Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Chorus of Praise

A Chorus of Praise

It was Sunday and we were ready to head out to worship.  As we bounced down the road in the bus which had been procured for us, we could hear the singing in the distance.  As we got closer we could see that the singers gathered out near the road dressed in colorful garb, singing and dancing their praise to God.  As we stepped out of the bus they were there greeting us, reaching for us and sharing with us a generous smile.

This is a congregation which has struggled throughout the fifteen years of its existence, however, it took a crisis for things to change.  This region of Kenya is now in its fourth year of drought bringing with it hunger.  The church responded with a feeding program working collaboratively within the community and reaching beyond the boundaries of the local church.  The result is that this church has been able to help many needy and also lead people who are spiritually hungry to Christ.  It was a moving experience to watch the people come and bring their offerings to the Lord.  Some put some money in the offering baskets, but what really caught my attention were the brooms laid at the front.  A number of women make brooms to sell.  They brought in an offering of their brooms.  It was what they had to offer to the Lord and they were willing to give, even in their poverty.

This is not the only example of these peoples' generosity for they are also working on long-term solutions to their issues.  They have been saving money to purchase 50 acres of land on the outskirts of town which can be used for farming.  These people who have so little have raised the equivalent of $4000 to purchase this land.  A donor has provided additional funding for a well so that they will have drip irrigation, and fencing to secure the site.  If these people can have community gardens and raise crops, not only will they be fed, but they will also have something to share and sell within the community.  When families are under less stress their is a decreased chance of violence in the home.  Much Gender Based Violence (GBV) exists in situations of stress, when people act out against one another because they are unable to cope.  Sometimes simply removing the stressor from the situation can make all the difference.

As we left church on Sunday afternoon the chorus of praise continued as they sang and danced around us all the way to the bus.  A joyful people of God amidst difficult circumstances.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Exiles





Scripture

“Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, And I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, Among them the blind and the lame, The woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; A great company, they will return here.
(Jeremiah 31:8 NASB)
“With weeping they will come, And by supplication I will lead them; I will make them walk by streams of waters, On a straight path in which they will not stumble; For I am a father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn.”
(Jeremiah 31:9 NASB)
Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:15 NASB)
“There is hope for your future,” declares the LORD, “And your children will return to their own territory.
(Jeremiah 31:17 NASB)
And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
(1 John 4:21 NASB)

 

Observation


The children of Israel had spent years living in the captivity of Babylon, and yet, God had not forgotten them. The refugees would be heading home. They had suffered over the years and they were scattered. They had suffered physical abuse and yet, they were going home. The wounds of the past would cause them to weep but little by little healing would come. The water would provide strength, cleansing and healing. The new path laid before them was straight -- no longer would they have to stumble and fall along the way. Not only was the path straight, but it was safe -- security was provided. Babies had been lost along the way but God reminded the people that there truly was a hope for the future. But the future hope included a people who were filled with the Holy Spirit, loving God and loving neighbor for the law would be written on their hearts. God's plan for the hope of the future was a people moved with compassion to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in exile.

 

Application


Humanity has a long history of cruelty. I've been reading Madeline Albright's book, "Prague Winter" with its vivid descriptions of the second world war from the perspective of the Czech people. Just when they thought the war was over, the victors came and overran their country. The Soviet soldiers in their victory celebration plundered homes, and raped women, sometimes with the blessing of their supervising officers. The spoils of war were theirs to take and no longer were people seen as humans, but as possessions.

Today I head out on a journey to Kenya, where there are a great many dispossessed people as a result of famine. However, if we study history we discover that many famines are man-made. In today's world famine is often the result of corruption and power struggles. Food becomes a commodity which purchases power and therefore is used as a device of manipulation. It can also be the result of war, as the fighting makes agriculture impossible, or closes trade routes. In the midst of it all are the powerless who become mere things. Often these are the women and children who become victimized and abused. But what is the response of those whose hearts have been changed by the infilling of the Holy Spirit? There is now no longer a heart of stone, but a heart of flesh, one which loves God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. The outflow of that love is a love for humanity which moves us to action. What is that action? Sometimes we don't know but we cry out to God in a willingness to respond and then he opens the doors of response.

