Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thirty Sons, Thirty Donkeys, Thirty Towns



Scripture


Judg. 10:3 ¶ After him came Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years.
Judg. 10:4 He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; and they had thirty towns, which are in the land of Gilead, and are called Havvoth-jair to this day.
Judg. 10:5 Jair died, and was buried in Kamon.

Observation


Over thirty years ago now my father preached a sermon on this very text.  The sermon was titled, "Thirty Sons, Thirty Donkeys, Thirty Towns:  Is this any way to run a church?"  It's one of those messages that has always stuck with me.  The premise is that Jair becomes the judge of Israel.  He is in charge and gets to be in charge for twenty-two years.  He uses his son to help rule the country.  He has thirty sons -- so he provides each one of them with one donkey.  He also sets each one of them to rule over one town.  They each go to their own location and for twenty-two years they simply take care of things.  Jair dies and this is how he is remembered.  Thirty sons, with thirty donkeys in thirty towns.

Application

The question my father asked, and I must ask today is -- why just thirty?  Yes, he had thirty sons, but this story reveals much of a maintenance mode.  Each one went out and simply took care of his own town.  The question must be asked, why not each have two towns?  Why not have thirty sons, with thirty donkeys, and sixty towns?  Surely, that would not have been too hard.  And why were they limed to one donkey?  Surely they could have worked at having more!  But they were maintenance people -- satisfied with what they had -- and so they lived.

So, is this any way to run a church?  I'm afraid my father's words may have been prophetic.  If we look back about thirty years ago we became nicely organized and administrative.  This goes all the way through the church, from top to bottom -- and through many denominations.  We began to focus on form or structure -- uniformity -- rather than on movement.  The movement was messy -- and we wanted to make it all look neat and clean. The result was that we may have taken what God wanted to do and placed it within our own framework of organizational structures.

So, how do you run a church?  You allow a vision from God to come in and expand your horizons beyond what you have ever thought imaginable.  You do not become satisfied with your one town and one donkey, but rather, ask God to help you continuously to reach beyond man-made barriers.  These may be barriers to our own personal spiritual growth, or they may be barriers to the growth of Christ's church.  God took twelve disciples, and changed the world.  We must not be satisfied with maintenance.  God is calling us to a radical obedience which can change our world.  We simply must be willing to step into the stream of his movement here on this earth, fasten our seat belts, and join him in the ride!

Prayer

Lord, may I not be afraid of the places where you may want to take me on this spiritual journey!  Amen.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A New Atheism




Scripture

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
(1 Corinthians 15:12 NASB)
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;
(1 Corinthians 15:13 NASB)
If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE.
(1 Corinthians 15:32 NASB)
But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.
(1 Corinthians 15:54 NASB)
“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”
(1 Corinthians 15:55 NASB)
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
(1 Corinthians 15:56 NASB)
but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:57 NASB)

Observation

 

Paul reached out to the people in Corinth who did not want to believe in the whole story of Jesus Christ. Yes, maybe he existed and he was probably a good man, but that's as far as some wanted to go. But how in the world could anyone preach Christ, if they did not preach Christ resurrected? For Paul this was the crux of the whole matter. The story of Christ, was not the story of Christ if you did not include the resurrection, for the resurrection was what changed the entire course of human history. Christ was the first to be resurrected, but that was to lead the way for everyone else.

He challenged the folks, asking them if they believed in this resurrection. If they didn't, why not just eat, drink and have a huge party because once they die, that's it! There's nothing more to life. But for the follower of Christ there is an entirely different end-of-life scenario. The perishable human body becomes imperishable, mortality becomes immortality. Death, that terrible cloud of darkness which lingers over those left behind is swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ, for his resurrection changes everything.

Application

 

A group of about 20,000 Atheists gathered in Washington, DC last weekend. They were there to protest, because they are uniting together, almost becoming their own "atheistic religion" with their own set of demands. Interestingly a reporter wandered among them and tried to have them explain their thoughts on life after death. Not unlike people in Paul's day, they have no faith or belief in anything after death, and so their responses were almost straight from this passage. Let's eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we die! In other words, do all we can to have fun here on earth because when we die it's all over. There is no faith in the future -- or in Christ. They are materialists and only have faith in the things that they can see and understand.

Interestingly in Paul's day there were atheists as well -- they were known as Christians! The Christians were the ones who were radically changing society and did not believe in all the pagan gods. Because they did not believe in the pagan gods of the culture, they were called atheists. However, we all know that they did have an incredible faith and trust in God -- he was just a new God to all of them.

Today's atheists are a new brand for they truly do not believe in any god whatsoever. They sound like a rather sad lot of people. I believe there are multiple factors at work that have brought us to this point in society that so many people would be attracted away from Christianity (or any monotheistic religion) and drawn toward no belief whatsoever. How do we as God's children reach out and love these new atheists? I believe loving them is the key. Preaching AT them will anger them and drive them away. That's their perception of God already, but God is a loving God who is ever pursuing each and every single one of us. May we join with God in his mission on this earth and in Christ's love be ever pursuing the ones who are lost. They are the ones who do not realize that there is victory ahead -- a victory over sin and death and the grave, only to be found in Christ Jesus.

Prayer

 

Lord, please help me to pray for, love, and pursue the lost who could be find victory in you. Amen.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What are you going to eat?



Scripture


Judg. 6:1 ¶ The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.
Judg. 6:2 The hand of Midian prevailed over Israel; and because of Midian the Israelites provided for themselves hiding places in the mountains, caves and strongholds.
Judg. 6:3 For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them.
Judg. 6:4 They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighborhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey.
Judg. 6:5 For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in.
Judg. 6:6 Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help.
Judg. 6:11 ¶ Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.

Psa. 52:8      ¶ But I am like a green olive tree
        in the house of God.
    I trust in the steadfast love of God
        forever and ever.
Psa. 52:9     I will thank you forever,
        because of what you have done.
    In the presence of the faithful
        I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

Observation


There had been peace in the land of the Israelites for forty years but the people were not faithful to God.  God allowed their enemies to come against them, but this time it was not in a traditional way.  They didn't attack them with their army, but rather, they attacked the food supply.  The Israelites would plant their seeds and the next thing you knew, the Midianites would come and camp right on their fields of planted crops.  Then, they would allow their animals to wander around trampling and eating the crops.  Next, they would steal the livestock.  The Midianites didn't need to come and destroy the Israelites through battle, but rather, they were slowly starving them, causing them to suffer.

God called Gideon to become the new leader of the people and to set them free from the oppression of the Midianites.  Where did the angel of God find Gideon?  Hiding in a wine-press beating out wheat.  Why? Because it appears he had been able to save a tiny bit of wheat from the destruction of the Midianites and the only way the Israelites were going to continue eat, was to hide all the food they could from their enemies. 


Application

When the people were unfaithful to God the result was that their enemies destroyed their food supply.  I'm afraid the same may be true of God's people today.  Are we Christian in name only, and not truly feeding on the food that God wants to provide?  Or, have we fooled ourselves into believing that we are getting good enough food by visiting with him on a very minimal basis? The Midianites were starving the Israelites for seven years before they cried out for God's intervention.  At what point are we going to realize that we are starving spiritually? 

The Cardinal of New York is very concerned about the new religion of secularism which is, little by little, creeping into our lives.  I'm not sure that we understand that we are allowing the encroachment of the enemy into our food supply!  The answer is not found in the political realm, but rather, in the lives of God's children who are committed to tapping into the one who provides us with all the nourishment that we need to remain firm in the face of our adversaries.  The result is found in the promise of the Psalm.  We are like a green olive tree.  That is, we are young, vibrant, and full of life, because we are fed from the springs which flow from God's house.  There is no other way to remain strong in the face of the encroaching enemy. 

