Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day Love



Scripture

1Cor. 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1Cor. 13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Observation

It's leap day today and the normal software I use for my daily devotions had nothing to read today.  Somehow no one had programmed in the fact that every four years we find ourselves with a leap day.   I went back to a portion of yesterday's reading found in 1 Corinthians 13.  Paul was talking about the very most important thing for Christians to understand.  That is, the very nature of God.  The very nature of God is not completely comprehensible for us yet, but someday it will be.  So, on this leap day, let's be reminded about what is the most important concept for us to understand.  Living the Christian life is not about things that we are able to do -- preach, prophesy, speak in tongues or other languages, but rather, to comprehend the very nature of God, himself.  God is love.  We all remember memorizing that little bit of scripture, but we don't really know all that it means for us. 

Paul says that while we live here on this earth we only see God dimly, as if through a mirror.  That is, we are unable at this time to see him face to face.  We are able to participate in God, but from a distance.  We are able to experience his nature -- his holy love, but only from a distance.  However, later Peter tells us that we are invited to become "partakers of the divine nature."  We WILL see face to face, we will comprehend in a way we have never thought imaginable and it will finally dawn on us that the things of this world, and even the spiritual gifts are nothing compared to the incredible nature of holy love which God wants to pour out on all of us.

Now, faith, hope and love remain -- not the spiritual gifts!  But the greatest is love.  Why?  Because love represents knowing God, himself, on an incredibly intimate level. 

Application

I'm not sure that we, as Christians, truly comprehend the calling which we have.  It is not to be soul winners, or intercessors, or church planters, or missionaries, but rather, our calling is to get to know God, and to get to know God, is to fall deeply in love with him.  While we may yet see dimly, we are to seek his face on a daily basis.  God's nature is love and he is deeply in love with you and me.  Right in the middle of the Bible we find the "Song of Songs."  Often it's a chapter we want to avoid, and yet, if we read it within the context of Christ being the bridegroom and all followers of Christ being the object of that love, we will begin to understand the potential depth to be found in our relationship with God.  We are so in love with him that we desire nothing more than to seek him on a daily basis.

Everything else in life, even the good things, are nothing compared to falling in love with him.  Paul had come to a point in his life where he understood this.  The church in Corinth was arguing about so many different things and Paul wanted them to simply understand that love -- God's holy love -- was at the very core of our relationship with him and with others. 

Yes, faith, hope and love remain -- but there is nothing to compare to love.  So, on this leap day -- let's take a leap of faith and allow ourselves to fall deeply in love with Jesus Christ

Prayer

Thank you for your incredible love and help me to continue to grow in that love every single day.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daughters of Zelophehad



Scripture


Num. 27:1 ¶ Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
Num. 27:2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said,
Num. 27:3 “Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons.
Num. 27:4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Num. 27:5 ¶ Moses brought their case before the LORD.
Num. 27:6 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Num. 27:7 The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them.
Num. 27:8 You shall also say to the Israelites, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter.

Observation

The day will soon come when the children of Israel will cross over into the promised land.  Before they go each family is to receive their inheritance and their assignment in the new country will be based on the census which is being taken.  However, in the culture of the day, the clans or families were all appointed according to the male head.  However, here we encounter a family where the males have all died out.  Only the women are left.  The daughters of Zelophehad must have been amazingly strong women.  They were their clan leaders, and therefore they took courage and came and spoke to Moses regarding their concern.  They were being left out, simply because they were women.  Moses took this concern to God and God told Moses that the women were correct and that this was unfair.  From that time on the laws would be changed and if there were no male heirs, the women would receive the inheritance. 

Application

There is a popular television program these days called "Downton Abbey" around which the central theme is the inheritance.  Less than 100 years ago in England a daughter could not receive the inheritance of her family.  Some male heir the family may not even know would be the recipient of the family fortune.  If this was still true less than 100 years ago, we must recognize how revolutionary God's response was so very long ago. 

Often it is cultural norms which keep us from all that God truly has for us.  In the culture of Moses' day it would have been unacceptable for the women to be the heirs.  Something remarkable happened in this story.  One is simply the courage of the women.  They didn't wait around for someone else to right the wrong, but rather, they gathered themselves together, and as a team went before Moses, presenting a very logical and well thought-out argument.  Interestingly Moses didn't just give his approval.  He was probably a little thrown by the unusual request.  Therefore he had to go and meet with God and get advice from him.  The response of God reveals how counter-cultural the kingdom of God really is.  The kingdom of God is counter-cultural for there is a new culture within the kingdom.  Here we catch a glimpse of God's intended future for his people where there is equality among the genders which is not provided within the contemporary culture of the day.  It is a foreshadowing of Galatians … Gal. 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Gal. 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The foreshadowing was that the inheritance would be available to all!  Thankfully, that is the day in which we live.  The inheritance truly is available to all, no matter who we are or where we fit within the social strata of the day.  We may all come before God and claim our inheritance.  We must not allow the structures of society to keep us from all that God intends for us.  We must step boldly before the throne as his sons and daughters, and claim our inheritance, serving him faithfully in his kingdom.


Prayer

Thank you for the inheritance you have provided.  May we not be shy about what you have given us, but rather, may we walk boldly before you.  Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sheep with no Shepherd



Scripture

Mark 6:34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Observation


Jesus often uses shepherd imagery when speaking about the relationship which is found among people and their need for a leader.  Of course, the people of his day certainly understood this language for there were sheep herders to be seen in every direction.  You understood how sheep behaved when there was no shepherd.  They would do dumb things, both singularly and collectively.  The shepherd gave direction and protection.  The people of Israel, the ones who should have been following God and his word were not.  They were lost and Jesus recognized this.  He was not angry with them because they had lost their way, but rather, he had compassion on them.  That day he brought them the protection and direction that they so desperately needed. 

Application

Two things can be seen here in this story.  One is from the perspective of the sheep and the other is from the perspective of the shepherd.  As sheep, if we do not constantly keep our eyes on the shepherd, there is a good chance that we will wander off and get lost.  Suddenly we discover that we are no longer with the herd.  Where are we?  We end up in a dry and barren place where there is no water and no grass on which to feed.  We wither spiritually and when we finally look up, we discover that we no longer see the shepherd and we wonder if we can ever find our way home.  The good shepherd, however, never stops seeking for the lost, or for those who have wandered away.  When the little lost sheep begins to cry out, the shepherd hears and begins to call to the lost one.  Listening closely now, the lost sheep can hear his voice and make their way back to him.

Some of us are called to be shepherds.  This statement about Jesus' response is significant.  The sheep were lost, and yet, Jesus was not angry or upset with them.  The sheep are the ones who had wandered away from God and not obeyed his word.  Yet, Jesus had compassion on them.  The people had placed themselves in danger -- yet Jesus wanted to protect them.  The people even showed up to listen to him and hadn't brought any food with them.  They were unprepared for their simply basic human needs.  Yet, Jesus had compassion on them -- and he fed them.

Some of us may be called to official roles as shepherds, and others may find themselves as the spiritual shepherd of someone in need.  Jesus' response was one of compassion.  I guess I have to ask myself about my responses and whether I show compassion -- and patience!  Jesus did not hold against them HOW they had become lost and without a shepherd.  He simply had compassion on them and that day shared with them the good news -- and fed them.  Those who arrived as lost sheep, went home having been found. 

