Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Awaiting Hephzibah and Beulah



Scripture:

Is. 62:4     You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
        and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
    but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
        and your land Married;
    for the LORD delights in you,
        and your land shall be married.
Is. 62:5     For as a young man marries a young woman,
        so shall your builder marry you,
    and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
        so shall your God rejoice over you. (NRSV)

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married. (NIV)

Observation:

This prophecy regarding the transformation of Zion should be a blessing to us all. As the children of Israel had wandered about in exile they were about to discover what it meant to return home.  No longer were they going to feel as if they were forsaken or deserted.  Their homeland was to be transformed, no longer desolate. God’s covenant relationship with his people was to be seen again just as a husband and wife standing at the altar on the day of their nuptials. The people of God were to be called “Hephzibah,” which means “My Delight Is in Her.” This is the way that God is talking about his beloved people — he loves them with a passion of a bridegroom awaiting his bride. The Israelite’s land was to be called “Beulah” which means married. The people of God, delighting God, and her land belonging to God as a wife to a husband.  The imagery is of a husband who would lay down his life for his wife and do everything that he could to protect her. God will do the same for this, his people, the people of Israel.

Just imagine this imagery when it comes to the arrival of the Messiah. A new picture of a people who are living in desolation, a people without hope. Now the incarnate God comes to this earth to call out all people to him, to be united with him in a most holy matrimony. No longer will we be forsaken but we are invited to the altar where we are united with our Savior, the one who calls us Hephzibah. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, delights in us and loves us more than we can ever imagine and the kingdom of God is already here, Beulah has arrived as we live in the already of his kingdom. 

Our creator, our builder, wants to be united with us because he is deeply and madly in love with us. He wants us to be his Hephzibah and to be called Beulah.

Application:


Thirty one years ago today I walked down the aisle and married my wonderful husband, Chuck. I thought I loved him then, but today I love him more than I could have ever imagined. The more that I get to know him and the more time I spend with him the more I fall in love with him. There is something amazing about getting to know someone through this journey of life, through the good times and the tough times, that draws you closer. I love being with him and just hanging around him as much as possible. Our jobs take us in different directions but we are always connected. All day long we stay in touch sending a little text here and there and waiting for that time in the evening when we get to hear the other’s voice. I absolutely delight in my husband and I am thrilled to be his Hephzibah and to be called Beulah. 

As much as I adore my husband and my heart is filled with thanksgiving today for thirty one years of marriage to him, I am all the more grateful for my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am so grateful for my earthly marriage and it’s hard to believe that my Savior calls me Hephzibah and delights in me, even more than my dear Chuck. That is overwhelming.

God wants to us to join into this intimate relationship with him.  Christianity was never meant to be a casual relationship between a people and their God, it was meant to be Beulah land.  It is into this deeper relationship, into this lifelong commitment that God is calling us. May we relax and allow the love of our Savior to consume us as his Hephzibah and journey with him into Beulah land.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your overwhelming love.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bless the Lord!



Scripture:

Psa. 103:1     Bless the LORD, O my soul,
        and all that is within me,
        bless his holy name.
Psa. 103:2     Bless the LORD, O my soul,
        and do not forget all his benefits—
Psa. 103:3     who forgives all your iniquity,
        who heals all your diseases,
Psa. 103:4     who redeems your life from the Pit,
        who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
Psa. 103:5     who satisfies you with good as long as you live
        so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Observation:

There are times when when praise comes bubbling out of the Psalmist.  He wants to bless the Lord for all the good things that he has done — and all that is within him is bursting with praise.

Application:

This praise for the Lord is in the form of blessing.  Notice he is singing a blessing to the Lord.  May the Lord be the one who is blessed and may all that is within him bless the Lord!

Did you know that “saying the blessing” before eating used to be a prayer of blessing to the Lord? This was a moment to stop and bless the Lord, praising him for all that he has done for us and all that he has provided for us. 

But something has happened to that prayer of blessing. When did we start asking God to bless the food? Something has turned around and the recipient of the blessing has shifted from God to us. Instead of us pouring out our blessing upon the Lord, the one whose benefits we are not to forget — we ask him to bless the food and the hands that prepared it! While this sounds good, the shift in focus is quite radical. 

The Psalmist blesses the Lord and wants to remember all the Lord has provided and done for us. 

He forgives our sins.

He provides healing.

He brings about transformation.

He fills us with his love to overflowing.

He satisfies our needs.

