Thursday, September 3, 2015

Silence in Heaven


Scripture:
Rev. 8:1   When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Observation:

In heaven there was an on-going 24/7 prayer meeting. The sounds of praise and worship were all around but now, suddenly there was complete silence. A holy hush washed over heaven and as heaven was silent, the distant prayers and cries were heard coming from the persecuted saints on earth. Who would help them? Who would join in their prayers for deliverance from suffering? The profound silence in heaven created space for the cries of oppression. It was a silence of expectation for things were about to change!

Application:

There are moments when we experience the holy hush of God’s presence. We become overwhelmed in worship and are in awe of what it is that we have experienced. There are no words to be spoken, no “amens” to be shouted — there is just silence. And in the moment of that holy silence the very faintest of sounds can be heard. Those voices rising up from far away, crying out for help in the midst of disaster.

Today is just such a moment. It’s time for us to take break from our 24/7 praise, prayer and worship and in silence, listen closely for the prayers.

They are coming from the cities of Syria.

They are coming from the tiny boats fighting the angry seas as refugees try to make their way to safety.

They are coming from the train station in Budapest.

They are coming from the refuge camp in France.

And there are more — coming from every corner of the world and even your neighborhood. But, shhhh — listen. They are crying out and we are challenged to quiet ourselves long enough to listen to their voices, find them, and minister to their needs. They are hungry, beaten, sun-scorched and drowning — do you hear them?

The silence in heaven lasted only 30 minutes. Long enough for the voices to be heard and then all God’s people joined again in prayer, and only in that silence could they begin intercede together for those who were suffering.

There is suffering today on earth.  People are hurting. The silence of heaven awaits our participation in the deliverance of all God’s people. Stop and listen and then ask God to lead you into action.

Prayer:

Lord, may I hear the voices of your children today. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Living in the Midst of Chaos


Scripture:

Rev. 7:1    After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree.  2 I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea,  3 saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.”

Observation:


Suddenly there seems to be a respite from the calamities of the opening of the seals. The wind of the Spirit is no longer blowing, people are not listening and/or responding to the work of God in the world and the stillness is in and of itself destructive. But in the midst of it all God’s remnant remains — those who have been faithful. This is a pause in the midst of the chaos, a moment of gentle reminder that God’s people remain eternally in his care.

Application:

It’s interesting reading different commentaries on this passage because they all come at it from their own particular context. I love reading old commentaries, some that go back about 1800 years, and therefore they each see this scripture a bit differently. Many identify a recent or “current event” which can be related to this passage. Those events have come and gone and there have been new events which have been seen as apocalyptic. Therefore, if we are trying to use this scripture to identify current or future events then we are not looking at it correctly. The reality is that we live in a world of chaos where over and again this scene is played out before us.

As I write this morning there are thousands of refugees from Syria stranded in a train station in Budapest, Hungary. The war in Syria is affecting many people, including numerous Christians who have been persecuted because of their faith. And the hope of the message which we read today is that when things become so radically out of control and chaos breaks out all around us, God still remembers his people.

God’s people are marked with his seal. In ancient times people would write a letter and mark it with the seal of the author. Wax was dripped onto the document and then the signet ring of the author was pressed into that wax, leaving a mark that allowed all to know to whom this letter belonged. God’s children are marked by him — not physically, but with the identifying characteristics of the Father. When people look at and observe Christ-followers they know that they belong to him, because they look and act like him.

In the midst of the chaos of the world, we still look and act like him! Today people will worry about the economy in China. The refugees from Syria will need love and care and guidance. It feels as if chaos reigns — but it does not. God reigns. This is the hope that we find in this text.

Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God — his love which marks us with God’s seal and challenges us to live and move and reflect him today and everyday — even in the midst of chaos.

Prayer:

Lord, may you be reflected in me today. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.



http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In Need of a Good Diagnosis


Scripture:
Rev. 6:1   Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”  2 I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.
Rev. 6:3   When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, “Come!”  4 And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.
Rev. 6:5   When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, “Come!” I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand,  6 and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!”
Rev. 6:7   When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, “Come!”  8 I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Observation:

These four seals depict dire situations to be found on the earth. The first seal reveals the warring factions which conquer simply to conquer. The second seal shows that peace has been removed from the earth and the root of peace generally comes when peoples’ deepest personal needs are not met. Famine, displacement and struggles lead to a lack of peace which may just be brought about because of the third seal. Why is it that food for the average person is so expensive but the oil and wine, those items for the wealthy continue to be available? There is a sense of injustice and then the fourth seal, death comes upon the land.