Prayer

Lord, may you develop within me the heart of the good shepherd, full of compassion for the flock(s) which enter my life.  Amen.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Voice of the Lord



Scripture

Psa. 29:3 ¶     The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
    The God of glory thunders,
    The LORD is over many waters.
Psa. 29:4     The voice of the LORD is powerful,
    The voice of the LORD is majestic.
Psa. 29:11     1The LORD will give strength to His people;
    2The LORD will bless His people with peace.
Mark 4:37 And there *arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.
Mark 4:38 And He Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *awoke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Mark 4:39 And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and 1it became perfectly calm.
Mark 4:40 And He said to them, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?”

Observation

The Psalmist was already aware of the power in the voice of the Lord.  He had experienced the peace which came when God spoke in the midst of the storms of life.  It was through the voice of the Lord that God's very glory was revealed, his presence made known to his followers.  His voice would bring strength and peace.  This was God's promise.

How quickly the promises are forgotten and when the disciples found themselves in a real storm in the middle of the sea they were terrified.  Yes, they had Jesus with them and yet they were scared to death.  How could Jesus be so calm -- filled with strength and peace, while water began to fill the boat?  Because he was the son of God!  They saw Jesus' calm as indifference instead of recognizing the very nature of God in him. 

Jesus' voice simply reached out in glory and spoke to the water saying, "Hush, be still."  That is when peace came to everything around him.  But in the quiet and stillness he looked at his disciples who were now stunned and asked them why they were so timid.  Did they not believe the promises of old that God could still the waters?  Did they really have no faith? 

Application

God has promised that his voice can bring us peace in the midst of the storm.  However, I'm wondering whether our lack of faith is allowing the storm to drown out the voice of God in our lives.  It was the voice of God which stilled the waters and it is the voice of God speaking into our lives on a daily basis which can calm our storms.  However, if we cannot hear him, we will not experience his peace.  Therefore, maybe we shouldn't be asking where God is, but rather, where is our faith?  What must we do to increase our faith and bet in such an intimate relationship with God that we do hear and recognize his voice? 

The disciples were in close physical contact with Jesus, and yet they didn't have faith.  We go to church on a regular basis -- in close physical contact with worship of Christ -- and yet, do we believe?  Faith comes from intimacy in our daily walk with him.  There is nothing that can substitute for the deeper, transforming walk to which we are all called. 

Stop, read the word, take time to pray, and learn to listen for the voice of God every single day. 

Prayer

Lord, may I hear your voice and leading this day.  Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Intercessory Prayer





Scripture

“Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”
(Numbers 14:19 NASB)

Observation

In this scripture in Numbers today we find Moses again and again interceding for the lives of the Israelites. Day in and day out they grumble against God who is dwelling with them. Moses on the other hand is a good and faithful man and loves his people, even when they are disobedient. Moses is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ who never, ever gives up on his people. Whenever the people turn their backs on God, it is Moses who mediates between the people and God. He literally gets down on his face before God and pleads for the people. There are times that the people themselves have no clue how repulsive their acts have been in the eyes of God. Many of them are very far from God and have no relationship with him, even if he is in their midst. Therefore it is Moses who becomes the bridge, ever pleading for the lives of his people, desiring to draw them back to the God who truly loves them.

Application

We are told that after Christ Jesus ascended to heaven, he now sits at the right hand of the Father, ever interceding for all of us. Moses gave us a glimpse of the Messiah who was to come. Interestingly fallen humanity's nature has not changed since the days of Moses. Humanity continues to have the same kind of reckless responses before our Holy God. However, now we can see Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, sitting at the right hand of the Father, always praying and interceding for all of us. The result is that the presence of God never leaves us. God never stops facing us and reaching out to us, because Jesus is ever interceding for us. We may turn our backs on him, and we may do stupid things but he does not give up on us.

When our lives are in tune with God, we too, are to follow the example of Moses. Christ is interceding for us, but we are to step into that role as well, ever interceding for others who need to be drawn back to God. This is part of our calling as followers of Jesus Christ. Every follower of Jesus Christ ought to be passionate about the lost whom they encounter on a daily basis. We ought to be on our faces before God for those loved ones of ours who are not following him. We ought to have a list of those for whom we are praying on a daily basis. We ought to also be praying for those "Divine Appointments" which God has ordained for us to have every single day so that we can be ever interceding for a lost and dying world.

Intercession -- it's not just for Moses, or for Jesus, but as transformed followers of Christ, we are also called into this ministry together with him. Oswald Chambers once said that God does not allow us to see the weaknesses in others so that we can criticize them, but rather, that we can pray for them. This is why we must understand that it is part of our responsibility as a Christian to be ever in intercession for those around us. It is a part of our responsibility which we must take seriously.

Prayer

Lord, I am interceding today for those whom you have laid on my heart. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Matter of Perspective





Scripture

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.”
(Numbers 13:30 NASB)
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.”
(Numbers 13:31 NASB)
So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.
(Numbers 13:32 NASB)

Observation

The spies had been sent out to look over the Promised Land. These are God's people who were experience the very physical presence of the Lord in their midst day in and day out. They could see him there in the fire and the cloud. God had promised them the land which just lay before them. Caleb gave a positive report of what he had seen. However, he had seen the land through the perspective of one believing that God was able to do what he had promised. However, the rest of the spy team seemed to forget that they were going against the people of the Promised Land with the help of God. From their human perspective it all seemed impossible and so they decided to give a bad report. They had all been to the same place. Two spies came back with a good report and the rest came back and gave a bad report. The people listened to the bad news and instead of believing in God who had been taking care of them on a daily basis, they listened to a handful of people who had no faith.

Application

In hindsight I always find it easy to be critical of the Israelites. Why could they have not believed? Every morning they woke up to find manna on the ground which God provided. Every day they could look to the center of their camp and find the cloud over the tabernacle. At night the glow of God's presence in the fire could be seen across the camp. How in the world could they not believe?

Let's ask the same question of ourselves; "How in the world can we not believe?" God, through the Holy Spirit, has promised that he would dwell in our presence day in and day out, however, now it's not above a tent, but rather within our very beings. In a personal, one on one relationship, God, through the Holy Spirit is in each and every single follower of Jesus Christ. The question is whether or not we pay attention to the fact that he is there. Do we slow down enough to even notice that he is here? Do we spend time in prayer and meditation with him on a daily basis? Do we work at getting to know the heart of God better on a daily basis by having fellowship with the Holy Spirit?

The team of spies came back with two completely different visions of the land which God had promised to them. It was their relationship with God that changed their perspective. When facing huge and what could be seen as insurmountable difficulties, those that truly believed God, knew that they could move forward. For those who did not have faith in God, they could only see the difficulties. For them every problem seemed larger, and this was included in their report. Everything in the Promised Land -- including the people -- were larger than they could deal with.

Life will have its mountains of difficulty. Our response depends on our perspective. Our perspective is dependent upon our relationship with God. Facing a mountain today? Take some time with God and allow him to help you see the mountain from his perspective. It may be smaller than you think.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to daily put my trust in you and to see the mountains through your perspective. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Waiting on the Lord





Scripture

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple.
(Psalms 27:4 NASB)
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.
(Psalms 27:5 NASB)
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.
(Psalms 27:13 NASB)
Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.
(Psalms 27:14 NASB)

Observation

I was probably born a bit impatient. I have always loved being on the go and getting things done. However, it is this characteristic that can get me out in front of God, instead of waiting on the Lord. Here the Psalmist reflects on the lessons that he has learned and they are a lesson to us as well.