He renews.

And yet all of this can be forgotten when the focus of blessing is not on the One who provides, but upon us.

I’m sure that the change in prayer was not something overtly intentional but the shift from blessing the Lord to asking him to bless us really does change the way in which we look at God and prayer.  This is the Psalmist’s prayer of blessing and the entire focus is on God. What would happen if we intentionally reversed the way in which we “pray the blessing” and blessed God?

Prayer:

Lord, I bless you for who you are and all that you provide.  Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Who Has Protested?



Scripture:

Isaiah 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

Observation:

We interpret Isaiah 53 in light of our understanding of a prophetic word about the coming Messiah.  The graphic depiction of his life and death are quite astounding.  The word “oppression” may also mean “arrest,” allowing us to visualize the night he was arrested and judgment was made in regard to him.  This is the way that it happened that night in the garden.  Jesus was there to pray when the one betraying him appeared with the officials who had planned his demise.  Just a few days earlier he had arrived in the city of Jerusalem to great pomp and yet now on this fateful night and the upcoming day, who would protest?  Who would speak up in defense of this man, the one they had come to believe was their Messiah?

The silence was just as deafening as the cheers had been previously.  He was led to the executioner’s cross where he hung until he finally succumbed to death. “He was cut off from the land of the living,” because he suffered the punishment for all of humanity.  And who protested?

Application:

My neighbor Larissa wanted to tell me a little bit more about her parents.  Her mother was a medical doctor and her father was a lawyer who worked for Joseph Stalin.  A new apartment building was being erected for all of Stalin’s faithful assistants where they would be able to live in luxury beyond the norm.  However, living in that kind of luxury meant compromising with a leader that, at times, would do the unthinkable.  One day the unthinkable happened when Larissa’s father was gathered up by Stalin’s henchmen and dragged into the courtyard where he was shot in front of all the neighbors. Evidently he had done something that had made the man unhappy and was now suffering the consequences.  Larissa’s mom was now a widow and the two little girls would never experience life with their father. And yet, no on protested.

Even after executing Larissa’s father, the family was invited to move into the new building.  Her mother refused.  She would not accept anything from the man who had killed her husband and as a result she was sent to the front to work as a physician throughout the second world war.  The children were farmed off to relatives in Ukraine where they lived most of the war suffering under enemy control.

The neighbors who never protested were moved into the beautiful new building, expecting their lives to go on without any difficulty. One by one they offended their leader, Stalin.  Eventually every adult that moved into that building was either executed or sent to the gulag because they found themselves on the wrong side of the leader.  But no one protested.

Jesus was an innocent man who had come to set humanity free. He had done good to the lives of so many who had witnessed his miracles of healing and transformation and yet, no one protested his arrest.

Today there are Christians around the world who are suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. “Yet who of [this] generation has protested?”

Prayer:

Lord, I pray for my sisters and brothers around the world who are facing persecution today.  Amen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Growing as Christ-followers



Scripture:

2Pet. 1:5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge,
2Pet. 1:6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness,
2Pet. 1:7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
2Pet. 1:8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Pet. 1:9 For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.

Observation:

The Christian life can never be static.  There must be on-going and continual spiritual growth in the life of a Christ-follower.  There is faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love.  All these are to increase among us as we grow in our faith.  The result is a Christ-follower who is effective and bears fruit for the kingdom, growing in the knowledge of our Lord.  However, for those who call themselves Christ-followers and yet do not continue to grow in their faith they will discover that there are difficulties.  They become nearsighted, or shall we say self-centered.  The vision becomes singularly of the things around them, and the way in which they want to serve God.  They are blind to the needy of the world around them and simply forget what Christ has done for them.  If we do not grow as Christ-followers, we will become sickly and ultimately die.

Application:


There can be no escaping the fact that Christ-followers are called into a life of growth in the Lord.  This growth is both a crisis and a process.  We require both in our lives, and without both we become stagnant in our faith.  The problem is that too often people come to the conclusion that they have “arrived” spiritually and then never continue to grow in him.  Could it be that the busyness of our lives is keeping us from this kind of growth spiritually? 

I am concerned about the condition of many of our churches these days.  Many denominations are suffering from decline with small and aging churches, many of which are closing across the country.  We note shifting demographics as the cause for much of what is happening while at the same time could it be that there has been a shift spiritually?  What can keep us from being “ineffective and unfruitful?”  It sounds like Peter is telling the folks that this is the result of a lack of spiritual growth among the Christ-followers.  It’s easy to blame it all on society, but have we looked in the mirror? 