I'm praying for the exiles who are currently in northern Kenya and for a little team of individuals whom God has joined together to try and make a difference. The journey is just beginning, but God has already paved the way and we are grateful. I look forward to learning from God along the way.

 

Prayer


Lord, I pray that you will lead us and be with us in this journey to Kenya. Please, help me to have an open heart to all you want me to see and to learn along the way. Amen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Abiding:the necessity, the result, the possibility





Scripture


No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
(1 John 3:6 NASB)
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
(1 John 3:9 NASB)
The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
(1 John 3:24 NASB)

 

Observation

The concept of abiding appears throughout this chapter and becomes key to understanding the writer's concept of living without sin. This concept has been hard for Christians to accept because we are humans who live in a fallen world. How could God expect us to live without sin? The answer comes in this chapter and in the fact that "we," on our own cannot live without sin. We are reminded that the "seed" of God abides in those who are born again -- and that means that when we are born again, God himself abides in us and God cannot sin. It is those who "know" God on an intimate level who do not sin -- but the possibility exists because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

 

Application


The necessity: Learning to abide is necessary for the Christian walk. Those who have "seen Him or knows Him" are not going to sin. Over and over again we are called upon to "seek" the face of God. We are to get to know him so well that we are constantly seeking his face in all things. We are to be his reflection to the world and only when we are turned completely to his face can we be that complete and total reflection. This is how we abide -- by turning toward God, by seeking his face day in and day out, by desiring to be as close to him as humanly possible.

The result: We are transformed into his image and likeness here on this earth! Too often when we look at these passages we think that there is some kind of super-human effort involved in living a sinless life. It has nothing to do with me (except staying close to him) and everything to do with him. If, when people look at me they see Jesus -- they don't see a sinner. They see Jesus -- who lived without sin. We seem to get this wrong imagining that we can live with a list of rules and get it all right and therefore be without sin. The key is to abide and abiding means that Christ is IN us and he is the one who is without sin. The more that he consumes us, the more of his nature is in us and we do not sin.

The possibility: This only became possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It became obvious that humanity could not walk this journey by simply following the rules of the Old Testament. Jesus had to die, be raised again and go up again into heaven so that the Holy Spirit could come and live in each one of his followers. Again -- no one said that we were supposed to try and live a sinless life on our own, but we are to allow the Holy Spirit free rein in our lives.

Sadly, too many Christians want to give excuses for continuing to live in sin -- usually because we're just "human" and can't help but live this way. God's intention for humanity was to abide in him. To be truly "human" is NOT to sin. It is the corruption of humanity which sins. God is calling us back into the original relationship he intended for humanity so that we may all become truly "human" again. The secret to the Christian life is not to focus on trying to be righteous or to live free from sin, but to learn to abide. This is the greatest thing that we can do as followers of Christ -- to simply abide in him -- and then allow him to be revealed through us. He has made it all possible!

Prayer


Lord, may today be a day of abiding in you in all things! Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where is your refuge?





Scripture

It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man.
(Psalms 118:8 NASB)
You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You.
(Psalms 118:28 NASB)
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
(Psalms 118:29 NASB)

 

Observation


The Psalmist knew what it meant to trust in humans. Battles were fought day in and day out and alliances were made on a regular basis, trusting in the strength of humans to make a difference. But at the end of the day humans let us down, and the Psalmist knew this. He knew that the only place to put his trust was in the Lord. As a result he had experienced God's faithfulness and through that, the very nature of God.

