Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Are They Saying Now?



Scripture


John  7:12 And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”  13 Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.

Observation

Jesus’ brothers had encouraged him to come to the Festival but he told them that it wasn’t the right time yet. He wasn’t going to go and do a lot of public works. Later on he simply went to the events, slipping in without people noticing. However, he was able to overhear their conversations about him. People were saying all kinds of things, wondering where he was and contemplating his character. On one hand there were those who felt that he was good while others saw him as being deceptive.

The religious authorities were jealous of him and somehow could not accept his nature as good. Instead they leaned toward the idea that his words were deceptive or seductive. His words were influencing people and they hadn’t give him the authority. They could not see the authority of God in his work because that would mean that they did not have ultimate power and authority over the religious affairs of their community. The ordinary folks who saw Jesus through their innocent eyes could see that he was good while the priests and rulers were corrupted and this corruption created a filter through which they saw him — and ultimately, spoke about him.

In reality his words were seductive because people were responding and lives were being changed. This greatly disturbed the leaders for it eroded their power base. Their concern was not with God or his message of salvation but with keeping their personal positions secure. The best way to tackle this influence was to talk about Jesus and present their corrupted perception of his work.

Application


Society seems bent on presenting a corrupted version of Christianity — one that is viewed through a corrupted filter. It seems that in the United States, Christianity is under attack in ways that I have never experienced. Everything that a Christian does, or doesn’t do, is scrutinized through a particular lens or filter. Just as Jesus walked among the crowd and could hear the people complaining about him, so the Christian finds the world complaining. Now, to be quite honest Christianity hasn’t always gotten everything right and there is some deserved criticism but at the same time, it seems that there is an open season on criticizing Christianity, as if everything bad in this world has come from Christian.

There is a filter that changes the entire perspective. It’s why the religious leaders couldn’t see anything good in Jesus. Their filter said that he was deceiving people — that he was seducing people. Isn’t that similar to what people say about Christians these days as well. My concern is that we are reacting to what the world is saying, instead of continuing to do what is right. Jesus heard the things that they were saying about him, but he never allowed this to influence who he was or to keep him from his mission. The reality was that his message was seductive because it led people to the love of the Father experienced in a restored relationship.

This leads me to concern over the message of Christianity that we are hearing today. Are we being too cautious about what the world might be saying about us that we don’t want to be too seductive? Could we be afraid of encouraging people to come to Christ because some might complain!

This advent season is a time when we should proudly proclaim the arrival of the Messiah who provides for us a way of transformation, and yes, there ought to be something seductive about our message! Will there be those who talk about us? Of course there will be — but it didn’t stop Jesus and it shouldn’t stop us either. What the world is saying now is not much different from what has always been said. The truth about Jesus remains timeless and no matter what others say about us, as followers of Christ it is our responsibility to continue sharing his light to a darkened world.

Prayer

Lord, may your words through me, be seductive to those who need to know you.  Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Biblically Literate. Spiritually Desolate.



Scripture


John 5:39   “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.

Observation

The Jewish leaders were profoundly capable of reading the Scriptures and they carried them around in their hands so that people would know how educated and literate they were. They were able to quote long texts from memory and they believed that their knowledge of the word of God would lead them to eternal life. The sad truth is that they became consumed by the Scriptures themselves believing they would be their source of eternal life, instead allowing the word to lead them to the real source of life.

They were extremely bright individuals who knew the Word, but did not recognize the fulfillment of prophecy, the one who stood right before them. They were literate but spiritually desolate. They undervalued Christ because they overvalued themselves, rejecting him because they thought they were too smart for him.

John Wesley encourages us to search the Scriptures as a means of grace. It is the Scriptures that are not an end to themselves but are a channel of God’s grace that leads us to the Messiah. This is what the religious leaders did not understand. They could quote long passages and yet they were missing the point that they were to “search the scriptures” because in searching — they would find what they needed!

The word which has been translated as “search” actually means to seek diligently or anxiously. It’s the same language that Homer used when describing the lioness whose little ones have been taken by the enemy. There is an intense and anxious search until the little ones are found. The mother doesn’t focus on the journey but on what will be found at the end of the journey. Just so, we are to anxiously and intensely search the Scriptures as a means of grace that leads us to our Messiah. When the Scriptures are searched in this way, then the Scriptures testify on behalf of Jesus! When we seek him, we will find him — but we must truly and earnestly seek him.

Application

This Christmas season we can enjoy all kinds of festivities and events to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. We can know all the songs and recite parts of the Christmas story. The house can be decorated and the presents wrapped under the tree but if none of these lead us to Christ, himself, we are lost.

