Monday, January 30, 2012
Acts 6:8 ¶ Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 6:10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
Acts 6:15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Stephen was one of those selected by the church community to minister to the widows and to wait on tables. He was also a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit and had a desire to be transformed into the image of Christ. Not only did he have the desire, but he was being transformed into a genuine reflection of Christ. He was able to perform miracles, he was filled with wisdom and even face became radiant. In the light of his life, the priests became frustrated for they could not compete against the power of the Holy Spirit.
Stephen had experienced the transformational power of being filled with the Holy Spirit which leads to holiness. It was not a holiness defined by a set of rules, but rather, a holiness defined by Jesus, himself. Stephen, a man who understood what it meant to seek the face of God, literally was become a reflection of Jesus to the world around him. That is true holiness, for it is about the holiness of Christ, which the world sees in us as we are transformed. The hope of this transformation does not end with Stephen, but rather, becomes the hope for all of us. We are challenged by the story of Stephen because the powerful transformation which occurs in him is what Christ would like to do in and through each of us. We are to seek him daily, we are to turn our faces toward him and spend time in his holy presence. Only then will we be transformed as we step out into a world that desperately needs him.
Lord, help me to see your face this day and may I be transformed so that the world will see you. Amen.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Ex. 23:9 ¶ You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
There are numerous variations on the translation of the word that we find here as "alien." It can also be translated as foreigner or stranger. God was reminding the Israelites what it felt like to be "foreigners" in Egypt and that there would be times when there would be "foreigners" among them. From the very beginning the faith of the Jews was an evangelistic faith, one that would invite "strangers" or "foreigners" into their community and, if they were obedient to God, they, too could be a part of the community.
We, too, are never to forget what it feels like to be "strangers." This may mean different things for us but lets begin with what it feels like when we are new to Christ. When we first give our lives to him, we certainly feel like "strangers" among these Christians! Those Christians have their own culture and way of life and when you are new, you have no idea how to act. How in the world do you fit in?
We are never to forget how it felt when we were new to the faith, because when we remember this, then we know how to reach out and minister to others who are new to the Lord. Remember -- we too were strangers! However, the longer we are within the community of faith, the more comfortable we become and it makes us uncomfortable to reach out to the new "strangers." That's why God commands this to his people. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder that we are not to get too comfortable within the family of faith, and we must constantly reach out to those who are new and, specifically, to those who aren't going to feel immediately at home.
What to do with strangers? Greet them, love them, and help them feel comfortable until they are yours!
Lord, please help me have your eyes to see the "strangers" around me and help me to do all I can to help them feel comfortable in your kingdom! Amen.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Ex. 21:33 ¶ If someone leaves a pit open, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
Ex. 21:34 the owner of the pit shall make restitution, giving money to its owner, but keeping the dead animal.
Acts 4:5 ¶ The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,
Acts 4:6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.
Acts 4:21 After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.
In Exodus we find some very basic rules being given to the people. These include rules regarding responsibility. You can't dig a pit and leave it open because this becomes something very dangerous. Animals can fall into a pit and die, and the very livelihood of the people depends on caring well for the precious few things they had with them. You couldn't be careless for it might be devastating to the life of another. If you were careless and an animal did die, you had to take responsibility for your action and pray restitution.
Sometimes the pits are physical, and sometimes they are spiritual. We, too, must take responsibility for the spiritual pits which may be dug by unChristlike attitudes. In Acts we find the entire team of spiritual leaders gathering together to question Peter and John about what they've been doing. Those who should have known better -- those who should have taken responsibility for the spiritual lives of the people around them simply would not give God the glory for the miracles which they themselves witnessed. In refusing to do so they continued to dig spiritual pits which threatened the spiritual lives of the crowd around them. In their smugness and desire to prove that they were right, they didn't care how many people fell into the pit with them.
There are times when God wants to do something new and different by the power of his Holy Spirit, just as he did through Peter and John. The movement of the Holy Spirit may not look the same as it did in the past, and yet it is a real and genuine gentle wafting of God's presence among us. We must be careful that we don't guard the ways of the past so tightly that we are the ones digging the pits and keeping others trapped and dying in spiritual holes that we have created. All the "official" priests were there watching what God was doing -- the people were praising God -- and yet they held onto the traditional ways things had always been done, creating one pit after another.
