Monday, March 27, 2017

The Great Reversal


Scripture
 
Isaiah 59:15b The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
        that there was no justice.
16     He saw that there was no one,
        and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
    so his own arm brought him victory,
        and his righteousness upheld him.
17     He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
        and a helmet of salvation on his head;
    he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
        and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.

Observation

The people of God had wandered so far from the truth that there was no one left to reflect God’s image in the world. God’s holiness demands justice, and there was none to be found. No one remained who was willing to be an intercessor. There was no sacrificing on behalf of another and God found this appalling. How could God’s people have moved so far away from their Creator? But God refused to be defeated by the very one who had been created by God’s outpouring of holy love.

Our own remedies will never be sufficient and eventually we will lose the will to continue in our own strength.

God did not, and does not need humanity to bring about victory. God is quite capable within God’s own nature to be victorious and we see this happening in this passage. The story will eventually lead to the death of Christ on the cross, but even now God speaks of the armor which is worn as spiritual warfare is fought. God puts on God, and this is a reminder that we don’t will the armor of God in our lives. The armor is all about God, and not about us. God’s righteousness is the breastplate. God’s salvation is the helmet. God’s garments fight the battle against evil. All of this will culminate in complete and total victory on the part of God as we journey together with Christ to the cross.

Application


God provides the treatment for all that ails God’s people, but it will require complete and total dependence upon God. No human power alone is sufficient for the task. Therefore the armor which we put on is only that which we find by participating in Christ, and this is made possible by his death and resurrection. The journey to the cross is wearisome, but along the wilderness journey we learn complete and total dependence upon God who is already victorious.

As a result, transformation occurs as we put on the full armor of God. Suddenly things are set aright and we engage in intercession, giving ourselves up for the sake of others. We engage in issues of justice — for the sake of others. These become a reflection of God’s character as God’s holiness is lived out in us.

Christ’s activity on the cross and our participation with Christ means that we become active in the restoration of all things in the way God had intended. The Lord is pleased as God sees justice. God is pleased for there are those willing to intercede. God clothes holy children in righteous armor so that they may go into the world reflecting the very nature of God. The world is changed because they have come into contact with God’s holy children.

Prayer

Lord, may I never lean on my own understanding, but upon you and your strength. Amen.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reflecting Light


Scripture
 
Ephesians 5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
    “Sleeper, awake!
        Rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

Observation

Jesus is the light and if we are in a relationship with Christ, we will reflect his light. The brightness of the light doesn’t leave shadows where particular activities can be hidden. When bright light enters the darkness the things that are hidden are exposed.

The section ends with what is believed to have been an early baptismal hymn — a declaration for those who were now following Christ and walking in the light.

“Sleeper, awake! 
Rise from the dead, 
and Christ will shine on you.” 

This is the moment of transformation and from now on the light of Christ is reflected in the life of the one who is in a face to face relationship with the Lord.

Application

We don’t have to create our own light, we simply must reflect Christ’s light. Anyone who is in a right relationship with the Lord will be reflecting that light and it may not always make others feel comfortable.

I fly a lot and it seems to me that lately more and more flyers keep the window shades down in the plane. It used to be such a novelty to fly that you wanted to look out the window and see the incredible scenery as you flew by. Now, people are so engaged in their electronic devices that the light from outside is simply a distraction to their ability to see. The light is simply too bright and they would like to continue in the darkness where they feel more comfortable. The problem is that without that natural light it makes it difficult to do anything “natural” — say, read a real book. Have we become so accustomed to the darkness that we are uncomfortable with the light?

I’m afraid the same may be true with our spiritual lives. We become comfortable with our surroundings and keeping the lights just a little dim, tuning out the real world may make us comfortable. When the light of Christ is shining in on us it becomes a real wake-up call. Christ’s light shines on the dark spaces of our own lives and brings to light the things that must change. At the same time that light is reflected in us. At first it may make those around us uncomfortable but eventually we may become the only real light that they experience. There may become a hunger for that light that leads to the source of the light — Jesus.

It is in that moment of rebirth that we rise from the dead and the light of Christ shines on us, and is reflected in us. Now, we live as children of that light, being transformed and bringing transformation to a darkened world. We are never promised that this will be easy, but it is the very nature of being in a right relationship with the Lord. If you are seeking the face of Jesus, you will reflect Jesus.

