Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plan your work and work your Plan





Scripture

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.
(2 Thessalonians 3:10 NASB)
For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.
(2 Thessalonians 3:11 NASB)
Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
(2 Thessalonians 3:12 NASB)
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
(2 Thessalonians 3:13 NASB)

Observation

In this letter to the church in Thessaloniki some very practical advice for daily living is given to the followers of Jesus Christ. To be a part of the Church community meant that you were to also take responsibility for your personal life. It sounds rather harsh, but if people weren't willing to put forth effort to work, then they were not supposed to get free food. This didn't mean that they didn't help the needy. Often we read about the ministry to the orphans and the widows. Those who were unable to care for themselves were cared for by the church community. But those who were able to work were to do everything that they could to be busy with their hands. Not only this, but there was something about the Christian life which was to bring about self-discipline. People were not to make a big deal about their work, but simply to go out and do their job, and not get tired of doing the right thing.

Application

Growing up my parents had a motto; "Plan your work and work your plan." While this phrase is not found in scripture, in some ways the principles behind it are, as seen in today's reading. Sadly it seems that we may not be passing along this kind of a work ethic these days, even within the life of the church. The concept of "entitlement" has permeated society that even followers of Christ do not always accept responsibility for working hard for their own bread. The instructions above sound rather harsh. If someone is not willing to work for their bread, then they should not be allowed to eat.


It is when the community of faith works together that society can be cared for. The community members who can work, do work. They provide for themselves and for those who cannot provide for themselves. If the Church had been living this way we would not need governments to step in and take over the responsibilities that should have belonged to those who are members of the Kingdom. Is it too late now? Have we gone too far? Has the Church's lack of involvement in caring for the needs of the communities in which they have been placed made them irrelevant in the eyes of the world? We are exhorted to not grow weary in doing good. Therefore, the answer ought to be a resounding "no!" It is not too late for the Church to step up and step in and be Jesus in the world. It begins with each and every one of us leading a disciplined life, working hard, and caring for those around us who genuinely can't care for themselves.

Wake up, dear Church. Plan your work -- and then go out and work your plan!

Prayer

Lord, help us to be Your disciplined disciples. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Surrounded by the Lord





Scripture

Those who trust in the LORD Are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever.
(Psalms 125:1 NASB)
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people From this time forth and forever.
(Psalms 125:2 NASB)

Observation

One of the surest things in this world is a mountain! Just this week, sadly, a pilot learned that you cannot fly into a mountain, for the mountain will not be moved! The Lord is reminding His people that if they will simply put their trust in Him, they will be like a mountain. They will be strong and firm, and yet that is not all, for in this state they will also be surrounded by the Lord. The Lord Himself will be stronger than one mountain, but rather will be as the mountains which surround Jerusalem. God's children will not be left alone, but rather will be surrounded day in and day out by His mighty presence.

Application

What more could we want, but to be surrounded by the Lord? The promises of God are great but they all rest upon whether or not we serve Him, our Lord, in obedience! If we fail to serve Him out of an obedient heart, we will fail. We will no longer be surrounded by Him, or be provided protection by Him, but rather, we will be left bare and fodder for the enemy.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt that all protection was gone and you were stripped bare to face the world and everything that could be thrown your way? If so, it's because you have left the protection of the Lord on high! He is a mountain -- He does not move. We are the ones who move away and suddenly we find that we have wandered out of that place of protection and we are holding on and barely surviving. What must we do? We must get back into the center of God's will, into a life of holy obedience, and not be moved by the things of this world. Spend time daily in His holy presence and allow Him to draw you to the place where He can again surround you and you will be protected forever.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to be obedient and to remain in the center of your protective mountains. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What are you doing for Jesus today?





Scripture

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
(Matthew 25:40 NASB)

Observation

Jesus was preaching a powerful sermon and it spoke right to the hearts of the religious leaders. These were the ones who thought they had everything right in terms of looking good before God. He shot them down because they had their priorities mixed up. They thought it was all about show and how it looked to the world from the outside. Instead Jesus pointed out that their motives and behavior on a day to day basis were what God would judge. This was completely foreign to their way of thinking.

Application

This week we have celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States. A day of celebration, which is followed by a day called "Black Friday." I have already heard stories of Black Friday -- how people pushed and shoved and came home with bruises because they were caught up in the chaos of shopping. In the midst of our consumer frenzy, I wonder how many of us thought about the "least" that we may have encountered? How many times this week did we minister to Jesus? What about that poor store clerk who had been yelled at umpteen times? What about that store manager who had the line of people angry with them? Jesus said that whatever we did for the least of these, we did for Him. I think that sometimes we forget that Jesus is present in the simple everyday moments of our lives. The question is how are we going to respond? May we consciously take time to realize that we are minister for and to Christ in the everyday moments of our lives. Don't hold out for the big things, but trust Him and serve Him in all things. It's easier said than done, but "What are you going to do for Jesus today?"