It is often those who view themselves as spiritual who don't realize that they are responsible for the pits into which those who need Christ are falling and dying. We need to examine ourselves and take responsibility for our words and deeds. We need to ask God to open our eyes to his movement among us so that he can be glorified. Have we created any pits? Let us take responsibility and cover them over so that we are not a stumbling block to anyone on their journey to know Christ!
Lord, please help me to see clearly any pits that I have dug and to take responsibility and action for them this very day. Amen.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Ex. 20:1 ¶ Then God spoke all these words:
Ex. 20:18 ¶ When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,
The Ten Commandments were given to the children of Israel on more than one occasion. Here, this first time, God actually spoke the Commandments to them. They could see the flashes of lightening, and hear the thunder and blaring trumpet. All of this was accompanied by smoke coming from the mountain. That's an amazing show of God's presence among his people. There was no doubt that this was coming to them directly from God. And yet, they were terrified and stood back and told Moses to go and talk to God.
How often do we say that we wish God would speak to us in this way? If only God would show up and talk to me in a booming voice, then I'd know exactly what I'm supposed to do! If only God would reveal himself and allow me to see the smoke and the lightening, then I'd believe he was really real and I would be willing to follow him and do what he wants me to do! God knows human nature far too well. It certainly did not make a difference to the Israelites. They heard, they saw, and they probably even smelled, and yet, they were not faithful.
Everything that we need to know about God is revealed to us in his word. Once we begin to spend time with him, we discover that we don't need the big booming voice, or the blast of a trumpet, but rather, he comes in a still, sweet voice, and gently leads us along the path of life.
Stop waiting for the booming voice from the mountain. The children of Israel knew what was required of them to be faithful. So do we! Let's jump into a faithful relationship with our Holy God, resting in his gentle presence on a daily basis.
Thank you, Lord, for the way in which you reveal yourself every single day. Amen.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Ex. 14:8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly.
Ex. 14:14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Ex. 16:35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
Acts 2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Today we find a common thread between the Old Testament and New Testament readings. In the Old Testament we find the children of Israel finally leaving Egypt, and when the moment comes they leave boldly! They've been given their instructions, God has been faithful and they leave with confidence in him. Along the way however, they become scared as the Egyptians follow them and they wonder what they are to do. God tells them that they are to do nothing. He will fight for them. They are only to keep still. He does fight for them and then they end up out in the wilderness. They are hungry and God provides for their needs. He does so for forty years. Finally, in the book of Acts we find God's continued provision and work, now through the power of the Holy Spirit. The handful of faithful are obedient and God adds to their number daily.
These stories have powerful lessons for us today in terms of prayer and living the life of faith.
1) When God tells you to do something -- walk out in bold faith. Trust him to take care of you and don't wait ! We are not supposed to sheepishly hang onto the promises of God, but rather, we are to claim what he tells us and boldly move forward with him.
2) Keep Still!!! Too often we don't slow down enough or get still enough to hear the voice of God. It is in the stillness and quiet that God wants to talk to us and tell us that the battle is his. How often are we trying to fight the battles of our lives on our own strength. We even become angry with God because we want to tell him what to do or how we want things to be done. He is telling us to stop it -- be quiet -- let him fight the battle.
3) God will provide. I read the other day that the average American eats one ton of food a year. One ton!! That's a lot of food and yet, all of those Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years and didn't have to carry any food with them. God provided food every single day. If we did the math on how much food that was we would be astonished. It is beyond our comprehension and in many ways it doesn't even make sense. However, that's the way that God works. He provides when we trust in him. The math doesn't always seem to work out, but Gods math is higher than our math, so let him at it!
4) God adds to the kingdom. One of the most important phrases here in Acts is that the Lord added to their number. This was not the result of some strategic planning session which happened in the upper room on the part of the followers of Christ. What happened on the day of Pentecost and thereafter was beyond their imagination. They were simply obedient and walking on in faith and God did his work.
The whole lesson here today is that our responsibility is to be in a faithful relationship with God. We must be confident in that relationship and boldly live a life of faith, believing and trusting that if we are faithful -- he really will do the rest. This, however, is where we are like so many that have gone before. We want to take control into our own hands, but that is simply not God's plan. Instead, let us try going out in faith today.