The Psalmist desires to be in the house of the Lord every single day of his life. Not just sometimes. Not just when he's on vacation, but rather a spiritual discipline which includes patience that takes him into the house of the Lord. Once in the house of the Lord, he focus on the Lord. He is the bridegroom, the one with whom we are falling deeply in love. Our love for him grows and grows and we simply want to look at him -- gazing on him and his beauty. We fall so in love with him as we wait in his house that we can't even take our eyes off of him. He is the object of all of our desires and so we stay in his home and we meditate there in his temple.

The bridegroom loves his bride and will do everything he can to care for her. When things get difficult he will protect her from the inclement weather outside. In the very holy of holies he will protect her from anything that may be thrown at her and when the floods of difficulty surround, he will find higher ground and place her on higher ground.

God's promises are not just for the future, but they are for the here and now. The kingdom of God has already come and we are invited to live a life within that kingdom on a daily basis. His tent represents a piece of his kingdom which is already here on earth. If our hope is only for the future, then we would despair in this lifetime, but that's not God's promise. God's promises are for us now, they are for us today. That is why we don't have to despair or simply be waiting on a future return of Christ. We can step into his holy presence today and we can see his goodness right now, in the land of the living. He wants to step into this world in a way which provides a glimpse of the kingdom which is to come through his children, through his bride, who is willing to be patient, and wait today in his tent, eyes fixed on the beauty of the beloved.

Application

The imagery of this language may make some of us uncomfortable. However, the depth of love which may be experienced in the temple of God's presence on a daily basis is probably beyond our imagination. And yet, this is his promise for each and every single one of us. Sadly, and speaking to myself, we are often so busy that we don't want to take the time to wait. We want to get on with our day and we dwell on the tasks which lie ahead of us, rather than on him. Yes, the word meditation is right there in the scripture because that should be a part of our prayer lives. We must slow down and meditate on Jesus Christ -- our loving Lord and Savior. He is the object of all our desires and everything else that happens in our Christian lives is simply the result of the overflow of that love. Without this relationship we truly would despair, but with him there is no despair.

We are moving into the season of Lent. What about committing to 40 days of intimacy in God's holy presence by spending a significant amount of time in prayer and the word during these 40 days. Could you commit to a minimum of one hour a day with him? Then, just wait on him and be amazed at the way that he leads and that you see the goodness of the Lord -- even today -- in the land of the living.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to wait on you every single day! Amen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

God's Leading




Scripture

Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning.
(Numbers 9:15 NASB)
So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.
(Numbers 9:16 NASB)
Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp.
(Numbers 9:17 NASB)
At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORDS charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.
(Numbers 9:23 NASB)
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
(Acts 28:30 NASB)
preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
(Acts 28:31 NASB)

Observation

For the children of Israel there was no doubt that God was leading them, physically, every day of their lives. As they journeyed through the wilderness God was with them. Everyone in the camp could see where God was. During the day he was in the cloud which was over the tabernacle. At night, he was in the fire. Whenever God moved, they moved. He never, ever, left their presence and there was no doubt as to where they were supposed to be every day, nor was there a question as to when it was time to move on. It was abundantly clear.

Paul knew where to go and how to move on. In Acts we find the details of the final stages of his journey. He had traveled for years from city to city telling people the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul clearly knew where to God for he was also following God's presence. God's presence went with him on his missionary journeys, and now, also on his final journey. From a human perspective this final journey may have seemed a bit crazy. Paul was being sent to Rome, but many rulers back in Israel really did not think it was necessary. Why had Paul appealed to Caesar? He could have been set free? Because Paul knew that was part of the journey! He was to follow God and he knew that meant going to Rome. Even as Paul settled down into his rented home, in chains, God's presence was with him. Paul didn't complain about his circumstances, for he believed that God had orchestrated them. Therefore he used his circumstances to tell even more people about God!

Application

How often do I hear people say that they wish they knew God's will for their lives. They wish they knew what decisions to make -- where to go, or what to do! Those decisions become easier when we practice the presence of the Lord. I don't believe that God's presence is gone from his people, but rather, that his people are blind to his presence. God doesn't come in a cloud or in fire anymore. Why? Because he sent his Holy Spirit. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Spirit was in him and Paul could follow the leading of the Spirit, day in and day out. Too many of us are still looking up and waiting for the cloud or the fire when what we need to do is invite the Spirit to come and live in us. Then, we must be quiet and practice the presence of the Spirit on a daily basis. As we listen to him and his gentle leading and guidance he will show us the way to go, each and every single day. God has a future for us. There is a plan for all of humanity and he is drawing us into his future, if only we would listen.

God is still leading today in ways just as real as he led the Israelites. The problem isn't God -- it's us. We must open our eyes and daily step into his holy presence so that we may go forward with his leading.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your peace and presence this day. May I be sensitive to your leading in all things including the divine appointments you may have in mind today. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Anointing, Consecrating, Meeting




Scripture

Now on the day that Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, he anointed it and consecrated it with all its furnishings and the altar and all its utensils; he anointed them and consecrated them also.
(Numbers 7:1 NASB)
Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him.
(Numbers 7:89 NASB)

Observation

Moses and the children of Israel followed all of God's instructions and built the tabernacle. God's intention was that his presence would be there in the midst of his people. I imagine a loving parent that wants to live right in the middle of their children, sharing with them day in and day out in their lives. The tabernacle was completed and it was time to put on the finishing touches. First of all Moses anointed the the tabernacle, along with all of the furnishings, the altar and all the utensils. They were made holy by the anointing. God was going to come and live there! God, whose very nature is pure holy love was going to dwell in the tabernacle and therefore everything around him had to be made holy as well. Moses followed the instructions that he had been given because he wanted God's presence to be among the people.

After anointing the items, he consecrated them. They had been made holy, but now they were being consecrated for the purpose which they were to fulfill. That is, everything in the temple had a particular purpose or function. Every item was consecrated and designated to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. There was no doubt as to the function, for it was all made clear.

Finally, after all of this was completed Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with God. There seems to be no surprise that God is present and his voice is heard speaking to Moses directly. The specific description of the placement of the voice of God places God directly in the room with Moses. It is in this place that Moses and God share intimate, life-changing, fellowship.

Application

There is something in this pattern -- the anointing, the consecration and the meeting that moves beyond the realm of material goods in the house of the Lord. When Christ dies on the cross, the curtain to the holy of holies is torn in two. The home of God moves from a singular physical place to the very heart of mankind. Therefore the process which we see occurring with the Israelites in regard to a tabernacle becomes very real for each of us as followers of Christ. We are invited into the type of intimate fellowship with God which Moses experienced, and this is accomplished in a pattern mirroring that of the tabernacle.

First of all there is an anointing of ourselves by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is allowed to fill every nook and cranny of our being, then we are anointed and made a holy people. It is only by being a holy people that we can exist in the presence of a holy God. Therefore, it is God's desire that we be holy. The Israelites had to bring the items to the tabernacle and anoint them for them to be made holy. We must present ourselves wholeheartedly before God and allow the cleansing power of his Holy Spirit to wash over us and make us pure and holy.

Next there is an act on our part and that is one of consecration. That is, giving up of ourselves and our personal desires and presenting ourselves as instruments of service before God. That is, realizing that our very existence is one of service to him and allowing God to craft us into instruments for his purposes. Here is where our lives come to completion, or perfection. We fulfill the purpose for which God has created us. Each lampstand, dish and bowl had a separate purpose in the tabernacle, but combined they created an incredible experience of worship to God.

Finally, when we are anointed and consecrated we are invited into intimacy with God such as we have never imagined. Yes, we can literally describe the location of his voice for he is so very near to us, and we are invited on a daily basis into the very holy of holies to share with God. This is God's intent and purpose for each and every single one of us -- an anointing, consecration and an on-going meeting. Yes, it is possible, even today!

