were returning from exile and rebuilding the walls. The memories served as a reminder that the LORD could, and should be trusted.
The older I get the more that durable clothing and non-swollen feet sounds really appealing. The cheaper our clothing, the faster it simply deteriorates. I remember buying clothing for our girls at the open market. I washed them once and they completely fell apart. Clothing isn’t made to last forty years.
I can’t imagine that I’d write anything in a devotional thought about swelling feet, but hey, it’s an issue the older I get — and the more I travel! Traveling and swelling feet (or ankles) seem to go hand in hand. Nowadays you get all kinds of advice, like wearing compression socks, elevating your feet, drinking lots of water, etc. but chances are, after a long flight, you’re still going to have swollen feet! Those Israelites walked around the desert for forty years and their feet never swelled! That’s amazing.
What’s really amazing is that God, who provided for durable clothing and feet that didn’t swell, still cares for us today. The people of Nehemiah’s day were having trouble placing 100% of their trust in God. Let’s be honest — so do we! We worry about the details of life, large and small. It’s hard for us to bring them before the Lord and trust. We think we have a giant wall to rebuild — that we personally have to fix what’s going on in our world.
Everything we have to tackle in life is far bigger than all of us. We may choose to live in worry, fear and anxiety, or we can trust the God of the details. If God cared about clothing and swollen feet, then God cares about what’s going on in our lives on a daily basis. That’s the deal!
Lord, Thank you for precious promises that reach out to us through the ages. Amen.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Neh. 5: 16 Indeed, I devoted myself to the work on this wall, and acquired no land; and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover there were at my table one hundred fifty people, Jews and officials, beside those who came to us from the nations around us. 18 Now that which was prepared for one day was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and every ten days skins of wine in abundance; yet with all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because of the heavy burden of labor on the people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
It had come to Nehemiah’s attention that certain Jews were becoming wealthy over the recovery of Jerusalem. Those returning home from exile had little to offer and they needed to establish their lives. Those with goods to sell were willing to offer credit, but it came with a high price. Suddenly those who had escaped slavery in a foreign land found themselves sold as slaves to their own people. Nehemiah was furious. This was to be a time when all the Jews worked together to help one another and transform the city. He was angry and expressed his feelings at a gathering of all the leaders. They agreed to give back all the interest they had charged and to work together fairly with their brothers and sisters.
Nehemiah always chose to live his life as an example to the people. He refused to take any food from the governor, although it was a portion of his allowance. Instead, he generously gave what he had to feed not only himself, but the guests whom he invited to his house every day. He took the opportunity to show hospitality to others as a way to help feed the community. He went above and beyond the call of duty in his action, showing generosity in a very visible way. This was his way of showing the leaders that he meant to give more than just lip service to his expectations for all of them. He and his household would demonstrate what it was that he wanted to accomplish among the people. It cost him a great deal, but for him it was simply living out the calling which God had placed upon his life. The spirit of generosity reflected his love for God.
While growing up Sunday dinners were always a wonderful and special event. Mom would cook something special, always preparing more than enough food. We were all welcome to invite guests to come to the Sunday dinner table. Extra potatoes were in the oven and more places could be squeezed in at the table. The finest china was always used. Someone once asked my mother why she would use her best china all the time and she told them that it was to be enjoyed and shared with others, not stored in a cabinet. She enjoyed the beauty of setting a lovely table, and the joy of sharing food and fellowship together. My mother’s spirit of generosity, even in the midst of scarcity, made an impression on me.
God’s people are called to be a generous people. Even when we may be “allowed” to have particular resources, maybe we shouldn’t take them. Instead, as followers of Christ we are to model what it means to use what we have to serve others. Everything that we have has been given to us by God — yes, even that which has been gained by hard work. We are to be good stewards of that which God has allowed us to receive and we are to use it for the sake of the kingdom.
Nehemiah’s spirit of generosity allowed for him to fellowship with Jews within his community. He was also able to invite officials to his table, and people from many other nations. By modeling the generosity of God, he became a better leader, developing relationships with many different people who would be engaged in decision making. He was able to bring very different people together around his table and, more than likely, broke down walls of hostility by breaking bread together. He was a generous man who saw his resources as tools to be leveraged in service to God. Every resource we have may be used for the kingdom and transformation when we live a life of intentional generosity.