 

Application


It is so easy to slip from trusting God for all things, to suddenly trusting in man. It seems to happen in a moment, when we don't even expect it to happen and we find ourselves in a place where we really may not have wanted to go. We step out of that shelter of trusting in God for his leading, and we try to take the reins ourselves and determine which way we are going to go and in doing so, we seek out direction and affirmation from people around us. Our trust comes from other people and that is not what God intended. He intended our trust to be in him and that we would discover that he is our refuge -- He really is all that we need.

Just like the Psalmist it is by trusting in him that we discover his very nature. God is good -- he will never do anything to hurt or to harm us. His is filled with love -- and his lovingkindness will last forever. There is a gentle warm anointing of his Holy Spirit which washes over us on a daily basis as we put our wholehearted trust in him -- he is our rock and he is our strength. He will NEVER stop loving us.

The only way we can be hurt is when we step out of the shelter of his refuge. When we do not stay close to him, when we put our trust in humans, then we place ourselves in a vulnerable position in which we may suffer injury. Every day of our lives we must maintain that place in our walk with him -- in which we find ourselves close to him for He is our refuge!

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your promise. Please give me strength to stay close to you, my refuge, this day, and every day. Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Walking the Walk





Scripture

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;
(1 John 1:6 NASB)
but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7 NASB)

 

Observation


John was sure that there could be no distinction between declaring our faith in Jesus Christ and the way in which we live our lives. This process of walking referred to something continuous and on-going. It wasn't a morning walk or stroll from time to time, it was the on-going act of walking throughout one's life. Therefore if one said that they had fellowship with Christ, and yet did not walk with him on a daily basis -- they were simply lying. There is no way to have on-going fellowship with Jesus Christ if we are not in a continuous on-going relationship with him. Interestingly it goes on to say that if we walk in the Light -- which means that we walk with Him -- then the end result us fellowship with each other. We end up walking the walk with others who are walking the walk and for those individuals they have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

 

Application


Just this morning I was reading my friend Mike Boswith's post about his son Grant. In the last year and a half Mike's son had a strange medical accident which has left him in a coma and daily we are praying for Grant's recovery. In the meantime Mike's dear wife, Carol, had a recurrence of her cancer and after a few short months of a courageous battle, she went home to be with the Lord. Each Sunday Mike continues to pastor his church and in the midst of his pain share the truth about Jesus Christ. Yesterday he asked the question as to whether it's truly possible to love others without loving Jesus? I believe that the profound love that God wants us to have for those around us, the fellowship he wants us to have with those around us must come from the overflow of our love for Jesus Christ. That's why that statement by John is so interesting -- he jumps to saying that when we walk in the Light -- the result is fellowship with one another. This is when we begin walking the walk -- it is seen our love for others and our response to the world around us.

The challenge for us all is to remain in that continuous walk with Jesus Christ on a daily basis. It's not just a Sunday morning thing, and the author's language becomes pretty strong at this point. He says that we are lying if we are walking in darkness and not continually in the Light. Not only are we lying, but we don't even understand what truth is. Why is that? Because Jesus himself IS Truth. There is no Truth but Jesus Christ and anytime we stray away from him we lose our compass which points us in the direction of Truth and when we walk without our compass, we get lost. To truly know him, we will walk the walk, because He IS the walk!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me today to remain close to you in all things. Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

There's always more




Scripture

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
(John 21:25 NASB)

 

Observation


John closes his gospel with the story of the interaction between Jesus and Peter as Jesus reinstates him and gives him an assignment, which is to care for the flock. At the end of that scene we understand that it is John who is eavesdropping and so he is able to share this intimate moment between Jesus and Peter. Soon after this event John brings his gospel to a close, but not really. He reminds us that this is not all that there is not know about Jesus Christ -- it is simply the tip of the iceberg. If he were to write about everything there simply would not be time nor space.