Lord, too often I want to do things on my own. May today be a day of total and complete trust in you. Amen.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Ex. 12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
Acts 1:4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me;
Acts 1:5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
When God was preparing the Israelites to leave Egypt he promised them a new life. As a seal of that promise he told them to reset their calendars for their lives would have a new beginning. The month of their deliverance was to be the first month of the year for them -- starting the calendar over again and marking it from a significant moment -- when God had delivered them from Egypt! This was their new beginning. Move to the New Testament and we find another significant new beginning. Jesus has come to the earth, lived and died and is now preparing to ascend into heaven. He is telling the people of another new beginning which they will experience in Jerusalem.
This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for we serve a God of new beginnings! There are times when he says that enough is enough -- and it's time to reset the calendar and give you a fresh start. This is a gracious God who loves and cares for everyone enough that he wants to give them hope for a new life in him.
For the Israelites the new beginning involved stepping out in faith. They were to go and walk out into a desert to worship God. They were to follow all of his instructions. Their entire relationship with God was to change as a result of this new beginning. They really struggled with the changes in their lives. It was all so new to them, and yet they did follow God's instructions for the passover and he protected them and they were eventually allowed to go and have a new beginning. For us to have a new beginning we must take a lesson from these children of Israel who were scared and worried about what as ahead. And yet, to have a new beginning one must trust in God who will provide and lead the way.
In Acts we find a different scene. We find a rag-tag group of 120 people who are wondering what is going to happen next? There's such a small group of them left after all the massive crowds dispersed. Jesus didn't turn out to be the political leader they had hoped he would be. The faithful few are told to go and wait in an upper room where there would be a new beginning. They had no idea what that meant. Jesus had said he had to leave so that he could send them the Holy Spirit. What was a Holy Spirit? And yet, they went to the room and they began to pray -- the men and the women who had been faithful followers of Jesus. And they waited for a new beginning. They too stepped out in faith not knowing what that future held. When the Holy Spirit came, little did they know that they, on a personal level, would be completely transformed into new people! They became the vessels that God used to bring about the new beginning. They became vessels filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit.
God is offering every one of us a new beginning. For some it is simply starting out on the journey with God and allowing him to lead you. It can be tough, just like it was for the Israelites. Some days there was faith, some days you struggled -- but God never left you alone and went with you. And the way he comes and is with us today is through the presence of his Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit is transformational. It takes us from being weak and doubting followers to becoming powerful followers with abilities we could never even begin to imagine, for they are not our abilities, but his giftings flowing through us.
Do we need a new beginning? It all starts with a step of faith in the direction of a faithful God who promises to lead us and to fill us. Let's go!
Lord, morning by morning you bring your promises afresh and a new to me. Thank you, and may I walk and follow you in faithfulness. Amen.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Ex. 10:21 ¶ Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.”
There have only been a few times in my life when I have experienced complete and total darkness. It's true that when it's that dark you can't see your hand in front of your face. It was this type of darkness that God sent to the Egyptians. God, himself even described it as a darkness which may be felt. That is a frightening darkness for there is not one single shred of light breaking in. Literally the darkness feels like it envelopes you, it becomes disorienting and you don't know which way to go.
The Egyptians experienced this kind of darkness for three days. They pleaded with Moses to have God return the light for they were terrified, and yet, after the light returned, they no longer seemed afraid of the darkness, or of God. Why is it that we can find ourselves in very dark places, having taken turns that we had not intended and we plead for God to save us, and yet, after he does, we find ourselves going back down the same paths again and again? And there we sit in a darkness that we literally can feel and wonder where God is in all of this.
It is in complete and total darkness that we discover the beauty of light. It takes only one tiny beam of light to break the darkness. Once that beam of light shines, we are drawn to it with almost an obsessive desire to find the light. What is the source of that light? We seek the source and discover the closer we get to the light, the clearer things become.
Jesus broke into the world to be the light. Those who are not following God are stumbling around in the darkness, wondering where to go, and literally feeling the darkness engulfing them. As followers of Christ we are to be the light in a hurt and dying world. If we haven't stepped out of the darkness and into his light, that's where we need to begin. However, if we've already stepped out of the darkness then we are light. That's when we need to realize that we are the bright little pockets of light in a world that is desperately looking for a way out of their gloom of darkness. That's why Jesus tells us to let our lights shine before people so that they can see what we are doing and God will be glorified.
Lift up your light for the world to see. Allow them to be drawn toward you, for you are their road map to Christ and the path out of the doom and gloom of the ungulfing darkness.
Lord, may I be willing today and everyday to lift up my light in the darkness to lead people toward you! Amen.