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the possibilities of an intimate relationship with you because of all that Christ has done for us! Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Forsaken -- reality or imagination





Scripture

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
(Psalms 22:1 NASB)
They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.
(Psalms 22:18 NASB)
But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
(Psalms 22:19 NASB)
You who fear the LORD, praise Him; All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.
(Psalms 22:23 NASB)
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
(Psalms 22:24 NASB)
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
(Psalms 22:27 NASB)
For the kingdom is the LORDS And He rules over the nations.
(Psalms 22:28 NASB)
They will come and will declare His righteousness To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
(Psalms 22:31 NASB)

Observation

How often have we read about Jesus' words as he hang dying on the cross. Jesus cries out, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me." In our contemporary understanding we find ourselves speculating on what those words meant to Jesus Christ. I've heard preachers say that God had to abandon Jesus at the moment of his death because of the sin which he carried, that his Father could no longer face the son, and that Jesus is left to die all alone. However, it is at that moment on the cross that Jesus cries out the beginning verse of a Psalm of lament found in Psalm 22. Often in the New Testament the first few lines of a familiar scripture are brought to us because we are supposed to be educated as those first century readers were -- we are to know these verses from memory and understand that the first line is simply a hint at the whole story. Therefore as you look back at the Psalm which Jesus is quoting we find .... the rest of the story!

It is in this scripture that we find the prophesy about Jesus' clothing. As Jesus is dying he is pointing toward the fulfillment of the prophecies from the past. He is saying, look -- they are coming to fruition right now before you as the soldiers cast lots for my clothing.

Also, rather than being alone, this Psalm brings about the fact that God is not far off. As a matter of fact, God is looking on at Jesus afflictions, and refuses to hide his face from him. As Jesus cries out for help, God continues to keep his face toward him, constantly reaching out to him. One can almost hear the voice of a grateful Father, "Thank you, my son. I love you, my child. You are almost there, you can do it!"

The final part of the Psalm brings us to Christ's victory. The cross which was such an ugly symbol of death and execution would be transformed into a symbol of hope for the future. It would become a symbol of worship for the generations to come. Today we find the cross in the center of our worship as we remember Christ's victory on the cross and the ushering in of God's kingdom here on this earth.
That very moment on the cross represented a cosmic shift as Jesus became victorious over sin and death, and established his kingdom here on this, a kingdom that would await its completion when Jesus would return again.

Application

Too often, in the dark days of our lives, we have somehow thought that God has forsaken us. We have taken this scripture and allowed it to become an excuse for us, believing that if God would turn his back on his own son, then surely he must have his back turned on us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, we are the ones who have turned our backs to God, and that is why we cannot see his face. He never turns his face from you. He is always looking at you and seeking you out in a desire to draw you to him. You are not forsaken, but rather, you are God's precious child whom he loves. Don't create barriers between you and God where there are none. While you may try to ignore him, you will discover, He will never leave you.

Are you feeling forsaken today? Ask yourself why? Is it real, or simply imagined?

Prayer

Lord, I thank you that you do not turn your back on us. Please, help me to walk in fellowship with you each and every single day. Amen.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bribery or self-control?





Scripture

But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”
(Acts 24:25 NASB)
At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.
(Acts 24:26 NASB)

Observation

Here again, we find the topic of bribery. It was a commonplace act in society and everyone simply expected to be offered bribes. This is the reality in much of our world today. Entire nations function on a system of bribery and without it everything comes to a grinding halt. That is exactly what happened to the Apostle Paul. Everything in his life came to a grinding halt because he refused to stoop to bribery to get himself out of prison. None of his friends who were a part of "the Way" tried to bribe the officials either. That is because they had been radically transformed.

The contrast is made in Paul's life when we hear what it was that Paul often discussed. The followers of the Way no longer lived within the culture of the world, but now they exercised self-control, their goal was to be holy and righteous people, and they lived with a focus on the future, which was the judgment to come. It appears that Paul had numerous conversations with Felix over a period of two years in which he remained consistent in his faith. Finally, the consistency of this counter-cultural behavior became frightening to Felix. Why so? Because of the power of God revealed in such behavior. Our lives are to glorify God, and when we allow him to fill us and transform us, there is a self-control which results that can be frightening to the world. It is in this that the righteousness of God is revealed and it makes the world uncomfortable.

Application

We might want to equate the situation with the Apostle Paul with Tim Tebow. Why? Because the obsession with Tim Tebow is similar -- the world is waiting around for him to fall. His righteousness makes them uncomfortable. Just like Felix kept waiting for a bribe which would prove that Paul wasn't really serious about this, so we wait for Tim Tebow to have some kind of a moral failure and prove he's not for real. However, Paul was for real. Therefore he was consistent in his Christian walk, ever keeping his eyes on the Lord, and his life revealing to the world what it meant to be "in Christ."

Two choices are made very clear to us in this reading. There is the Christian, Paul, who has been radically transformed by the infilling of the Holy Spirit in his life, leading to a life of self-control and righteousness, or there is the one who calls themselves a Christian, and yet seeks the easy way out. We are not called to a faith that seeks the easy way out. Rather, we are called to a faith that stands up against the normal values of this world and lives a life as a citizen of the kingdom of God. We are different. We are transformed. And yes, it can be frightening to the world.

Prayer

Lord, please help me not to conform to the patterns of this world, but to trust in you. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Holy Tithe




Scripture

‘Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORDS; it is holy to the LORD.
(Leviticus 27:30 NASB)
‘For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD.
(Leviticus 27:32 NASB)

Observation

The concept of tithing is brought to us directly from God. Here we find the law given to Moses regarding the tithe. The people of Israel were never to consider that everything they owned was theirs, but rather, that one tenth of it all belonged to God. It wasn't a gift back to God, but rather, it was his. It was a tenth of everything, including all their property, and everything that it produced. One tenth of everything was considered holy to the Lord, and it was to be his!

Application

We live in a day and age where the attitude toward tithing has changed and seems to continue to change. There is no perception that it is something that already belongs to God, but rather, that it is something that I, out of my generosity, decide, when convenient, to give to God. How is it that we have gotten this so very wrong? As God's holy people, we are to understand that one tenth of all we have is holy to God. It is already his.

Sadly, we take God's holy tenth and what are we doing with it? We don't even manage it properly because for many, the reason they don't tithe is because they say they can't afford to. It means that we are using God's percentage to fund the things that we want to do. Instead of showing self-discipline in all areas of our lives, including our spending habits, we choose to spend God's holy tenth as well. What types of life-style choices do we make. I think of the line at Starbuck's every morning. If you haven't noticed, drinking coffee is pretty expensive. Really, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a nice cup of coffee in the morning, but is it being enjoyed at God's expense? God had a plan that if all of his children would have followed, they would have changed the world. However, God's children have been unfaithful, spending his holy portion on their own needs and desires.

