Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Praise in a Time of Trouble


Scripture
2 Chr. 20:21 When he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy splendor, as they went before the army, saying,
“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Observation

King Jehosephat called out to God and wanted the people to know who it was that he worshipped. Far too many of the kings had worshipped idols but now, this was to be a declaration that the Israelites worshiped the Lord. 

The people of God were going into battle and instead of beginning the day with fear and trembling, the King led his people to worship God. They were to sing as they made their way into battle. The song that they sang is one we often sing these days — a Psalm of praise. 

Instead of focusing on their troubles they were to focus on God, giving praise in the time of trouble. 

Application

Great confidence in God is revealed by Jehosephat’s commitment to praise. He could have responded in any number of ways but instead chose to praise and worship the Lord. 

Finding ourselves in a time of trouble, we may also want to find the place of praise. That seems to sound rather counter-intuitive, and yet something seems to happen when we begin to praise the Lord. God ministers to our pain and suffering when we are obedient to praise. It doesn’t mean that all the trouble in our lives will be removed, but it does mean that our focus is shifted from ourselves to God. We begin to view our circumstances from an eternal perspective. 

Let’s begin this day and every day by giving thanks to the Lord — for God’s steadfast love does endure forever! We are God’s children, transformed and encouraged in light of worship and praise of our eternal God. Try praising when the troubles come. 

Prayer

Lord, I don’t pray for trouble, but I do pray an attitude of heart and mind in which I may praise and worship you in all circumstances of life. Amen.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Place of Prayer


Scripture
1Tim. 2:1    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Observation

Prayer must be a primary focus of the believer’s life. As the young Pastor Timothy is being encouraged, prayer must be a priority in his life and in that of his congregation. Then, specific instructions are given in regard to the content of prayer. There are to be supplications — earnestly asking or begging for things. There are times when this is necessary because the burdens we are carrying are so heavy. There are to be prayers which include worship of God. Then, there are to be intercessions, where we pray for others, and finally thanksgivings or praises lifted up to God. 

For whom are we to pray? For kings and queens and presidents and chancellors and all of those who find themselves in high position. The prayer is not that these people will change who they are or their character, but that we will be able to lead a “quiet and peaceable life.” 

This focus on prayer is what helps to set everything right, and it plays a role in the salvation of those who do not know Christ. The implication seems to be that Timothy cannot be an effective leader if he does not spend time in prayer.

Application

Prayer seems like such an ordinary thing and there always seems to be an assumption that all Christians engage in prayer. The sad truth is that we are doing little to train up the next generation regarding prayer. In the early days of the holiness movement prayer was a central theme. Here’s a story about the experience of camp meeting  from the Nazarene Messenger of 1898:

The 6th of October, 1898, will be a red-letter day in the memory of many souls. As the people were engaged in prayer, there came upon them such a spirit of prayer that many began to pray all over the house, and there came over the assembly such tides of glory and power that several lost their strength, and little was done during the rest of that service but simply wait and praise, while such a sacred wave and heavenly glory filled the place, as It has not often been the privilege of those present to witness and enjoy. 

Prayer was a major focus of the gatherings of the early holiness movement. They took to heart this guidance found in the word of God and prioritized prayer. Often there was more prayer in a camp meeting than there was preaching. Today those places have been reversed and I wonder whether we are lacking in the area of prayer. 

The pattern laid before us can be very useful for our prayers lives. There are times in life when we are going to need to make supplication. It’s when our hearts are broken or so burdened that we cannot bear it any longer and so we pour out our burdens before the Lord. This is different for each and every one of us, and it changes through the seasons of our lives, but God is always waiting and ready to listen.

Prayer should always be about praise and worship of God. Notice the requests are only a part of prayer, while most of prayer is about being in the very presence of God. This is the place where worship leads to molding and shaping and forming into the image of Christ. God loves us and delights in us spending time in holy fellowship with the Trinity. We simply need to slow down long enough, be still, and listen to the voice of God in humble worship.

Intercession for the needy and lost is vital. This is one of the great mysteries of God which we cannot explain, but somehow, our participation in praying for those in need seems to be efficacious. Some of the early church Fathers talked about the synergism, or the release of energy that occurs when humanity participates with God. This is the invitation — in prayer we are invited to participate together with God’s activity in this world. God’s passions become our passions and our hearts are broken for those who need to come to Christ. I’m not sure there can be any evangelism without prayer. 