What are you eating today?

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your nourishment and sustenance.  Please, help me not to become so distracted by the work around me that I don't take time to be fed by you on a daily basis.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wake Up!





Scripture

“Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam.
(Judges 5:12 NASB)

Observation

The Israelites were in desperate need of leadership as their enemies surrounded them. God spoke to a woman named Deborah and a man named Barak to take up the leadership role among his people. Interestingly Deborah responded to the call, and Barak half-way responded to the call. He would help lead, but only if Deborah would lead as well. If she would not -- he would go home. The result was that God promised victory to Barak, but that a woman would get the credit -- not Deborah, but yet another woman.

God brought victory to the Israelites and they had peace for forty years.

Application

There are times in life that God asks us to "Wake Up!" It may be a startling cry from God, but he's trying to get our attention. God needs us to become engaged with him in his work in this world. Some of us will respond like Deborah -- rising up and firmly grabbing hold of the responsibility given to us by God. Yes, it may be far from our comfort zone, or out of the realm of the role society has placed upon us -- but ultimately obedience to God is what is most important. She was willing to respond to the cry to "wake up" and be a leader -- riding off into battle with all the men.

Then there is Barak -- the hesitant responder. He received the same call from God to "Wake Up!" However, he woke up and remained a bit timid. He wasn't sure that he wanted to take on this leadership role and so he half heartedly went off into war with Deborah. The judge we remember to this day is Deborah, not Barak. He is remembered for having his victory come through another woman who was not afraid to take the situation into her own hands.

I believe that God is crying out "Wake Up!" today. He is calling us to become radical followers of Jesus Christ in this world. He is asking us to stop being afraid -- of ourselves, or maybe of what other people might think of us -- and simply step forward in faith with him. What would happen if an army of God's people responded like Deborah? What if we didn't allow the things that the people of this world might think of us to be a barrier to service to God? It's time folks. It's time to "Wake Up!"

Prayer

Lord, thank you for this wake up call today. Please, help me to serve you without fear. Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It boils down to one thing...



Scripture


1Cor. 12:31 …. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Observation


The entire section here from Paul is about spiritual gifts.  One can imagine that the church is experiencing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the result is that people are experiencing different giftings.  However, you can also imagine that these people were very proud of their giftings and enjoyed boasting and comparing their gifts over and against the gifts of others.  Obviously they thought that some people were better than others; that some spiritual gifts were better than others.  In an effort to deal with this concern Paul goes through a lengthy response as he deals with these different gifts and how they relate to one another in the body of Christ, but when he gets through with this explanation, he changes tone on them.  Yes, maybe you think these are really important issues BUT -- now I'm going to show you a way that is even better!  And this becomes the bridge to the next chapter, the great love chapter.  Paul is telling them that all the things that they bother talking and bickering about are nothing compared to love. 

Application

This portion of scripture is targeted at those who are already followers of Christ.  Paul is concerned that followers of Christ get distracted and allow disagreements and arguments over what I think he considered petty issues to become destructive to the life of the church.  He wanted the people to understand that the Holy Spirit was being poured out on all of them, but that the result would not be the same.  Some were going to be leaders, some were going to be followers, some would be preachers, others would be teachers….and in the midst of it all he mentions again that the playing field has been leveled by the Holy Spirit.  There is no distinction between Jew or Greek, slave or free….we are all one in the Spirit. 

On a human level we get hung up on things that simply aren't that important from a kingdom perspective.  From God's perspective one person isn't better than another; one person's gifting isn't better than another.  When we begin to go in that direction, we get called on the carpet by Paul.  We get hung up on these issues when we don't focus on the main thing -- and that is getting to know Christ.  Our calling as followers of Christ is to get to know him and to become partakers of his divine nature.  And that is exactly what Paul is leading us to in this scripture today.  He's saying, "Folks, you just don't get it!"  It's not about gifts from God -- it's about knowing God, and that's why the next chapter fills us with a deeper understanding of love.  Love is the very divine nature of God.  If we participate in God, we become partakers of his divine nature, which is love.  The human bickering and concerns disappear in light of participating in God's nature.  This is the more excellent way.  Paul can lecture them about how things ought to be in the kingdom, but until they experience God -- they won't get it. 

Where do we find ourselves in this story?  Are we with the folks in Corinth who are hung up on the details -- who does what -- what gifting do you have, etc.?  Or, are we driven on to the more excellent way, putting those other things behind us and getting to know Christ on an incredibly intimate level. That is the more excellent way.

Prayer

Lord, please help me not to get hung up on the details, but to get to know you and participate in your holy love.  Amen.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rise up and be our help!




Scripture

For I will not trust in my bow, Nor will my sword save me.
(Psalms 44:6 NASB)
But You have saved us from our adversaries, And You have put to shame those who hate us.
(Psalms 44:7 NASB)
In God we have boasted all day long, And we will give thanks to Your name forever. Selah.
(Psalms 44:8 NASB)
Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.
(Psalms 44:26 NASB)

Observation

The Psalmist is giving God the glory for the victories in battle. David, an expertly skilled warrior says that he's not going to trust in his bow, nor his sword to save him. This is exactly what David could have trusted in, because he was very good at using these two items. Instead, even though this was the area of his strongest gifting, he chose to trust in God. He thanked God for saving him from his enemies and said he was going to continue to boast about God all day long! The Psalm ends with a plea for the future -- that God, in each and every new circumstance that he faced, would rise up and help him. Not because God had to, but because of God's very nature, which David had come to know and understand.

Application

This Psalm is written by someone with an incredibly intimate relationship with God. There is so much about God's character that is revealed here and should be a lesson for us. First of all, there should be no boasting about human skill or ability. Even the expert skills which David had, were seen as a gift from God. We must recognize that any skills or abilities which we have acquired are not our own. There is nothing about our abilities that we should boast about, but rather, dedicate all of ourselves to God and to his use in the kingdom.

Just because you may have particular talents and abilities doesn't mean that things will be easy for you. David had his adversaries -- those who literally tracked him down. The man who should have loved and appreciated David the most, became jealous and tried to destroy David, in an effort to make himself look good. David with all of his skills and abilities had to hide. However, in his distress, David constantly called out to God, and an intimate relationship began to develop. It was in the intimacy of that relationship that David understood how small he really was, compared to God.

David learned how to have a conversation with God, simply because he hung out with God. He learned to communicate to God the desires of his heart. He learned to give God the glory for everything that was being accomplished in and through him. He realized that he was simply God's person for the hour and that he had to be faithful. Therefore he praised God over and over and over again! A key to his intimacy was praising God. How much time do we take in prayer to simply praise our God? Or are our prayers occupied with a "wish-list" for God's intervention in our lives? For David, after his intimate times with God, loving and praising him, he felt that he could go to God with confidence with his requests. David's request is much like Joshua's when he asked God to hold the sun still. David's intimacy with God had helped him to understand the very nature of God. God was not about anger or punishment, but rather, he understood that God's nature was pure, holy love. Because of God's lovingkindness he could ask him to intercede -- to "Rise Up" and be the very necessary help in the days ahead.

Intimacy with God must be cultivated until we get to know the very nature of God. Once that begins to happen our requests and intercession flow out of an understanding of that nature. The more we know about God, the more we become dependent upon him as we recognize that all that we have, is simply a gift from him. God wants us to know him at such an intimate level that we, too, can ask God to "rise-up" and do battle for us, on a daily basis. Can't you just imagine God going before you, preparing the path for you to walk through this life as an unobstructed reflection of Jesus! God is rising up -- it's time for us follow close behind.