Is your life one that reflects the light of Christ?

Prayer

Lord, please help me to be comfortable living in, and reflecting your light. Amen.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Nine-Month Wait


Scripture
 
Luke 1:26   In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Observation

This really is one of those impossible stories of history. A young girl, probably a teenager, is visited by an angel who tells her that she will be pregnant without having had sex. I think that the author of this Gospel passage does a nice job of writing this section but I don’t think that it begins to evoke the emotions that Mary would have been experiencing. For her to be pregnant outside of marriage had dire consequences and yet this angel is telling her not to be afraid. Without the use of a sonogram, nor a great reveal party, the angel tells her that it will be a boy. Then, the angel explains all that this baby will do and one can only that this was beyond Mary's imagination. 

We do get the one expression of Mary’s concern which seems to come from being dumbfounded! “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The explanation seems beyond comprehension and then she learns that Elizabeth is expecting as well. Both of these miraculous cases of pregnancy are explained by, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

Somehow I think there was a bit of time between that declaration by the angel and Mary’s response, however, we are brought to a place of seeing Mary’s giant leap of faith. This is simply the announcement that she will have a child, but in nine months it will become a reality. Between now and then she has much to ponder and a giant journey of faith.

Application

Today we celebrate the “annunciation of the Lord.” Nine months from now we will be celebrating Christmas and the birth of our Lord. It’s hard to imagine what this entire experience must have been like for a young girl like Mary. She had to have been a person of great faith to accept this burden on her life. This was a giant leap of faith into an unknown that would change the world. Even as the angel was speaking about a kingdom with no end, Mary must have wondered what all that would mean.

There are many emotions that a new young family experiences in the nine months leading up to the birth of a child. Christmas seems like a long way away and yet it would come soon enough. In our spiritual lives God is continually leading us to new depths and/or higher heights spiritually. There are times when something new will be conceived within us that may not be brought to fruition for months or even years. At the same time we are to live in faith like Mary.

We are on this journey for the long-haul, not for immediate returns. This means that we hold onto the promises of God and we live in faith day after day. We continue on in prayer, never giving up on those who may be straying from the faith! We love those who may seem unloveable. We stop setting up preconditions and we shower others with the love of God. We invest in God’s work for God’s glory and not ours.

Mary had to wait nine months to give birth to the baby who had been promised by the angel. Her life would never be the same but she had incredible faith. No matter what God may be asking us to do we also need to step out on faith. It may be a nine-month wait, just a few weeks, or years and years. Trust God and believe “nothing will be impossible with God.”

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your promises. Please give me patience and faith for the long-haul. Amen.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Life-long Provision


Scripture
 
Psa. 23:0   A Psalm of David.
1     The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2         He makes me lie down in green pastures;
    he leads me beside still waters;
3         he restores my soul.
    He leads me in right paths
        for his name’s sake.

Psa. 23:4        Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
        I fear no evil;
    for you are with me;
        your rod and your staff—
        they comfort me.

Psa. 23:5        You prepare a table before me
        in the presence of my enemies;
    you anoint my head with oil;
        my cup overflows.
6     Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
        all the days of my life,
    and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
        my whole life long.

Observation

The good Shepherd in this Psalm is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Daily we are invited into deeper intimacy with our Lord who reminds us that all provision has already been made for our lives. As a result, we shall not want for those things which we absolutely need. Just as manna was provided for the Israelites in the wilderness, so God wants to be our provider of daily bread.

Not only are we to relax in God’s provision, but we are literally to rest. The green pastures and the still waters provide all the food and drink, both physically and spiritually which we might need. It’s when we feast upon that which the Lord provides that we are restored and rejuvenated. It’s God’s good food which brings newness of life and also clarity of mind to follow in the right direction.

There is no guarantee that everything in life will go well. We will walk through dark valleys where it will feel like the enemy is waiting to strike us down. We may even call this the valley of the shadow of death for it is the darkest place in life where we may have to tread. Even in this dark place we can have peace. The Lord’s rod protects us and we lean on the staff when we have no strength of our own. We are comforted by the presence of the Lord’s instruments.