Just as the Scriptures become channels of God’s grace to humanity so can the activities of this season. This, however, will only be possible if we don’t focus on where we are in the journey, but anxiously and diligently search for the true meaning behind all the “stuff.”

Too many people who call themselves Christians will celebrate this season as Biblically literate, but spiritually desolate. We may be just as guilty as those religious leaders of the past.

Only when we get to know the Christ of Christmas will we be transformed by his holy love. This is when the Christmas story comes to life, not in the book, but in you and me.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the revelation of you that we discover in your word.  Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Prejudice in the Kingdom



Scripture


John 4:27   Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Observation

We are jumping into the scene of the woman at the well. Here she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus has been spending time talking to her. All of this was improper. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans! The disciples were quite appalled at the action of Jesus and their own prejudice informed them. While some commentators suggest that the disciples’ response (or lack there of) was out of respect and awe, there are others who would like us to consider that that they didn’t say anything because they were embarrassed by Jesus’ behavior. How in the world could he sit and talk with someone of another race or group of people that they looked down on — and besides that, the person was a woman. Their prejudice was showing.

Jewish rabbis were to avoid women because they were considered a distraction from the study of the Torah. These “other” people — a minority group, Samaritans — and then a woman — were considered of much less worth than the higher class of Jewish rabbis. The prejudices had been instilled in them since their birth and suddenly they were confronted with the behavior of their rabbi Jesus.

In their own minds they were probably concerned that Jesus had some how not understood how this would look to the rest of the world. Rabbis were to avoid women — not even to talk to their own wife on the street so that no one would think that there were any sexual innuendos or advances. In essence women were thought to be evil temptresses that would drive men astray and therefore they were to be avoided at all cost. Conversation with them might open the door for temptation and yet, here was Jesus embarrassing them all.

Origen, one of the great leaders in the early church challenges us on this scripture. He says that we become “carried away with pride and arrogance, despise those below us and forget that the words, ‘Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness’ apply to each person.” Jesus was breaking down long-held barriers of prejudice and revealing to the disciples that there was a new kingdom being ushered in where the barriers would be destroyed and everyone would have access to the Messiah. Cyril of Alexandria says Jesus shows here that he is the Creator of all, and as such, “ he does not give men only this life through faith but imparts this faith to women as well. Let him that teaches in the church follow this pattern and not refuse to help women.” And I would hasten to add — and not refuse to help anyone. There can be no prejudice in the kingdom.

Application


Today’s passage challenges us to look at our own potential prejudices. The events in the United States in the last number of weeks have asked us to examine ourselves and recognize that we may have our own preconceived notions of how we “see” certain situations and circumstances. The woman at the well becomes a context in which we may examine our own response because we may be one of the characters in the story.

The woman — she had grown accustomed to being treated poorly. She was a Samaritan! She was born into the wrong people group. A Jewish rabbi would never talk to her because she was considered so far beneath him. This woman knew how to act in the presence of a man like Jesus — like she wasn’t even there. Compared to him she had been taught that she wasn’t much of a human being and she knew this is what he would think of her. I can imagine her downcast eyes and steeling herself for the encounter — or lack there of — where she might just be invisible to this man.

The disciples — followers of Jesus Christ who were blessed to encounter teaching from him on a daily basis and yet, they carried with them their cultural bias and prejudices. How could they not recognize that their response was something that should happen in the kingdom? They are embarrassed by Jesus!

Jesus — is ushering in a new kingdom in which all the barriers are removed. There is no more walking on the other side of the road away from the Samaritan. No longer does he avoid the woman because she might contaminate him! Instead, Jesus carries his holiness with him, reaching out and touching a needy world and bringing holy healing along the way.

This becomes the vital difference of those living within the kingdom. Christ’s holiness is contagious as we walk the highway of holiness and the result is that the walls of prejudice are destroyed. Reflecting Jesus means that we bring Christ’s holy healing to a needy world, not afraid to encounter those that others may view as being different. Jesus’ behavior is an example for us — there can be no vestige of prejudice among God’s people. Jesus intentionally went to a Samaritan well and then began talking to a woman who was stunned by his loving response.  We are challenged to go and do likewise.

When the holy love of God consumes his followers there is no room left for prejudice and Christ’s holy healing overflows. This is God’s kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, please help us as your followers to be intentional about breaking down the barriers which have been created.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where The Holy Journey Leads



Scripture


2Pet. 3:11   Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,

Observation

Recognizing the temporal nature of this life the readers are exhorted to focus on that which is important — “leading lives of holiness and godliness.” Reading before and after this text we realize that focusing too much on the creation account or the return of Christ is not the intention of the life of a believer. Instead we are to be united in holy relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, participating in godliness resulting in a life of holiness. Wesley encourages us to become persons engaged in “holy conversation — with men. And godliness — Toward your Creator.”