Prayer

Lord, may I follow you in every detail of this day. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It's about others…



Scripture

1Cor. 10:31 ¶ So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
1Cor. 10:32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,
1Cor. 10:33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.

Observation

These words come at the close of Paul's discourse on being willing to eat meat which may have been offered to idols.  Often there were those who could not afford to purchase the good cuts of meat.  The "second hand" products, which had been used in idol worship were cheaper to purchase.  However, there were some who refused to eat the food placed before them at the church pot-luck by the poorer folks.  One can see them raising their noses in disgust, being holy folks, who would never touch something that had been offered to an idol.  The poor person's feelings are hurt as all they can see is that what they've prepared isn't "good enough" for the wealthier members of the fellowship. 

Paul says to put all of this aside and realize that even when it comes to eating and drinking, the one rule is that we are to do it to God's glory.  That means that you must be sensitive to the needs and concerns of others around you.  In other words, you must contextualize eating and drinking so that it gives glory to God, and helps bring people closer to God.  Paul was literally saying your attitude toward what is placed before you may be the difference between someone being saved or not!

Application


So often we have taken these verses and we have made them about ourselves.  Yes, may my food and drink be a glory to God!  It's not about the food and the drink, it's about our attitude when we eat and drink -- so that others can be saved.  Have I ever been in a situation where I've had unusual food placed before me?  Having traveled to many corners of the world, I'd have to say "yes."  However, sometimes it's not when we go to the far corners of the world, but sometimes in our own neighborhood that we need to be sensitive.  I remember when living in Texas we were invited to a QuinceaƱera.  There were those Anglos who attended who were picky about what they would eat -- and yet, the foods placed before us were considered the very finest!  Even when something is new to us, we have to remember, this is not about us….it's about them.  I must, give God glory by participating in the party to which I have been invited.  I can never complain about the food, which might be foreign to me, but I must, with great joy, delve into the celebration with my brothers and sisters. 

But it's not always just about food and drink.  This whole conversation has to do with living in kingdom culture.  In kingdom culture, the human cultural divides are destroyed.  We become a part of the kingdom culture that no longer demands their own way of doing things, but rather, always does things for others.  Kingdom culture is servant culture.  Kingdom culture is willing to accept others' cultural practices into their own for the sake of the kingdom.  Why is that? -- because it's not about us, it's about them!  Exercise your right today to submit to others around you in the new kingdom to which you have been called to be an ambassador.

Prayer

Lord, help me to continue to enjoy the adventure with you and in your kingdom.  Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spiritual Athleticism



Scripture

1Cor. 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
1Cor. 9:24 ¶ Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
1Cor. 9:25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
1Cor. 9:26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
1Cor. 9:27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Observation


Paul is an all or nothing sort of man.  Everything that he does in life is about the gospel -- the "good news."  Every situation in which he finds himself has something to do with sharing the good news which he knows will have a direct effect on himself and others.  However, along the way he has also learned that there must be spiritual discipline and this he sees in light of the athletes around him.  If we can be this disciplined in our personal life, why can't we also apply it to our spiritual life?  Therefore, we shouldn't live our spiritual lives as if there were no greater purpose in mind, but we ought to live every day, disciplining our very bodies for the good news! 

A little over a year ago I was traveling from Athens to Corinth.  Along the way it was pointed out where the major sporting event was held during the time of Paul.  We actually know it was held during the years that Paul would have been there.  I had always imagined Paul as a man who made ugly, rugged tents.  Suddenly I saw him in a different light.  Paul would have been at this sporting event, making tents of all kinds of gorgeous colors for the different athletes and dignitaries who were attending.  Just imagine, he was in the center of it all -- day in and day out.  He would have watched the discipline of these athletes as they tried to prepare for the race.  They weren't just racing for fun, but rather, they were racing to win.  If they won, they were given a wreath to wear on their heads.  The beauty and freshness of this wreath might last a day or two.  Somehow I think he saw this as rather absurd, that they would beat their bodies into submission to earn a wreath that would be gone the next day. 


Application

We can imagine that as he watched this adventure unfolding before him, as he created beautiful tents for the competition, that he imagined himself as a spiritual athlete.  He recognized that if he were to participate in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he would to have to apply the discipline of an athlete to his spiritual life.  I would guess that thought makes most of us uncomfortable.  However, I'm afraid that we have made Christianity too easy, or maybe even cheap.  We don't want our spiritual life to encroach much beyond the bounds of the Sunday morning worship hour.  Once we're finished with that, we can go back to our daily routine. 

Is there truly a cost to discipleship?  Yes, I think there is and spiritual discipline is a part of that cost.  Just as we might carve out time during the day to jog, ride a bike or do P90X, we must carve out time for development of our spiritual lives.  There must be a serious commitment to reading the word and spending time in prayer.  It can't just be at our convenience, but must be a discipline to which we commit.  It's time that we develop our spiritual athleticism.


Prayer

Lord, help me to be disciplined in my life -- for you.  Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Know it all?!



Scripture

1Cor. 8:2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;
1Cor. 8:3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Observation

Paul is talking to the church about deep mysteries, combined with freedom in Christ.  There is incredible freedom which comes with living in Christ.  We are no longer bound by the law, or by lists of "do's" and "don'ts."  At the same time, the freedom comes from having knowledge at a different level.  If we think we are extremely educated, we don't have the "necessary knowledge."  This is not the source of true knowledge.  True knowledge comes when we are known by God.  That is because when we submit ourselves to God, he invites us to participate in the relationship found within the Holy Trinity.  In doing so we are known by God, and we are able to put on the mind of Christ.  Therefore knowledge has nothing to do with education, but rather, with being in God! 

Application

Education was important to many of the people of Paul's day.  Corinth wasn't that far away from Athens where he sat up on Mars Hill and chatted with the intellectuals of the city.  People were proud of their educational status and enjoyed having in-depth conversations with one another.  Paul wanted these people to know that this was not the kind of knowledge that mattered in the new kingdom.  This new, counter-cultural, kingdom was constantly turning things upside down.  This included turning around what it meant to have knowledge.  Human knowledge will only take us so far in life.  However, God's knowledge, the knowledge of the creator of the universe is so far beyond anything we could ever imagine that our human knowledge is nothing in comparison.  Therefore, we should never boast about our human knowledge or education. 

Real knowledge is God's knowledge.  Every human being, no matter their status in life, is invited to participate in God.  It doesn't matter if you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female -- everyone of us can be "in Christ."  Paul states it so simply -- the way that we participate in God, or the way that we are known by him, is to love him!  This is passionate, all-out love for God, where we give ourselves to him sacrificially on a daily basis. 

This is a period of time where a number of pastors have suddenly found themselves out of work.  The massive shifts in Christianity are creating economic conditions that make it difficult for many to continue in the ministry.  However, one of the saddest things I've heard is of those who say that without their "vocational" ministry they discovered they had no personal relationship with God.  Our relationship with God is not about service to him -- or studying for sermons -- or ministering to other people.  The responsibility of every single individual who wants to journey with God is to abandon ourselves to falling deeply in love with him.  This is the number one job of a missionary, a pastor, a church leader, an insurance salesman, a schoolteacher, a computer tech, a shoe salesman, an educator, etc. 

We have no knowledge to do the things that we do, apart from God.  If we think we "know it all" and that we can make our own strategic plans for the things "we" plan to accomplish, we are wrong.  We must trust in him, fall in love with him, and give ourselves completely to him before we can even begin to comprehend the things that he has planned.  Apart from him, we know nothing!

Prayer

Lord, I give myself away to you this day in deep abandonment to your great love.  Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Figure out how to serve God just as you are!