Prayer

Lord, may I be faithful in the big things but especially in the little things. May I love You by loving the world around me. Amen.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Questions and Answers





Scripture

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together.
(Matthew 22:34 NASB)
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
(Matthew 22:35 NASB)
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question:
(Matthew 22:41 NASB)
No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.
(Matthew 22:46 NASB)

Observation

In this story in Matthew we find an interesting dialog between Jesus and those who were trying to trap Him. The Sadducees came to Him first and tried to trick Him. It didn't work. So, the Pharisees decided to step forward with their questions. After they were unsuccessful at tricking Him, finally Jesus turned the tables on them and asked them a question. His question was so clever that they dare not answer it, because they would have had to concede that he was the Christ and that He was the Son of God. Instead they decided that they'd better not ask Him anymore questions.

Application

Do we ever go back and forth with Jesus, peppering Him with questions? The leaders of His day loved to throw questions at Him, their goal being to catch Him saying something wrong, or to find some kind of inconsistency. What is our purpose in questioning Christ? Let's be honest, maybe we're trying to find some kind of inconsistency as well. If only we could find something wrong with Jesus we might be able to make excuses for ourselves and our lack of faith. But in reality, don't we do this? Don't we try and run our own lives and get ourselves into a bind and then we begin to ask why God let all of this bad stuff happen to us. We question whether there really is a God and we blame Him for the mess in our lives. Somehow if we could find something wrong with Christ, we would feel better about not follow His leading and commandments for our lives.

Sadly the Pharisees and the Sadducees gave up questioning Christ, not because they had faith, but because they were frustrated that they couldn't beat Him. Maybe we ought to take a different stance. Maybe we ought to quit questioning Him, and put our wholehearted trust in Him. Jesus really does have the answers, if we want to hear them and apply them to our lives.

Prayer

Lord, may we listen to Your voice and Your leading in our lives on a daily basis. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Looking for a Sign





Scripture

The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.
(Matthew 16:1 NASB)
But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’
(Matthew 16:2 NASB)
“And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?
(Matthew 16:3 NASB)

Observation

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were well educated and they certainly knew the teachings of the Prophets. From childhood they had been taught the signs of the coming Messiah. Now, suddenly, the Messiah stood before them and they simply refused to believe the Truth. Instead they kept pushing Him for signs and wonders. Finally Jesus reminded them that they were willing to fall back on their education and experience to predict the weather, and yet, they were unwilling to do the same thing in regard to Him. It didn't make sense, and they knew it. They were simply too stubborn to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophesies.

Application

What sign are we looking for? Let's be honest, there are times when we, too, don't want to believe what is written in the word, but rather, want some kind of miraculous sign. In our daily lives we are willing to accept the roadsigns and markers which lead us on our way, and yet, when it comes to our faith, we don't want to accept the obvious, but rather, want Jesus to jump in and do something miraculous. We need to open our eyes and realize that He really is doing something miraculous each and every single day, if only we'd pay attention. However, too often our hearts and minds are overly cluttered with the junk of life and we can't see or understand the simply reality of the Messiah.

It's time for us to have very simple faith. You can read the signs. Believe what you have learned, trust in Him and allow Him to use you to change the world. It's really that "simple."

Prayer

Lord, please help me to see You today in the simple things of life. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Are you willing to do really little things for God?





Scripture

He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field;
(Matthew 13:31 NASB)
and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”
(Matthew 13:32 NASB)

Observation

Jesus continued to present the "upside-down" kingdom to the Disciples. The world expects great people to do great things, and by the world's definition, these are usually "big" things. Jesus explains what it means to be willing to work in the kingdom. It may mean faithfulness with something very, very small. The mustard seed is so small that one can barely even see it. And yet, the man in the story is faithful with the very small mustard seed. He takes it to the field and he plants it. Not only does he plant it, but he must take the time to nurture it. The tiny little seed -- the one little seed -- begins to grow, and the results are amazing as the plant becomes a tree and eventually is large enough to support the livelihood of others.

Application

How many of us would truly be faithful with just a little tiny seed? Let's be honest, if we were standing in line and seeds were being handed out, and we noticed that the people around us were getting a handful of big fat seeds and then we received just one little tiny speck of a seed -- we'd be disappointed. Why should we only have one tiny seed? And yet, God calls us to be faithful with whatever He gives us, even if we don't understand what it is. Be grateful for the little tiny thing, and then love it, care for it, and nurture it with everything we have. God put the DNA into the mustard seed and it grew into a mighty plant. God has put the DNA in the little tiny thing He has given to you and to me. Let's trust Him that He really does know what He's doing. Maybe it's time to stop looking for the "big" things in life and be willing to take care of the really small things. Who knows what DNA God has already placed into that small thing, and He's just waiting for someone to be obedient enough for Him to be able to do great things.