 

Application

I was wondering what would happen if I were to write the story of my relationship with my husband. We've been married 29 years now and it's been a great journey together. I love him more today than I ever have and so, to choose how to tell that story, I would have to simply pick the highlights to tell -- for there is simply too much that we have experienced together to ever really do justice to our story. The same had become true for the disciples. Within those three years of traveling together God had moved on a daily basis and recounting every miracle and every detail of lives that were touched and transformed by Jesus Christ would have been too much. We are left with four gospel accounts from four different perspectives that give us a little glimpse of what Jesus did while he was here on this earth.

Sadly, there are times when we try to put Jesus into a box. We limit ourselves to a literal understanding of him which will not allow our imaginations to run beyond the printed page. What a sad commentary because the Jesus of the gospels wants to jump from the pages of history and intersect with our lives on a daily basis. The story of Jesus' involvement in our world continues to this very day as he has continued to touch and transform lives throughout the centuries -- all the way to mine.

The exciting thing about Jesus is that he is alive and works and moves in our world today, therefore the story continues to be written. There's always more! And we are invited into that more. So, as the story of Jesus Christ continues in our world today, I wonder what Jesus may be asking us to do -- what characters we are to play within the plot which he is creating and designing. We have been created for this purpose, to be a part of His story -- of history -- the question is whether we are allowing him to use us as the characters he's created us to be. Sadly, some of us are missing out on the adventure altogether because we want to write our own story. He's the Master who can take each one of our simple little lives and weave it into his masterpiece -- if only we'll let him. No matter how much we may have already messed up our story, he can take it and redeem it and give it a great ending, for there is always more to come. Hang in there -- let's allow Jesus to take the pen and write our stories -- and trust in him.

 

Prayer


Lord, thanks for writing the story and please help me have the patience to give you time to continue the writing. Amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Gender Based Violence

Just a few years ago the term "Gender Based Violence" would not have meant very much to me, but since picking up the book, "Half the Sky" a couple of years ago those three words have come to haunt me.  Why is that?  Because each day thousands of women in this world are having to live as victims of some type of abuse, simply because they are women.  Sadly it is often religion that holds women hostage and at times, even condones abuse. 

Those of us who are from the Wesleyan/Arminian theological heritage are blessed with a religious heritage which has empowered women for more than 150 years.  The gospel of Jesus Christ provides for spiritual transformation that results in the equality of men and women.  It's why the Apostle Paul can say that "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 (NRSV)."  It is within this tradition that God has been raising up female leaders to speak into the issues of the day.  Women like Catherine Booth stepped into the world and became a voice for those who had no voice.  Jesus constantly spoke up for the poorest of the poor, the sick, and the needy.  As God's followers we are called to speak up for the marginalized of the world.  Women who have been blessed with a religious heritage which has set them free have a responsibility to be a voice for those who are marginalized.  At least, that's what I believe God has been saying to me.

The theme for the next Come to the Water Conference, with which I am involved is "Rise Up."  I believe that God is calling his daughters who have been blessed with more than most women in the world could ever hope for -- to "Rise Up."  That can mean different things to different people, but mostly I think it means that we are to be obedient to whatever it is that He calls us to do.  Several months ago a friend of mine sent me a link to the trailer for the PBS documentary on "Half the Sky."  I was moved as I heard the stories and saw the faces of those who are victims of violence and abuse.  However, the documentary was filled with Hollywood celebrities and while I am grateful that they want to help raise the profile of the issue, I was overcome with the question -- where are the Christians?  That very day I cried out to God and asked him where the Christian women were in relation to these critical issues of the day.  I also told God that I didn't know how to become involved or how to make a difference -- but that if He would provide a way -- I would go or do whatever He asked.

That afternoon I was contacted by a man working as a consultant in Africa.  He had been in Haiti working on a project and met a friend of mine and began discussing a new project which was beginning in Africa and the friend in Haiti suggested that this man contact me.  This new friend shared with me about what is going on in the refugee camps of northern Kenya, and specifically about the women who are suffering from Gender Based Violence (GBV).  The non-profit with whom he was working had been asked by UNICEF to become involved, as a faith-based organization, in addressing the issues of GBV in this camp with over 70,000 refugees. Would I care to become involved?  The answer was a resounding "yes." 