Scripture


1Cor. 7:17 ¶ However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.
1Cor. 7:18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.
1Cor. 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything.
1Cor. 7:20 Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.
1Cor. 7:21 ¶ Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.
1Cor. 7:22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.
1Cor. 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters.
1Cor. 7:24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.

Observation

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth and this section becomes a reflection of Galatians 3:28 where he says that in the kingdom of God human barriers (such as Jew, Greek, Slave, Free, Male & female) are broken down.  Now, he is expounding on this same concept.  Those who were circumcised were the Jews, those who were not, were Greek.  He is telling them that they are not to try to become someone else.  They were created to be God's people, whether they were Jews or Greek.  If you were born a slave, you can serve God wholeheartedly as a slave.  Ultimately, the condition in which you found yourself when you were called, you can stay there.  You don't have to become anything else for God, but rather, remain where you are so that God can use you as kingdom people in that very place. 

Application

So often we would like to change our circumstances.  We look at others and wish we could trade places with them, and the "if only" syndrome begins to set in.  But this is not the way that God sees our circumstances.  God sees us as workers in his kingdom here on earth.  All of this language from Paul is kingdom language.   He is trying to help people understand that the kingdom of God is a new culture and that it supersedes the culture of the world.  In God's kingdom citizenship has nothing to do with circumcision, or uncircumcision.  The laws of God are written on the hearts of men and women!  In God's kingdom we are all free, so even if you are not free in the human world, you are free within your heart because you have Christ. 

I have to recognize that God has placed me where I am and has allowed situations and circumstances in my life to form me for his use in the kingdom.  I shouldn't try to be anyone else, or go anyplace else, but rather, I need to relax and enjoy the conditions in my life so that God can use me.  There is no one else in this world who will have experienced the same experiences or walked the same path that I have walked, and therefore, my unique life must be dedicated to him -- in its very uniqueness. 

The Church must also allow space for serving in uniqueness.  Too often we have created a church culture (as opposed to a kingdom culture) and we expect people to conform.  We struggle with allowing people to "remain in their condition" because we want to fix them all up and make them all look like us!  That's what was happening in the first century, and we seem to continue to repeat ourselves.  God has given us great freedom to express ourselves in the kingdom by being who he created us to be.  The result is a beautiful bouquet, creating a fragrant offering, when we all are comfortable with who we are, not conforming, but rather, in our diversity loving and serving him together in the kingdom.  Let's figure out how to serve God, just as we are.


Prayer

Lord, thank you for your creative abilities to make us all so unique.  I offer who I am to you this day.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

O Sun, Stand Still!




Scripture

Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”
(Joshua 10:12 NASB)
So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
(Joshua 10:13 NASB)
There was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.
(Joshua 10:14 NASB)

Observation

Joshua is in the midst of battle, not just fighting for the Israelites, but for God, himself. What will it require for them to win this battle? It will require more time -- an extended day. How in the world will this happen? Joshua speaks to the Lord about the issue and simply asks God, "O sun, stand still...O moon." The scripture goes on to say that the sun stands still and the moon stops until Joshua and his people are able to be victorious. God had listened to the voice of Joshua and the Lord fought on the side of Israel.

Application

There are many differing theories out there on what happened that day. You can simply peruse the internet and you'll find all kinds of thoughts and ideas on what might have happened, all of them trying to explain how the sun would have stood still. However, at the end of the day, while we may not be able to adequately explain what happened, there does seem to be consensus that something happened. There was some kind of external force that may have affected the earth's rotation. Wow! Really? If that is true, then there are huge implications here for Joshua's personal relationship with God.

Joshua learned how to walk and talk with God from Moses. Moses was the only human to see God and talk with him face to face. Joshua had learned the importance of the intimacy of this relationship with God from the human who was most intimate with God. You will notice that there doesn't seem to be anything highly unusual about the way in which Joshua spoke to God that day. It sounds like it was a natural occurrence, that Joshua walked and talked with God. It doesn't say that he cried out to God. It doesn't say that he built an altar to God. It simply says that Joshua spoke to the LORD.

That's a clue for all of us. We are supposed to be walking and talking with God on a daily basis. It is to become so natural for us that it's just like having a conversation with a close friend. Just as we would talk to a close friend about our needs and concerns, that's how we are to come to God. A gentle, sweet, intimate, daily walk with the one we love, chatting about the things that matter to us.

What's interesting is that Joshua asks God to make the sun stand still -- and God does! Now, in our minds we might be wondering whether Joshua realized what all that entailed and how impossible that might be. No, he would not have understood the rotation of the earth, nor the rotation of the moon and gravitational forces. Of course, if he would have, he would have realized how ridiculous his request was because all of that was just too much to ask for -- or was it? Joshua asked God for help, for the kind of help that made sense to him. He had no idea what it would require -- but Joshua just needed more daylight and more time to fight the enemy. So, he asked God -- and God delivered. He had no idea that this request might cause a ripple in the history of time, but that didn't matter -- he was simply trusting in God.

Has our knowledge led us to a place where we no longer ask God for the impossible? Remember that we are admonished that "with God all things are possible." I'm not so sure we truly believe it because we think through all the details of what we know, and there may be times that our knowledge gets in the way of our faith. If Joshua would have understood all it took to make the sun stand still, would he have really asked? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I wonder about our knowledge, at times, becoming a stumbling block to our faith and to our willingness to ask God for the genuine miracles which are needed these days. God is inviting us into the same intimate relationship he had with Joshua. It was in the intimacy of that relationship that Joshua understood that he could ask anything and God would supply his need. Had his relationship with God not have been this close, Joshua would not have asked.

We need to walk with God day in and day out, allowing him to take us to a place of intimacy beyond our imagination. Then, someday as we walk and talk with God we may come to the realization that we can ask him to intercede in ways we never thought imaginable. Our relationship with God must develop to the point where we can simply speak, "Sun, stand still."

Prayer

Lord, may my faith in you grow deeper every single day. Amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trying to Hide our Sin?



Scripture


Josh. 7:20 And Achan answered Joshua, “It is true; I am the one who sinned against the LORD God of Israel. This is what I did:
Josh. 7:21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

Observation


All of the Israelites were being punished and Joshua didn't know why.  He laid down before God and began to plead with him when God revealed to him that they, as a people, had been unfaithful.  God gave him a plan to discover where this unfaithfulness had begun and God led him to Achan.  Achan had been tempted and given in to that temptation, taking items from the enemy.  He had seen a beautiful robe and wanted it.  So, he took it, along with silver, and a bar of gold.  But, what was he to do with what he had taken?  No one could know, so he dug a hole under his tent and just buried it all. 

Application

When you read this story it seems a little ridiculous.  This man, Achan, put the entire community of Israel at risk because he saw a pretty robe and wanted it!  The other ridiculous part of the story is that he could never have worn the robe because people would have known, so he had to hide it in a hole under his home. 

Here again, we see the corporate nature of sin.  We tend to individualize our actions, but the actions of Achan had put the entire community at risk.  God would be faithful to them and make them victorious when they, as a collective whole, were faithful to him.  When one person sinned, it meant that the entire community was not faithful.  How often do we simply turn a blind eye to the sins of those around us and how they may be affecting the world as a whole.  We, as followers of Christ are not simply responsible for our own personal sins, but also the systemic sins which we have allowed to exist because we have not dealt with the root issues.  Joshua could not turn a blind eye to this man's sins, for they were bringing down havoc on the entire nation. 