Prayer

Lord, we thank You today for the tiny things. May we be faithful with every little thing that You have given to us. Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leadership through Servanthood





Scripture

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
(Matthew 10:40 NASB)
“He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.
(Matthew 10:41 NASB)
“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
(Matthew 10:42 NASB)

Observation

Jesus was constantly turning the world upside down by the things that He said. Now, He was telling the leaders what it meant to receive their eternal reward. Of course, they were thinking that it was all related to the high and mighty things that they may have accomplished in their lifetime. Instead, Jesus turned it all around and told them that it boiled down to doing things like giving a simple cup of water to little children. How could that be important to these priestly leaders? They had other people that could do that for them. They also most certainly did not want to accept Jesus Christ, and yet He said that was part of the deal. They needed to accept Jesus for who He was, and in doing so, would receive the Father -- the One who had sent Him. This was not what they wanted to hear. It didn't fit their paradigm of Leadership.

Application

Jesus is still pushing us out of our mold today and encouraging us to turn the world upside down. We are to seek Him with all of our hearts. We are to desire to live for Him and to serve Him in everything that we do. Our job is to know Him with all of our being and to allow Him to transform us from the inside out. In the process we are to become Jesus to a hurt and dying world. We are to help them come to know Him in a very intimate way; in the very way that a parent would reach down and give a cup of cold water to a hot and thirsty child. Let's allow Him to turn our world around, humble ourselves and serve Him and our world in all things.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to take advantage of the moments in which I can be a servant leader. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Perfection through Love





Scripture

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
(Matthew 5:44 NASB)
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
(Matthew 5:45 NASB)
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:48 NASB)

Observation

Jesus commands us to love those around us. We are not only to love those who like or love us, but rather, we are to love our enemies -- those who despise us! He is reminding us that by loving those who do not love us, we will be His sons. It is in this act that we join into the holy life of the Father and we are literally His children. As this entire segment is brought to a close Jesus wraps it up with the statement that we are to be perfect. That is, we will be brought to completion as God's holy children when we are completely filled by His holy love.

Application

Too often we have tried to define holiness by a list of things that we will or will not do! That's not what God had in mind. Holiness is about God's holiness living and dwelling in us. It is about God's holiness transforming us into the very likeness of His Son. The very nature of God is love and it is that transforming holy love that changes the way we behave on a daily basis. Holiness is about falling in love with our world, and very specifically with those who do not love us back.

Look around you today. Who do you see? I see a world of people that I do not know. A world of people who desperately need Jesus Christ -- only they don't know it. How will they know it? Only when we bring Jesus to them, by being the likeness of Jesus in our everyday lives. What will it take for this to happen? All of our selfish pride and self-righteous anger must be washed away by the love of Jesus Christ. We must be willing to let go of the things that we believe we have the right to hang onto -- and give it all to God. Let His love wash over our hurts, wounds and frustrations. Then, allow God's love to so wash into us that it spills over in every aspect of our lives. In this way we are made perfect, or brought to completion, as the reflection of the very Image -- Jesus Christ. Be perfect -- it's possible, through Him.

Prayer

Lord, may Your love transform me to the point of becoming complete in You. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What are you eating?





Scripture

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”
(Matthew 4:4 NASB)

Observation

Jesus had spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness and obviously He was tired and hungry. Then Satan came and tempted Him, at the point of His weakness. Jesus did not succomb to the temptation, but rather, responded out of His strength. His strength came from having spent time with God, His Father. While Jesus had not eaten physical food during His time in the wilderness, He had devoured the opportunity to feed upon every word which He had received from His Father. The result was that Jesus was able to resist the Evil one and ultimately was victorious over sin and death.

Application

We must ask ourselves what we are devouring? Often we've thought of this response referring to the fact that we must fight back temptation with the Bible. However, I think it goes much beyond simply knowing the word. We are to know the word, and that comes from knowing and studying the word, but also from simply spending time with the Word. As we sit in the presence of our holy God, we may personally experience the word which proceeds from His mouth. It is in this intimate relationship that we gain the strength to fight the temptations of this world. It is our responsibility as followers of Christ to devour everything that we can that comes from Him. We are very attentive to our need for physical food. I wonder whether we are just as attentive to our need for spiritual food? What are you eating today?

Prayer

Lord, please help me to make sure that You are a part of my daily diet! Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The ultimate test results



I don't like feeling weak, and yet in those moments do I trust in Him.  It is the ultimate test, whether in my weaknesses I am in Christ!

Scripture

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB)
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
(2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB)

Observation

If you are like me, you really don't look forward to taking tests. They are one of those necessities of life and every now and then we are faced with them. It may be that we have a test in our studies, or maybe it's simply the driver's test -- or why is it when we're having some lab work done we also worry about how we'll do on the test!? Because testing is a part of our lives and it is something in which we want to succeed.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the ultimate test. They were to examine themselves and see whether they were actually in faith. That meant that they needed to recognize that Christ was in them. The result was that for Christ to dwell in them they had to be weak. They had to stop living within their own strength, power and means, but rather, empty themselves of their own abilities and allow Christ to live in them.