Finally the table invokes visions of the Lord’s table. This is a place where heaven and earth meet and the transformational work of the Holy Spirit graces us to love our enemies. We can pass the peace of Christ to those whom we feel have offended us because in Christ we are united and made one. The anointing oil of God’s healing pours over our wounds and brings healing. We lift our cup to drink and discover that the grace of God found at the table will so fill our cup that it will be constantly filled to overflowing.

Out of this overflow we discover the very nature of God. God’s goodness, and God’s mercy (compassion, love) will become a part of who I am because I will sit down and “tabernacle” in the Lord’s house every day of my life.

The Lord is my companion, my provider, my protector, and my sustainer.

Application

We are all looking for provision in life, whether we realize it or not. Most of the time we are trying to depend upon ourselves, our skills and abilities. It’s hard for us to slow down long enough to imagine this type of relationship with our holy God. And yet, this is the promise of a life of holiness. It is in participating — dwelling in the house of the Lord — that we are transformed by the sustaining grace of the Good Shepherd. This Psalm describes the kind of life that is possible when we are completely dependent upon God. Provision has already been made for God’s people, if only we will slow down long enough to recognize it.

This Lenten journey may feel like a wilderness, or it may take us to the green pastures and still waters. Eventually it always leads us to the table of grace. May we join with our enemies, rejoicing in the transformational power of the Holy Spirit that invites us, through grace, to dwell eternally in God’s holy presence.

Prayer

Lord, your grace and love overwhelm. Please, help me to slow down enough to relax in your provision. Amen.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dealing with Frustration


Scripture
 
Eph. 4:25   So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.

Observation

Paul makes this comment right after discussing holiness. There is an expectation that God’s holy people will be those who learn how to deal with frustrations in life. The reality is that there will always be circumstances and relationships that may be deemed a bit difficult. In the midst of those struggles we are not to spread any falsehoods about anyone. In other words — don’t gossip. Sometimes it’s all just a matter of perspective. One person may see a situation one way and someone else another. There is no need to demonize anyone, but there is a need to speak openly and honestly with one another. If we are to work and function as the body of Christ we must recognize that we are related to one another. If we are making another member of the body miserable, the whole body will be miserable.

The situation may even cause anger, but there is no need to sin in the midst of that anger. When we give too much space to our anger, then we allow the enemy to have a foothold in our lives. This can begin to steal our joy and leave us miserable and frustrated. This is certainly not what is intended for God’s holy people.

Application


There will always be people who are a part of our body who will cause us to become frustrated. The biggest question for us is how we will deal with that frustration. There are good ways, and there are bad ways. Mostly, I think that we tend to avoid the situation and any type of conflict. Somehow we think that will make things better. The problem is that this may actually lead to worse behaviors. Instead of confronting the issue with the individual we may go behind their back and talk about them and the problem with many other people. Meanwhile you have damaged the reputation of the other person without them having a chance to speak their opinion or possibly, provide clarity. We are to speak the truth directly to our neighbors because we are to treat one another as members of the same body.

Just because we have a small sore on one part of our body, we don’t just cut off the whole part of the body. That wouldn’t make sense. We would do everything we could to heal that wound so that the whole body could be healthy and functioning well.

Sometimes our closest neighbor who is frustrating us is our spouse. Unfortunately I find that far too many divorces result from people talking with their “friends” about their spouse and then becoming so negative that they can’t find anything good to say, nor a pathway to healing. A whole group of individuals may literally talk one another into a divorce because they feed their negative attitudes. They fail to see that they are connected to their spouse in such a deep way that the gossiping is creating wounds that may scar them for the rest of their lives. Yes, our spouses may do things that drive us crazy, but we are to talk with them and try to work things out. Don’t create space for the enemy to drive such a deep wedge that the woundedness will create a permanent fracture.

This is a holiness issue. God’s holy people are to work at their relationships and working at relationships means talking to those with whom you may have a problem. This is a face to face conversation that will not allow the sun to go down on your anger. God’s holy people work through their differences and learn to partner together for the sake of the body.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the reminder and help me to be an instrument of peace. Amen.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Wilderness Journey


Scripture
 
1Cor. 10:1   I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Observation

Paul is reminding the Corinthians about the Israelites’ wilderness journey. It was on this journey that God provided for them everything that they needed, and yet they grumbled and complained. They wanted food and God gave them manna, providing food for them for forty years. They were thirsty and they received water from the rock. They were rescued from their Egyptian oppressors by passing through the sea. Moses was their spiritual father, present with them day in and day out to lead them to the spiritual rock. They failed to see what they had been given to them, taking it all for granted. In continually pining for Egypt they missed out on the miracle in front of them and many never lived to see the promised land.