We also see the petty nature of sin.  Sin is all about selfishness, and a selfishness that often doesn't even make sense.  This man wanted these items so badly that he was willing to risk the lives of all of his neighbors -- just for stuff.  Then, when he got the stuff, there was no way he could enjoy it.  How much joy is there in burying your stuff in a hole in the ground?  So, while this seems incredibly ridiculous my mind goes to all the storage lockers in America which are filled with "stuff."  On a whole different level, we have become a society of "stuff."  We collect "stuff" that we don't even need and have so much of it that we can't even enjoy it.  We have to have storage bins in which we store the "stuff" that we don't ever go through or use.  We don't share it with others, and we use credit cards to get ourselves further into debt so that we can just get more "stuff." 

What kind of a systemic sin is our love of "stuff."  The United States (and other nations as well) have borrowed themselves into massive debt to have stuff.  What began on a personal level has reached to societal proportions.  Maybe the answer to this is to begin on a personal level -- one person at a time, searching their homes, searching their storage units, and asking God what have we coveted to the point that we have over extended ourselves and are now just hiding the "stuff" for we have too much. 

What are we doing with our sin?  Do we believe that it affects no one but ourselves?  Are we trying to hide it?  Be sure there are consequences, and they reach beyond ourselves.

Prayer

Lord, search me, search my heart, search my stuff, and help me live a lifestyle which is pleasing to you.  Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Charitable Discourse -- What would Paul have done in the Internet Age?



Scripture

1Cor. 4:17 For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
1Cor. 4:18 But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant.
1Cor. 4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.
1Cor. 4:20 For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.

Observation

As I read this today I couldn't help but think about what Paul was dealing with in Corinth.  This was not an easy church, but rather one that seemed to have had "attitude."  There were letters flying back and forth and Paul was catching wind of things happening in the church in Corinth.  Evidently there were those who were using their tongue, and possibly the pen, the cause trouble.  In an effort to bring some order to the issues Paul had sent Timothy.  It was Paul's desire that Timothy would draw them in and get them back on track in terms of their daily spiritual walk.  However, it appears that Timothy's presence was not good enough and there were those who were asserting their "power" within the church and usurping the fact that Timothy was present.  They were becoming arrogant,  self-appointed leaders of the church.  However, Paul was letting them know that he hoped to come quite soon and he was looking to discern whether these people had real power -- not people power -- but Holy Spirit power!  For the real power is not in the spoken or written word, but in the living Word of Jesus Christ.  He was saying that what he would discover when he arrived was whether they had made a human power play or whether their lives were bearing fruit, for this is where the real power exists!

Application

It is not too far fetched to place this situation within a modern context.  Paul is not able to be present with the church in Corinth and there are those who want to be seen as the leaders.  They don't really like the message of humble servanthood that is expressed by Paul and are grabbing power in the only way that they know how.  Sadly, it reveals that they have not submitted themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.  In their arrogance they are literally drawing people away from Christ and getting hung up on little issues that they see as making them appear more powerful.  They are blogging daily about their thoughts, and are doing all they can to make Paul look bad.  Paul is simply a fool who runs around with no money, wearing torn and tattered clothing.  What kind of a kingdom does he represent? Rather, they have become wealthy, they are the wise ones, they are the strong ones, they are held in honor.  Paul says yes -- that is true and my life looks like this:

1Cor. 4:11 To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless,
1Cor. 4:12 and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
1Cor. 4:13 when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

He is being slandered by the people of his home church.  For the sake of making themselves feel better they have taken to writing about him on the internet and destroying his good name.  What does Paul do?  I think he responds in the way Jesus would have responded.  He tells them that when they slander him, he will respond kindly.  He tells them that they may have destroyed his good name and he may be like garbage to the world -- but wait -- he will come and see whether all they have are words, or is there power?

What if the Apostle Paul showed up today in the midst of those who are using electronic media to criticize and tear down the church and her leadership?  What would he discover?  Would he discover a thriving ministry in which the power of the Holy Spirit is present and changing hearts and lives?  I don't think so, and he knew the answer to this question as well.  If we are not acting and living like kingdom people, there will be no power!  There will be no spiritual fruit in this kind of an environment.  So, maybe we need to take a lesson from Paul.  May we have, as Dr. Dan Boone has said, "Charitable Discourse" over the things in which we may disagree.  But at the same time, may we be so plugged into the power of God's Holy Spirit on a daily basis that our lives reveal what our true faith might be.  We are to become rubbish to the world.  This Christian walk is not about places of honor or power or acceptance, but rather, that of faithful obedience, following the Christ of the Cross on a daily basis. 


Prayer

Oh Lord -- help me to imitate you day in and day out!  May I not be distracted by the words or power of this world, but focus only on you.  Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Prostitute's Declaration of Faith



Scripture

Josh. 2:1 ¶ Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there.
Josh. 2:2 The king of Jericho was told, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.”
Josh. 2:3 Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.”
Josh. 2:4 But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from.
Josh. 2:5 And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.”
Josh. 2:6 She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof.
Josh. 2:7 So the men pursued them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. As soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
Josh. 2:8 ¶ Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof
Josh. 2:9 and said to the men: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you.
Josh. 2:10 For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.
Josh. 2:11 As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.

Observation


The story of Rahab has always been fascinating to me.  Here is a woman who who is listed as a prostitute.  More than likely she ran the local inn where travelers from out of town would stay.  It's not uncommon that in these types of places certain "comforts" were provided.  It was simply the culture of the day.  However, this woman is unusual in that she has heard about -- and believes -- the stories of the God of the Israelites.  She tells them that she has heard that the LORD (Yahweh), has given them the land and that he dried up the Red sea.  Then she makes an amazing declaration, "The LORD your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below."

Application

What's interesting is that Rahab is often remembered for three things:  1)  Being a prostitute, 2) Lying and 3) Being saved by the Israelites.  Overall, her only redemption is that she is saved by the Israelites.  But, isn't there much more to the story?  Why is it that we find her mentioned three times in the New Testament?

Heb. 11:31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
James 2:25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?

Is it possible that the way we view things, within our own human context is often not the way God views things in the kingdom?  God's goal for all of humanity is that we become transformed into his image -- that we become a reflection of him in this world.  That trumps everything else.  Rahab is remembered in Hebrews, not because she was a prostitute, but because she was a woman of great faith.  Think of unfaithful Israel -- and how many times the Israelites turned their backs on God!  How often were they told that they were to worship God and him alone.  They were to remind themselves day in and day out that the Lord their God, the Lord is One.  There is no other God --we worship him alone!  Even the chosen people of God often failed in this regard, but this woman, had incredible faith and believed that the LORD was God.  She feared him and was willing to sacrifice all to serve him.  Her faith in God trumped responding to the local authorities.  That day she changed loyalties and no longer was she in service to her local government, but to God's kingdom.  That's why she protected the spies' location.  She was working for God! 

Where else do we find Rahab?  In the genealogy of Jesus Christ:

Matt. 1:5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,

Maybe we need to realize that we are creating our own rating system of sin.  Especially in the West everything is very individualized.  We have made faith in God a very singular thing -- our "personal" relationship with God, our "personal daily walk" with him.  Therefore, we have made sin a very "personal" thing as well.  We tend to see obedience to God in personal terms, but fail to see our corporate responsibility.  When Rahab switched sides -- she became a part of the corporate body of the Israelites.  She became a part of God's people and her responsibility to care for the  whole was more important than the individual.  That's why she had to cover for the spies.  In God's economy we are all interrelated and interconnected and our behaviors, choices, and acts have an affect on our entire community. 