N.T. Wright in “Revelation for Everyone” paints a fascinating picture for us of this passage of scripture. Instead of being a mystery which we are to unravel about some future time, it is a descriptor of the current state of humanity. It is a bit of a diagnosis which reveals the deep need for a cure. Humanity has a problem.

We love to fight.

Our selfishness leaves no space for peace.

Our greed and lack of justice means the wealthy get wealthier and the poor become more poor.

Death sweeps across the earth because of greed.

Wright would go on to argue that Christians do not want to deal with these deeper issues. Instead we want to have a type of Christianity-light in which we may discuss the need at a superficial level but if that’s the case, there will be no real diagnosis, nor will there be a genuine cure.

The revelation reveals to us the real state, or condition, of the earth and without understanding what’s really wrong, there will be no hope. The first step toward a cure, is a good diagnosis.

Application:

Our world truly is sick and yet the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to her ills. If the people of God would live as God’s holy people, then there would be an intersection between the ills and the cure. However, when most of us read this scripture we think about some cosmic event which will occur sometime in the future. But what if the seven seals are simply a reality check for God’s people? Also, they are not necessarily something that will happen in chronological order, but just like a song, they are different voices which are playing out simultaneously and creating discord.

Receiving a real diagnosis means that we can plan the correct treatment. As God’s people we may need to have some light shed on the real issues of the day and recognize where we may fit into the picture. Even Christians are living as selfish and greedy individuals and we may not even realize what we are doing. Today the price of oil will be discussed by a group of nations. Americans love their cheap oil and yet, are willing to have that oil at any cost to the world? What about our cheap clothing and/or food? Do we look beyond the surface level and realize what is happening deeper? That’s what these seals are all about, diagnosing what is happening internally so that there can be an appropriate cure. Then, as God's holy people we are to live in the presence of Jesus Christ, the cure, and bring hope to the deepest levels of need which are found in the world. When Christ is in us, we are the cure for the diagnosis.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be willing to receive your diagnosis and move with you into the cure. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.



http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Lukewarm Church


Scripture:
Rev. 3:14   “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
Rev. 3:15   “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.  16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.  20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.  21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

Observation:

The story of this church in Laodicea may be the most famous of the seven churches. They are warned about being lukewarm and the nauseating idea of this putrid and impure water literally wants to make one vomit. The people of Laodicea knew this water, for it was their water. The River Lycus would dry up in the summer and the water they did receive via aqueducts came from two sources, one very cold and the other boiling hot. The problem was that the distance the water needed to travel resulted in stagnant and unhealthy lukewarm water which could easily make the residents sick. They knew this water all too well and the analogy to their spiritual lives would be all too clear as well.

The people of Laodicea were proud of what they had accomplished. They were the center of finance and banking for their region and were recognized for their wealth. The school of ophthalmology was likewise famous, bringing in students from around the region who learned how to treat eyes and eye conditions. The medications which were mixed in Laodicea were well-known. Finally, the type of sheep raised in the region resulted in a very fine wool which could be used to produce beautiful clothing. Therefore the warning, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” No, they didn’t know this was a problem because they were wealthy, beautifully clothed and had their eyes treated in the material world — but that wasn’t enough! They were spiritually blind, poor and naked because they were not trusting in the Lord. They had allowed their faith to cool down to the point of contaminating and making others sick.

Finally we come to the verse which many of us have read and/or heard since our childhood. There is the famous picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking and we have heard this is Jesus knocking and waiting for us to open the door so he can come in and have a personal relationship with us. But in this context it means something different. Jesus is the master of the home and has simply been out engaged in his mission in the world. When he returns home the servant is to be awake and ready to open the door to allow him to come back in. Only in this case, the servant may have fallen asleep and so the master may need to knock loudly - again and again — simply to get back into his own home!