Application

Our Lenten journey is often consider a time in the wilderness. Jesus, who spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, was sustained by the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. As we make our wilderness journey we are to consider the ways in which God sustains us. Our heightened senses means that we become more and more aware of the work of God around us. Often we are too distracted to notice that God may be at work, but the purpose of the wilderness is to lose the distractions. Suddenly the work of God becomes much more real and we see God’s hand in new and different ways.

The spiritual rock in the wilderness was Christ. Rocks can serve several purposes as we journey. They can be a place where we sit down and we rest, giving a time of renewal to our weary bones. At the same time, if we’re not paying attention we can stumble over the rock and fall. The rock will not be moved and we must pay attention to the placement of the stone. The rock in the wilderness provided the Israelites with life-sustaining water, the elixir of life. We all need water or will not survive. Jesus, the rock, provides us with the water that we need for life during our wilderness experience. Life-giving, cool and satisfying, water rejuvenates and brings new life and perspective, if only we will take the time to stop and drink.

Instead of stumbling over the rock, Jesus provides an invitation to relax and be refreshed. It may look like there are a lot of rocks in the wilderness journey, when in reality they are points of refreshment which will lead us into a deeper walk with Jesus Christ. While Jesus was in the wilderness the mission of the Father became very clear. Who knows what God may be wanting to say to us on our Lenten journey but our minds must be clear and our dependence must be upon Christ. Rest on the rock and drink deeply from Jesus’ spiritual drink. As a result you will be prepared for what lies ahead.

Prayer


Lord, we often complain about the wilderness and the rocks. I’m sorry. Please, help me to embrace you, my rock and my salvation. Amen.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Grace and Peace


Scripture
 
Rom. 5:1   Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Observation

God is continually reaching out to humanity through grace. God’s grace pours out as a river, like channels of love enveloping all those who may have gone astray. Through faith we respond to the holy love that meets us in grace. The result is justification by faith as the repentant return home to the Father. Finally, there is an outpouring of God’s peace which reaches to the depths of our being, and allows us to comfortably sharing in the hope of the glory of God. God’s grace reaching out to us brings us into fellowship with the Prince of Peace.

Application

The combination of  “Grace and Peace” is not uncommon. There are people who sign of their correspondence with “Grace and Peace.” We have had a magazine called “Grace and Peace.” And there, quite simply, we put the words together and maybe don’t think that much about the connection. Both of these words remind us of the work of God in our lives. Neither of these are things which we can experience without direct Divine intervention.

We have a lot of different names for grace, or descriptors for the action of grace in different circumstances. Prevenient grace is the grace of God that reaches out to all of humanity, drawing them toward a relationship with the Creator. This is the grace of God that goes out before us, reaching out to us and constantly loving us no matter the circumstances. We also speak of saving grace and sanctifying grace. But put them all together into the large category of grace and we discover the free and unmerited favor of God. This is nothing that we earn or deserve, but simply God, generously pouring out love on all of creation and drawing us into a relationship in which we may be made whole.

In being made whole we discover peace. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, to bring back what was being destroyed through sin. In living in peace we discover the very nature of God. We are invited, through grace, into fellowship with the Triune God. There we discover the peace of God at a depth that we cannot comprehend, nor explain. Peace — wonderful peace. This is peace with God through Jesus, because we fellowship with God and suddenly there is nothing hindering the free-flow of God’s peace into our lives. Gone are worry and anxiety, and left is a holy dependence upon the one who loves us more than we can imagine.

Grace and Peace are both from God and nothing that we can conjure up on our own. We are welcomed by grace into a relationship where we experience God’s peace. Both grace and peace are supernatural, never of human manipulation nor invention. When we use the words, may they be with the reverence and awe which they deserve for they are gifts from our holy Father. God’s grace and God’s peace are ever reaching and enveloping those who are desperately in need of finding satisfaction in life. We will never manufacture it on our own, but only by following the gentle leading of grace which will take us to the place of peace.

Prayer

Lord, your grace leads me to your peace. Thank you for loving me this much. Amen.