Why is it that most people who say that when they start tithing the rest of their finances seem to fall into place? Is it because suddenly God begins to pour out money on them? Hardly, but rather, I believe there is a spiritual and self-discipline which changes the heart of the person and by way of a generous heart, the manner in which money is spent changes. God really does know what is best for us, both singularly and collectively. The holy tithe belongs to God and our relationship with money really does affect our relationship with him. Allow God's holy tenth to touch and change the world.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to have an attitude and spirit of generosity which comes from knowing you and your heart. Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A handful of bribes




Scripture

O LORD, I love the habitation of Your house And the place where Your glory dwells.
(Psalms 26:8 NASB)
Do not take my soul away along with sinners, Nor my life with men of bloodshed,
(Psalms 26:9 NASB)
In whose hands is a wicked scheme, And whose right hand is full of bribes.
(Psalms 26:10 NASB)
But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; Redeem me, and be gracious to me.
(Psalms 26:11 NASB)
My foot stands on a level place; In the congregations I shall bless the LORD.
(Psalms 26:12 NASB)

Observation

Living for many years in the former Soviet Union it seemed that we lived day in and day out with people constantly wanting bribes. This was not something that was done in secret, but rather, had become the commonplace practice of society. Excusing the requests for bribes people would say, "well, we need to eat too." However, the pervasive undercurrent of a lack of morality continuously chipped away at the society leaving a moral vacuum.

The Psalmist is writing about living in similar world. The immoral practices of society have received tacet approval and the concern is that one could simply be swept away with the crowd. The Psalmist cries out for salvation, that their soul would not be swept away by the immorality of the world. A world in which people are always scheming, planning for ways to meet self-serving goals and willing to take anything they want from the weak. Instead the Psalmist realizes it is better to go and spend time in the Lord's house because that is where the presence of the Lord dwells. If he stays firm in the house of the Lord, the Lord, himself will give him the strength to stand up to the corruption of the world and to walk in integrity. Not only will he be able to stand, but his path will be made straight, he will not stumble and he will regularly go to the house of the Lord where he will be able to bless the Lord.

Application

The reality is that the challenges of the day today are not all that unfamiliar. Maybe in the US we are not accustomed to blatant requests for bribery, but let's be honest, we do seem to face self-centeredness on a regular basis. We expect to find it out in the "world" but sometimes we are shocked when we find that those who call themselves followers of Christ act in the same way.
Recently someone calling themselves a follower of Christ suggested that they could show their dislike for what was happening in a local church by with-holding their tithe. In reality is this bribery. They are saying, either do it my way, or you don't get the money that you need to run the church! This is not Biblical. Never should we stoop to the worlds' tactics to make a point.
The Psalmist gives us very practical advice on how to avoid falling in to the trap of responding in a worldly way and using the worlds tactics.

#1. Regularly attend the house of the Lord. It is in the house of the Lord that the Psalmist experiences the glory of God. The glory of God is his presence. It is by regularly visiting with God and sitting in his holy presence that we may gain the strength to live a lifestyle that is counter-cultural.
#2. Allow God to transform us. We are transformed and therefore our behavior changes. The result is that our reactions become transformed into the reactions of Jesus Christ. In this regard we can take the "high road." We walk in integrity as people who will not stoop to the deceitful practices of this world.
#3. Let the Lord take care of the work of redemption. We are redeemed by the Lord, himself. I know there are times that we wish this would happen sooner, rather than later. However, there are times when it simply requires a protracted period of faithfulness to God and time in the glory of his presence for God's redemptive work to be done. Hang in there. God is eternal and time has a completely different meaning to him. He has promised that he will redeem us! I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who lived a life of integrity which led him to death in a concentration camp. Where is the redemption in that? However, his record has been cleared and his ministry continues into all of eternity. He has been redeemed.
#4. Stand firmly on level ground. Once I continue to spend more and more time in his holy presence, the temptations of this world no longer become stumbling blocks. Those stones are removed from my path and the desire and ability to walk in integrity is no longer hindered by the things we confront in this world. My path becomes level and my feet are steady in the faith. I am no longer drawn away to the reactions of this world, or by self-centered desires.
#5. Let me repeat -- spend time in the house of the Lord. The result is that I have no desire to hurt the congregations of the Lord, but rather, my desire is to be in the house of the Lord, blessing the Lord and his congregation.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the practical advice from your word. Please, help me to walk in integrity and may I praise you in your house! Amen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are you going up the hill?





Scripture

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?
(Psalms 24:3 NASB)
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully.
(Psalms 24:4 NASB)
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
(Psalms 24:5 NASB)
This is the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah.
(Psalms 24:6 NASB)

Observation

Somehow today I had pictured in my mind "Jack and Jill went up the hill." That's one of my earliest childhood memories of making the climb up the hill. They were diligent in what they needed to accomplish, because they needed a pail of water! We, too, are encouraged to be a part of the uphill climb but it's not for a pail of water, but rather, for the ultimate goal that God has for each and every single one of us, and that is to be with him. We are invited to ascend the hill and join God in his holy presence. The only problem is that not everyone is able to climb that hill. Remember when the children of Israel were afraid of the presence of God which surrounded the mountain and they only wanted Moses to go and meet with God. That was because they understood that to be in God's presence was to stand on holy ground. Not everyone can stand there because the very holiness and purity of God cannot tolerate sin. It is sin, not the person, that is destroyed in his presence. However, if one is filled with sin, they cannot exist in his holy presence.

So, who can climb the hill? Only those with clean hands and a pure heart. These are the ones who can climb the hill and join God in his presence. Those that do so will receive a blessing from the Lord, and righteousness. Why? Because they seek the face of God, and in seeking his face they draw closer and closer to him and they find him, there, on the mountain.

Application

Our Christian life might be viewed as a journey of ascents, as we climb the mountain of God, drawing ever nearer to him and his holy presence. At times, however, there may be a stumbling block that keeps us from enjoying his presence in the way that God would desire. We are stopped in our journey because we don't have clean hands and a pure heart. You see, these two represent for us the very essence of our spiritual life. A pure heart is what God desires. This is the very core of who we are. God wants to wound our hearts and pour out his love into us. When this happens we no longer have our personal desires and/or motivations, but rather we have God's desires being fulfilled in our lives. We have a pure heart because of him, not because of us. The heart filled with love for God draws us toward the one whom we love and we are drawn by desire to higher levels in our walk with him.

The result of a pure heart is seen in our clean hands. Not only are we filled with love for God, but also love for neighbor which is revealed in the very works of our hands. John Wesley said "there is no holiness without social holiness. " There is no way you can love God and not be motivated to minister to the world around you and make a difference. You can no longer sit idly by and watch as the world suffers. You are motivated by the love of God to jump in and make a difference.
You are invited to climb the hill. Along the way we must shed the things that may weigh us down and allow him to fill us with his Holy Spirit until we have a pure heart and clean hands. Are you ready for the climb?

Prayer

Lord, please examine me today and every day that my life will reveal a pure heart and clean hands, dedicated in service to you. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Inheritance among the Sanctified




Scripture

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
(Acts 20:29 NASB)
and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
(Acts 20:30 NASB)
“Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
(Acts 20:31 NASB)
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
(Acts 20:32 NASB)

Observation

Paul was deeply emotional as he visited with his spiritual children in Macedonia. He knew that he would never get to see them again on this earth. He had spent three years with them, pouring out his heart and soul to them as day after day he preached the good news about Jesus Christ. These folks had "gotten" it. They had fully understood what Paul intended and they had turned their lives to Jesus Christ, but they had also entirely consecrated their lives to Jesus Christ and were filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit. They were sanctified followers of Christ. This was Paul's goal everywhere that he went and as he would write them letters he would refer to them as the saints. That is because these people had understood that the goal of life was Jesus Christ, himself and his holiness. This was Paul's desire for each and every one of them. But now, he was worried. He would no longer be with them and he knew that there would be those who would step in and begin to devour the congregations. That there would be those who did not really know Christ, but would try to pretend and draw those who were weaker, away from the faith. He wanted them to know what would happen and to be on guard. Then, he explicitly told them how to be on guard, and that was by the word, which was his grace. God's grace would continue to flow to these people as long as they stayed true to the word, and the result was that they would have an inheritance among the sanctified.