When I have prayed with a group it seems that they often struggle with thanksgiving. I think it’s because we haven’t practiced this pattern of prayer and are so accustomed to bringing requests before God that we may become uncomfortable with thanksgiving. Our hearts are to be full of thanks for the things that God is doing in the world, and in and through us. Could it be that we have become so caught up in the negativity and criticism of our day that it’s hard for us to break from that mold and actually give thanks? 

Praying for our leaders ought to be a normal focus of our lives. Nothing says that we have to agree with them, but we are to pray for them. Leadership can be pretty lonely and far too often the only voices are those who affirm their actions because they are afraid to speak the truth. We need to pray that truth will be spoken and heard. 

We cannot take prayer for granted and as a spiritual discipline, it must become a priority. If we fail to create space for our prayer-life, our entire life will suffer. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the challenge of the discipline of prayer  I have so much to learn and I desire to be more like you. Please help me to daily make the space for time with you. Amen.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Looking for Answers in the World


Scripture
2Kings 1:2   Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” 3 But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ 

Observation

When the king suffered from a traumatic injury his first inclination was not to seek advice from the prophet of God. Instead of going to his own God — he sought out the advice of the neighboring god. Oddly, the neighboring god had no track record with Israel like the LORD did. There was no history of bringing the people out of Egypt and making provision for them by the god of Ekron. Why go somewhere else for advice? Could it be that the king didn’t want to submit to the God of Israel? The result was that he, along with many of his own men suffered as a result of his stubbornness. His pride became the ruin of many. 

Application

Sometimes it seems that followers of Jesus Christ will go everywhere to find answers to their problems, but to God. I’ve heard people claim that God isn’t concerned with the mundane and ordinary issues of our lives, but only wants to be engaged in the big picture items. I’m not sure where we have gotten that idea. God is concerned about everything in our lives and far too often we fail to bring our needs and concerns before the Lord in prayer. 

Is our first inclination in times of difficulty to go to the Lord — or to find a friend who will give us advice? We may not think that we go to the god of Ekron — but do we? By seeking for solutions for our problems from our friends, or even the specialists of the world, we may be ignoring God. I’m not saying that God doesn’t often provide help for us by way of the world’s specialists — but if we go to them first, without direction from God we may be missing out on what the Lord has in store. 

Ahaziah had no personal relationship with the Lord, therefore in his time of trouble, he didn’t even think about going to God. The same will happen to us if we don’t have such a deep personal relationship with the Lord that we automatically go to the Lord first thing. The problem is, even those who have been spending time with the Lord will face the temptation from time to time to go to Ekron. We may not think that we are seeking help from a foreign god, but we may be asking our friends for advice. We may be asking what they think we ought to do about a particular situation in life, and well-meaning friends will give us their opinions. But isn’t this looking for answers from the world, before really seeking the face of God? And could it be that we are simply going to others because they may give us the advice that we want to hear? God may ask us some really tough questions about our circumstances and that may make us uncomfortable. Our pride keeps us from truly seeking the face of God. 

God really does care about every single thing that we face — every single day! Learning to bring everything before the Lord will be transforming to our lives. When we constantly look for answers in the world, our actions are declaring that we don’t believe that there is a God who cares. God does care and is patiently waiting for us to come with our concerns, no matter how big or how small. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the reminder that you care about all the details. May I seek you and your face rather than listening to voices that may tell me what I want to hear.  Amen.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Selective Hearing


Scripture
2 Chr. 18:7 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”

Observation

Ahab, the king, only wanted to hear things that made him feel good. The prophets knew this to be true and they valued their own lives, so they refused to tell him anything that he didn’t want to hear. Because of this God knew that Ahab could be easily swayed to become engaged in a war in which he would be defeated. 

Ahab was so consumed with himself and stroking his own ego that he had selective hearing. He only wanted good news and wasn’t willing to accept the reality of life. Ahab knew that there was a prophet who would tell him the truth but he avoided him. 

Micaiah had no personal vendetta against Ahab, he was simply an honest servant of God, and when asked, spoke the truth. So as to avoid any kind of honest or critical prophesy, Ahab avoided Micaiah and chose to listen to those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. 

