Saturday, February 13, 2016

Learning to Be Content



Scripture:

Phil. 4:11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.  12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Observation:

Paul had not always enjoyed the comforts of life. There were times and places in his ministry where he was loved, accepted, and well cared for, but there were other times when this was not the case. In some instances, even when he had experienced incredible days in the ministry and led many to Christ, there were those who would turn their backs on him. The ups and downs of ministry were difficult on him and he could have easily backed away and tried to protect his heart from being hurt. It’s obvious that there were those whom he had loved and trusted that eventually caused him great pain.

The joy of Paul’s life was to know Christ and everything else paled in comparison. The result was that he had learned not to allow the circumstances of life to become the barometer of his faith. He learned how to live in a state of contentedness. He learned to make do with whatever he had. The things of life were those what brought him joy; Jesus brought him joy! The spirit of contentedness led him to a all-encompassing dependence on Christ. No person could get credit for Paul’s ministry for he learned that everything that he was able to accomplish came from Christ who gave him strength. Learning to be content resulted in a Spirit-filled strength.

Application:

It’s easy to fall into bondage to the many things of this world. I’ll confess that I’m enjoying our lovely home this morning. It’s a cold day in Kansas City and I’m cuddled up in my recliner with the fireplace going and music playing in the background — and it’s nice! It’s really more than I need or deserve.

About twenty years ago I had an interesting moment in my life. I still remember where I was in our apartment in Moscow and listening to the news as our world was in turmoil. In 1993 we lived through several days of war in Russia as we suddenly had two presidents. In those days we would listen to the short-wave radio to get the news from the outside world! The United States government would use different channels to get news and information to citizens living outside the US. I was listening in on an incident in Africa and they were telling all US citizens to evacuate a particular country. The instructions were given to make way to a particular hotel and each person was only allowed one suitcase — nothing more! With all that was happening around us I began to realize that reality could become ours very soon. I remember that day looking around our apartment and wondering what it was that we would take with us if that call suddenly came to us. I looked at my little girls’ artwork from school. I fingered their clothing in the closet. I looked at the china cups from my mother…and the Lord and I had a conversation. I realized that I had to be ready to leave it all at a moments notice and I had to let it go. I can honestly tell you that God seemed to disconnect me from my stuff — and maybe I remain a bit too disconnected from it because I never really collected things from my girls’ growing up years. I think I was afraid of becoming emotionally attached and needing to let it be. At the same time, I believe that God began to work in my life to fill my life with other things…not nice earthly stuff, but the lives and stories of people who came to know the Lord.

I don’t think that I’m at the same place as Paul but I see him as a role model. I want to know Christ — not stuff. I want to be content with whatever circumstance I find myself in life. Whether I’m enjoying fellowship with dear friends who have enjoyed financial success in life, or whether I’m sitting on the old metal frame bed in a two-hundred year-old cottage in a Russian village, my prayer is that I will be content.

I also think that Paul wasn’t just talking about the stuff of life, but even in the emotional ups and downs that we have to learn to be content. Not everyone is always going to like us or be happy with us. There will be times when people will tell us “what they really think.” If our emotional well-being is attached to the ways in which others think about us, there will be times when we will be overflowing with nice and kind words, and then there will be times when we get — well, nothing! If we expect our lives to be powered or boosted by the feedback we receive from others, we will be disappointed.

Learning to live in the sweet-spot of contentedness is not easy and yet it has its rewards. Paul knew this and when he let go of the material and emotional things of this world, he discovered the strength that he had in Christ. That’s where I want to go, following Paul, who is following Christ and learn to live in sweet content.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for Paul who provides such an example for us.  Amen.
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Friday, February 12, 2016

Help These Women!



Scripture:

Phil. 4:2   I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Observation:

Some kind of struggle had occurred in Euodia and Syntyche’s relationship. Paul tells us that they were laborers together with him in his ministry. They were not bad people but were women who were seeking to serve God. Even so, something had happened to create a rift in their relationship and this was hurting the church. Paul “urges” them “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” He doesn’t command them to get along, but he simply urges them to consider where they are in their walk with Christ.

This is a question of spiritual concern and these two women are valuable members in the kingdom’s work. So much so, that Paul asks his loyal companion to help these women. If it would not have been of such great concern to the kingdom, Paul would not have bothered asking someone to mediate the situation.  They were all believers, followers of Christ and yet, there was dissension. The mind of Christ creates a spirit of unity among God’s children and this is Paul’s desire. Please, “help these women.”

