Sunday, May 21, 2017
Psa. 93:5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.
Over and again the Lord promises to be faithful. Whether the rainbow in the sky following the terrible flood, or the promise that no lives would be lost to Paul in the midst of a storm, God fulfills the promises made. God’s decrees then, are sure, and not to be doubted. The very nature of God is revealed in holiness. The God who lives in the house also lives among the people. God’s holiness is revealed in promises and decrees which transform the people. Faithfulness leads to holiness.
If we simply took the title out of context we would think that our faithfulness to God will bring about personal holiness. The problem is that this is the way in which we have typically thought of holiness — a change in our personal behaviors. However, this is not what the Psalmist is saying. God’s faithfulness to humankind is what provides the opportunity for humanity to be made holy. It is God who is faithful and that ought to be a very sobering reality. We are unable to make ourselves holy on our own power. It is only when we participate in the holiness of God that we, too, are made holy. We are only holy because of God’s holiness in us.
Holiness befits the house of the Lord. In other words, God’s holiness permeates the house because God is in the house. The way that we become holy is by dwelling in the house with God, then God’s holiness becomes a part of who we are. The promise of God is that if we dwell in the house of holiness with God, then we, too, will be holy.
The great promises of God remind us that we don’t have to be doing this on our own. We can’t stop the rain from falling. We can’t stop the storms from pounding. We can’t stop the world from pressing in upon us, but we can be God’s holy people. The place of refuge is to be found in the shelter of the rock, in the dwelling place of God. God is faithful, and God is holy.
Lord, I am grateful for your eternal promises and your gentle love which we can experience today. Amen.
1Pet. 3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 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, 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; 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.
The believers living in the period of the early church were facing new difficulties on a daily basis. The disciples were teaching these followers what it meant to live like Jesus, and this included ministering to the poor and the needy. They were to be engaged in doing good; doing the right things. Persecution was always a potential reality but they were not to allow that fear to inhibit their activities.
There was a direct connection to sanctification and the activity of believers in the world. God’s holy people; those who were deeply in love with Christ, would also love their neighbors and give of themselves for them. Engaging in this kind of a lifestyle would inevitably raise questions. The sanctified believer who follows Christ into a hurting world will be asked about their faith. The lifestyle of a sanctified believer becomes a witness to the presence of the kingdom of God in the world. Therefore when someone asks a question regarding our hope, we are to be prepared to respond. Never let the opportunity pass by to share about the sanctifying work of Christ in this world. Sanctification should always lead to witness, whether in word or deed.
If the focus of holiness is only on personal piety the believer will lose the opportunity to serve as a witness to the gospel. Personal piety alone, without showing expression in service to others is a real problem. This is not what Christ intended, and one must ask whether this is holiness at all. Can there be any holiness that is not expressed in both love for God and love for neighbor? If we try to do one without the other we will be lacking. We cannot isolate ourselves from the world and simply try to grow in the grace of Christ without engaging our world. Also, we cannot, as a Christian, just try to engage our world and do good deeds, without growing in the sanctifying power and grace of God. There are plenty of people engaged in doing good deeds, but they are unable to present the hope of the resurrected Lord.
A sanctified believer will be drawn to opportunities of witness. For those who argue that they have no chance to tell others about Jesus, I would ask how well you know Jesus, for Jesus saw opportunity everywhere that he went. Maybe it’s a person sitting at a table near you in a restaurant who is quietly listening in on your conversation. Did you notice? For some reason there may have been a spark of interest in your discussion. Our what about the Uber driver? You have time in a car to have a conversation with someone you may never normally meet. Maybe they’re someone from another faith. Today you have the opportunity to show them that a Christian is gentle and reverent — and gives them a good review! Speaking of reviews — there’s a professor (no one I know) who is in trouble for her Yelp reviews. She is supposed to be teaching cultural sensitivity at her university but when she goes to restaurants she often gives horrible reviews and uses offensive language. We cannot hide behind the internet and not be a witness. Everything that we do ought to be screaming about our love for Jesus and love for others. This is our witness and it is played out every single day in everything that we do!