Application

Is Christ in us today? That is the ultimate question. While we may have all kinds of giftings and abilities we have to ask ourselves whether or not we have submitted those things to the Lord. We must make space for Christ to live in us. When Christ does live in us, we, and others will see us differently. We will recognize and give glory to God on high for His acts in and through us. Then, we can, together with Paul rejoice over our weaknesses, because it is in those times that God shines through us.

Prayer

Lord, may people see Christ in me and my life today and may You be glorified in my weaknesses. May I relinquish my weaknesses to You and to Your control today. Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bad Economic Times

How are you responding in these times of bad economy?  There are lessons to be learned from the faithful in Macedonia.



Scripture

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia,
(2 Corinthians 8:1 NASB)
that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.
(2 Corinthians 8:2 NASB)

Observation

We may think that we are facing insurmountable obstacles in today's economic times but the world goes through cycles and the Church has faced these days in the past, and has survived. Paul was on his missionary journeys and he traveled through the area of Macedonia. He shared with them the needs of those who were struggling in other areas of the world. They, themselves, were going through a " ordeal of affliction" and "deep poverty."  Things were not just "sort-of" bad, but they were "really" bad. And yet in the midst of their bad economic times they had an abundance of joy and a wealth of liberality. Instead of focusing on their personal difficulties, they had learned to focus their lives on Christ. They were trusting in Him on a daily basis and the result was not that the Lord showered them with money and worldly goods, but rather, that they received God's joy and a freedom to be generous and liberal with whatever they had. They were no longer tied to the things of this world, but had learned to let them loose and give them back to God. What did they do? Out of their poverty, they gave to others whom they deemed more needy than themselves, even in bad economic times!

Application

Day after day we await a hint of news that the economy may be on the upturn. That news doesn't seem to be coming and along the way we wonder what it all means for us personally. We've all been touched, either personally, or by acquaintance, by those who are suffering through lengthy unemployment. We have watched as housing values have fallen and personal equity shrinks. The stock market stumbles and the savings follows along. Giving in the churches has decreased as many struggle to make ends meet. Tithing has become something in which less than 40% of church goers participate. And yet -- could we somehow gain the join and freedom which the church in Macedonia discovered? How is that possible, in difficult economic times?

The answer is to look to Jesus Christ and participate in His holiness. That's what Paul had been preaching and the people "got" it. They chose to spend time in God's holy presence, they brought their burdens and their difficulties to Him, and then they left those burdens with Him. Instead of focusing on what they didn't have, they focused on what they did have, and then gave generously. They were joyful that they were able to help others who were even worse off than they were! The same can be true for us today. We need to stop focusing on what we don't have, and focus on what we do have. Then, we need to join our hearts to His heart and give as generously as possible. Allow God to do the rest. Trust in Him. Will it change the bad economic times? No. Will it change us? Yes.

Prayer

Lord, help us today to focus on all that You have done for us, and give us hearts of generosity to those around us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

But I don't like them!

God has called us to a ministry of reconciliation.  What does that look like when there are those who have hurt you?



Scripture

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
(2 Corinthians 5:18 NASB)
namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
(2 Corinthians 5:19 NASB)

Observation

What we find in today's scripture is that there is a direct correlation between our relationships with others and our relationship with God. Christ could easily have told the Father that He didn't like those humans! Can you imagine? Humanity had rejected everything that God, out of His love, had done for them. However, because of that deep love, God, the Creator, continued to reach out to humanity in a desire to heal the relationship. Jesus, submitting to the will of the Father, allowed Himself to be crucified on a cross to provide the pathway for reconciliation. Our relationship to God can be healed and the things that we have done to destroy that relationship will no longer be held against us. And this reconciliation, or restoration of relationships, is the ministry that God is giving to each and every single one of His followers.

Application

Because we serve a relational God, the enemy comes in and attacks us at the very level of our relationships. Why not attack us at the point where God wants to bring the greatest strength! Today we find relationships at all levels under strain. Why else would the divorce rate be just as high among believers and non-believers? Because the job of believers is to become involved in the ministry of reconciliation and that is about relationships.

There are times in life when we are very hurt over relationships. The tendency is to "take our toys and go home!" We feel justified in the fact that we don't like those people and it's okay for us to feel that way. The truth is that the individual to be harmed the most by that attitude is you. When you allow feelings of "justifiable indignation" to grow and to fester in your life your relationship to God will be harmed. The charge to love God and then to love others is not simply a nice word of encouragement from the Lord, but rather, it is a call to healing. When we have human relationships which are broken, then our relationship to God is also broken. He calls us to a ministry of reconciliation. For each one of us that may mean something different, but it also means that we don't harbor bad feelings toward others. We ask God to heal our hurt and our wounds. We ask God to reconcile the relationship so that we can be in a right relationship with Him.

With whom might we need to be reconciled today? Go to them and begin this ministry to which we all are called.

Prayer

Lord, please help me today to be an agent of reconciliation. Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Proud Confidence



Do you ever feel your self-confidence is put to the test?  Maybe it's time to examine where we have placed our confidence.