Application:

Paul has sometimes been painted as rather negative toward women because of a few passages of scripture. I believe that when those “troublesome” passages are taken alone, outside of the context of the entire sphere of Paul’s writings, we get the wrong idea. In this passage we find the Apostle Paul affirming the fact that these two women have been working beside him in the gospel. They have been serving with him, laboring to share the good news about Jesus. Paul knew and had experienced that the work of the kingdom was more powerful when God’s sons and daughters were united together in ministry. The problem is division and disunity in the body of Christ, and the enemy knows that when division is created, there is a loss of power.

I believe that one of the greatest ways the enemy has tried to disempower God’s work is to disconnect women from being engaged in ministry. This may be vocational, or lay ministry, but when there are divisions, disconnection and distractions — the life can  be drained out of God’s kingdom work. Paul’s cry is, “help these women!”

For the kingdom to move forward in the ways that God has intended, there may be those who, from time to time, need to “help these women!”

Let me put this in a practical sense. Maybe in today’s context this isn’t as much about the two women not getting along, but about the women no longer working shoulder to shoulder with the men in ministry. Too many Christian communities have interpreted Paul in such a way that the women of their churches are not allowed to partner with the men in ministry. I believe this is a theological problem that goes back to Paul’s statement about having the “same mind in the Lord.” God’s sons and daughters are to have the same mind — the mind that was in Christ Jesus! This is the incredible transformation in which we believe. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we are drawn into the holy koinonia fellowship of the Holy Trinity — both men and women. It is in this place that his passions become our passions. Christ’s passion was for the lost of this world and he wants his daughters and his sons engaged in that mission.

“Help these women!” This cry wasn’t just about a couple of women who couldn’t get along, but it was a cry for the church, for if someone didn’t help the women to be empowered partners in the ministry — the church would suffer. Champions are needed in the church today who will stand up and help women to be equal partners in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul had to mention it specifically and I believe that the same request must be placed before the church today.

Five years ago my husband and I were serving at Grace Point Church of the Nazarene in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We LOVED those people and LOVED that church. It was one of the best places in the world that one could serve in the kingdom. Our peaceful ministry there was broken one day by a phone call from Dr. Jerry Porter, General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene. Chuck and I were in different parts of the world but he got us on the phone and in a three-way conversation and told us that he was appointing us a co-district superintendents of the East Ohio District. This had never happened before — and we would be the first pioneer couple to figure out what that meant to serve as partners together, sharing this position. My husband would tell you that pastoring at Fort Wayne was right in his sweet spot and he had wanted to stay there until he retired. He also knew that this was a moment in time — an opportunity, not for himself, but for women. It was that day that the Lord brought him to this scripture in Philippians…”Help these women.” My husband has felt that his calling now is to do all that he can to open the pathways for women to be engaged in ministry in such a way that the power of God is unleashed. It’s not surprising that along the way he was my greatest encourager to follow my call. Our daughter Cara is now an ordained minister and our daughter Christy serves as a licensed minister in her local church.

Somehow this call to “help these women” seems to be spreading throughout our family. One sister-in-law is now an ordained elder and another is coming close to finishing her requirements for ordination. Two nieces have their local preachers license. I don’t know what’s happening but I believe that God is doing something in the spiritual realm and we’ve had this entire group of champions who have gone out of their way to “help these women.” I’m grateful for Chuck, Fred, Bill and Jay — and now I add Iain, Justin and Evan —  who somehow have answered the call to become champions and have partnered so beautifully in the gospel.

The doors of opportunity do not automatically swing open for our daughters who are called! Paul knew the power which was unleashed when God’s sons and daughters partnered in the ministry of the gospel. We continue to need those who will answer the call, “Help these women!” It’s not about the women — it’s for the sake of the kingdom. I’m praying that more women and men will answer the call to become champions who open the doors of opportunity for the Spirit’s power to be unleashed through the partnering of all God’s children in ministry.

Prayer:

Lord, I am grateful for the champions you have placed in my life.  Amen.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Discipline for Holiness



Scripture:

Hebrews 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.

Observation:

Earthly parents discipline their children because they want to raise them well. The purpose of healthy boundaries is to keep a child from becoming injured by their own actions or those of others. Most loving parents will discipline their children because they want to prepare them to live well. Without any discipline a child would die, for the ways of life would never be learned. However, a parent only has the opportunity to discipline a child until the child comes of age, or the parent is no longer a part of the child’s life. Then, the disciplining ends.

God’s desire for his children is holiness and because of this he disciplines us. This discipline establishes boundaries which keep us on the pathway that leads to participating in his holiness. This discipline never ends for we are invited to share in the holiness of an eternal God. This process of discipline will never end — always perfecting his children in holiness.