There is a direct correlation between sanctification and witness. God’s holy people can’t help themselves — they will become witnesses in the world. If you find yourself thinking that you never have the opportunity to be a witness for Christ, I would suggest that you examine your personal relationship with Jesus. Greater intimacy with Jesus will always heighten your sensitivity to the lost. If there is no passion for the lost, there may be no real passion for Christ. Sanctification and witness — be prepared for the amazing journey of transformation, both personal and for the world.
Lord, I want to know you more and I want my heart filled with passion for you. Please open my eyes to those around me and give me the words to be your witness. Amen.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Often people will close a letter with a salutation such as “grace and peace” or just “peace.” This is a farewell greeting that expresses a desire for this person to experience peace. When Jesus gives this farewell salutation he does something altogether different. He doesn’t just wish his followers peace, he tells them that he is leaving his peace with them. This something radically different, for Jesus entered the world as the Prince of Peace, which describes something about Jesus’ very nature. It means that he is leaving this part of his nature here with his followers. This is what he will leave with them after his resurrection and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
This peace will transcend anything that the world has to offer. It becomes the peace that defines a Christian, who can experience a deep and settling peace, even in the midst of life’s biggest trials. It was the peace that Jesus exhibited when he was in the midst of the storm on the sea of Galilee, he remained calm when called before the religious leaders and Pilate. The peace was Christ’s peace, and this he was bestowing upon those who would follow after him. Much more than a simple salutation, but a blessed promise.
The promise of the peace of Christ is powerful, and yet it’s easy to stray from the shelter of that peace. It seems, at times, that we wander in and out of that place of peace with God. The daily demands of life draw us out from under the shadow of that peace and tempt us into fretting. Then again, we hear the voice of our Beloved calling us into the place of sweet, gentle and all-consuming peace, even in the midst of life’s storms.
When we begin to comprehend the immenseness of this promise, we should be overwhelmed. The peace of Christ is more than we can comprehend but it is being shaped and formed in those who are in communion with our holy God. The peace of Christ is being brought to perfection or completion by the one who is at work within us. The peace of Christ allows us the possibility of putting things into perspective, an eternal view that sees things differently. Jesus promised this to all of his followers.
We don’t have to be ruled by the circumstances of this life. The peace the world has to offer is temporary. We are invited to step into the eternal stream of the peace of Christ that transcends the temporal.
Yes, much more than a simple desire for God’s people, but another self-emptying of Christ. His peace, more than a salutation, is gifted to those who will partake.
Lord, I am grateful for the deep sense of your peace which reaches to the deep recesses of my life. Thank you for bringing peace to places that I didn’t know needed your peace. Amen.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Acts 27:33 Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37 (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) 38 After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.
Paul and his traveling companions were on a ship that was bound to sink. They had been weathering storms for days and were now weakened from the onslaught. What was to come of them? Paul had been communicating with the Lord and again, reveals what it means to be a Christian in the midst of ordinary circumstances. He went to the Lord and there gained wisdom and strength, as well as a promise that no one would lose their life. Just to make certain of this they would need to have a roll-call. This would have included all sailors, prisoners and soldiers. Every single person on the ship was accounted for and there were two hundred seventy-six persons. Every single one, precious in the eyes of God.
They all ate and then threw off everything that was weighing down the ship. They had probably been using the grain/food for weights and now that they were going to be released, they may as well eat and get some strength. Luke presents the breaking of bread as a vision of the last supper, but mixed with a hearty meal for all. Again, it is this mixing of the Christian life with the ordinary. For one, the meal becomes a dependence upon the sustenance found in Christ, for others it is the physical energy of food. In reality it becomes a mix of the two that leads to the salvation of them all. Believers and non-believers tied inextricably to one another in the crisis of this storm. It is not just the Christians who are to be saved, but all two hundred seventy-six.