Scripture

For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.
(2 Corinthians 1:12 NASB)

Observation

Paul's confidence was not in himself, but rather in God. His wholehearted belief was that God was leading him into a life of holiness and sincerity. Interestingly he mentions that he is not led by fleshly wisdom, but rather by the grace of God. For Paul this is significant for he was a highly educated man. He knew multiple languages and had studied under some of the best teachers of his day. This was a man who could have easily boasted in his education and his knowledge and yet, here he acknowledges that he is not being led by human or fleshly wisdom, but rather, trusting in God. The result is that Paul's daily life becomes a testimony to holiness and godly sincerity. It is not necessarily about the words that he speaks, but it is the way that he humbles himself in service to God and others on a daily basis.

Application

There are times in life when we may feel pretty battered by the world and our self-confidence can take a beating. However, it is in the midst of these moments that we hear the gentle voice of the Lord reminding us, just like Paul, that our confidence is not to be in our own human strength, but rather in Him alone. It is my confidence in God which must flow through my life on a daily basis. When we place our trust in Him, then our lives can become a testimony to God's nature which begins to flow through us. God's very nature is holy love and the result is a life of holiness and sincerity. All falsehoods, all the masks, they can drop away because we become real in Him. No longer do I have to be worried or concerned about what the world around me thinks, but rather all of my trust is in God who reaches out to me with His grace, transforming me into His image. My proud confidence is not in myself, but in Him!

Prayer

Lord, as the issues of daily life come my way this day, may my confidence be in You. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A New Thing

My desire is that God does a new thing -- that a new song will be written.  How about you?



Scripture

Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise in the congregation of the godly ones.
(Psalms 149:1 NASB)

Observation

It was time for a new song. This didn't happen very often. A new song was written when God had mightily intervened in the lives of the Israelites. It was as if it were time for a new chapter in the story and when that happened the people would rejoice and a new song was written. The new song was a reminder to the people of God to worship and praise Him for His mighty acts within the life of His people.

Application

Are there any new songs being written today? My hope would be that new songs are being written and that the God of all Creation continues to be involved in the lives of His people. However, I believe that God's intervention in the lives of the Israelites was when they invited Him to be involved, and when they served Him in obedience. Is there a lesson to be found for us? Could it be that there are few new songs these days because we are not living in obedience to Him? A new song was written in response to something miraculous. God's nature has not changed and He is still the God of the miraculous today. I believe that God's desire is for new songs, and if there are no new songs, maybe we need to step back and take a look at ourselves.

We need a new thing. God wants to do a new thing. Are we willing to pay the price of radical obedience to Him for the new thing to come about? If so, then let's get about the business of writing a new song.

Prayer

Lord, help me understand what radical obedience to You looks like in these days. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Accepting Your Gift



God, through the Holy Spirit wants to gift each and every one of us.  Are we willing to accept the gift?

Scripture

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
(1 Corinthians 12:7 NASB)
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
(1 Corinthians 12:11 NASB)

Observation

Paul was telling the Christians in Corinth that the Holy Spirit was working in each and every person's life in a special and unique way. The result was that the community of faith had people with different gifts and abilities which brought balance to the church. Not everyone had the same gifting, but rather the culmination of their gifting created a whole. The focus was not on the gifts themselves, but on the Spirit who brought those gifts. The early church was a vibrant place where the Holy Spirit was moving through the individual members. Sadly, about a century later the growth of the church began to decline dramatically and there was little or no talk of the movement of the Spirit among the members. Throughout history there have been moments of time where the Church has been called back to remembering that it was when each member utilized the gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit that the world is eternally impacted.

Application

I am afraid that we find ourselves in one of those eras where we are not tapping into the Holy Spirit, and therefore we are not using our spiritual gifting. God has a spiritual gift for each and every one of us, but yet, are we willing to receive that gift, not for ourselves, but for God's glory, work and movement here on this earth? God wants us to tap into the power of His Holy Spirit in everything that we do. He doesn't expect us to go about things on our own. Remember when Jesus said that He needed to leave and go to heaven so that He could send the "Comforter" or "Advocate" for us? That is God's desire for each and every one of us.
If God gives us a gift, He does expect us to use it. Are we so afraid of what God may ask us to do with the gift that He provides that we would rather simply not receive it? It's time for us to jump into the deep end of the pool -- allow the Holy Spirit to fill every nook and cranny of our lives. Accept the good gifts of the Father and then use them in His kingdom work.

Prayer

Lord, please remove all barriers of fear which may hinder us from living in the fullness of Your Spirit. Amen.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why go to church?


The trend is for regular attenders to be in church less frequently.  Are you a part of the trend?


Scripture

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
(Psalms 122:1 NASB)
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
(1 Corinthians 10:12 NASB)

Observation

The Psalmist rejoiced in the fact that he could go to Jerusalem and visit the house of God. It was a joyous and blessed occasion when one was privileged to make the journey to Jerusalem to worship God in His holy house. However, over the years the Israelites forgot the real reason for their worship. Little by little they just didn't bother with the pilgrimage. God's house became something God had never intended it to be and God's people took for granted that they would always be protected by Him. While they no longer participated in regular worship of God, they expected God to be there for them whenever they wanted to call on Him. Today the ruins of the great temple in Jerusalem are all that remain because they did not take heed, they no longer went up to the house of the Lord, they no longer worshiped God, and they fell.

