Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trust


Scripture
 
Psa. 76:4        Glorious are you, more majestic
        than the everlasting mountains.

Observation

The mountains always provided a certain sense of security for the Israelites and yet also a senses of reverent fear and awe. They served as a natural barrier to protect the people from enemies. At the same time they were home to animals of prey who were to be feared. The mountains were majestic and proved to be more powerful than anything that a human could create, even within their imagination.

The Psalmist, looking over the mountains is overcome with the glorious majesty of God. While the mountains may be awesome — God is even greater. Only a tiny reflection of God’s glory is seen in the majestic mountains. The one in whom we are to trust is greater than everything our eye can behold.

Application
 
I have awakened this morning to a beautiful view of mountains and yet, this Psalm reminds us that the one who created those mountains is so much greater. It’s normal to want to put our trust in the things of this world — the things that we can see, smell, touch and understand. I look at the mountains and they are incredible, but we serve a God who is even more glorious.

My morning view!

Today I choose to trust in the one who has created everything. He is more majestic than the everlasting mountains and he hasn’t given up on his people.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for your promises. Please help me have the strength and the courage to live into your leading every day. Amen.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Called to Royalty


Scripture
 
Judg. 5:3        “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
        to the LORD I will sing,
        I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

Observation


As Deborah sings her song of praise before the Lord we hear the challenge to God’s children. Origen gives us unique insight into this passage:

“Hear, O kings. She names them ‘kings’ who are called together to hear the word of God. You should rejoice, people of God, at this emblem of your nobility. It is not as just any people that you are called to hear the word of God, but as a king, for to you it was said, ‘You are a royal, priestly race, a people for God’s possession.’ (I Peter 2:9)  Because you are kings, therefore, Christ our Lord is rightly called the ‘King of kings and the Lord of lords.’(1 Tim 6:15; Rev 19:16.) However, as you revel in this title of your nobility, you should also learn what each one of you must do to be a king. Let me outline it for you briefly. You are made a king if Christ reigns in you, for he is called a king by reigning. If also in you, therefore, the soul reigns and the body submits, if you put the concupiscence of the flesh under of yoke of your command, if you subdue every kind of vice by the tight bridle of your sobriety, then you who know how to reign are also rightly called a ‘king.’” (HOMILIES ON JUDGES 6.3.)

You and I, as children of God are called to be royalty and to serve in the royal priestly race.

Application
 
Contemporary royalty has lost much of its sense of responsibility. In many ways they serve as figure-heads of nations but don’t carry actual power or authority. On the other hand they have great influential power and carry within themselves the regal nature of the nation whom they embody.

For the Christian there is great responsibility in bearing the name of Christ. In taking on the name of our Savior we become ambassadors, or members of the royal priesthood. Origen makes it clear that this happens when “Christ reigns in you.” Therefore to understand this possibility we have to consider what it means to have Christ reigning in us. It does require submission, as Origen puts it, of the body and the soul. He uses the word “concupiscence” which means strong sexual desire or lust. This is to be placed under the tight bridle or authority of the one who reigns in your life. We are filled with expectant hope as we see that we don’t have to be ruled by the drives of our bodies, but by Christ who sets us free.

The call to royalty is serious and has within it an expectant hope that the Holy Spirit can empower us to not only act like royalty, but to actually be transformed into royalty. We don’t have to live in a life of constant struggle against the flesh when God has promised to set us free. This is not just the hope of the life to come, but the expectant joy of life in the Spirit. We are then drawn into the life of royalty, to live as kings and princes of the LORD. In this place we sing and make melody to one who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Prayer

Lord, please continue to lead and fill me today. Amen.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dependable Decision Making


Scripture

Acts 1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,  22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Observation

This story is sometimes seen controversially in regard to making decisions. Was Matthias really God’s choice to take the place of Judas, or was it the Apostle Paul? There are arguments on both sides. However, they were following what they understood to be good practice at the time. They were in Jerusalem, Jesus had ascended and they were waiting in prayer. This was all being done in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ. They had no idea how the arrival of the Holy Spirit would change things — and them. Instead they simply had to go on what they knew and that included the traditional practices of selecting priests.

The process they outlined was really quite good as they established criteria for this individual. To be numbered among the apostles the individual had to have been personally discipled by Jesus, present from the time of his baptism until his ascension, and a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. After this criteria was determined they identified two excellent candidates. They didn’t pray long and loud public prayers over the situation, but simply laid it out before the Lord, asking for divine intervention in the decision making process. They believed that God knew their need and would direct. Matthias was chosen.

Interestingly, after the day of Pentecost their decision making process begins to shift. We see this when they have to raise up leaders for the new growing church but at the time this decision was made, they used all the information they had to try and do their best. It was the most dependable decision making in their day.