When the door is opened to the master he promises to come and eat with those inside. The master who goes out about his kingdom business returns home to the church where the family of faith partakes of the wedding supper of the lamb together — when he is present!

The lukewarm church is missing out on all that the master would like to provide.

There is sight for the blind.

There is financial provision.

There is clothing.

And there is the open door — coming and going in the kingdom of ministry — and the celebration around the table at the end of a long day.

Application:


The Warner Sallman painting, “Christ at Heart’s Door” is the image which often comes to mind when we think of Jesus knocking. However, today I have a new image of a church that has grown lukewarm and in which the servants have fallen asleep. The doors of the church are locking out Christ and those inside are sick. The church has no vision for the future, no financial resources and the building itself is falling into disrepair. Behold — Jesus is standing outside knocking.

Dear church — let Christ back in! Open your doors and become engaged in kingdom ministry together with Christ. The church can never survive by going into a protective mode. Instead, the church must allow herself to become vulnerable to the movement of the Holy Spirit in her midst. Only then can the master come and fellowship with his people, the church be truly alive, and the water healthy.

Prayer:

Lord, may we, as your people, open the door to your movement among us. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Open Door


Scripture:
Rev. 3:7    “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
                          These are the words of the holy one, the true one,
                               who has the key of David,
                                     who opens and no one will shut,
                                        who shuts and no one opens:

Rev. 3:8   “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.  10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.  11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.  12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.  13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Observation:

The church in Philadelphia — the city of brotherly love — was praised for her work and ministry. They were living out their name within their community. God had placed before them an open door — an open door which led into the work of the kingdom. Jesus had opened that door to the kingdom and it was one that no one could close. This church had figured out how to walk in and live into that kingdom.

A few years ago I visited Philadelphia and there is very little left of any ancient church in that city. That part of the world has been hit numerous times by earthquakes and so often you find abandoned ruins when finally the people could no longer rebuild. There are just a couple of pillars of old arches which are left standing in that city where the church used to be.

Interestingly the church in Philadelphia, living into the kingdom, is then referred to as a “pillar in the temple of my God.” This church which was built in an area prone to earthquakes was to become a stable pillar in the new Jerusalem. Their faithfulness in walking through the open door and living out their faith in the new kingdom would transform them from an earthly church prone to destruction, to a heavenly church established for all of eternity. Walking through the open door changed everything and in that moment they gave up the temporal and gave all for the eternal.

Application:

This church in Philadelphia gives us hope for not all the churches had lost their first love, nor fallen asleep. Instead here is a church which understood the realities of the open door which stood before them.

The open door stands before all of us. Jesus has accomplished all that needs to be done for the door to be opened. This is the portal into life in the kingdom of God and all are invited into that place. The problem is that too many of us, and even many churches, don’t really want to step into kingdom life. The material world in which we live provides us with a temporal sense of security as we want to be able to see, touch, and smell the things around us. The church in Philadelphia had figured out that those things were temporal. Maybe it was because they had so often lost the material through earthquakes that they could trust in the eternal of the kingdom. But is that what it takes?

Unless the church and God’s people are willing to step over the threshold of the open door and live in the kingdom her works will be temporal. By faith we are challenged to step into kingdom life and daily living. Let the things of this world crumble, but live and minister in the eternal. Only in this way can we join the church of Philadelphia in becoming pillars in the new Jerusalem.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the open door. May I have the faith to walk and live in the new kingdom daily. Amen.


Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277



Saturday, August 29, 2015

It’s Time To Wake Up


Scripture:

Rev. 3:1   “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:

 “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.  2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.  3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  4 Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  5 If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.  6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Observation:


The church in Sardis had been vibrant and alive but something had happened. Somehow the people had been lulled to sleep by by their wealth and comfort. The city of Sardis had a reputation of being lulled into complacency. Their acropolis was considered unconquerable. So much so that there was an ancient saying about their acropolis that basically meant something was impossible. But at the same time eventually their acropolis was overrun five times, twice by simply not guarding the place because they thought it was impregnable.

This same thought process had evidently infused the minds of the church. They had loved the Lord and been alive and vibrant in their faith but then they began to believe that they had built the best church there could be and nothing could destroy it. They had grown complacent and now, in their ignorance had no comprehension of the dangers which lurked outside while they slept.

