Monday, January 23, 2017
Judg. 6:11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”
Gideon was hiding in the winepress beating out his wheat because he didn’t want the Midianites to see him. The people of God were again living in dangerous days with the threat of violence constantly at their doorstep. This was because of their unfaithfulness to God, but that was often forgotten.
The angel appears to Gideon and begins with an odd statement, calling Gideon “you mighty warrior.” This seems strange because the “mighty warrior” is living in fear, hiding in the winepress, trying to beat his wheat so that he and his family can make bread. That doesn’t seem very “mighty warrior” like. Instead of speaking into that comment Gideon shoots back, blaming God for the current state of affairs for the Israelites. The angel had said that the Lord was with Gideon — not with all the people. As Gideon recounts the promises of old and the faithful deeds of God mentioned by his ancestors, he seems to be angry. Why would God have helped in the past but doesn’t seemed to be helping now?
After this accusatory exchange, the Lord commissions him to go out and fight the enemy in the might that he has because the Lord is with him. The declaration of “mighty warrior” is not because of Gideon’s skill, but because of the presence of the Lord. God wants to take the ordinary man who is fearing for his life and use him for the extraordinary. It is in this way that God will be glorified as the people are saved from the Midianites. In the meantime, it took a very awkward conversation between Gideon and the Lord to get there.
Sometimes we avoid the difficult conversations with the Lord. Just like Gideon we may be suffering the consequences of what life has brought our way. Angry, hurt and beaten down we have retreated into a place of safety and are willing to live huddled up, trying not to disturb anyone. Sadly, there is no real life to be found here. Then comes the awkward moment when God answers our cry and shows up and we get angry. We join Gideon in crying out, “But sir…why has all this happened to [me]?” "It just doesn’t seem fair!" "I’ve heard people at church give their testimony about how God saved them and now I’m sitting in the middle of this mess and it feels like God has abandoned me!"
It took that awkward exchange for Gideon to be able to accept the help of the Lord. There are times when we need to be willing to have a conversation with God about where we find ourselves. I’m afraid that we think it’s impolite to have these kinds of conversations with God, but unless we actually have the tough conversations, we may never be able to move forward. God can handle us asking the tough questions! It’s when we remain huddled up in the winepress and refuse to have the conversation with God that we set ourselves up for real trouble. We close ourselves off from any possibility of being helped and we continue to suffer in silence.
God is not offended by the awkward conversation. If you notice in this story, the angel of the Lord doesn’t defend God, nor does he accuse Gideon of being unfaithful. Often those things don’t need to be said because most of us do know that there’s more to the picture than that single snapshot. It is in the process of the conversation that a relationship begins to develop. Gideon begins to trust this angel of the Lord who is about to ask Gideon to do the impossible. Only when we are willing to engage in the exchange with God will we learn to develop trust. When we begin to trust we will step out of the winepress of our lives on faith and God will take the ordinary and use it for the extraordinary. This doesn’t happen without our participation with God. Gideon wasn’t a mighty warrior, but God was a mighty warrior.
God loves us and wants to lift us out of the pit of the winepress. It may take an awkward exchange — but God can handle it! Step out on faith and have that difficult conversation that will bring healing to your relationship with God.
Lord, thank you for loving us enough to endure the awkward conversations. Amen.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Isaiah 9:4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
This beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah is known as the Messianic passage. The words lead us into a gracious understanding of the coming Messiah. Salvation will stretch beyond the shores of the Jordan and the people who have been walking in darkness will get to see the great light. The Messiah will come to set God’s people free. It is these words that remind the people of the oppression that they have suffered. The burdens of carrying a yoke, being prodded on their shoulders and beaten by the rod all bring about imagery of oxen. They have been an oppressed nation, and it has felt like the burden carried by the ox who is plowing the field. It is the vision of life in Egypt when they lived as slaves.
The Messiah will come and free God’s people from oppression. The heavy yoke will be lifted and the slaves set free. This will not be accomplished by human or political power, but by the supernatural intervention of God into the lives of God’s people. Just as God rescued Gideon with a handful of men, so God will save humanity through one man. The promise is for all those who are weighed down. The Messiah has come to lift the burden and set us free.
Everyday we encounter situations which may become a burden to us. We can become yoked to that troubled relationship, or that problem at work, or that child who has determined to follow their own destiny. We may feel weighed down by the burdens that we have to carry day in and day out. Our mind becomes preoccupied with the burden and it can become oppressive. When that happens it can become consuming and difficult to think about anything else.