Application

Making decisions can sometimes be a rather fearful adventure. Worrying about making the right decision may result in making no decision. While people may criticize the way in which the apostles chose the person to replace Judas, at least they did make a decision and they followed a good process. I think that this does lay the groundwork for dependable decision making.

What we learn from the disciples is that when it comes to making a decision — we need to know the real question. For them, it was to find an apostle to round out the twelve. Sometimes we muddy the decision-making process by not identifying the real need. You can’t come up with a solution if you don’t know the problem.

After determining the need, the disciples took the time to set-up the qualifications for the person to fill that need. When making decisions we must slow down enough to establish the details of the need. Not just any person or solution is going to solve our problem. It’s not about the person that we know the best or a friend who needs to find a place to work, it’s about the best fit for the role. There were a lot of people who had been a part of the Jesus followers but they narrowed their choice down to these two.

Prayerfully seek God’s guidance in the decision-making process. Even if we establish a good process, it needs to be infused with God’s leading. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit and so we lean into that discernment when making decisions.

Now, regarding the casting of lots — I suppose we could call that a voting process — because I wouldn’t recommend just throwing some dice and seeing who wins. We live on the other side of Pentecost but that does not give us the excuse to not consider a thoughtful and careful process of decision making. We are provided with good examples to work in the kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the direction you provide for us in life. Amen.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Smoked with Slander and Parched with Persecution


Scripture
 
Psalm 119:83     For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
        yet I have not forgotten your statutes.


Observation

The Psalmist’s own life is used as a template for response to all that is encountered. In the nomadic life wineskins were filled for travel. Once they were emptied they were hung to dry near the open fire. There, after much use they became blackened and wrinkled, bearing the marks of life.

The man of God had been blackened and wrinkled by falsehood, “smoked with slander,” and “his mind parched with persecution.”(Surgeon) The possibility of being overcome by fear was great and yet he had learned that his life must be seasoned by prayer. In the midst of the suffering he continually went back to God and the Psalm becomes an example for prayer. The wrinkled and smoke covered exterior belies the soft and pliable heart which beats beneath the chest. Prayer is not to be the casualty of suffering but the remedy that leads us to the place of hope and life.

Application

It would be highly unusual if we did not have experiences in life that left us wounded. Jesus, himself, was wounded and his body bears the marks of persecution. Why would we expect anything different? We are called to take up our cross and follow him daily.

Where is Christ? Yesterday he had his throat slit in a church in France. Today he will be persecuted the world over; through the restrictive laws in Russia to the complacent “Christians” in the West. The journey to follow Jesus was never expected to be easy. The temptation, however, is to forget to go to God in prayer. In anguish we cry out with the Psalmist, telling God about our circumstances. God listens and hears our cries. We become smoked with slander and parched with persecution and instead of becoming an unusable wineskin we cry out to God for we have not forgotten God’s statues. Even blacked and wrinkled God can make the wineskin soft and pliable — useable for service in the kingdom.

The discouraging events of life have a tendency to take us away from God. We feel that God is distant and we are uncomfortable bringing our pain and frustration to the altar. The Psalmist reminds us that the remedy is found in prayer as we meditate upon God’s statues and faithfulness. New life is breathed into our weary bodies as we continue following and reflecting Christ.

Prayer
 
Lord, may I seek your face daily in prayer. Amen.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Creating Dissension


Scripture
 
Rom. 16:17   I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.  18 For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.  19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.

Observation


Chrystostom tells us “Division is the subversion of the church. Turning things upside down like this is the devil’s weapon.” (Homilies on Romans 32) This was exactly Paul’s concern for the church in Rome and he wanted them to be aware that there would be those intentionally seeking to create dissension within the life of the church. These are the ones who are constantly bringing things up which may be contrary to sound doctrine and yet, it sounds close enough that there are those who are willing to listen.

While they may sound as if they are actively defending the doctrine of the church, in reality they are serving themselves. They want to get attention and stir things up and for those who are less discerning, they become concerned about the state of affairs in the church. All of this is based in fear and not in reality. Paul wants the believers to be strong in their faith and to do so they need the Lord’s wisdom so that those who create dissension and offenses win the day. Chrysostom continues, “As long as the body is united he has no way of getting in, but harm comes from division.” (Homilies on Romans 32)

Application
 
Creating division in the church brings great joy to the enemy. Therefore we ought to think about the ways in which we participate in the activities of the church and whether we are bringing joy to our Lord, or to the enemy. Relationships may suffer within the church community when sisters and brothers don’t get along. Sometimes we hide behind matters of doctrine because we don’t want to deal with the real issues that may be bothering us. We allow our own personal needs to rise above the need of the faith community. Paul talked about people who served “their own appetites” or as some translations say, “their own bellies.” It’s as if creating dissension becomes comfort food to some peoples’ souls. But all of this is contrary to the character of Jesus Christ which is to shine through in the lives of his followers.