Application

I recently sat in a meeting of Pastors who were discussing the changing trends in church attendance in the last five years. The "average" regular attender no longer attends church on a regular basis. The "average" regular attender now visits church 1.8 times a month. I remember the days when people would get an award for perfect attendance and there were those people who hadn't missed a Sunday in years. Yes, society has changed and the heavy work week, coupled with easy mobility has made the weekend the time to visit family, friends, and even just to get away for fun. However, I wonder how much of all this "good" stuff is a ploy of the enemy. If he can get regular church attenders to no longer "go to the house of the LORD" under the pretense of "good" things to do, won't he have won the battle? In the midst of our busyness and decreased attendance at church we have convinced ourselves that it is okay because we are good people, we are followers of Christ, and we are doing good things. But Paul warns us and tells us that when we begin to think that we are okay, be ware -- that we do not fall!

Why do we need to be attending church? Because there is something that happens exponentially when the people of God get together. Aletha Hinthorn recently wrote in a devotional that one horse can pull 9,000 pounds, but two horses hitched together can pull 36,000 pounds. There is a reason that we are invited to be a part of a community of faith, and to participate in corporate worship -- because God knows that it is good for us! It is within the community of faith that God's communal nature found in the holy Trinity is lived out. The Bride of Christ is the Church -- and wouldn't we want to be a part of that community?

Maybe we need to revisit our busyness. Maybe we ought to ask whether the enemy is deceiving us into believing that being away from Church won't hurt us, because we are standing firm. There are major shifts occurring in Christianity in the US today, and we must ask ourselves whether we are being pulled along by those shifts.

Prayer

Lord, please help us to fall in love with your bride, the Church and help us to worship You within that community of faith! Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eat No Meat?



What are you willing to do to help others grow in their relationship with Christ?

Scripture

Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
(1 Corinthians 8:13 NASB)

Observation

Paul spends quite a bit of time talking about the freedom which he has found in Christ. This freedom surpasses anything that can be found in the world. Even an individual who was born into slavery can be free in Christ -- whether physically free or not. This freedom which is found in Christ has released many from restrictions placed upon them by the world. However, some of the habits of the old life have crept into the new life. For some people within the church community eating meat which had been offered to idols was a real problem. They believed that this meat had actually been defiled by having been used in a pagan sacrifice. However, in a sense it was "used" meat and therefore was a little cheaper to buy. Paul had found such freedom in Christ (which is amazing considering his zealous Jewish background) that he had no trouble eating this meat. But now Paul changes the tables on this freedom. His personal freedom should never step over the bounds of hurting his brother or sister in Christ. Paul could have pushed for his own rights and his own freedom, but rather he placed the spiritual life of those around him into a place of priority over his own rights.

Application

What is there in my life that could be a stumbling block to others? That is a serious question which we must be willing to ask ourselves for our Christian life is not just singular, but rather, communal. We are all called to live out the Christian life within the world and a community of believers and non-believers as well. That is why we are challenged to love God, and then to love our neighbor. They both go hand in hand. Paul realized that to love his neighbor sometimes meant giving up his own rights. I wonder if we're willing to examine the practices of our lives and ask ourselves whether there is anything that we do, in our liberty, that causes others to stumble and fall.
Would I be willing to go as far as Paul and say that if something causes my brother or sister to stumble that I would NEVER do it again?

Prayer

Lord, help me to see the things in my life which could be a stumbling block to others and be willing to put them aside -- forever! Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's inside?

If Jesus were to look into the motivation of your heart today, what would He find?



Scripture

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
(1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB)

Observation

We think that we are quite skilled at keeping the motivations of our heart a secret. We do our best to keep them hidden from the light of day. While we keep our deepest thoughts and motivations hidden we strike out at what we judge as inconsistencies in others. Paul saw this very thing happening in the baby church which he had birthed in Corinth. He warned those within this congregation to stop passing judgment based on their limited understanding. He knew that a time would come when Jesus would pass judgment based on what was inside!

Application

We cannot see inside, to the heart and motivations of individuals, and often there is so much more to a situation than we can ever begin to understand. The mitigating circumstances of life with which others may be dealing may be far beyond our personal comprehension. And yet, why are we so quick to pass judgment? We must step back and realize that it is not our responsibility to judge the heart of an individual, but rather, that is what Christ will do. Christ can, and will, look on the heart of an individual and know their motivations.
It's Jesus who will discover what's inside, and in this revelation there is sadness and joy. There is sadness if Jesus discovers that the motivations have not been pure and there will be punishment for those who do not serve Him with a pure heart. However, for those who may feel that they have been misunderstood by the world (and Paul certainly felt misunderstood), they will receive their praise from Christ, Himself.
I want my life to be a praise to Christ! What about you?