Let's jump a moment to the New Testament:

1Cor. 3:10 ¶ According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.
1Cor. 3:11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
1Cor. 3:12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—
1Cor. 3:13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.
1Cor. 3:14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
1Cor. 3:15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
1Cor. 3:16 ¶ Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
1Cor. 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Here's another passage of scripture that we have explained in a very individualistic fashion.  This is the scripture that is so often used to explain why we are to take care of our physical bodies, for our physical bodies are God's temple.  However, what would happen if we took it out of that individualistic notion and looked at it from a corporate perspective.  What if it's about the Church, the Bride of Christ -- the kingdom of God?  Jesus laid the foundation -- he prepared the way for everything to come after and to be built upon him.  Each of us that comes after is simply his working within the kingdom and we are corporately working together for the expansion of his kingdom here on this earth.  Each of us are adding building blocks to that kingdom -- the temple.  But what are we building with?  Are we concerned about the entire structure? If so, we are going to build with the finest materials and make it the very best that it can be.  If we are lazy and in a hurry, we don't care and we are willing to build with the cheapest and easiest materials.  But what happens when the fire comes?  What happens when tough times come upon us?  The portions which are built with shoddy materials will burn up and there will be holes left in the structure.  Don't we understand that all of us -- combined -- corporately -- are God's temple and that his Spirit is in us?  Woe to us that are too concerned about the personal nature of our faith and are not willing to understand our responsibility as a building block within the entire kingdom! 

Rahab got it right.  She saw the big picture and was willing to pay the price and she is remembered throughout history as a woman of great faith.  Her building block was so strong, that the Messiah could come from her very root.  In the midst of a pagan society, she was able to declare who God was and his power transformed her into an amazing woman of faith.  Oh, to be like Rahab!


Prayer

Lord, please help me to have a kingdom perspective every single day of my life.  Amen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Whose mind?





Scripture

And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day.
(Deuteronomy 34:6 NASB)
Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.
(Deuteronomy 34:7 NASB)
So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.
(Deuteronomy 34:8 NASB)
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
(1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB)
But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.
(1 Corinthians 2:15 NASB)
For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 2:16 NASB)

Observation

We come to the end of Moses' life. The scripture tells us that he is the only prophet who speaks with God face to face. If you look closely at the end of his life you discover that he dies on Mount Nebo while in conversation with God. Moses was now 120 years old and his personal relationship with God was like no other. He was still a healthy man and yet, he was not to cross over into the promised land, so God took him to his side. The scripture tells us that God, himself, buried Moses so that no man would know where that was. Moses would not have wanted a monument built to himself, but rather, one built to honor God. The Israelites mourned his death for thirty days, but when the time had come to an end, they knew they needed to move on. Joshua was the new leader for the new day and they knew that they would have to follow after him, and so they did.

Let's jump to I Corinthians. Paul is also talking about people having a deep personal relationship with God. A new era had been ushered in with the death/resurrection of Christ and the optimistic hope of life in the Spirit. It was time to move on from the old life and to accept a new leader. It was another time of transition in the life of the Israelites, and beyond. To live life in the Spirit was to understand things on a whole new level. It was to move over into the promised land through personal transformation. For us, gone are the years of wandering in the wilderness, but rather, the new life where we have the mind of Christ.

Application

Too often we hearken back, or long for the good old days. The Israelites did that often -- even looking back from time to time to the years of wandering in the wilderness with great longing. For centuries they looked back on Moses and yearned for a leader such as he. We, too, sometimes look back to the "good old days." In reality, they may not have been that "good." Instead, we are being asked to bury the past and move on to a new future that God has for us, but only when we have put on the "mind of Christ." We are "transformed" by the "renewing of our minds." When we are filled with the Holy Spirit the spiritual compass for our lives is reset and we are redirected into a new life with the promise of God's holy presence going with us. We, again, have the opportunity of having "face to face" conversation with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I'm afraid that too often we are holding onto a past that was not all that pleasant, and God wants to provide us with so much more. Let go of those things, allow his mind to fill our minds and our thoughts so that we can live in the transformation of new life.

Prayer

Father, God, help me to walk humbly with you today. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

God didn't make it too hard!



Scripture

Deut. 30:11 ¶ Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.
Deut. 30:12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”
Deut. 30:13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?”
Deut. 30:14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
Deut. 30:15 ¶ See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.
Deut. 30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

Observation

The children of Israel spent many years grumbling and complaining about what God required of them.  Even when the very presence of God was there with them in their company, they would not follow his laws.  God continued to reach out to them, trying to make it as simple as possible for them to follow him.  Here he tells them that what he's asking or requiring is not too hard!  He told them that the law was very close and if they looked hard enough they would discover that it was in their mouth and in their heart.  If they would do the right things with their mouth and heart, they would have "life and prosperity."  If not, they would have "death and adversity."  Ultimately what was in their hearts mattered because from their hearts came their motivation.  The motivation was to love God, and in doing so, then they would walk in his ways. 

Application

Are there times when we think that following God is just too hard?  Do we feel like he's asking us to give up too much or to change too many things in our lives?  Do we feel like living for him in a radical way is simply too far out of reach?  If so, we must also grasp this promise -- that it's not just that hard!  Maybe we need to take our focus off of the things that we think are in the way of following God wholeheartedly.  Maybe we're worried that God might ask us to move, or to give up our home, or to not live around family.  Well, he just might, but that ought not to be our focus.  Our focus is to love God.  That's it -- pure and simple.  Every single day of our lives we are to spend time in his holy presence, learning to allow a God of pure love to pour himself into us.  When God is our focus, then, just as the Israelites, our hearts will be turned toward him.  The result is that our mouths will also respond to him and to all that he is asking from us. 

We are to abandon ourselves to his immeasurable love and then allow him to do with us whatever he would like.  It is better to live life in the precious flow of his love than to allow ourselves to believe that he has made it too hard.  It's never too hard when the priorities are right.  Sadly, too many of us hold on to the things that we think we want.  However, the result when we cling to those things is "death and adversity."  Maybe not in such a blatant fashion, but it may affect the generations to come who have not seen radical obedience to the will of God.  Choose him today.  It really isn't that hard!

Prayer

Lord, may I be abandoned to you and your love this day!  Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What are you boasting about?



Scripture


Gal. 6:14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Observation

Paul had suffered through a lot in his life.  He had also been successful but he realized that there was absolutely nothing worth boasting about, except the cross of Christ. 

Application

There are many things in life which we think are important for us to accomplish.  We work hard on those things and at the end of the day we feel that we may be able to boast about them, but compared to what Christ has done for us on the cross, they are nothing.  There is nothing that we as humans can accomplish that is worth boasting about, except for the fact that we have been crucified with Christ.  The only goal we have in life is to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.  All of the rest is fluff, and sometimes that fluff becomes a distraction to what God really wants to accomplish in our lives. 

Let's not worry about human accomplishments today, but rather, keep our eyes fixed on Christ!  Let us crucify the things of this world that may be a distraction to our relationship with him. 

I remember a day nearly twenty years ago when I was in Moscow, Russia.  We were in our very first apartment there in Moscow, one that we had rented and were trying to fix up.  I was just trying to manage living life on a daily basis.  Everything was so much more time intensive.  I was washing clothes in the bathtub, and the only thing in our kitchen was a sink.  But it was in those moments that I learned that the things of the world are really meaningless in light of Jesus Christ.  I didn't need "things," because I had Jesus and he brought me incredible joy and satisfaction.  My joy was to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world around me that was struggling with so many losses.  Today I look back on that time and I'm so grateful that God used it to shape and to form me.  I truly want nothing else than to clothe myself with him! 

Prayer

Lord, may I never boast in anything, but you!  Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Living by the Spirit



Scripture

Gal. 5:16 ¶ Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Gal. 5:17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
Gal. 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
Gal. 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,
Gal. 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,
Gal. 5:21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Gal. 5:22 ¶ By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
Gal. 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
Gal. 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Gal. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Gal. 5:26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Observation


Here we are admonished to live by the power of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to living in the flesh.  To be in the flesh means that we are living by our own personal motivations and desires and these are indirect contrast to what God would want for us.  The list is put right out there.  We can compare and contrast them. They define two completely different lifestyles.  We may either be consumed by the flesh, or by the Spirit.  Either we become involved in:

"fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these."

or in contrast when we live by the Spirit:

"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

This is what the letter to Galatians encourages all of us to do -- to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is a new life, one that reflects citizenship in God's kingdom.