It's been a few months now and it's been amazing watching how God has woven together a tapestry of response to the issue, including raising up a team to visit the site.  On Thursday I'll be leaving for Kenya and by next Monday I'll be at the refugee camp.  I'm not sure what to expect, except that God has been in every detail.  I will be posting updates along the way (when I have internet) on facebook.  If you care to follow along -- please join me there...and pray for the journey. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

We have no king but Caesar!





Scripture

So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
(John 19:15 NASB)

 

Observation


As the day of Jesus' crucifixion wears on we continue to see the "true colors" of the religious leaders. For the sake of their own power and authority they are willing to sell out not only Jesus, but God their father himself. Pilate has declared that Jesus is their King and they are willing to outright reject him, but not only him, but God as well. Instead of affirming that God is their leader and King, they affirm the secular leader of the day shouting out "We have no king but Caesar." At that moment they have denounced not only Jesus, but their loyalty to God. And why? All for the sake of power.

 

 Application


A few days previous these religious leaders had a conversation in which they had said it was best for one man to die for the sake of all. They didn't have a clue that Jesus would do that, providing a path of salvation for all of humanity, instead, they thought it was in their best interest that no one rock the boat politically and/or spiritually. Jesus was rocking the boat and messing up the little power cells which they had established. It would be much better for society if he were gone so, why not plot to have the man killed. Judas is not the only one who sells out his soul for this evil scheme.

Issues of power seem to constantly raise up in our world. Most of the problems in our world are created when people want to have power. The terrible famine in the Soviet Union where literally millions died was man-made. Stalin wanted power over all of agriculture and so in one year he collectivized all private farms. He demonized people who had a cow or two as evil rich people not willing to share. He had the government take over every single farm -- taking all of the animals -- and not getting the crops planted. Everything that survived was sent to Moscow for the leaders to be able to eat and survive, while the very farmers who had tried to provide starved to death. Today we are faced with terrible famine in portions of Africa, famines which are man-made. People are fleeing from wars in which selfish individuals simply want power. In their greed for power they will do anything, including displace women and children.

On a simpler level we must ask ourselves what have we done, at times, to try and gain power? Maybe it's only within relationships. There are times when we might discover that we are playing power games so that we come out on the top of the heap. A carefully placed comment here or there adjusts the division of power. It all seems so innocent, but is it? The results of power plays come from hearts which are not set on God. When he's not in the center of our lives we might be shocked with what we may be willing to do. In hindsight I would imagine that the religious leaders were shocked that they said that they had no King but Caesar. What in the world???!!! How did they get to that point? It didn't happen overnight. It happened gradually as they allowed the world to creep in and have a devastating affect on them and their lives. We must be ever so cautious to never allow anyone or anything to take the place of God in our lives. This only happens when we spend time with him in that quiet place of intimacy on a regular basis. His heart mingles with our heart and we are transformed, no longer wanting the things of this world. The draw of power begins to diminish. May God help us to always remember that He is our King -- and no one else!

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for this reminder today. Please, protect us and keep us from the draw of power -- and may we keep our eyes on you. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Pretense of Righteousness





Scripture

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.
(John 18:28 NASB)

 

Observation


It's the night that Jesus is betrayed and there is betrayal at many levels and by many individuals, not just Judas. It is the religious leaders who have orchestrated the entire event and they are attempting to maintain an aura of righteousness in the midst of a very unrighteous act. They are purposely circumventing their own laws because their ultimate goal is that Jesus will be killed. Their laws don't allow for that so they have to utilize the Roman system to their personal gain and advantage. This includes having Jesus brought before Pilate, and Jesus waiting in the Praetorium for that time. To have gone into the Praetorium would have meant that these self-righteous men would have defiled themselves. In the midst of all of this deception they still wanted to maintain an appearance of righteousness -- they wanted to be the "spiritual" men who would be celebrating the passover with their families.