Jesus has come to lift that burden and remove the sense of being weighed down. This Messianic passage is prophesying about a new era when the Messiah would come and break the chains of oppression in the life of believers. The yoke and burden of slavery in Egypt are the chains of our past. Most all of us have some kind of a past; a space in life where we were not living our lives in obedience to the Father. Often that kind of living has consequences. They become the burden, the prodding bar leading us in a particular direction and the beating rod of the oppressor. It may be difficult for us to see or understand, but just as God saved Gideon from the Midianites, so God can set us free from what weighs us down today.
We are partnered together in life with something. It is either the things of life that weigh us down, or it is the yoke of the Messiah that saves. He promises that his burden is light because he does all the heavy lifting. It doesn’t mean that the burdens of life are gone, but that they are being carried by Jesus, and not by us. This is the great and glorious promise of the Messiah who has come and lives now to intervene on our behalf. We must be willing to accept the yoke of his leadership and let go of the burdens that are weighing us down.
Lord, the weight of the burdens which we often refuse to relinquish to you are unbearable. Please, lift those burdens and help us walk in the pathway you prepare for us. Amen.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Luke 5:29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Levi is called by Jesus to be a disciple. He is a tax-collector, and they are viewed by many as the scum of society. They were considered religiously ‘unclean’ by the Pharisees because they worked for the Romans and quite literally stole from their fellow Jews by corrupt tax practices. Along with tax collectors, the “others” of the scum included prostitutes and criminals, and probably a few other unsavory characters sprinkled in to add a little spice. Just by associating with these people Jesus was allowing his reputation to be tarnished. But the image is one of the final marriage supper of the lamb, where all who have been saved by grace are welcome at the table. It is a wonder of grace that the Lord reaches out to such scum, and it becomes a lesson in discipleship for Levi. This is the behavior which he is to adopt as he follows after and imitates Christ.
Meanwhile the religious leaders are angry with Jesus’ behavior because they want to believe that they are the chosen and select few who have kept themselves pure for God. The only problem is that their rules for purity actually became a barrier that would not allow them to see the Messiah. Jesus, trying to help them understand his mission uses the metaphor of a medical doctor. The doctor comes to meet the needs of the sick, not to hang out with the healthy. Surely they could understand the importance of this role.
The disciple is to step into the mission of Jesus and accept the role of healer. The only response is to ask, “Who needs a doctor?”
Last evening we had some friends over for dinner. The husband happens to be a medical doctor and she is a nurse. While we were eating he was receiving some texts about a patient who was in need. Finally he had to excuse himself from the table to make a call and care for the needs of the sick individual. One can only imagine how ridiculous it would have been for him to ignore the needs of his patient because he was hanging out with his well friends! All of us would be appalled by that kind of behavior and would probably determine that this person is not really a doctor.
People will question the legitimacy of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ and yet ignore the needs of those who need Jesus’ touch. The blessings of knowing Christ are not for us to hoard for ourselves or to be used only in fellowship with our fellow believers. The sick are in desperate need of a doctor and when we refuse to get up from our comfortable seat and help them we are anything but Christlike! We will suddenly find ourselves hanging out with the Pharisees who were critical of Jesus’ behavior.
The expectation of discipleship is to go out into the world and make more disciples. That means we follow Jesus and fellowship at the table with those that others may refer to as scum. Time to grab our doctor’s bag!
Lord, please help me not to be too comfortable at the table with my friends. Amen.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Gal. 2:10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles and likely there were those who may have accused him of forgetting his own countrymen. The Jews back in Jerusalem were struggling. There had been a famine and many were starving. Those who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah had an additional burden of being disowned by their families. The result was a fledgling church spread throughout the Mediterranean, made up of many diverse people, struggling for unity. Paul was making his case for ministering to the Gentiles while Peter, James and John were preaching to the Jews. They had previously gathered in Jerusalem to discuss what might be required of Gentiles who were becoming Christians. Did they also have to take upon themselves the Jewish practice of circumcision? The decision was made that they did not and Paul would continue ministering to those who were not Jewish. The unifying principle became ministry to the poor, and quite specifically, the Jewish Christian poor who were struggling in Jerusalem. All of those who were coming to Christ were rallying around these who were in need. God was unifying the believers, those who may have previously been heathen-unbelieving Greeks, and Jews. As they united to minister to the most needy among them, God was binding them together into a new people — Christians!
The differences among the Christians was quite stark! There were those who had been very devout and religiously Jewish. They followed every letter of the Jewish law and believed this was important to their new Christian faith. There were the Gentiles, the ones who had come from a very pagan Greek background. Their previous behavior would have been viewed as vile to the Jews. Literally their own personal practices would have made them unclean to the Jews and yet, somehow, these very different people were to be united in Christ. Instead of focusing on themselves and their own wants or desires, they were to pay attention to the very neediest among them. While they were caught up in arguing over things like circumcision, they had fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were starving to death. It was time to get their eyes off of themselves and onto the leading of the Lord.