Prayer

Lord, please look on my heart and cleanse and purify it and my motives to Your glory! Amen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Singular Unity





Scripture

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
(1 Corinthians 1:10 NASB)
So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
(1 Corinthians 3:7 NASB)

Observation

Paul had discovered that there was disunity in the church in Corinth. They were arguing with one another over who had played the greatest role in the development of the church. Some were proudly proclaiming that they were disciples of Apollos, some of Peter, and others of Paul. They were arguing over who had been their leader and which one of them was really the best or the most influential. All of this frustrated Paul because he knew that this was not what was important in the life of the church. Rather, Paul worked to call them all back to the very foundation of the church. It didn't matter who had been their Pastor or spiritual leader, Jesus Christ was the very foundation of all things. He reminded them that each leader had been called to come and to be faithful with their own task. Some were meant to prepare the ground, others to plant the seed, some to water it and others to harvest but each simply to be obedient. So, while Paul and the others had been obedient to the tasks that God had assigned, he reminded them all that it was God who made the church grow, not any one person. The unity of the church was being threatened by people taking sides over people, when Paul reminded them to pay attention to God. God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the unifying factor in the church, both yesterday and today.

Application

Sadly, much of Christianity today is divided. We have continued to allow human feelings and reactions to rule the day. We have to admit that we can become attached to certain individuals or leaders and we like to hang around as long as they are there, however, if they move on, we want to move on as well. While we wouldn't admit it, we may just go and seek out another 'personality' to whom we can become connected. That's not what God wants, and He used Paul to remind us of this. We are to remain committed to the church community and not to the charismatic personality of a particular leader. The focus within the community must be on Christ. Faithfulness to Christ will unify a body of believers and when Christ becomes the priority, God will make it grow.

Prayer

Lord, we seek You today and the strength of Your unifying grace. Amen.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remember the Poor!




Scripture

They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
(Galatians 2:10 NASB)

Observation

Paul had gone to Jerusalem to have a meeting with the leaders of the Church. It was an important meeting as they were discussing the foundational "rules" for Christianity. The big discussion revolved around the practice of circumcision. If a Greek, who was not Jewish, became a believer, would he have to be circumcised. It was all about following the rules or the laws. Finally, after much prayer and discussion the report came back that this was not a priority. The only priority which Paul was given was to "remember the poor."

Application

At times I think we fail to realize that ministering to the poor was the number one priority of the early church. As we can see in this situation with Paul, even the personal concerns, or concerns over personal holiness took a back seat to ministering to the poor.
During the years of the Russian Empire, Peter the Great had a squabble with the Patriarch Nikon. Nikon overreached in his desire to have power. Peter decided he would clip the wings of Nikon, and the entire church. He decided the one of the best ways to reduce the Church's influence was to make charitable work illegal. No longer could the Church run the hospitals, schools, or minister to the poor. The Church lost its influence on the daily life of society and eventually this left such a vacuum that the government was able to completely take over and the result was seventy years of communism.
We, the Church, God's people, must remember that our calling is to love God, and then to love our neighbors, no matter their economic status. The Church cannot forget her mission and calling to the poor, for when we do, others without a motivation of love, will rise up in her place.

Prayer

Lord, may I be sensitive to the world around me and its needs -- and give me wisdom to know how to respond. Amen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sometimes it's better to just keep your mouth shut.





Scripture

Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!”
(Mark 15:4 NASB)
But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.
(Mark 15:5 NASB)

Observation

Jesus stood before His accusers and they were shouting all kinds of accusations and insults at Him. Some of the accusations were the truth, "He says He's the son of God!" Yes, He is the Son of God and He could have called down fire and brimstone on those who were accusing Him, and yet, He stood there and silently took it all. The way to victory was not going to be through words, but rather by way of actions. The natural response would have been to defend Himself. However, He didn't respond and Pilate "was amazed."

Application

There are times in life when people may throw accusations around about you. As a follower of Jesus Christ often there are those who simply don't "get" it. They don't understand why we do the things we do, or they question our motivations. This is when we need to look to Jesus as the great example. He knew that a verbal debate would not solve the problem. He also knew that condemning His accusers would not solve the problem. The only resolution was for Him to die for His accuser's sins, for only in this could His accusers be saved. Jesus was willing to keep His mouth shut so that His Father's will would and could be accomplished. There are times when we must look to Christ as our example. For God's will to be accomplished it may simply be better to keep our mouths shut, allow the accusations to swirl, and continue to move forward in living out our lives in faithful obedience to Him. At the end of the day, that is all that matters!

Prayer

Lord, may this be a day of faithful living for You. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Who's winning?

Are we trying to live the Christian life in our own strength?  If so, we will lose out for the flesh is weak!



Scripture

“Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
(Mark 14:38 NASB)

Observation

The disciples had really good intentions. They had just finished supper with Jesus and now He wanted to go to one of His favorite places to pray. Jesus had been trying to tell them about what was coming but they really didn't understand. While Jesus is praying for His very life, the disciples are falling asleep. They just don't comprehend the urgency of the situation. In their hearts they truly believed that they would do anything to support Jesus. Peter had even declared that he would be willing to die for Jesus, and yet, within just a few hours he would deny Christ three times. The flesh won the day.