 

Application


In hind-sight it's easy to look back and be critical of those religious officials who treated Jesus the way that they did. However, I wonder if we do the same thing today. Are there times when we become so busy with what we view as being spiritual that we actually miss the Messiah? What about the needy who live among us and so desperately need to know about Jesus, and yet, because we don't want to be "defiled" we go the other direction. Don't we understand that it is Jesus himself who comes to us in the guise of the weak, the poor, the needy and the marginalized. Jesus was the protector of those who lived on the margins of life and yet to go there might mean that we have to give up our pretense of righteousness.

The religious leaders had their much-awaited Messiah standing right in front of them. Even that night he performed a miracle right in their presence, healing the ear of the man whom Peter attacked! But because he didn't fit their preconceived notions of a righteous person, they were willing to kill him. They wanted him out of their presence for good. He made them too uncomfortable in their religious walk and instead of dealing with their own issues, they were willing to kill their Messiah. While perpetrating a heinous crime, they still had the in back of their minds how they could appear righteous. After spending the night trying to have an innocent man killed, they were worried about being able to go home and be a part of the passover celebration! Crazy!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to stay close enough to you that I will not be drawn away be the desire to "look" righteous. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How well do you know him?





Scripture

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me;
(John 17:25 NASB)
and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
(John 17:26 NASB)

 

Observation


The gospel of John gives us this glimpse of the intimacy which exists between Jesus and the Father as he seems to eavesdrop on Jesus' prayer. The prayer is a beautiful one in which the language weaves together a picture of mutual in-dwelling both between Jesus and the Father, and for those who are united with Christ. It speaks to the alienation from the earth because those who are truly in Christ won't "get" it. The world doesn't know or understand those people. The disciples had undergone a transformation in being with Christ. Christ had revealed God to them for Jesus was the very human image of God on earth and from him oozed love at a level that none of them had ever before experienced. He said that he had made the Father's name known to them. This little statement says so much because to know someone you needed to know their name -- how you were to call them. In knowing the Father's name a relationship and bond was created that would usurp anything which the world had to offer and that bond was held together through love.

 

Application


The older I get the worse I get with names.  I hate it when I look at someone and they are so familiar to me but I cannot think of their name. It becomes embarrassing and frustrating. I WANT to know and be able to speak out peoples' names. Why? Because when we call someone by name, they truly believe we KNOW who they are. We are willing to call them by name because it also means that some kind of a relationship exists and one in which formalities have been set aside and we can call one another by name.

Whenever we go to a restaurant to eat, my husband makes sure that he knows the server's name. He calls them by name and then introduces himself ("Call me Chuck"). Because I see this quite often I find it a little humorous but the reality is that something happens to that server when he asks for their name and then continues to call them by name. Some kind of a barrier comes down and usually they come back and call him "Chuck" and it opens the door for more friendly exchange and conversation. Why? Because there is something personal in knowing someone's name. In this case it seems to say "I care about you as a person, not just as my server."

God wants us to know his name because we are not created to be his slaves, but his children. On a deeply intimate level he wants to reveal himself to us so that we get to know him better. Jesus wanted his disciples not just to know the Father's name, but this was simply the gateway to a relationship in which they could be filled with the Father's love through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, there is no intimate relationship with the Father if we don't get acquainted first. Sometimes the relationship with God needs to begin with a handshake and let me introduce myself. Then we can move onto deeper levels of our walk with him. The result is that he is in me and I am in him and we have the opportunity of this mutual indwelling and mutual outpouring of love and affection. This is why he wants us to know him!