This scripture leads us to a type of challenge — questioning whether we might be prepared for the amazing scenes that God has prepared for us, should they actually burst in on us in this lifetime. There is something more for which we are living than that which we can see with our human eye. This becomes increasingly visible as we lead lives of holiness.

Application


We are called to join those who have gone before us on the highway of holiness. The road has a destination — Jesus Christ! Our focus, day in and day out is to be on him — our beloved who is awaiting us.

In the early years of Christianity there were enormous distractions. The secular or pagan world was full of its own religious imagery and was constantly pressuring the beliefs of those new Christ followers. Christians were an oddity who found themselves being persecuted for their faith. The secular world loved lengthy arguments and debates. Often these were held simply for the benefit of entertainment and so in the middle of it all were these simple Christ-followers, living in a new kingdom that the world could not see.

We are citizens of that same kingdom but the secularization of our world is also pressuring us to come out and join the arguments and debates. All these things will dissolve away! The charge in this scripture was not just for those believers 2000 years ago, but to us today. Keep the main thing the main thing! We are to be people who are genuinely transformed by our participation in the holy relationship found in God. We are to become travelers on the holy journey who are no longer distracted by the things of this world. The holy journey will lead us to a simple manger where we will discover a loving and humble Savior, reaching out to a dying world in holy love.

Prayer
Lord, please continue to lead me on this journey today.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Feeling Intimidated



Scripture

1 Peter 3:14b Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,  15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.

Isaiah 8:12 Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.  13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

Observation

The Gentile world had issues and concerns — anxiety inducing incidents which could strike fear into the lives of the believers. The believers were living lives contrary to the world and this came as a word of encouragement. In the mist of difficulties and persecutions there was a call to hang on- to persevere. The scripture in 1 Peter is a reflection of the one found in Isaiah and it is again a call to live above the fear and dread that can be found in the world.

The focus for the believer is not to be intimidated by all that they may be experiencing in the world, but instead, to focus on holiness. When the journey of the believer is to find themselves on the highway of holiness, following after and reflecting Jesus Christ, then the intimidations of this world begin to vanish.

Application


There are plenty of things happening in the world that can be intimidating to us. There is instability in the economy. Just watch the stock market on a daily basis and it’s enough to make you fear.

Then there are the news headlines, and they are awful. There is unrest in our world, both abroad and at home. It is troubling and unsettling, and it can cause fear and dread. We can feel intimidated by the loud voices clamoring around us, each wanting to get our attention and pull us in their direction. The political voices on all sides can be, at times, deafening, each one calling for a conspiracy and the result can be all consuming and dread inducing.

During the time of Isaiah there was a call to turn aside from the fears of the world. The children of Israel were suffering and there did not seem to be much hope. Fast forward to the time of the Messiah. The long awaited one had finally come and yet here they were, continuing to suffer for their faith. People were being martyred for their new-found faith in Jesus Christ.

And now, nearly 2000 years later the message rings out to us. Don’t be afraid and don’t be intimidated by what you see happening around you. Instead, keep Jesus before you, ever and always seeking his face. May he dwell in our hearts, sanctifying us by his holy presence within us. If there is anything to fear, it is not following him — losing sight of the Christchild during this holiday season.

The things of this world are nothing in light of following the holy footsteps of our Messiah. No need to feel intimidated!

Prayer

Lord, may I seek your holy presence in all things today.  Amen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

For All Those Aspiring Teachers Out There



Scripture

James 3:1   Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Observation

Being a teacher in the Jewish system was a prized role. It was one that brought with it the admiration of those around and as the fledgling new Christianity began to grow there were those who sought out this position of honor. People wanted to become teachers. The problem is that a number of them weren’t willing to take the time to be sufficiently educated to be the teachers they needed to be. For example, Apollos was traveling around as a teacher and yet he only knew the teaching of John the Baptist. He was smart enough, however, that when he discovered he was lacking, he was willing to sit under the teaching of Priscilla and Aquilla.

James was concerned about the quality of the teaching. The tongue is a very powerful tool and can be used to lead people in the direction of Christ, or astray. That’s why James was encouraging people to be discerning about this call to teaching. The other point that is brought up by many of the Church Fathers is that teaching without living out your teaching by example is worthless. All teaching that is merely words should be rejected.  A teacher should embrace the very words that they teach because they will “judged with greater strictness.”