Application

It’s so easy to be critical of Ahab but I would venture that most of us enjoy hearing good news over bad news. The problem lies in doing this when it comes to our spiritual lives. The only way that we can grow spiritually is to allow God to speak to and work on every facet of our lives. We all have struggles and weaknesses, areas which need to be groomed and cultivated into Christlikeness. Selective hearing means that we only listen to the voice of God when we are being told what we are doing right, not when we need some correction.

Correction is not fun. Just as a young child doesn’t like being told when they have done the wrong thing, we just may throw a little tantrum ourselves when God tries to speak truth to us. (We currently have an almost two-year-old in the house so little tantrums can come almost daily over the most mundane of items) Our granddaughter throws a tantrum not because we are horrible people when we tell her to put on her shoes, but because she wants power and control over her own life. She is testing the boundaries and seeing how much control she may have. When we push back against God, refusing to listen to the correction, we are, in essence, saying that we want control. Actually, we are saying that we know better than God does about what is best for us. We are putting self on the throne of our lives and not God. We want to listen to our voice and not to the voice of God. 

Ministers must be careful not to fall into the trap of preaching what the world wants to hear. Being a minister of the gospel is not about being liked by everyone, but about being a voice that is faithful to revealing Christ. 

Selective hearing, and selective preaching may always be a temptation. God calls us to move from our personal preferences into honest conversation. This may be painful at first, but it will lead us to a place where we can be molded into Christlikeness. Don’t be angry if the preacher touches a nerve, but be grateful that he/she was willing to speak the truth in love. Have an open heart to listen to what God may be saying today, and every day. It will lead us to a place where we can grow and become more like Christ. 

Prayer

Lord, may my heart be open every day to your teaching, guiding, leading and nudging..  Amen.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grace Beyond our Imagination


Scripture
1Kings 21:25   (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.)
1Kings 21:27   When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. 28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.”

Observation

Ahab and Jezebel are poster children for some of the most wicked people in the Bible and perhaps, in all of history. Therefore, coming to this section regarding the final days of Ahab’s life are a bit stunning. Verses 25-26 are placed as a bit of commentary for us to understand the very depth of Ahab’s depravity. He was horrible and yet, when Elijah approaches him this time (for he had been approached several times before), Ahab suddenly seems to soak it all in and repent. He tears his clothing, fasts and lays in sackcloth. The air of superiority is gone as he walks through the city in great humility. God looks down upon Ahab’s contrite heart and withholds judgment. Even after all that Ahab has done, God’s grace responds in holy love. 

Application

Somehow, for all the times that I have read the Bible, I seemed to have forgotten about Ahab’s repentance. This story is not so much about Ahab, then it is about the very character of God. The grace of God is revealed in comparison to the evil of Ahab. Where sin tries to abound, love abounds even more. Evil cannot win the day because there will always be more love and more grace. 

For those who think that they have failed the Lord, or fallen so far from God, think again. The equivalent of Ahab in modern history would be someone like Hitler and for most of us, the thought of him finding grace would be repulsive. Ahab receiving grace must have been difficult for Elijah, and yet what we see is that God is patient with us, not wanting any to perish. (2 Peter 3:9) That includes those who may seem the most repulsive to us!

If we are to participate with Christ in God’s activity in the world, then it seems that we are also to reflect grace. This past week I was confronted with a question regarding grace. I was called up for jury duty and as the lawyers were attempting to select a jury they peppered us with all kinds of questions. The young man being tried had stabbed and injured two individuals. We were asked whether we would be willing to sentence this young man with the maximum sentence, which was thirty years to life. Of course, we hadn’t heard any evidence yet. We were just being selected for the jury but as I looked at the young man at the defense table I had a hard time imagining that I would be willing to throw away the remainder of his life. I know that, if he was found guilty, he needed to be punished for his crime, but I also believe in grace. I spoke up and mentioned that I believe in grace and the hope of transformation. My spirit of optimism would desire an opportunity for this young man to be redeemed, both personally and for society as a whole. This is not some kind of cheap grace, but creating the space for the genuine and redemptive grace of God. 