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you so much for the introduction so long ago and allowing me to walk with you. Please, help that walk to be continuously in your direction as you guide and lead. Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Lord IS our Trust





Scripture

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD And whose trust is the LORD.
(Jeremiah 17:7 NASB)
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:8 NASB)

 

Observation


This statement struck me this morning because we often think or talk about trusting "in" the Lord, while at the same time we don't really think about the fact that the Lord IS our trust. There are two different levels of faith here. One is believing and trusting in God to take care of things while the other is at a deeper level where we don't just trust in God for certain circumstances but we allow God to be the foundation for everything in our lives. He IS our trust. When that happens we discover what Jeremiah is talking about in the following verse. When God is our trust then we are sustained by him because we are connected to the very source of help and strength which we need on a daily basis. When God is the trust we don't run out of resources because we are always connected to him.

 

Application


In a practical sense I see this lived out in my daily life with the Lord. I think there are times that I am trusting "in" him and then there are times when he IS my trust. When I am simply trusting "in" him I tend to want to maintain a certain level of control myself. However, when I step up to the level of allowing him to BE my Trust, then everything in life becomes centered on him. There is an incredible sense of peace when we come to that point. There is no need to worry about the things of life because they are all led, directed and watered by the one who sustains all things. This is the place to which God is inviting his children -- a place where we will find a level of peace and contentment as we have never experienced before because we allow God to take the reigns of everything. We begin to understand his will and purpose in the things that we do and that brings great satisfaction. We begin to see that we are his children, his instruments, his tools for his will and purpose here on this earth and there is a sense that I am in him and he is in me and his desires become my desires and again -- there is a place of peace.

I guess I keep going back to that word "peace" because in my own life that is what I have discovered when I remain connected to him on a daily basis -- when He IS my trust. It is such a beautiful place to be and there is such a sweetness to be found in him. We receive strength to sustain us even in the midst of immense pressure -- just as the scripture says -- because the roots run deep. The deep roots take us to the source of help and strength -- to the water -- even when oppressed by the heat of the day. And we are not anxious -- and we yield fruit, not because of our efforts, but because of the nourishment which comes from the one who IS our trust.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for being my trust -- and please help me to stay in that place today, and always! Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We are not orphans!





Scripture

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
(John 14:18 NASB)
“After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.
(John 14:19 NASB)
“In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
(John 14:20 NASB)

 

Observation


Sometimes it seems that we feel rather alone here on this earth -- especially as followers of Jesus Christ. It seems that the world is becoming increasingly hostile to Jesus followers. However, when Jesus spoke these words the situation was much worse. They were a mere handful of people living in a world that wanted to completely destroy them and Jesus is telling them that he is going away.

However, he wanted to make a promise to them, that even if he weren't with them physically -- they would not be alone. Not only would they not be alone but they would not be left disconnected but instead, they would be connected to him and the Father. The opportunity for a relationship would exist so that his followers would not feel like abandoned children, or orphans, but would feel and know that they were in a deep relationship with the family. For the first time here the language changes from Jesus just talking about he and the Father being in one another to language that Jesus would be in the Father, but that we could be in him, and he in us. He knew that this type of intimacy would only be available through the Holy Spirit, and this was the promise of the one who was to come. This promise of the Holy Spirit is what would unite humanity with God and no longer leave us orphaned.

 

Application


This is an amazing truth and if we're feeling down and out and thinking that God has left us alone, we are completely wrong. However, we must ask whether we are allowing the Holy Spirit to have free reign in our lives, thus allowing us not to feel orphaned. Too often when we feel alone it's because we have created barriers that allow the Holy Spirit to fill every part of our being. What might those barriers be? For Thomas it was doubt -- he wasn't sure he really believed. For Judas it was the love of money. Thomas was able to overcome his doubt, but Judas' love took him to his death. The Holy Spirit has power for us to overcome anything which we may be facing in our own lives.