Today is a unique day in the United States as we celebrate the inauguration of a new president. On both sides of the political aisle people are angry with one another. Some are very excited about the days ahead and others are terrified. There are believers in Jesus Christ who will find themselves in both of these camps. It’s easy to focus on our differences and have expectations that we ought to all be the same. Initially the Jewish Christians thought that it would be a good idea for converts to be circumcised. That made sense to them, but God began to move in ways that they had never even imagined and the Greek converts were a complete surprise to them. The ways in which we think things ought to be done may not be the way in which God wants to get them done. God has always been able to break down the barriers in society and unify the people of God when they fix their eyes on Jesus. This was not just done in the past, but can be done in the present, when God’s people are unified around God’s mission.
Paul’s call to remember the poor was one facet of the unifying mission of the early church. Those who disagreed with one another on so many levels could agree that ministering to the poor was important. The act of remembering led to physical engagement. They actively collected offerings everywhere they went, giving sacrificially to help their sisters and brothers who were in need.
God’s people need to be actively engaged in God’s mission becoming a unifying factor when those at the table are from varied backgrounds and perspectives. Our unifying mission today remains the needs of those who are poor, both in body and in spirit. God’s people need to bring the love of Jesus Christ to those who need spiritual transformation, but also physical comfort and support. Jesus never separated compassion from salvation, they went hand in hand. He healed the sick and saved them from their sins.
Instead of focusing on our differences, may we continue to press forward in the mission of God. The poor remain with us and are in desperate need of the people of God to be unified, co-laborers together in the mission of God. Remember the poor! Remember your calling! Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love.
Lord, please help us to be united as your people, focusing on your mission. Amen.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Gal. 1:18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
There were those whose questioned Paul’s authority to preach the gospel. The people of Galatia were specifically concerned about his preaching to the gentiles and whether he had been far too influenced by the Apostles in Jerusalem. Was he more interested in converting them to Judaism? Here he begins to explain to them his travels and the way in which he had been taught and directed in his spiritual walk. He tells the story of his previous life and helps them see that he was a man in drastic need of conversion. Only the gracious and divine intervention of Jesus would be able to explain the transformation that occurred in his life.
God’s call in Paul’s life was the only authority that he had. Paul saw his ministry as similar to that of Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets. Now he would see the fulfillment of many of the prophesies as the message of salvation was spreading throughout the known world, breaking down national barriers. The Galatians were privileged to be a people who receiving the light of the Gospel. Just as the prophets were inspired by God, so Paul was declaring that he was not who he had become because of human instruction. His contact with the apostles was very limited. So important was this for him to explain that he almost swears, telling them that he does not lie!
Paul was recounting the places to which he had traveled. Such little time had he spent in or around Jerusalem that the churches in Judea didn’t recognize him when they saw him. They had heard about him, but nothing more. The story of his miraculous conversion was grounds for the church praising God. Even his great preaching had become reason for God to be glorified. “The idea of glorifying men for the success of their work was unknown in the early church.” (People’s NT Commentary) It means nothing if Christ is revealed to us, that we don’t then allow Christ to be revealed in us. What mattered most to Paul was that the people would believe that he had spent time with Jesus and that they were seeing Jesus reflected in him.
Paul was very sensitive to the fact that he wanted God to get the glory for everything that was accomplished in his life and for his ministry. What a contrast to today’s world where it’s all about getting attention for yourself, and this has even crept into the church. Often we refer to churches as “so and so’s” church — and we are actually mentioning the pastor’s name. In some cases the ministry has become completely wrapped up in the personality of the pastor and if that individual were to move on, die, or have a moral problem, the possibility is that the whole thing would fall apart. This was not what Paul wanted, for more than anything he wanted his ministry to be about lifting up Christ.
Interestingly God answered Paul’s prayer and the concerns of his heart. If you consider that Paul spent many days in prison, he was unable to be out preaching in the churches himself. The result was intentional leadership development by the dissemination of his letters. He cultivated first century pastors and leaders through his work, but then laid a foundation for all of Christianity. We are still reading his letters today and yet, it is in his letters, we that we see Jesus glorified. This was a man with a great education and yet, in humility he made sure that Jesus got all the credit.
God is to be glorified in every aspect of our lives. When we are followers of Jesus Christ it is not our goal to raise up our own reputation or to be successful in the eyes of the world. Paul’s time in prison would not have been seen as worldly success, and yet it was kingdom success. The testimony of our lives should be the ways in which God is at work. Our calling to follow Jesus means being willing to give up everything for the sake of glorifying God.
Lord, use my life as an instrument for your glory. Amen.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Psa. 40:6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
David’s psalm comes from the depths of his obedient heart and his greater understanding of God. The more that he gets to know the heart of God, the more that he understands what God desires from him. This is what God wants from David, but as David’s fellowship with God continues he is already understanding the heart of the coming Messiah.