There are times when people will disappointment us. It may be a child, or a niece, or a nephew, or even a parent. We may feel that we have exhausted all of our resources and ability to continue to love them in the midst of their behaviors — but God does not give up. God’s grace reaches beyond our humble imagination and continually draws those who are fallen back toward a redemptive relationship. If God is willing to do this, are we? Participating with Christ in kingdom activity means that we become active agents of God’s prevenient grace. We begin to see the Ahab’s of this world differently because we believe that God’s love really does transform. The character of God is revealed by the amount of love we show in response to evil. 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the ways in which you continually challenge and stretch me.  Amen.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Knowledge of God’s Mystery


Scripture
Col. 2:1   For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. 2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 

Observation

Paul’s love for those whom he had led to Christ was always evident in his desire to see them continue in their spiritual growth and development. He continued praying and “struggling” for those who he could no longer see face to face. His passion stemmed from his own personal transformation in Christ. He knew what it was that made him rich, and it wasn’t the things of this world. It was the promise of assured knowledge of God’s mystery that he knew would lead into life in the kingdom. Jesus Christ was the pathway into knowledge and participation with God. Paul’s desire to know Christ consumed him on a daily basis and he wanted his own spiritual children to discover the treasure of all wisdom and knowledge which was found by knowing Christ. Great orators might try to derail the faith of some by their fancy words, but ultimately, the Colossians needed to know Christ. 

Application

There are great Christian orators, writers, blog posters, social media gurus, preachers, and musicians that develop quite a following, but if they do not lead us into a deeper knowledge of Christ himself, we are being deceived. The Christian walk is not about elevating any particular person — it is about lifting up Christ. No matter how much our ears may be tickled by the words we consume, we need to know Christ. 

It is in Christ that we become united in love. The unity of knowledge of Christ leads us into this mystery; we are all sisters and brothers, adopted into God’s family. The result is an incredible bond of love among God’s children. Those children don’t need the latest gurus to provide a roadmap for life, but simply need to know Christ. It’s hard to live in a place of complete and total dependence upon God. We want to trust in ourselves and our own knowledge, or upon the wisdom of the latest consultant. The reality is that in Christ we discover all the hidden “treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Think about it — the knowledge of God’s mystery is Jesus. If we participate in the life of Jesus Christ we have access to all the wisdom and knowledge of God. Let that soak in a minute — all the wisdom and knowledge of the great creator of the Universe is at our disposal, if only we will get to know Christ.

We live in a world of great uncertainty, and anxiety is on the rise. That tends to happen when we are constantly caught off guard by what is happening to us, or to the world surrounding us. The twenty-four hour news cycle will certainly keep us living in fear. It’s time for God’s children to take a deep breath, slow down, and relax in the presence of Jesus Christ. Take time to know Christ today, for Christ is the “knowledge of God’s mystery.” God has been revealed to us and the incarnate Christ has created the pathway for us all to follow. I choose to follow Christ. 

Prayer

Lord, the simplicity of faith sometimes takes our breath away. I know that we tend to make it all too hard. Please, help me to live in simple faith of the knowledge of Christ today.  Amen.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Doing Hard Things


Scripture
2Chr. 15:16   King Asa even removed his mother Maacah from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the Wadi Kidron.

Observation

Asa wanted to follow God’s commands but he inherited many problems within his kingdom. Unfortunately one of his problems was his own mother, who worshipped Asherah. In her enthusiasm she had an image made of this god created by human hands. Her influence upon the people had corrupted them, and doing what he must, he removed his mother from office.

Application

Sometimes following Jesus means doing something really hard. When Asa began to read the scriptures he realized that he was not being the kind of leader that he ought to be. He also realized that being a leader means sometimes having to do really hard things. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to discipline his own mother. And yet, for the sake of the kingdom of God he was willing to do the right thing.

We all face really tough choices in life. There are moments when we are asked to do the hard thing and if it’s the right thing, then it must be done. God’s word becomes a roadmap for our lives and we are challenged to follow that roadmap, even when it is counter-cultural. That's what Asa discovered when he began to read and to study the word of God. It was convicting and he knew that he had to take action. 

Unfortunately, King Asa was tough on his mom, but then he didn’t follow through on other things that needed to happen to help transform the kingdom. Doing the hard things means consistency throughout, not just in one or two matters. We don’t have the right to pick and choose which laws of God we want to follow. That’s why it’s not easy doing the hard things.

Doing the hard things will lead us to a place of participation with our Holy God. Or, it may be that participation, or fellowship with our Holy God will challenge us to do the hard things. When one becomes so intimate with God, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but the result is the same. Our lives are changed and we cannot tolerate corruption. Therefore, we are compelled to do the hard things. 

Prayer

Lord, please help me have wisdom and strength to live and follow you in all things.  Amen.