Application

Jesus ascended to heaven long ago. Paul died in Rome nearly 2000 years ago. We don't have them among us, teaching us on a daily basis. And yet, there are principles here which are so real for us.

1) Look out for false teachers who will devour. When there are those who are destructive to the body of Christ, beware! Be in prayer and ask for God's discernment as to whether the things that are being said are from the Lord or not. There are many "good" folks who can be very harmful to the body of Christ.

2) Spend time in the word. There is no little devotional book that is a substitute to spending time in the word. The Bible is, for us, the written revelation of the word, or the Logos, or Jesus, himself. How in the world do we expect to get to know him, if we don't spend any time with him.

3) Receive the grace of God. It is by spending time in his word that we are then blessed and graced by God. There is an outflow of his Holy Spirit and grace which reaches out to us on a daily basis when we are in relationship with him. It is this grace that provides us with discernment regarding the things which are happening around us.

4) Be on alert! The truth is that there is spiritual warfare going on around us on a daily basis. We may not want to believe it, but its true and the stakes are high. We are to be on alert to the tricks and wiles of the enemy and be wearing the full armor of God so that we are able to effectively be a part of the battle.

5) Claim your inheritance among the sanctified. Somehow we have come to believe that the ideals of sanctification are simply that -- too ideal or lofty. They are not. It is God's plan for every believer to be sanctified and be made holy to and through him. Christ, who came as the new Adam, lived the life of a human and set things right, creating a path for us to be holy, because he is holy. We are not to fear this, but rather to embrace it. There is nothing humble about refusing to claim your inheritance. We are his children and we are to move on in our spiritual life to a place of entire sanctification and be God's holy people. Don't be shy, child, but come forward and take the inheritance he has promised -- his own holiness.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your promises and the fulfillment of those promises. Use us and fill us this day. Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Discipleship of Apollos



Scripture

Acts 18:24 ¶ Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures.
Acts 18:25 He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.
Acts 18:26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.
Acts 18:27 And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers,
Acts 18:28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

Observation

Apollos was a very educated man who had been trained in a city known for some of the finest education in the world, Alexandria.  He had received some rudimentary instruction regarding the Way of Jesus and was so passionate and eloquent that he traveled the world telling others what he knew.  One would expect someone like Apollos to be a bit arrogant but yet, we don't get a hint of that from this scripture.  Rather, it appears that Priscilla and Aquila take him aside and explain to him that there are things he doesn't know.  There is not comment that he rejected this instruction but rather seemed to embrace it and allowed it to inform his ministry.  Therefore he humbled himself to gain a further and more clear understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Another moment here is important.  Not only was Apollos willing to receive further instruction, but think about the people who offered it to him.  Here are mentioned Priscilla and Aquilla, a married couple whose occupation was to be tentmakers.  They were not educated at the level of Paul, and certainly not Priscilla, for she was a woman!  It is significant that she is even mentioned in this sentence for one would believe that only Aquilla would have done the education but the fact that she is listed leads one to believe that she was also significant in the educating for Apollos. 

Apollos was discipled and then he took what he had learned and traveled to another group of people, and began discipling them.  He used the gifts that God had given him to publicly preach the Good News, as well as teach and encourage those around him.

Application

Here we find an excellent pattern for discipleship.  First of all, there must be a disciple.  This is one who may already know things about God, but recognizes that there is yet much more to learn.  The attitude of the disciple must be one of humility.  We never know who God wants to use to teach us a lesson.  What is important is having a teachable spirit and allowing God to send into our paths anyone that he might want to use to help bring us to a deeper place in our walk with him.  I am sure that for Apollos the use of a woman in this regard would have been the last thing that he expected.  Who does God want to use in our lives today? 

Second there must be those who are willing to disciple others.  Aquilla and Priscilla went out of their way to go and to find Apollos.  They could have just let his teaching go and ignored the problems with it, but no, they put themselves out on a limb and went to Apollos and approached him in a desire to help him.  For this to be successful, those doing the discipling must also have a humble attitude.  If one comes across as superior, they will never get to disciple others.  Rather, as a mentor with wisdom one must be willing to go humbly to those who may need some gentle teaching and guidance and be willing to offer oneself in service to them. 

Finally, the one who has been discipled must continue the process and pass it on.  Dr. Jerry Porter often asks the question, "Who are you discipling, and who is discipling you?"  This is exactly what was happening there in the early church.  A network of relationships was being built in regard to discipleship.  Everyone was willing to step out and take their place in the chain of the discipling network.  The same must be true today.  We must have the Pauls, Aquilla and Priscillas, the Apollos' and the folks in Achaia.  In this way the process of discipleship continues to be handed down and the faith continues to spread. 

What can we learn from the discipleship of Apollos?  That we ought to be asking ourselves, "Who are you discipling, and who is discipling you?"


Prayer

Lord, may I be willing to take my place in the network of discipling relationships so that it continues as you would desire.  Amen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do you know your Father?





Scripture

“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
(Acts 17:29 NASB)
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
(Acts 17:30 NASB)
because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
(Acts 17:31 NASB)

Observation

Paul was in Athens and he joined with the others who were on Mars Hill. This was the place where people gathered to consider the deep questions of the day, always wanting to learn something new. Paul realized that this would be a good place to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, for indeed it was new news for the people of Athens who had so many different gods. I'm sure that Paul, a very well educated man, took time to consider how he should address this crowd. How could he relate to these people?

Being a student of cultures, Paul was able to relate to the people there in Athens that day. He was able to argue from the point of paternity. Whose child are you? He knew that they had poetry tin which they referred to themselves as the children of God. Therefore he could jump from that point -- if we are children of God, then we must think about God's nature. So many of the gods were carved into stone or made of gold or bronze. However, if we, as humans were not images, then why would God, the very creator himself, be an image. He could not be. Paul was then able to bring them right to the place of the good news and understanding what God had done for them. The promise of the resurrection was the point at which they were overwhelmed. How could this be possible -- how could God raise one from the dead?

Application

Paul was the great contextualizer. He was able to read a situation and put his knowledge to good use to tell those people about Jesus Christ. At the end of the day, he understood that people had a deep need to recognize that they had come from someplace -- and deep in their hearts, people recognized that this was God.

The same seems to hold true today. While there are those who call themselves atheists, when it comes down to it, they really want to cry out to their daddy -- to Abba -- to the Father of us all. That's because deep in our hearts we know that we belong, that there is a Creator who loves and cares for us.
Often I have people say to me that they have no idea how to lead someone to Jesus Christ. However, it seems that we can, just like Paul, draw on the natural human desires which are placed into us by God. There is a natural desire to get to know the One who has created us. Christopher Hitchens, the well-known atheist recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. Concerned that he might turn to Christ in his journey toward death, he declared a disclaimer early on during his illness. He said that if you heard that he had turned to Christ it was simply because he was not in his right mind because of the illness. However, as the illness was progressing, I believe that this man wanted to leave the door open to the possibility of responding to the Creator, but have a disclaimer so that he could remain atheistic.