The God of love does not desire rituals, but an openness to an intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity. The term “open ear” can be translated in many ways. An open ear may be about the willingness to listen and to really get to know God. It may also refer to the piercing of the ear. Some have suggested that it can be understood as the servant having their ear pierced by the awl, acknowledging that they belong to their master, and that Jesus’ ear was pierced on the cross as he gave up everything to become the ultimate sacrifice. The burnt offerings and sin offerings replaced by the live offering of the lamb of God.
David could already see that this participation with God brought him into a much more intimate place than burnt offerings. The result of this new relationship with God would be revealed in the scroll where it would be written of the activity of the Messiah. Jesus was the obedient servant who would delight to do God’s will — but it was more than that — it was David’s foretaste of what was to come. David was already experiencing the assurance of his own salvation. He was being drawn into a future which was already planned out by God for from his own family line, Jesus would be born. What David could not see clearly, we are enlighten to understand. God isn’t looking for us to complete a set of tasks, but is drawing us into intimate fellowship, where there is serious commitment to God’s will, and an obedient heart.
David was not a perfect man and yet there was a period of time in his life where he discovered what it meant to live in a deeply intimate relationship with God. He provides for us an example of where we are to go in our relationship with God. We are being invited into a deeply intimate and personal relationship of fellowship with our holy God.
I’ve been reflecting on my own character lately. I am a rather task oriented person who likes to tick the boxes at the end of the day. I find fulfillment in getting things done. My parents raised me with the mantra, “plan your work and work your plan.” The only danger in that is the “plan” can overrun the relational. Where does time to slow down and be in relationship with God and others fit when it comes to a "to do" list? It means that even time with the Lord can become something that we time or we do because we want to tick it off the list for the day. Could that be our modern day burnt offering or sin offering? God doesn’t just want to be one of the things that we tick off our list for the day — God wants us to sit down and have fellowship. It’s that cup of tea and unhurried conversation with a dear friend! That comes out of a heart that passionately desires to be in God’s presence.
The obedient heart is the one that has gotten to know the heart of God. Just as the Father’s desires became Christ’s desires and the Father’s passions were Jesus’ passions, the same should be revealed in our lives as we participate and fellowship with God. The obedient heart leads to Christlikeness, and Christlikeness leads us out into the daily mission field of our lives.
Lord, please help me to know you more today than yesterday. Amen.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Is. 53:4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
The prophet spoke words that would be fulfilled in the life of the Messiah. The words are poignant, gripping us at the place of misunderstanding. The Messiah would bear the corruption of humanity in his flesh, so that he could bring healing. Sadly, we would not understand his sacrifice, but would look upon his diseases with disdain. Little would we understand that the ugliness we saw in his flesh was our ugliness which he chose willingly to suffer so that we could be healed. We are the cause and he must bear the wounds to bring about the healing effect. God’s ways are higher than our ways and the sacrifice made by the Messiah is beyond our complete understanding.
The people had the wrong understanding of the one carrying the infirmities and diseases. As they looked on him they were sure that God was punishing him for something that he had done wrong. The idea that this would be God incarnate taking upon himself our illness was beyond comprehension. Historically when we have looked upon those who have difficulties or diseases we have thought that God was punishing them. Just about eighty years ago my aunt, my father’s sister, was born with Down’s syndrome. My grandparents were pastoring a small church in Nebraska but even the “good church folk” condemned my grandmother for having dome something wrong and that God was punishing her with this child. I don’t think that my grandparents ever felt that way for they loved my Aunt Shirley her whole life. The ways in which they cared for her demonstrated their deep, deep love, but that didn’t remove the pain that they suffered because of the words of some parishioners. God’s ways are not our ways and sometimes we fail to see the true picture, which was what the prophet Isaiah was saying.
As we follow Christ we may also be asked to sacrifice. Jesus challenged his listeners to take up their cross and follow him. He didn’t promise that life would be easy if we followed him, but he did promise that he would go with us. I think we misunderstand the Christian life if we don’t think that it requires sacrifice. Jesus put all of humanity before himself and willingly bore the ugliness of our corrupted lives, just so they could be made whole again. We may be asked to sacrifice our time, space, reputation, and finances to make a difference in this world. We all would like to protect our reputation, and yet, sometimes it is our reputation which must be sacrificed in order to help others.
What are we willing to give up for the sake of others? And in doing so will the world misunderstand and consider you afflicted?
The world looked on at Jesus and completely misunderstood what he was doing. May we follow after him, living a life of sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Lord, I know there are times that I misunderstand what I see. Please, help me not to be judgmental but to see with your eyes and appreciate your sacrifices and those of others. Amen.