The word to the church in Sardis was, “Wake Up!” You might look good on the outside but there is no growth on the inside. Passion for the faith and evangelism had evaporated and even maintenance of that which they had fell behind. There was no outreach beyond their own walls, no service to others and no unity nor love. The church was overcome with sounds of snoring as she napped herself into oblivion.

Application:
One of the things that we enjoy in our tradition is the Sunday afternoon rest — or fondly referred to as, “the Nazarene Nap.” My problem with naps on a Sunday afternoon is that they tend to result in a very deep sleep with crazy, vivid dreams. Sometimes, in my dreams, I have a hard time separating the dream from reality. I am so heavily asleep that I’m not sure whether I’m awake or not. There have also been occasions where I have realized that I am asleep and I am fighting hard to wake up. It feels as if I am in a very deep, dark fog and it takes power and concentration to finally awaken. I want to get back to reality!

The only way the church can wake up from napping is to realize she is actually asleep. The church in Sardis received this news that they were asleep, but whether or not they accepted that news is another story. We don’t know. But what if we are receiving the message today to “wake up?” Would it not be prudent to examine ourselves and determine whether or not we are in our Sunday afternoon semi-comatose state? 

This is the time when God’s people need to be wide awake and alert. We don’t have the luxury of napping. There is too much to do for the kingdom and that means reaching out beyond ourselves and ministering to others.

An awake church is one that touches the community and ministers beyond their own walls. 

An awake church brings the transformational news of Jesus Christ to the people and doesn’t expect the people to come to them. 

An awake church ministers to their own neighborhood in ways that would make the neighbors grieve if they ever left.

Wake up! We are not safe sitting behind our walls, but must be vigilant, awake and in active service to the Lord.

Prayer:

Lord, help me be awake and alert in service to you every day.  Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277

Friday, August 28, 2015

Loving is Doing


Scripture:

Revelation 2:4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  5 Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Observation:

The church in Ephesus had been a prime example of the kingdom of God at work in the world. Paul’s missionary work had resulted in a large and thriving ministry in this previously pagan city. Now, there was praise for the Christians of Ephesus but there was also rebuke. They were good people and they were trying to keep the organization together and functioning but this may have been taking too much of their time.

This church is remembered for having “abandoned the love you had at first.” In Ephesus the church had had forgotten her first love.

Of course we think first and foremost that their love and passion for Jesus had cooled. This does seem to happen with those who come to Christ. There seems to be a time of initial passion and exuberance about following Christ which becomes tempered as time goes on. However, I’m not quite sure that is exactly what is being said here. It’s not just about the passion for Christ which seems to be lacking, but the resultant activity in the name of Christ. Love for God is connected with doing “the works you did at first.” Therefore the loss of love was not just love of Christ, but love of others. “When hate for the practices of those who err becomes hatred of those who err, Christians depart from the redeeming love of God in Christ and pervert the faith.” (New Bible Commentary)

The faith had been perverted by a strong church which may have become focused upon self-preservation instead of ministry. Jesus constantly brings us back to love of God and love of neighbor. These were to be the two identifying characteristics in the lives of his people and they should be the characteristics of a healthy church.

The removal of the lampstand would mean that the church would cease to be effective. When a church becomes more concerned with its organizational survival she will abandon her first love and ultimately will cease to be effective. Loving God must result in doing, in actions which become channels of God’s love in the world.

Application:


Love for God and neighbor must characterize our behavior or we, too, will be guilty of having lost our first love. The lampstand will be removed and we will cease to be effective. There can be no ministry, no love for God that does not reach out and love others. This is especially true when it comes to loving those who are not like us.

The church has touted the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” for a long time. Could it be, however, that we have focused on “hate the sin, love the sinner” and in effect, gotten it wrong for a while. Actually, maybe forgetting about the love part because we have been blinded by the sin? This may very well have happened for the church in Ephesus and they were being protective of their church to the point of becoming ineffective.

Forgetting first love is revealed in our behavior. Loving is doing. Love for God will be revealed by our love for others.

Prayer:

Lord, may love for you overflow into my actions on a daily basis.  Amen.


Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277