The ship breaks up and all the people eventually find a way to shore, whether they knew how to swim or not. The promise of God is revealed the headcount is repeated and all two hundred seventy-six are present.
There is intentionality in knowing the number two hundred and seventy-six, for the number represents the lives of individuals who are important in the eyes of God. Every human being, whether a believer or not, is precious in the sight of God. In this circumstance, God used the presence of three believers (we don’t know if there were more) to save the lives of two hundred and seventy-three more. They had to suffer the consequences of the choices of secular leaders so that they could help to save others. Paul, Luke and Aristarchus are not heard to complain in their situation, but are there, bringing leadership and guidance in the midst of a crisis. They don’t ask for God to save them alone, but they are willing servants to bring everyone to salvation.
We find the believers practicing the Christian life in the midst of those who have no idea what they’re doing. The imagery of the last supper while others are feasting on anything they can find is almost unimaginable, and yet it is a vision of where the Christian should find themselves in this world. We are to become the broken bread and shed blood for the world, not practicing our spirituality in isolation, but in the middle of the mess. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices for the world that is drowning around us. The three, for the two hundred and seventy-three. In helping to save others, Paul, Luke and Aristarchus are saved.
Living the Christian life in the center of the messes of this world will not be pleasant, but we are called to follow Christ. He gave his life for the many. For how many are we willing to suffer?
Lord, your word can challenge my heart and thinking. Help me to be willing to live for you sacrificially. Amen.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Acts 27:1 When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. 2 Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
Luke provides us with a narrative of Paul’s journey to Rome. It appears that Luke is traveling with Paul, as well as Aristarchus. This portrayal of the journey allows us to have a glimpse of what it means to be a Christian in the world. For Luke and Aristarchus to travel with Paul to Rome would have been out of the ordinary. Luke may have gotten permission as Paul’s physician, but Aristarchus, coming as a voluntary companion of a prisoner, may have had to submit himself as Paul’s slave to be allowed to come on the journey. He has been a faithful companion through many difficult circumstances. He was present during the riots in Ephesus and then travels with Paul to Macedonia. Later we find him present with Paul in Rome for he is mentioned in the letter to the Colossians and Philemon. This man was a humble supporter of Paul who appears to have done whatever was necessary to further the ministry of the great Apostle. He is an unsung hero who remains faithful.
Only a few people in this world will have their fifteen minutes of fame, while most will live their lives in anonymity. Paul may have become very well known, but he had a whole team of supporters who helped him in his ministry. Aristarchus is one of those names that we hardly ever hear mentioned and yet, I would suspect that he was extremely vital to the ministry of Paul. He humbled himself to be able to further Paul’s work. He offered himself as a slave and willingly set sail with prisoners. More than likely he lived with Paul in his imprisonment in Rome. One wonders whether the ministry of Paul could have been as effective without Aristarchus.
Kingdom work requires many humble supporters, those whose names may not become well-known. Aristarchus becomes an example of one who is reflecting the image of Jesus Christ by humbling himself to serve others. This is exactly what Jesus did for all of us, but humbling himself and giving up his status to provide a pathway for our salvation. When we follow our Lord, then we find ourselves being challenged to accept the role of humble supporter. Even going out of our way to make it possible for others to serve with their gifts and talents in the kingdom. Being willing to suffer so that others might be more effective. Giving up our seat at the table so that the work may continue into a new future which God has in store.
Sometimes the little known workers in the kingdom are the ones who will make an eternal difference. We are to live faithfully, emptying ourselves in service to one another for the sake of the kingdom.
Lord, open my eyes to the places and the ones whom I can serve. Amen.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. 38 I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”
The Jews were fond of their genealogies. They loved to prove who they were by the people to whom they were related. Obviously there was great pride in being children of Abraham, but Jesus was messing with they held dear. He was saying that physical descent does not equate to spiritual maturity. When Jesus declared that they had no room for his word, he was implying that these children of Abraham had closed their minds to the truth. The result was that they had become blinded to the realities of God which stood right before them.