Remember the wise words of Chrysostom that when there is unity the enemy cannot find a way in to destroy the church. As we reflect the Image — Jesus Christ — in this world, his motives become our motives and his actions our actions. The holy love found in the Trinity is to flow through our lives in such a way that the community of faith is bound together. It’s important, just as Paul tells us, to avoid those who are trying to create dissension. These days they don’t often gather small groups around them or preach, but instead they spread their thoughts from a safe distance in blogs and e-mails and other social media venues. Their ideas can spread like wildfire and capture the hearts of the simple-minded for they know how to manipulate words to create a state of fear. Paul says not to pay attention and to follow the Lord’s leading and live into Christ’s wisdom.

May we seek the face of God and reflect our Lord and Savior daily in our practice and love for one another.

Prayer
 
Lord, I seek you this day and want to be a faithful servant within the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Monday, July 25, 2016

More Than Meets the Eye — Phoebe


Scripture
 
Rom. 16:1   I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,  2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Observation


Paul commends to the readers a woman by the name of Phoebe. In personally carrying this letter to Rome Renan tells us, “Phoebe carried under the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian Theology.” (Vincent Word Studies) In commending Phoebe to the Romans Paul presents her titles so that they could understand who this woman was who brought them these important words. She is a deacon at Cenchreae, serving the church there. The word “deacon” carries with it great significance for it is not the feminine form of the word used in Greek, but the same term that Paul would use for himself when referring to his ministry. Origen, a theologian in the third century writes, “This passage teaches that there were women ordained in the church’s ministry by the apostle’s authority. . . . Not only that—they ought to be ordained into the ministry, because they helped in many ways and by their good services deserved the praise even of the apostle.” (Commentary On the Epistle to the Romans) Paul is making clear to them the significant role that this woman plays in the life of the church.

In making clear her position in the church he is helping the readers understand how they are to receive her. She is to be welcomed as a holy follower of Jesus Christ and respected in her requests. When she asks for something, Paul is telling the Romans, you will want to respond, for this is no ordinary woman!

After Paul lays out her ecclesial credentials he adds a little more weight to the matter by mentioning that she is also known as a “patron” or “benefactor.” Phoebe is a woman of great wealth and has been willing to support the work and ministry of many, including Paul. She is a highly respected woman who has wholeheartedly committed her life in service to the Lord and the Church. It is only when we dig into the details of the original language that we discover that there is more than meets the eye.

Application

This last chapter of the book of Romans is filled with salutations and it’s one that may be read quickly as we wrap up this thoughtful letter from Paul. However, in skimming over the details we may miss out on what Paul may be saying to us in the ordinary context of the day. For centuries some translators have said that Phoebe was a “deaconess” and a “helper” of many. Therefore we have been inclined to believe that Phoebe was just one of several women who helped out with the sick and needy at the church in Cenchreae. A nice lady but nothing significant of note. I would guess that she did engage in this type of work from time to time but there is more here to the story.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we don’t know all of the details. Recently I was on a plane and during the boarding process I was trying to get some work done. I fly a lot and so I had been given a complimentary upgrade to business class. I was busy making phone calls and wrapping up the work of the day while the flight attendant was asking people around me if they wanted something to drink. She had a tray full of drinks when suddenly a boarding passenger ran into her and the entire tray of margaritas (I had to be told what it was) came tumbling down on me. Suddenly I was drenched in something I had never experienced — from the top of my head, all over my face, down the front of my clothing, my seat-belt and my skirt — soaked through. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages so I had no clue what this was but I had this sudden thought — “Don’t lick your lips!” :) People all around me started handing me everything they could to try and wipe all of this off of me. We were using airplane blankets, baby wipes and napkins. Eventually I realized that it was not going to be possible to dry off and I just had to fly for over two hours, soaking wet in these drinks!

When I got to the next airport I was to have a three hour layover. I decided I would walk for awhile to see if I could get my clothing to dry. The more it dried the harder it became. My hair was rather spikey by now as well. Eventually I decided to have a small bowl of soup for supper and make my way to the plane. Unfortunately during my travels I had been around some folks who had the stomach flu. Now, the nearer I got to the plane, the worse I felt. I began praying and telling the Lord that I REALLY did not want to get sick — but just to get home! I stood around the boarding area feeling quite nauseated but still okay. We boarded the plane and I tried to settle in for the flight home. I closed my eyes and began pleading with the Lord to just get me home when all of a sudden I realized that I wasn’t going to make it and I needed to get to the lavatory. They were just finishing up the boarding process when I leapt from my seat and lunged toward the lavatory at the front of the plane. The flight attendant told me I had to be seated. I just looked at her and said, “I’m going to be sick.” It wasn’t pretty! I barely made it to that little room and didn’t even have time to close the door when the soup and probably a few others things all came up. I felt badly for the folks who could hear me but there was nothing I could do. I tried to clean myself up the best I could but I was a mess. My skirt had now dried stiff as a board, my hair was spiked up with margaritas and I had gotten sick in the lavatory. However — I now felt much better.