Lord, may the abundance of my life e used in service to you. Amen.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Neh. 3:6 Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 7 Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite—the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah—who were under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River. 8 Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. 10 Next to them Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house; and next to him Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs. 11 Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
We often think of Nehemiah being the superstar of the story of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He was the visionary leader and was able to mobilize the people but he never could have accomplished the goal alone. I have only listed one paragraph from chapter three, but the entire chapter is filled with the names of those who participated in repairing the walls. Every person was important and everyone got involved. By families they came together to take responsibility for a portion of the wall. Every member of the household, the sons and the daughters came out to repair the walls, because the task would never be accomplished unless everyone took their part. The reality is that everyone was needed.
Society currently reinforces the idea of the superstar, the famous individual, who can get things done on their own. In the midst of this perception, which is enforced by media, we are on the precipice of losing something very important. While we make someone famous on a virtual stage, very few are able to tackle the real problems facing humanity, and that will not be done alone. Now more than ever, everyone is needed. The lone rangers of the day simply become a distraction from the real work which needs to be done. It’s when God’s people partner together, each taking upon themselves their responsibility that we see miraculous results.
The poor and beaten down people of Jerusalem should never have been able to rebuild the wall. They didn’t have the best supplies or tools, and they were constantly harassed by their enemies. Success came when they realized that everyone was needed, and everyone could participate. This community of faith was able to accomplish more than they could have ever hoped to imagine because they were all in it together. Shoulder to shoulder they took on the impossible and watched it develop into reality.
We must be careful of upholding the “well-known” individual whom we believe may be the answer to everything. Christianity has been guilty of doing this from time to time as we give platform to those who do inspire us, but it must be with a caution. Nehemiah was a great leader, but he knew how to mobilize everyone to accomplish much more than he could have accomplished on his own. A great servant leader is willing to spend time shoulder to shoulder repairing walls with their people. They will mention everyone by name and give credit to the entire group that has worked hard to accomplish the goal. Never will they believe that this is something that they have done on their own, but by the grace of God and with the hands of many others something unusual has been accomplished.
Everyone is needed to serve in the kingdom. The enemy would love to divide God’s people and it’s easily done because of our egos. Putting our egos aside, we can be united in kingdom work, refusing to take any credit for ourselves. Now, more than ever, we need to put aside any agendas which do not work to strengthen the whole. Unity and love can bind us together and create an environment in which everyone participates. The results are improbable in the face of adversity, but with God the impossible becomes possible. When God’s people humble themselves and are willing to do the simple work in the trenches, it will get done and God will be glorified.
Lord, may there always be less of me and more of you. Amen.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
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.”
The people were giving their offerings into the treasury and it seems that all were participating. The ways in which they could participate were radically different. The wealthy were not giving sacrificially. They were able to give generously but it came out of their abundance. They could give to the treasury and it didn’t affect their own lives. They didn’t have to give up anything to give. Instead, they took care of their own needs first and they gave out of that which they did not need. This was in stark contrast to the life of the widow. She didn’t have much of anything and yet, she wanted to give. She sacrificially gave that which she could not afford to give. Her two small copper coins were nothing in comparison to the wealth of the others, but it wasn’t the amount of the offering, it was the heart from which it was given. She gave everything that she could and, it meant that she would have to do without things that would be vitally important to her life. Her gift was sacrifice, not abundance.
The kingdom of God has a full treasury when all of God’s people participate out of equal sacrifice. The needs are so very great as people around the world continue to suffer as a result of disasters — natural and man-made. The transformation which occurs as a result of the good news is not just personal, but also cultural. Entire societies can be transformed and reformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. Following the great commission of Jesus means that we go into all the world making disciples. Jesus also anticipated that his disciples would be cared for along the way by those who were willing to give and support the mission.
I’ve been blessed to spend my life in service to the Lord by way of the church. I have been cared for in wonderful ways. Often it has been out of the sacrifice of an individual that I have been able to continue on. I think about the travels into far off corners of the world where, at times, we were the first Christians some people had ever met. The journey has been amazing and I feel blessed to be able to do this, but I want to be a good steward of the sacrifices of others.
I’ll confess that it’s easy to give out of abundance, but I think Jesus was teaching a lesson by pointing out the widow. Giving out of our abundance does not change our behavior and it creates no dependence upon God. The more we have in this world, the less we need God. It is only by sacrificially giving away to others that we learn how God provides. The beauty is that God doesn’t give us what we “want,” but is very cognizant of our needs. Our needs don’t take as much time away from serving God as our wants and in many ways, we are set free.
If we are still giving to God out of our abundance, we may want to ask God to help us begin to live like the widow. Discovering the beauty of dependence upon God begins by reaching far beyond our abundance.
Lord, May my life be a living sacrifice for you, and may my dependence upon you grow daily. Amen.