Application

How often do we become excited about spiritual things and we take off believing that everything is going to be different. Within our own power and strength we believe that we are going to live for Christ. Things are going to be different in the home, in school, in our relationships with others. However, if we try to do all of this on our own power, we will fail, for the flesh is truly weak. In our hearts, in our spirits, we are willing, but our humanity tends to win out.

But what happens when our spirits combine with His Spirit? This is where something supernatural happens. The weakness of humanity becomes grafted into the power of the Holy Trinity and we step into the movement or the stream of the Holy Spirit. This is what happened to the disciples on the day of Pentecost and Peter who denied Christ three times on the night of his weakness in the flesh, becomes the great preacher of the day. This promise of the Spirit was not only for Peter or the early followers of Christ, but for us as well. We are invited to take our human weaknesses, mixed with our genuine desire to follow Him, and unite ourselves with our Holy God. When this happens the formula changes. The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, but the flesh in the life of the Spirit is world changing.

Prayer

Lord, may every day of life be a journey with You, and in the stream of Your Holy Spirit! Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What is your relationship with money?



Where would you find yourself in this story?

Scripture

Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves;
(Mark 11:15 NASB)
and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.
(Mark 11:16 NASB)
And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERSDEN.”
(Mark 11:17 NASB)
And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums.
(Mark 12:41 NASB)
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.
(Mark 12:42 NASB)
Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;
(Mark 12:43 NASB)
for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
(Mark 12:44 NASB)

Observation

In Mark we find a story of contrasts. In chapter 11 Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and He observes the money changers working around the temple. He is thoroughly disgusted with them and their behavior. They are using the worship of God for their own financial advantage. They are getting rich while, through corrupt means, they are taking money from the poor. In the midst of this scene we hear Jesus speak and He shares with us the "mission statement" for the Temple. It is to be a "house of prayer for all nations!" Now, instead of prayer it had turned into a place of commerce, and it is questionable as to whether the Israelites ever fulfilled the evangelistic role to which God had called them in the first place, reaching out to the peoples' of the world. This is the end of scene one.
Scene two. Jesus is still at the temple and He is now sitting back and watching what happens at the treasury. Undoubtedly He's curious to see, once again, how the people are behaving in regard to money. At first He is discouraged as He sees the rich come by and deliver large sums of money. However, there was no sacrifice in their giving because they had all that they wanted and needed. Then came the poor widow who brought all that she could. It was then that Jesus was moved, for here, finally He saw an individual around the Temple who had the heart of God. In all the others, the love of money had jaded them, but not this woman. She simply gave God everything.

Application

The heroine of the story is a poor woman. Isn't it just like Jesus to turn the story upside down? All the great people are in the story. The great leaders of the Church, the great financial wizards, and the rich laypersons and yet, the poor widow is the one who shows us what it means to be faithful with what God has provided to us. It was good "church" folks who had the wrong attitude toward money. Greed had so corrupted them that it had even corrupted the very mission of the Church. Who are you today, and what is your relationship toward money?

Prayer

Lord, may I be as willing as the widow to give You all! Amen.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thanks, Grandpa!



 

Scripture

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?
(Psalms 121:1 NASB)
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
(Psalms 121:2 NASB)

Observation

Psalm 121 is one of my favorite. It has great words and a message of hope to all of us who need it. However, that's not the reason it's one of my favorites. As a child, I rarely saw my grandparents, because we lived on two different continents. It's a strange thing when you only see your grandparents once every four years of your life and yet, there was something special that I remembered about my grandfather. This man had an incredible personal relationship with God. Even as a child, I had that figured out. Whenever we visited their home we would have to stop and have devotions several times a day. I was convinced that Grandpa had the whole Bible memorized for he could quote long passages. This, I believe, was one of his favorites and so as I read it today, I could hear Grandpa Johnson's voice speaking the words, (only in the KJV)... "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth."

Application

Why did this make such a profound impact on me? Because I knew that my grandparents had very little in terms of material wealth. They struggled through fifty years of ministry in little churches in the State of Nebraska. Grandpa built many church buildings with his own two hands, even making the blocks himself. They had a daughter with Down's Syndrome who never learned to talk or even to feed herself, and yet they lovingly cared for her day in and day out. Somehow when Grandpa spoke these words from this Psalm, I knew they were real because he knew where his help came from. His help for his daily life came from the Lord in heaven whom he had come to know and love throughout his life. I used to think that when Grandpa prayed that he plugged straight into heaven. It didn't matter that the rest of us were there, we were simply an audience where two, Grandpa and Jesus, were having an intimate conversation.
I thank you Grandpa, for passing on your faith. Thank you for teaching me that each and every day my help comes from the one above.

Prayer

Lord, may I live this day with my eyes on You and the help that comes from You alone! Amen.