We really do have a world that is hungry to know about the true God. There are ways in which the appeal can be made so that the story of God connects with them. Paul knew how to do this. It may not come that naturally for us, but we are still called to tell others the good news. May we all recognize that we have a desire to be connected with the Daddy of all creation. In a world that feels desperately abandoned by their earthly fathers, let us point the way to the heavenly Daddy who will never let us down.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the love of a heavenly Father that is with us today and forever. Amen.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Women's Gathering and Prison


Scripture

Acts 16:13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
Acts 16:29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
Acts 16:30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Acts 16:31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Acts 16:32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
Acts 16:33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.
Acts 16:34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Observation

What is the connection between a women's gathering and a prison?  In essence, one led to another and God used each for his work to be accomplished.  On the Sabbath day Paul had gone to the river on the outskirts of Philippi to pray.  There he discovered a group of women who had also gathered.  These were women who were open to hearing the good news about Jesus Christ.  Not only did they hear the good news but they accepted it and God quickly transformed them into the core of believers, establishing a brand new church there in the home of Lydia. 

Lydia's home became the central location from which Paul and Silas were able to go out and preach.  Then, as they often did, they got in trouble for their preaching.  the problem was that their preaching was too good and people were responding and there were always those who didn't like the fact that people were converting.  What to do with these two men?  Why not publicly beat them and throw them into jail.

I can only imagine the concern back at Lydia's house when Paul and Silas didn't return and the news was brought to them that they had been thrown in prison.  We always read about Paul and Silas singing in the prison late at might.  I'm just guessing that across town at Lydia's house there was another prayer gathering.  They weren't sleeping either and together the songs of praise and the prayers of intercession from across the town united as they were lifted up to the Father.  Suddenly there was an earthquake and the prison doors broke open and the chains fell off of the prisoners. 

God used that opportunity to minister to someone who would never have been at the river, and that was the jailer.  That very night he was saved.  He took Paul and Silas home and woke up his entire household and they were all saved and baptized.  History tells us that this jailer went on to become a leader in the Christian movement and specifically there in Philippi.  Christianity grew in that town that eventually, by about the 5th or 6th century they had two huge churches or basilicas in the city, each holding 300-400 people. 

The faith of a little band of women who never gave up, and a jailer who was radically transformed laid the foundation for the complete transformation of a city, society and culture.  Isn't it amazing that God can use a women's gathering and a prison to change the world!

Application


So often we are looking for the "big" things of God.  We want him to lay out some kind of huge master plan for his work and involvement in the world.  Often when he throws the simple things before us we reject them because we don't think that it sounds exciting enough.

I remember our early years of ministry when we were in Austin, Texas.  Every year the little church that we were in saw growth and people coming to Jesus Christ.  People would ask us what we were doing and we'd tell them VBS  (Vacation Bible School).  That disappointed many people because that was not the answer they wanted.  It was too simple.  However, God had laid before us a very simple plan.  Reach out to my children, love them, and their parents will want to know about Christ too.  So every year the entire church geared up to get involved with VBS.  The little church and the church yard became filled with children, every night returning with more.  The people of the church loved on those children and made them feel as if they were welcomed.  Every fall we called on every single family that had come to VBS and every year there were those who gave their lives to Jesus Christ.  It was simple.  It was God's plan.

God's plans are not complicated.  He simply asks us to walk forward in faith and see that every single moment of life can be an opportunity for his kingdom's work to be done.  Maybe it's a women's gathering, or maybe its in a jail cell. 

Prayer

Lord, may your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Spoken Word


Scripture

Acts 15:21 For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

Observation

This one little sentence reveals the evangelistic hope of the spoken Word of God.  The apostles had gathered in Jerusalem for their first council meeting.  It was a serious discussion because there were many who were accepting Jesus Christ who were not Jews.  Of course, the Jewish Christians were following all of the law of Moses for they had done this from their birth.  However, they wondered what in the world to do with these Gentiles, for whom the Law of Moses would be foreign.    After much debate and discussion they decided that they would focus on the basics.  They would not require everything of the Gentiles that had been expected of the Jews, for they recognized that even by following all the rules, they were not saved.  Paul reminded them that it was the grace of God that saved them all, Jew and Gentile alike.  But then we come to this final sentence about the issue.  The idea that there were those outside of the Jewish faith coming to a knowledge and acceptance of God was not new.  We get a hint that because God's Word was spoken aloud every Sabbath, there were those who had heard it.  Not just Jews, but those who passed by could have heard the Word.  They had been captured by what they heard and they had turned to God simply by hearing the Word spoken aloud. 

Application

Sometimes, today, I wonder if we appreciate the power of the spoken Word?  We live in a day and age where we try to craft the "worship" experience around so many different elements that, at times, the Word becomes lost.  Have you ever been to a worship service where the Word is never preached?  Where no one even reads any scripture?  Sadly, this can become the case.  The truth is that there is power in the Word.  The enemy would want us to hide the word in the background because he knows the power of the Word. 

We become concerned with the style of worship and our "seeker-sensitive" format and yet, here we discover that there are people who  have turned to God simply because they walked by the synagogue on a hot sabbath day when the windows are open and heard the Word being read.  There's really nothing clever about that, is there?  Except that it reveals to us the power of God, who, through his grace is doing all that he can to draw all men unto himself.  And therein lies the key.  He is drawing all of humanity to himself, not to our churches, not to our venues.  When the Word is read or spoken, it draws people to the author, God himself.  That is his desire.

What would happen if we gave more space for the reading of the Word in our own lives on a daily basis, and corporately in the worship setting.  Maybe we, too, would experience more accidental conversions.  There is power in his Word!

Prayer

Lord, please help me to be faithful your written word and may it be a central feature of my life on a daily basis.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Unbelief vs. Disbelief



Scripture

Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

Observation

Paul and Barnabas were successful in their ministry in Iconium.  They would travel to the synagogue and share the good news about Jesus Christ.  Many Jews became believers and were becoming disciples.  One would assume that many Greeks were also turning to Christ.  However, there existed a group of Jews who did not believe.  The word used here has been translated different ways.  Sometimes it's called unbelief, while other translators have referred to it as disbelief.  Somehow the use of the term disbelief feels more accurate for in it lies something that, in my mind, leads to activity.  Unbelief sounds a little more passive.  However, these folks were not passive unbelievers, but rather became activists.  They went out actively with their disbelief and began to round up those who would listen to them and their tales of disbelief.  They went to the Gentiles, those who were pagans, who would not have had any belief and they purposely stirred them up.  These folks who would have benefitted so much from knowing the good news of Jesus Christ were easily persuaded to attack Paul and Barnabas.  The language used here is that those active disbelieving Jews "poisoned" the minds of the Gentiles.  Others might say that they were made angry, or even embittered against the disciples.  What leads one to such anger that they must actively poison the minds of others to take action against those who have come to bring the good news?  Probably the answer lies in jealousy.  Jealousy can often bring about extremely violent action even in those who are supposed to be followers of God. 

Application

The world today is filled with unbelievers, those who passively don't know about Jesus Christ.  There are many who fit into the pagan/Gentile category who simply have no belief.  Where we must be cautious is to ever cross over into the area of "disbelief."  Those who "disbelieved" were good people -- they were God's people.  These were people who had studied the scriptures all of their lives.  They had been living by the rules of the Torah, and yet, somehow they felt that this Good News, this new news was a threat.  They watched as many within their own group believed in Christ as the Messiah, but they simply could not believe and they had to become activists against what was happening.  I am guessing that they even convinced themselves that they were the guardians of the true knowledge of God and of the Faith.  They were the protectors of the faith and theology of the past and they were not going to allow anything to change what they had always known to be true.  They were not passive in their unbelief but decided to take action.  They found those who were the weakest among them -- those who didn't know much about any kind of faith in God and preyed on their weaknesses to poison their minds.  The poor, unsuspecting Gentiles believed without questioning, everything that they were told.