As I stepped out to sheepishly make my way back to my seat I was stopped by the Captain. The flight attendants had gone and gotten him. He looked me straight in the eye and asked me what was wrong with me. I have to confess that at that moment I didn’t realize what a sight I was and didn’t have a clue as to what the Captain was probably thinking. He asked what I had been doing and was I going to be able to fly to Kansas City. He had such a serious look in his eye. I told him that I was much better now and I would be okay. He decided not to throw me off the plane. The flight attendants handed me a plastic bag and a ginger ale and I lowered my head and made my way back to my seat. I made it home without another incident but it wasn’t until later and I was feeling a bit better that I realized what the Captain and crew were thinking. Here I was, smelling like alcohol from head to toe and getting sick on the plane. I’m sure they thought that I had been on some kind of a drinking binge — all the while wearing my nice little “I am NTS” pin with the cross on it.

There’s often more than meets the eye, whether in the Scriptures, or in life. We make judgement calls far too easily and we skip right over what may really be happening, or what the Author may want us to know. Let’s not put Phoebe on the back-burner of Christianity and assume she didn’t have a significant role. Let’s not jump to conclusions when we don’t have all the information and let’s give others the benefit of the doubt. God can do more than we can ever imagine with people and in circumstances which may not make sense to us. You can’t put God in a box and there’s always more than meets the eye.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for the faithfulness of women like Phoebe who have gone before. Please, help me to take the time to slow down enough to not miss what is really happening and to learn from the lessons you place in my path.  Amen.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Making the Most of Your Circumstances


Scripture

 
Acts 28:30   He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him,  31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Observation


These two verses bring to a close what we officially know about the life of the Apostle Paul. There is much speculation as to what happened after this writing — whether he was released for a period of time and traveled to Spain — or whether he was soon executed by the Roman authorities. We don’t know, but we know that from beginning to end the book of Acts is one of proclamation. The good news about Jesus Christ is preached by his apostles. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God. They preach and they teach and when filled with the Holy Spirit they are able to do this “with all boldness and without hindrance.” This was the experience of Paul and so many others.

Paul makes the most of his circumstances. He was under house arrest in Rome where he could have complained that he was unable to get out to the synagogue to preach on a regular basis. That doesn’t seem to have stopped him from preaching. He could also have complained that no one was backing his work financially but instead, he used his own personal resources to provide a place where he could continue to minister. Day in and day out he welcomed those who came to him and remained an effective minister of the kingdom and the Lord.

The story ends abruptly, but in this way remains a challenge to those who are to come later. The story of the Acts of the apostles is not yet complete for we are called to become participants in that story. Each is invited to add chapters as this becomes an on-going witness to the activity of the Holy Spirit in and through believers today. Paul is an example that we are called to follow.

Application
 
Paul is a man of few excuses. He doesn’t seem to allow anything that life throws his way to become a hindrance to preaching and teaching. This was his calling — to preach and to teach — and therefore he would find a way to continue to fulfill his calling, no matter what! He made great sacrifices in his personal life to be able to continue to minister.

I hear far too many of us these days complain that we are unable to minister or share Christ because the circumstances aren’t “just right.”

“The church we attend is not conducive to inviting new folks.”

“We don’t have the financial resources to put on the type of events that are needed.”

“Our church doesn't have a lavish multi-age children’s programs.”

“I haven’t been taught how to present the Gospel to someone.”

“I can’t invite people to my house because it’s too small and I don’t have the financial resources to fix it up nice.”

“I’m not a good cook so I can’t have people over.”

“I don’t have time to clean my house thoroughly so I’d be embarrassed to have people around.”

And the list goes on!

Paul could have had a long list of excuses. The man was under house arrest and he had to pay for the house himself. That is certainly not a situation that’s particularly conducive to doing ministry but he never let it stand in the way of his calling. The call of the “priesthood of all believers” is very real. Paul isn’t supposed to be an anomaly, instead he’s an example to us all. The first chapters have been written and now we are to make the most of our circumstances to write our own chapter. Will it be short, long, or multiple chapters? It’s really up to us and our willingness to live wholeheartedly into the calling before us.

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me not to make excuses but to follow you anywhere you lead. Amen.

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