Application

Let me just combine this comment — not just about aspiring teachers, but preachers as well. Or, let’s expand that to small group Bible Study leaders — or leaders within the church of any kind. It’s not good enough to just talk about your faith or be able to teach from a booklet or show a DVD. For teaching to have value there must be a depth behind the words. If you are to teach, you must believe and live what it is that you are teaching.

The world is tired of all the fluff and wants to see that our faith is genuine. There are far too many people these days who are popular just simply for being popular and not because of the depth of anything of significance that they have accomplished. This is a real shift in our culture but the reality is that eventually the empty house will begin to fall down. Look at the scandal of the tele-evangelists of the 1980’s. They rose to fame and became popular because they could — because they learned how to use the media to their benefit — and yet, their lifestyles left much to be desired.

For all those aspiring teachers and preachers out there — don’t seek after that kind of a position because you want to be up front and get the attention. Only do the job if God is calling you and then, take the time to know your profession well. Know what you don’t know — and then seek to learn more. May the speech of your tongue be seasoned and the acts of your life be a shining example to all those around you. Don’t just speak words, but practice what you preach.

There is a higher standard for those who put themselves before a group of people to be their influencers. That’s the warning here. Beware — for the enemy will do all that can be done bring about your demise. The only way to remain faithful is to keep seeking the face of God, day in and day out. Aspire to know God — and then aspire to teach the God whom you have come to know.

Prayer

Lord, help me to know you more today.  Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Time To Get Into Shape



Scripture


Heb. 12:12   Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Observation

There are to be difficult times in the life of a believer and these can either make us weaker or stronger. After going through a particularly troubling time it may be easy to feel defeated and frustrated. Our hands are drooping — we simply can no longer lift them up in praise and worship of the Lord, or as Moses — they can no longer be lifted up for the battle. It’s all just been too hard. The hard knocks have also made our knees weak or feeble and somehow we wonder whether we can continue on with the race.

For the follower of Christ there will be difficulties and we have a choice to make in terms of response. Will we allow ourselves to continue to be defeated and for us to become weaker, or will we get into shape? We are encouraged to fight the tendency to allow our arms to droop — instead, pushing against the odds, lift up our drooping hands. Praise and worship God in the midst of the difficulties. Look for others who may be willing to help prop them up when we feel that we no longer have any strength.

Our weakened knees need to be strengthened so that we can continue the race. The only way to do that is to exercise so that the surrounding muscles will provide the needed strength. Our spiritual muscles must be exercised so that we can continue the race and when the pathway before us is strewn with rocks and pot-holes, we may need to stop and clean the path before us before we can go on.

Only by intentional effort, exercise and discipline can that which has been damaged be healed and the journey continue.

Application

Personal confession here — it’s been a year of getting out of shape! I was elected to this position January 3, 2014 and I feel like I’ve been running a race ever since that has had very few moments for catching my breath, let alone exercise. Before I started this particular lap of my journey I used to exercise at least five mornings a week. Now, my entire routine has been shot as I have discovered how consuming my current responsibilities are and how day after day I wake up and wonder where I am as I travel to represent this great institution. Physically I can feel it — my clothes are tighter and my joints are weary. I need to get back into shape, and quite honestly the Lord and I have been having a conversation about how that is going to happen!

The same thing can happen to us spiritually. We can come to a period of time when things simply change and as we move through that transition we can get out of shape. We are tired and weary and the energy is sapped from our bones. No longer do we feel that we can keep going and little by little we get out of spiritual shape.

Just as it takes discipline (ouch!) to get back into physical shape, so it also takes discipline to get into and remain in spiritual shape. No one said it was going to be easy but there is something about perseverance and self-discipline that makes a difference. If our metaphoric hands are drooping — maybe we need to begin by finding others who will help to prop them up before we can find our own strength to continue.

Looking at the road in front of us we need to make sure we have straight paths for our feet. What are the stumbling blocks which need to be removed? Possibly there are distractions in life that keep us from the spiritual disciplines which we need to exercise in life. Maybe we simply need to remove them from our lives so that they are not a temptation to us and we need to do everything that we can to make the path smooth. That may include surrounding ourselves with those who will encourage us in the journey — friends who want us to succeed, rather than those who will be the stones that lead us to slip and fall.

Today we will celebrate the third Sunday of advent. Christ came into a very difficult world and there were times that he was battered and bruised by what he had to encounter. He regularly went off and took time to remain in shape spiritually, getting recharged by his time alone with the Father. May we use this season of advent to get into shape, anticipating the arrival of our Messiah. Then as we venture into the new year may we persevere in the journey, traveling on the highway of holiness to places where we have never yet been because of the strength that we find in him. Don’t give up — get into shape.

Prayer

Lord, may your Spirit empower me to continue onward with you.  Amen.