There have been periods of “Great Awakenings” here in the United States and around the world — times when there have been great revivals.  These have resulted in church growth and the planting of new works.  These have nearly always been the result of spiritual growth among God’s people. 

The language of “nearsighted and blind,” is very sad but is also true.  If we are not growing spiritually, we will not be able to see beyond ourselves and our own needs.  We get into “survival” mode, blind to the needs of those around us. 

What is the answer?  To get in touch with where we are, and where we need to go spiritually.  May the Lord search our hearts today so that as his Christ-followers we may continue to grow in him, reflecting him more and more each day so that the world sees his love in us.  May the world be attracted to his love and desire to know him by stepping into a transformational relationship with him.  And may we unite together as Christ-followers who desire to grow in him.

Prayer:

Lord, lead me today into more of you.  Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Consuming Power of Anxiety



Scripture:

1Pet. 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Observation:

While admonishing the followers of Jesus Christ to stand firm in their faith, Peter reminds them to cast all their anxiety on the Lord.  They lived in an anxious time, one in which these Christ-followers were experiencing persecution for their faith.  Anxiety would exist on many levels, from personal safety to provision for the family.  Christianity was and is, counter-cultural and one possible result of living a counter-cultural life is anxiety.  It’s easy to begin worrying about how all of this will play out in the world.  Peter puts an end to worry and anxiety by placing the focus on Christ.  Christ, the one who has been from the very beginning, the one who was engaged in creation, “cares for you.” This puts anxiety into balance.  The consuming power of anxiety is to be replaced by the consuming love of Christ. 

Application:

Life is filled with challenges that can easily cause fear and anxiety.  Some days simply stepping out that front door means that we are going to experience potentially anxiety inducing encounters. On a spiritual level, Peter understood the power of this anxiety.  Why else would he have taken the time to mention it?  Fear and anxiety have always been present and have had the ability to hinder the Christ-follower from fulling their Holy Spirit empowered potential. Doesn’t this sound like a ploy of the enemy?  Of course, because to unleash the bottled-up potential of transformed followers of Christ would have a powerful impact on the world.

Therefore it’s important to our relationship to Christ into focus.  The primary focus of engagement with the world must be Christ.  Our relationship to him must be in balance and we may need to live in the daily reminder that he really does care for us.  This is the power of Christ’s care as compared to life’s anxiety producing moments, this is where we must live.  The focus must always be on Christ.  Paul said to “pray continually.” Why?  So that our hearts and minds would be consumed with our love and passion for our Savior and that our love for him would leave no room for anything else. 

The consuming power of anxiety can be replaced by our consuming love for the one who cares for us. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me place all my trust in you this day.  Thank you for your consuming love.  Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Move on!



Scripture:

Is. 43:18     Do not remember the former things,
        or consider the things of old.
Is. 43:19     I am about to do a new thing;
        now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness
        and rivers in the desert.

Observation:

God is speaking to his people who are being held in captivity.  They are going to be set free, released from the power of those who are oppressing them.  Of course the people recall the freedom brought about by their release from Egypt.  This was to have been remembered year after year as they celebrated the passover.  But now, God was wanting to do something new for his people.  The freedom that they would experience in release from this exile would be even greater than what had been experienced when they were led out of Egypt.  Something new was springing forth that would lead to a deliverance for God’s people, one which would be transformational in the lives of each and every person.  Therefore it was time to move on and not to dwell on what had happened in the past.  God was moving. 

This scripture was about the present circumstance of the Israelites but it was also a foreshadowing of the arrival of the Messiah.  God would make a way for the Israelites to go home.  He would provide for them on the journey, leading through wilderness, providing in the desert.  At the same time we see that the Lord is going to provide these resources for his people through his Son.  His Son provides the river of living water that will provide for our needs as we travel through the wilderness and deserts of life.  As he provides for our needs we are to move on and not dwell on the things of the past.  Open our eyes, perceive what it is that he is doing and live in the abundance and overflow of his living stream.