Application

We are called to be citizens in his kingdom and that means a radical change in our lifestyles.  However, if you'll notice, no longer is the lifestyle a set of rules.  The Israelites had been unable to keep the law so God sent a new solution to his people.  He sent the Messiah.  Jesus came not to destroy that law, but to fulfill it in a new and different way.  He sent the Holy Spirit who could live in every single one of us, transforming us on a daily basis into his image.  You see, when we turn toward him, the power of the Holy Spirit draws us toward him and we reflect his image.  When we are turned toward the world, we reflect the world and that's when you find the first list.  The world is living a lifestyle filled with self-centeredness and reacts in evil ways toward one another.  However, when we are reflecting Christ, himself, this will be borne out in our daily lives.  The second list is not about us, or about us being able to produce these behaviors, but rather, about what happens when Christ is reflected in us.  When we are living by the Spirit, then the characteristics of Christ are reflected in us.  This is in direct contrast to the things of this world. 

My desire, is to be like him! 

Prayer

Lord, please help us this day to be a reflection of you to our world.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Participating in Grace



Scripture

Deut. 22:1 ¶ You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner.
Deut. 22:2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it.
Deut. 22:3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.

Observation


In Deuteronomy we find all kinds of interesting rules and regulations regarding everyday life for the Israelites.  Much of the advice is very practical.  Here, the people are taught what to do when they find an ox or a sheep wandering away.  Even if it doesn't belong to them, they are to go after it.  They are to take care of it and take it back to its owner.  If the owner lives a long way away, they are to care for it until the owner returns.  This rule doesn't just apply to oxen, but also with donkeys, garments, or anything else that you may find.  You are not to ignore the lost items, but rather, it is your responsibility to take action.

Application

In the New Testament we have another story, the one of the "Lost Sheep" where we discover the actions of the owner.  In both cases, the owner is out searching for the item that has been lost, and the who finds the item cares for the one who is lost.  Both of these perspectives teach us a great deal about God's grace. 

God's grace is constantly reaching out to each and every single one of us, drawing us toward him.  We are to become workers together with God in his gracious activity here on this earth.  That is a part of his plan, that we join together with him.  When we join with him there is something that seems to happen, something synergistic, when God and man work together in his kingdom.  Therefore while God -- the owner is seeking the lost, there may be times that we, too, run into the lost.  What are we instructed?  We are never to ignore the lost, nor are we to withhold help from them.  You see we are actors in God's work of prevenient grace.  Our responsibility is that we are to be constantly reaching out to those who are lost, and caring for them, keeping them safe until the owner is able to come.

Think about those with whom we come into contact on a daily basis -- are there any who are lost?  Of course there are!  Are we ignoring them?  Are simply watching them wander off?  Isn't it amazing that if we were truly talking about an ox or a donkey we all know that we would go after them, and yet, when it comes to another person, we don't go after them.  We let them go.  We let them wander around and get lost.  God is asking us to be his active agents in the world.  This is a part of our responsibilities as followers of Christ.  We are to take care of the lost and in doing so we are stepping into and becoming involved with God in his gracious activity here on this earth. 

Prayer

Lord, please help me never to ignore, or simply watch the lost walk away.  Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

All Human Barriers are Destroyed



Scripture

Gal. 3:23 ¶ Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.
Gal. 3:24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
Gal. 3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,
Gal. 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Gal. 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
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.

Observation

We discover here a not-so-subtle change in the relationship of humanity with the Creator, as a result of the work of Christ.  Christ came and everything changed.  No longer did we have to try to follow every rule to try to be a righteous person, but rather, by faith, we were to be baptized into a relationship with Christ.  Very literally we were to die to ourselves in baptism and "put on" Christ.  We are to wear him daily as our outer garment.  The result is that all of the exteriors which we use to judge one another are obliterated.  The new culture of the kingdom has come and therefore there is no longer any segregation among the nations, the classes, nor the sexes, because in the new kingdom, all are one.  This is how the world will see that we are God's people, that we are now the offspring of Abraham, by how we "put on Christ" in the new kingdom.

Application


For some reason it seems that it is always easy to revert back to the list of rules to follow for our Christian walk.  Somehow having everything written down in black and white seems to make us more comfortable.  However, that is not our calling and we must break away from the black and white lists and move into the sometimes more grey area of the kingdom of God. 

Kingdom living is what is expected of us as followers of Christ and I'm afraid that here is where we often fail.  When I look across our churches on Sunday mornings I become gravely concerned that we do not reflect the new kingdom that is expressed here in Galatians.  Here we see the barriers which are to be destroyed within the new kingdom.  There are no longer and Jews nor Greeks.  What does that mean for us?  The Jews were the ones who had been "born religious."  In my context, they may be the third or fourth generation Christians (ie. third or fourth generation Nazarene, Baptist, Methodist, etc.)  and they are proud of their Christian heritage.  They have been raised in the church and they are proud of the fact that they have been "serving God" for all these years.  There are plaques on the church commemorating the gifts of their ancestors.  However, in walk the "Greeks."  Who were they?  They were the pagans.  They were the ones who had been worshiping idols.  They were the ones who had no idea what it meant to be God's people.  When they visited church they sat in the wrong pew, they didn't know how to pass the offering plate and they certainly didn't know how to act!  How in the world could the new kingdom of the culture mean that the ones who had been in church for generations weren't any more special than those folks who just showed up?  But that's what the kingdom is all about.  When we are all clothed "in Christ" there will be no distinction between those who have been there for a long time, and those who have just come.  We are all one in the kingdom.  No one is more special than the other.

There are also so social class barriers in the kingdom of God.  Sadly, the church has been one of those places where the social classes have been divided.  There was a time in which people would pay a "pew tax."  Maybe you've visited an old church where there were plaques with family names on them listed at different pews.  People paid to have the best seats in the house.  If you were poor, you might be able to sit in the back, if you were able to worship in the same church as the rich leaders at all.  Today, that may seem extreme but we have our own examples of not making all the classes feel comfortable in church.  For example, in my own tradition, the ministry of our church began by reaching out to the poor and needy.  However, over time, as a result of their walk in the kingdom, they moved up socially.  That tends to happen when you no longer are alcoholics, or wasting away your money on gambling and drugs.  As we have become more "respectable," I doubt that the people who started our churches would even be comfortable attending today.  Sadly, that is not God's intention.  Therefore we must ask ourselves, how to make "slave and free" feel comfortable within the kingdom.  We do not have to bend to the norms of culture, for the kingdom should be our new culture. 

Finally, in this new kingdom, when we are clothed in Christ, the gender barriers are to be destroyed.  Sadly, because a few other verses of scripture are used as the litmus test for the role of women, this portion of scripture is often ignored, and a world that desperately needs to see Christianity take the lead by living in the culture of the kingdom is disappointed by what they see.  A recent publication, "the Resignation of Eve," describes the growing discontent among deeply devoted women who are not allowed to utilize their giftings in the kingdom, and they are leaving the church in droves.

Jesus' intention was that all human barriers would be destroyed when we became "in Christ."  If the human barriers remain today within our churches, maybe we need to ask ourselves why?  Have we truly put on Christ?  Does "Christ" come with us when we worship?  Have we consciously worked at churches being a reflection of the kingdom?  Why do we have churches that are predominantly of one race, or culture, than another?  Why, when more than 60% of those in attendance in our churches are women, are they not allowed to lead?  Hard questions for those of us trying to live our lives in the kingdom.  It begins with me, putting on Christ on a daily basis. 