The implication is that true descendants of Abraham would have, with open minds, received Jesus. While this group of individuals is concerned with their physical line of heredity, Jesus is revealing to them the true line of heredity back to the Father. It is the work of the Son which will provide the pathway to the Father and this will be by opening the opportunity for adoption. True children will be those who have been adopted into the family and this, by creating room for the word, and hence, they will have direct access to the Father. They, too, will know what is declared in the Father’s presence, for they will be united with God. The true descendants of Abraham will listen to and know the voice of the Father for they will have room for the word. If there is no room for the word, then you may be a physical descendant, but not a true child.
Many of us may be able to trace our spiritual genealogy through generations of family in the church. We can be just as prideful as the children of Abraham. Because of the relationship, we may also believe that we have ownership and can be the ones to determine everything that is to happen at church. What happens when a new generation of believers begins to fill the place? Do we insist on having things our way because our family has been invested in the place for so long? The religious officials were stuck in their stubborn ways and refused to see that God was doing a new thing.
God just may be at work doing something completely new and different and only those who are connected to the Father are going to see and understand what is happening.
There must be room for the word in our lives. The word is living, active, moving, breathing and ever leading. This life with the Father is not static and therefore we must be malleable in God’s hands. We become children who are willing to be shaped for use by the Father. The world around us is constantly in a state of change and for us to be faithful servants in the kingdom, we must be flexible. Those living in their spiritual genealogy are rigid with no room for the word. True children of the kingdom are flexible for they have made room for the word.
Lord, may I be a flexible and pliable instrument in your hands. Amen.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
Stephen is bringing his speech to a close. Whether he meant this to be the end or not, we are uncertain, but the response of the crowd was so violent that there was no other option but to have been finished.
Stephen had spoken with such boldness that the people were shocked. Obviously the words that he spoke pricked their consciences and they were troubled, and now becoming quite defensive. As he spoke of their history of resistance he brought home the point that they had substituted external worship for spiritual obedience. They had made it a common practice to resist the nudging of the Holy Spirit and become rigid in their lives and practices.
Stephen, the one who had been accused of wrong-doing now turns the tables and accuses the Sanhedrin, and argues that they should be on trial for they have violated the spirit of Judaism. This speech is answered by the stoning of Stephen, and yet his words live on eternally ringing in our ears, reminding us that there are times when we must speak boldly.
As I have been journeying through Europe with the Reformers I am reminded time and again that there is a need for those who will speak boldly. Many, like Stephen, were not well received. Even reformers like Luther lived under constant stress and pressure. After speaking at the Diet of Worms his friends whisked him away and hid him for months. They knew far too well what had happened to Jan Hus when he had come to the meeting in Constance — he had been burned at the stake! And yet, these giants of the faith become for us heroes who were willing to speak boldly. They put their lives on the line because they were able to see the bigger picture.
We are not all called to be a Stephen, a Luther, or a Hus, but we are called to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ who do not oppose the Holy Spirit. When we are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit there will be times when we are nudged to speak up, or to speak boldly. Our responsibility is to listen and respond to those gentle nudging of the Spirit so that we can help the community of faith to remain faithful. All of these reformers and leaders, including Stephen, were speaking to the religious folks. It’s the church that sometimes needs a prophetic voice to help her remain on track, and therefore needs those who will speak boldly. But one can only truly speak boldly when it comes through an outpouring and empowering of the Holy Spirit. All of the reformers mentioned spent much time in the word and in the presence of the Lord. It was often the Spirit enlightening their reading or studies that gave them their boldness.
As we become sensitive to the leading of the Spirit, may we respond and speak boldly when we are gently nudged.
Lord, may you raise up a new generation of those who will speak boldly for truth. Amen.