Application:
How often to we spend time living in the doom and gloom of the past?  We love to remember the things of the past and dig them up from time to time.  My husband accuses me (and probably rightfully so) that I’m really good at remember little picky things from the past.  It seems in the heat of the moment, when we may be a bit frustrated with one another, it’s easy to remind him about something he forgot to do twenty or thirty years ago.  That really is ridiculous and the longer we’ve been married, the more the Lord has helped me with this.  The fun of being married this long is that those little things that had once bothered you become a distant memory and instead fade into the patchwork quilt of life and become one of the pieces that create a beautiful picture. It’s a part of who we are and how our lives have been woven together.  There is no need to focus on the former things because it’s too much fun participating in what God is doing in our relationship now. 

The same is true in every facet of life.  Why waste the time and energy digging up the past, instead we are to live in the anticipation of God’s new springing forth.  For the Israelites they were going to experience freedom from exile.  We have had the privilege as Christ followers to experience freedom from sin!  And once we experience this freedom from sin we continue to press on, to move forward.  John Wesley encouraged his followers to continually press on in their faith in anticipation of the next work that God wanted to do in their lives. 

We must be willing to move on if we are to reach the way that he has prepared for us in the wilderness.  We don’t find the way by sitting around, it takes a little action on our part but the way is there and it is the way out of the wilderness that life may have created.  In the barrenness and desert of life he has also bought fresh water.  His living water is there to sustain us and to lead us through victoriously to the new which he is preparing in advance for us all. 

If we choose to live in the past and simply dwell there we will never find what he has for us.  It’s time to move on.  Don’t you perceive it?  God is on the move, preparing the way out of our wilderness, if only we will leave the past behind and be willing to move on.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to look in your direction, living and moving in you every day.  Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Hope in You



Scripture:

1Pet. 3:13 ¶ Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
1Pet. 3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,
1Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
1Pet. 3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

Observation:

God’s people are to do good.  Does this mean everything always turns out the way that we want, or in a way that seems good to us?  No, but we are to press on anyhow and even when there may be suffering as a result, we are blessed. 

The world fears many things, many of which may appear to be harmful but they should not be intimidating to the Lord’s people. Instead the Lord’s people are to look to him.  In our hearts we are to “sanctify Christ as Lord.”  The holiness of our Lord is to consume our hearts and his very nature, his holiness becomes a part of who we are, with his holy love providing a defense against the intimidations surrounding us.  This is why we can provide a defense.  Our defense is Christ’s holiness, “the hope that is in you.” 

The power of God’s Holy Spirit to radically transform our lives is our hope and yet we should never boast about what the work that God is doing in us.  We are to live in “gentleness and reverence.” Sounds a bit like the way in which Christ lived!  He was maligned and abused and we should expect the same, but we press on for Christ is in us and our human behavior and responses are a result of his presence.  Christ is the hope that is in you.

Application:


Airplanes often seem to provide an opportunity for conversation.  People usually begin with a little chit chat and if the conversation progresses beyond this eventually we get to the question, “what do you do for a living?”  When I share what it is that I do it can either shut down the conversation or spark a great deal of interest.  The reality is that there are those who don’t want to talk about religious or spiritual things at all, or there are those who, once they understand that I’m a minister want to open up and share with me where they are in their spiritual walk.  (Maybe it’s the way we all share our latest physical ailments with our friends who are doctors!)  However, it is in that moment that I have the opportunity to give “an accounting for the hope” that is in me. 

When that opportunity arises, how do we respond?  Here we are admonished to share about the sanctifying work of Christ in our hearts and lives.  The whole message of the gospel is one of transformation, one in which God’s people are made holy, for this is his desire for all of us.  We are not to live our lives as out of touch saints, but as Holy Spirit-filled, Jesus-exuding followers of our Lord.  Therefore a response really should not be difficult, if Christ is truly in us and filling us! 

If that’s the case, why do so many followers of Christ have trouble sharing about their faith?  Why is it that we feel the need for someone to teach us what to say when the opportunity arises to share our faith?  I’m concerned that our inability to share about Christ comes from a watered-down easy Christianity that is not vibrant and transformational.  If Christ is in me, transforming me and sanctifying me, then I won’t be able to contain what he is doing in and through me.  So, if we are struggling with how to share our faith, maybe we ought to bring that to the Lord.  Maybe we ought to ask him to search our hearts to see if there is anything that we might be holding back in our lives.  Have we truly allowed him the space to sanctify us through and through?  Are we holding onto our last vestiges of self and pride?  If so, then we aren’t sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts. He wants all of us so that everything can be made clean and pure and overflow with Christ.  Then the hope of Christ will exude onto those around us on a daily basis. 

The hope in you — is Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the incredible hope which you provide every day by your holy presence.  Amen.