Prayer

Lord, help me to live out my life with you daily in the new kingdom.  Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Give it away!



Scripture

Deut. 15:10 Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
Deut. 15:11 Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Observation

Moses is again presenting the Law to the Israelites.  He makes a statement that we hear later from Jesus.  There will always be people around us who are in need!  That is why we are taught how to respond to the needy.  We are to be a generous people to those around us.  Give liberally with what we have.  Not only are we to give liberally we we are commanded to "Open your hand."  Of course, this could mean letting go of our money and sharing it with them -- but could it also mean to lend them our hand.  Be willing to reach out and make a difference.

Application

Yesterday I shared my personal rant about the state of society.  Someone raised a very important question and that is how the Church is supposed to respond to those concerns.  The personal conviction is, "How do I respond?"  As I look around my world I see many who are poor and needy these days.  How have they gotten into this state?  Realistically, many are being born into this state.  They are being born into families in which they never will be taught the laws of God -- or even the laws of order.  What do we as God's followers do?  I'm afraid that sometimes we stand around in judgement of them and wonder why they can't try a little harder!  But can they?  What if there is no template for life?  We, as God's children, can't just stand around and criticize.  Rather, we need to figure out how to become involved in making a difference.

First of all, we need to give liberally and ungrudgingly.  I think that means that we give without asking "How did you get here?"  I know I've mentioned before the statement I discovered in Mother Theresa's home in Calcutta.  A quote of hers on the wall said, "Don't tell me that I have to teach them how to fish, because if I don't feed them today, they will die!"  No questions asked about how they got there -- they were fed so that they would not die.  We must have this spirit of generosity to those who are in dire need.

Second, we must be willing to open our hand -- not just for a hand out, but a hand up.  Years ago in the early days of the Salvation Army bands of young people would live in the worst parts of the cities, just to be the presence of Jesus in those communities.  Often a young person was assigned a city block that was their responsibility.  They weren't there to plant a church, but to be Jesus.  They got to know every family that lived on that block and they prayed for them, and loved them, and helped them.  What would happen if we, as God's people, again began to take responsibility for "being Jesus" on our block?  What if we purposely moved to where the poor and needy are so that we could "be Jesus" to them?  Or, what if we simply opened our eyes to those we run into every single day that need a hand up from Jesus!  We don't need to just give our stuff away -- we need to give ourselves away. 

Prayer

Lord, please cultivate a spirit of generosity in my heart in all things!  Amen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

From Generation to Generation





Scripture

“Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.
(Deuteronomy 12:28 NASB)

Observation

The Lord gave Moses the Law which the people were to follow. He was explicit in his instructions regarding all manner of things, including their daily lives. God knows the need for humans to have a keen understanding of how to live their lives each and every single day. If they would obey the law of God, their daily lives would go well. And not only would it go well for them, but also for their children who would come after them.

Application

I must confess that I am a bit concerned about what is happening to the very fiber of society. I'm wondering whether (at least in the US) we have come to a place where we no longer have any rules for daily life and there will be nothing left to hand down to the next generation. I am amazed that there seems to be a complete lack of rules/discipline/boundaries for family life. It seems as if "anything goes." Maybe it's because so many homes are either single-parent homes, or homes where there are two working parents. In many of these situations it appears that previous structure within a home is lost.

On a very practical level it appears that there are no regular mealtimes for children. I can guarantee you during the time of Moses there was this kind of structure and they followed the rules regarding diet as well. Today, you find parents saying, "My child doesn't eat that." Usually this is said in regard to healthy, nutritious food. Or, what about the fact that often there is no kitchen or dining room table. Where are they eating? I'm assuming in front of the television? Is there any time for conversation? Is there any time to learn the discipline of eating together with others around a dinner table? Is there a discipline of waiting for others before we begin to eat -- or even of praying?

And what about the simple care of the home? One of the more popular shows on television today is "Hoarders." Here we find people who seem to be addicted to "stuff" to the extreme. Often one can barely step into the home because there is so much "junk" to be found everywhere. Now, not everyone lives to the extreme of "hoarders" but it does seem that we have such large houses with so much stuff that we have trouble managing it all. As a Pastor, it was extremely rare to ever be invited into anyone's home anymore. Why? I'm guessing for a couple of reasons. One, the house was a mess and two, we have lost the art of hospitality. That's why we go out to eat all the time. In the not to distant past our local church used to go out on Wednesday nights to the homes of the new people who had attended on Sunday. They wanted to drop by and bring them a little gift. We had to stop that ministry because people don't even want to open the front door. They'll pretend they're not at home. Is it because they don't want a church person to visit, or because their home is such a mess that they don't want anyone to see? I've actually stepped into a few of those "hoarders" homes, and it's painful.

Children coming from a home where there is more structure and discipline will do better in school. Not only will they do better, often their work is light years ahead of other students. We keep complaining about the quality of our schools, when it is the quality of our homes which makes such a major difference.

So, back to the practical question of the day -- what are we passing along from generation to generation? God had given Moses practical instructions on the daily lives of his people. He promised them that if they would follow his commandments and his laws that it would go well for them, and if it went well for them, it would for the next generation coming after them. I'll be honest -- I'm afraid of what the next generation looks like here in America. It's not just about knowing how to cook, eat and clean -- those are just markers of a society which is losing self-discipline. I'm going to guess that as you look below these surface items you also find homes in which there is little Bible reading or personal devotional life; where children are allowed to decide if they "feel" like going to church today or not.

God gave us the Law for a purpose. Maybe we ought to study the word and allow it to be our guide, even in the simple every-day aspects of life. Not only will this be a testimony to the world around you, but it will be transformational. It appears that many today are looking for the solutions to societies ills -- to what is being handed on to the children. The solution, for many, is found at home, in a family that takes the Law of God seriously and applies it to their lives. Then, we can believe the promise given to Moses that it will go well with you and the generations to come.

Prayer

Lord, help me to be a faithful follower of the law each and every single day of my life. Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mocking Jesus



Scripture

Mark 15:16 ¶ Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.
Mark 15:17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him.
Mark 15:18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Mark 15:19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.
Mark 15:20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

Observation


I am always amazed at the amount of emotion which is evoked when I read scriptures like this.  I am angered, saddened and amazed that Jesus could have been treated this badly.  They play with him.  Because he calls himself the "King of the Jews," they put a purple robe on him and then create a fake crown out of some thorns and put it on his head.  They hit him, spit on him and mock him by kneeling down in front of him.  All of this because they really don't believe. 

Application

I was checked in my heart as I read this today.  Yes, I can become frustrated and irritated about the way in which Jesus was treated in those final hours of his life, but how do we continue to treat him today?  I'm afraid that there are times that we mock him by our behavior.  Even Christians, (or at least those who call themselves Christians) may mock him by their unbelief.  We want to call ourselves Christians at a certain level, and yet do we really believe that he is who he says he is?  If we really believed that truth how would be living our lives?  I believe that we would be much more radical in our faith.  Wouldn't we want to tell every single person that we run into every day?  Wouldn't we want to shout it from the rooftops that we know the Creator?  We know the plan for all of humanity!  We know the solution to our problems.  We know the answer to world peace! 

Shallow Christianity, I'm afraid, will lead to mocking.  We are not called to be shallow followers of Christ, but rather, radical faithful followers who are willing to follow him all the way to the cross. 


Prayer

Lord, please forgive my behavior which may not have been wholly in support of you.  I truly desire to be a radical follower!  Amen.