Jesus Christ, the holy son of God, came to earth so that we too might become like him. The Father disciplines his children — so that we too can receive God’s benefits and be holy.

Application:

I remember getting in trouble as a little girl. I think my mother was probably the parent who meted out the most discipline but that was because my father was often traveling. She would play the organ in church on Sundays and from her perch she could see all four of us, scattered with our adoptive grandmas across the congregation. We all knew that we were to behave in church and if we did not, we would be disciplined very quickly following the service. While this wasn’t the only time that we were disciplined, it was a reminder of how to behave in church. We also learned how to behave in many other instances of life because our parents loved us enough to teach us how to behave.

Most of us have spent time around children who have not been disciplined and it makes life difficult for all involved. I know young families who don’t feel that they can go out because their children won’t behave. The problem is that the parents have not chosen to teach their children how to behave. Unfortunately the children are the ones who will suffer in the long run because their behaviors will be deemed unacceptable by society. Is this truly a loving parent? A loving parent would be willing to put in the effort to discipline their children. Children who understand the boundaries and know how to behave will have a much greater chance of success in this world.

Holiness is not an optional plan for God’s children, it IS God’s desire for his children. If holiness is the very nature of God, then it is God’s desire that his children would reflect his holiness in all things. That means that his nature is to be our nature. As children, we are to be like the father.

Today is Ash Wednesday and we are beginning this Lenten season. The discipline of this season ought to lead us into the holiness of God. I’m not sure that any of us get too excited about discipline. We would like to believe that we can do everything right all the time — but that is simply not the case. That’s why, in love, our Father disciplines us, gently nudging us back onto the pathway so that we can participate in him, sharing in his holiness. Therefore let’s not grumble when we are being disciplined, but accept it, and continue following the Lord into his holiness.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your discipline.  Amen.


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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What Else Is There?



Scripture:

Philippians 3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Observation:

There seem to be moments when Paul becomes so filled with the idea of Christ that he has to share his passion again and again. There is nothing else in life that even comes close to knowing Christ. The things that he used to value — his reputation, prestige and education — they count as nothing in comparison to participating in Christ and becoming like him.

Paul’s theology informs his life and practice. He believes in the transformational work of Jesus Christ and he doesn’t just believe it — he lives into it. The result is a man who has discovered that above all else in the world there is nothing compared to knowing “Christ and the power of his resurrection.” As a result he is willing to sharing in his sufferings and follow the pathway of Christ in this world, reflecting the love of God. He knows that in the end he will receive his eternal reward but the participation in the eternal has already begun in knowing Christ.

Application:

If there is anything in life that takes precedence over knowing Christ then we are in trouble. Anything else is simply rubbish in Paul’s words.

We certainly don’t like keeping stockpiles of garbage around us — do we? Think of the smell and the health hazards associated with rubbish! And yet, we may be attracted to the things of this world which keep us from knowing the very best that God has for us. When all else becomes important it begins to accumulate, clutter and eventually cause a stink. The overwhelming nature of the rubbish can keep us from seeing Christ and ever getting to know him. The busyness of our lives can keep us from sharing in the life of Christ.

Knowing Christ needs to be the priority of our lives. This is an invitation into a deeply intimate space with our Lord where his heart becomes our heart, his passions our passions, resulting in every sphere of our lives moving in harmony with the direction in which he leads. Once we begin to experience the pull of his gracious and holy love there will be desire for nothing more. There really is nothing else in comparison to him!

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to know you more and more each day. Thank you for your power and presence.  Amen.
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Removing the Veil


Scripture:

2 Corinthians 3:18

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Observation:

The Holy Spirit has the power to remove the veil from our faces. Now, we are invited into a face to face relationship with our Lord. His glory is reflected in our lives as we draw closer to him. We are ever drawn closer to him, step by step, and glory by glory. There is never an end to the journey with our Lord as we are transformed into a reflection of him.

Application:

Remember when the bride used to walk down the aisle with her face covered in a veil? There was something about the moment when the veil was pulled back to reveal the beautiful bride, face to face with her groom. The church is the bride of Christ and yet when we read these words of Paul we realize that there had been a veil that had separated God from his people. In the Old Testament the glory of God was too much for the Israelites and so they asked Moses to cover his face his face with a veil. They looked upon God through a veil and this remained, creating a divide between the bride and the bridegroom. But just as the veil is removed from the face of the bride, so Christ has come to remove the veil. We are invited to look lovingly upon him in all his glory.