The sad end result of the behavior was that those who really needed to know Jesus Christ were hurt.  They were used by the religious folks to their advantage and in the end lost out on getting to know the one who could have set them free. 

There are times when things change within the life of the Church and sometimes we see the changes as a threat to our very understanding.  We may not agree but our response may be one of unagreement or disagreement.  There's a big difference here.  Disagreement becomes hurtful and divisive to those within the Church, and to those who really needed to know Jesus Christ.  Those who need to know Him become pawns in a game. 

We may never agree with everything that happens within the Church community, but we may choose our response.  The enemy is hoping that we go the direction of being "dissed." 

Prayer
Lord, help us in our times of unbelief to seek you and your response.  Amen.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Prayer, Fasting, and Joy!



Scripture
Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Acts 13:3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Observation

The young band of followers of Christ did absolutely nothing without the direct leading of the Holy Spirit.  While they were all very bright people and would have had excellent ideas of their own, they didn't go out on their own.  Instead they spent their time worshiping the Lord and fasting.  They were able to be quiet and simply listen for the voice of God.  Then came the unexpected.  The one who had been the persecutor of Christians was to be set apart for God's work.  He and Barnabas were to go out and travel together.  Back in the upper room, BEFORE they prayed the disciples had gotten together and cast lots as to who should take Judas' place among the twelve.  The lot fell to Matthias, a man that we never hear about again.  However, when the followers of God take time to be quiet and worship him, they hear through the Holy Spirit that Paul and Barnabas are to be set aside for the work. 

The next phase was more fasting and prayer, and after this they laid their hands on them and finally sent them off.  It doesn't say that they spent the next month coming up with a strategic plan, but rather that they spent MORE time with God, in prayer and fasting and then sent them off in the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Things did not always go well for Paul and Barnabas.  They had their struggles and yet, as they were filled with the HOly Spirit, they went on and did their work and ministry with joy. 

Application

I am afraid that all too often we are in too much of a hurry to spend the time in prayer, worship and fasting that we need to find what God truly wants from us.  Today, we see all kinds of issues and problems around us and yes, they certainly do need intervention, but are we waiting to discover what it is that God would want to do in that situation? 

I am personally a "doer."  I It's hard for me to make myself slow down and wait on the Lord because I see things and I want to deal with them now.  However, the older I become the more this message is finally getting through to me.  I must set time aside on a daily basis to simply be in the Lord's presence and to listen to him and soak in all that he wants to have me do.  Then, the daily journey is one in which I simply follow his leading to those divine appointments that I may have missed when I was in such a rush to get so many things done.  I have had to let go of some of the "things" and replace them with quiet time with him.  However, I'm so grateful for the joy and peace which comes from the daily infilling and presence of God's Holy Spirit. 

What does it take?  Making a conscious decision to slow down and make space for God's leading in our lives each and every single day.

Prayer
Lord, thank you today for your joy!  Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Give God the Glory!





Scripture

On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them.
(Acts 12:21 NASB)
The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”
(Acts 12:22 NASB)
And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.
(Acts 12:23 NASB)
But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
(Acts 12:24 NASB)

Observation

Not long ago we had seen the development of the relationship between Pilate and Herod on the day of Jesus' execution. These two men who had been rivals developed a relationship over a common goal which was politically expedient to them. However, as followers of God we are charged with following the Truth, even when that may not be politically expedient. Now, we hear of Herod's demise. On the final day of his life he dresses in his royal robes and placing himself above the people he begins delivering a speech. What a powerful speech it must have been, and he must have had incredible charisma and oratorical skills. The crowd went wild and literally began to worship the man. They said that he had the voice of a god and not that of a man. They were absolutely in awe of him, and he let it go on and never gave God any of the credit for the talents and abilities which he had. God could take no more of this one who was so full of himself. Herod's demise is worse than that of his servants'. He is struck, eaten by worms and dies. The curious placement of those three words makes you wonder about what happened -- for it doesn't say that he was struck dead and then eaten by worms. Rather, he was struck, then eaten by worms and then died. Sounds a little nasty and that there was some personal realization on his part that he had tried to place himself at the level of God. This was not the case because God continued to do his work and the word of the Lord continued to grow and be multiplied.

Application

God's purpose in acting in and through us in this world is that he would be glorified. All the talents and abilities which we have are special and unique gifts from God. His intention is that we will use them according to his purposes. They are not gifts that make us better than anyone else, or, especially at any level close to God. Rather, what we do with the abilities that he has given us helps to reveal him to the world around us.

God has a plan to reach out to humanity and this included the church which he said He (Jesus) would build. Notice that when God was getting the glory, his work continued to grow and multiply.
There are too many examples of Herod-like activity these days, even within the life of the church. We have the ability to turn on the charm, play the best music and speak eloquent words. However, if all of that does not point people to Jesus Christ -- if people are attracted to church because of the speaker, the music, or even the coffee and donuts, then I question whether or not God is really at work. If we give God all the glory, then he will continue to do the work, just as he did in the days of the early church, when the work of God continued to grow and be multiplied. The key here is the work of God. It is his work, it is his kingdom, and we are simply invited to join in and participate in all that he already has planned. He doesn't need us to tell him what to do, but he does want us to participate, remembering to give him the glory!

Prayer

Lord, I thank you that I have the joy and privilege of going into your house today. My heartfelt prayer is that you will be glorified in all that is said and done! Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Stop the Offerings



Scripture

Ex. 36:4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed,
Ex. 36:5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.”
Ex. 36:6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing;
Ex. 36:7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.

Observation

The people had become excited about building the tabernacle and Moses had called for offerings.  At this time they are so inspired that they are willing to give out of generous hearts.  They gave until there was simply too much coming in the offerings.  Those who were constructing the tabernacle had to come to Moses and ask him to tell the people to stop.  There was no need for more!  The language is amazing -- that the people were "restrained" from giving any more.  It sounds like they literally had to hold them back from their generosity. 

Application

When the people of God get the vision for what God is wanting to accomplish they join together with him in his mission and something amazing happens.  Somehow the relationship becomes synergistic -- that is, when the work of God is combined with the enthusiastic work of man, more is accomplished than any could ever imagine!  So often we look at our resources and we believe that there is not enough.  But when placed into the hands of God, it becomes a sweet offering which we have seen over and over again is multiplied to more than supply the need.

We have been living in difficult days in the life of the Church, especially in regard to finances.  However, possibly we need to look beyond the economy and take time to examine ourselves at a spiritual level.  There are a couple of questions that need to be asked.  First of all, is what we're doing God's plan? Moses and the Israelites were fulfilling God's plan in the way that he wanted the Tabernacle built.  It was God's plan for how the people were to worship him.  There was nothing about humanities strategic thinking which the leaders were hoping to be blessed by God in this plan.  It was God's plan, through and through.

It was also God's plan that the people would participate by bringing in just what was needed for the project.  I'm guessing that at first there were those who replied that there would never be enough materials to build this thing.  Can you imagine -- they were on a giant camping trip.  How much stuff could they have with them?  And yet, somehow God took what they brought to him, even when they had little, and multiplied it for his work until there was simply too much. You can sense the enthusiasm in the people when we are told that they had to be restrained from giving more.  When we we join together with God in his work, the results are beyond what we in our own minds can imagine. 

I don't think that God is finished with this kind of activity in the world today.  The question is whether we are willing to stop and listen to his plan, and then, whether we are able to join together with him so that his work can be multiplied to levels we would never have thought possible.

Prayer
Lord, may I be patient to seek you and your face, and your plans and to through this journey together with you.  Amen.