Sadly, the Israelites wanted the veil. The light of God's glory was too bright for them to bear, and maybe it shone too brightly on the wickedness of their lives. But now the Holy Spirit has come and can remove the veil...but only if we allow it to be removed. It could be that we find ourselves within the camp of the Israelites, satisfied with a practice of religion that does not challenge us to look God in the face. Just as it would never make sense for a bride to spend her entire life with her face veiled away from her beloved, so it doesn't make sense for God's people to veil themselves away from him. God's plan or desire for his children is that they would be holy and reflect his holiness. With the veil on there is a faint resemblance of his glory, but not much. Jesus can only be reflected when the veil is totally and completely removed.

Are we living a veiled Christianity? The unveiled beauty of Jesus' glory may be a bit overwhelming but it is also transforming. His desire is for us to be ever transformed to become more like him from one glory to the next. This begins with a deeper walk with Christ, where the veil is removed, and then an on-going journey throughout the rest of our lives. The bride, ever united to the groom in a life of constant fidelity.

Prayer

Lord, please continue to draw me close to you and never to allow a veil to cover the things that I find uncomfortable in my own life. Amen.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hungering for Good Food



Scripture:

John 6:41   Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

Observation:

The Jews were frustrated with Jesus. There was too much about what he said that bothered them. How could he have been bread from heaven? That claim sounded too much like manna which had been provided in the wilderness — and that came from God. Surely Jesus could not have been equating himself with God! The problem for the Jewish leaders was that they had no appetite for the type of Messiah that he was. They weren’t hungry for his type of bread ”for this bread requires the hunger of the inner person.” (Augustine, “Tractates on the Gospel of John 26.1) When the inner person is not hungry for good food, they won’t recognize it, even when it is served up right before them.

Application:


We have all seen the advertisements for heavenly desserts! The pictures are tantalizingly delicious and our mouths water at the very sight. It is that sight that makes us hunger for the delicious flavors which are available to us. I’ve been known to go out of my way to the Cheesecake Factory or one of our Kansas City Frozen Custard shops, just because I’m hungering for one of their incredible creations.

We will partake of that for which we are hungry. When we are hungry to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ we will go out of our way to dine on the richness of the word of God. I think that the problem may lie in the fact that we may have become so accustomed to eating mediocre spiritual food that we don’t hunger for the good food. Somehow we may have lost our appetite because we have forgotten what really good spiritual food tastes like.

This is what happened to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and it’s a warning to us. We may be tempted to complain about the good and rich spiritual food which is available because we have simply lost our appetite. If we get in the habit of eating religious fast food, we will be overwhelmed by the richness of real food when we have the opportunity to eat it. Maybe it’s time to realize that our fast food may be killing us, and that we need to get back to the real thing.

Jesus truly is the “bread that came down from heaven.” He is the manna which we need on a daily basis to sustain us and this is good food. We need to pray that God will heal us of our poor appetites and that we are once again able to stomach all that he has for us. It’s time for us to hunger for good food.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for providing the rich variety of your spiritual food for us.  Amen.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

I Believe!



Scripture:

Hebrews 11: 5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Observation:

The great chapter on faith draws us into history by speaking of those who have lived by faith. With Enoch we learn of a man who walked so closely with God, so pleased God, that he was taken and didn’t experience death.  At the conclusion of the affirmation of Enoch’s life we receive this bit of instruction which informs the way in which he lived. Faith lies at the core of pleasing God. We must believe in God and who he is and the result is the reward which Enoch received. Enoch is eternally walking with God and by faith, by believing in God we are also invited into that same eternal reward. Enoch was unafraid to declare that which he believed.

Application:

While Enoch was unafraid to declare that which he believed, sometimes I wonder whether we really know what it is that we believe. Could Christians really affirm their beliefs, if they had too, or are we so infused with ideas, thoughts or concepts from the world around us that we don’t really know what we think or believe.

Early in Christian history believers would take time to affirm in the lives of new believers, or of children being raised in the church, our creeds. Those were the “I believe” statements which became critical to faith.  The Apostles Creed is one of those and it begins…

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:


The great faith chapter challenges us to speak up for God, in whom we believe. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Living the Christian life in a time when the world around us is not all that receptive to putting our faith in things unseen is not easy. It never has been easy, and yet it’s the call of the Christ follower. We are to declare that which we believe and live into that faith. That kind of a life reaps its rewards, both now and eternally. I say now, not because we will have an easy life or we will have great material gain, but because those who have faith lead a different kind of life. This is one which is not encumbered by the long-term effects of sin. That itself, is a great reward.




What are you willing to declare today? Can we join in with the “I believe” statements of historical Christianity? When we build our lives on this foundation of faith then we will live lives pleasing to God.

Prayer:


Lord, I believe in you and want to serve you.  Amen.

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