I recently read a book "Outliers" which talks about different people who have been able to accomplish things outside the realm of what would seem "normal." For every one of these "outliers" there were certain events which seemed to align that brought them above the level of just being average. If we look over the history of Christianity we will discover that the difference which created "outliers" was the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Peter -- an ordinary fisherman is radically changed into a man whose life touches the entire world even to this day -- only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul -- a man with a passion to persecute Christians is transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit and becomes the greatest missionary the world has ever known. But then history continues to be filled with others -- the early martyrs, the desert monastics, the heads of movements, the voices of change, the translators of the Bible, etc. etc. etc. All of these have allowed the Holy Spirit to transform them from ordinary to extraordinary as children who are connected to their Father. You see, we are not orphans, unless we choose to be. Who would want to be an orphan? I want to be connected to the Father, and enjoy being his daughter.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for sending the Holy Spirit so that we may live life in a relationship with you -- not as orphans. I love you and thank you for the love you have lavished on us. Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The New Command





Scripture

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
(John 13:34 NASB)
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:35 NASB)

 

Observation


Here we find the closing moments of dinner on that fateful night before Jesus is arrested. As Jesus speaks to his disciples he wants them to know that he has a final command for them, which is a new command. It is a command which reveals the very core of God's nature, which is love! In the past everything had hinged on the law, but Jesus says that the new command is love. The command wasn't just about loving Jesus, because that tends to be easier than loving the people who are around us so, the challenge was that they were to love one another. This was the beginning of understanding the type of community which God was hoping to form on the earth. The church would become the very bride of Christ here on this earth and the members were to love one another. That was the way in which the world would see that they were different -- they were to follow this new command and love one another.

 

Application


When we think about society we realize that most of the problems develop when we do not love another. Self-centeredness and corruption develop when we love ourselves and see others as simply people to be used to our particular advantage. That's been humanity's problem from the time of Cain and Abel. Things quickly deteriorated when it came to relationships. The history of humanity is filled with stories of war and violence because this command to love one another goes cross-wise with our sinful nature.

Jesus knew that he was headed to the cross and there he would deal with the sin problem and that's why he knew that there would be power to love one another. Once the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost everything changed within this little band of followers and they grew into a force which eventually changed the whole world. They developed communities of faith in which people loved one another.

Sometimes I think that this command seems hardest to follow for those who are a part of the church, or who have been in church for many years. Somehow the command to love one another becomes lost and the old sinful nature takes over and we begin to have fights over what "we" want. We forget that church is about God and about us revealing Him to the world.

May God help us to keep our focus on that "new" commandment and remember that this was what it was all about. Can you imagine what would happen if ALL of God's people would work at loving one another? It would really and truly change the world.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to love those around me today and may the world see that those of us in the church truly do love one another -- and we love the rest of humanity too! Amen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

People Disappoint





Scripture

Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.
(John 12:6 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus and his disciples were at the home of their very dear friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Mary was overcome with her love of Jesus, and with obedience to God, and therefore she anointed Jesus' feet with very costly perfume. Judas was indignant at the act. How could she do this; how could she waste something so expensive! He responds by saying she should have sold it and given the money to the poor. What he really meant was that she could give the money to him to manage "for the poor." Sadly, although Judas had been following Christ, listening to his teaching and watching his miracles, he had not really changed. Here was a man who was close enough to touch Jesus on a daily basis, and yet, in his heart he was still corrupt. He was the treasurer for Jesus' team and all along the way he was taking money off the top. He was thrilled at the big offerings, because he could always take more from the ministry and maybe no one would notice. How did he think Jesus never knew?! Jesus knew, and Judas was disappointing.

 

Application


We all have people who come into our lives and disappoint us. In the long run they turn out to not be who we think they are. They may try to be nice and supportive and yet at the end of the day their own personal motivations take over and somehow they just can't be completely faithful to the Lord, or to us. These are people that will, at times, hurt us and leave us wondering what just hit us! But somehow I find comfort in the fact that Jesus dealt with the very same thing within his intimate circle of friends. Even Jesus, the Messiah, had someone around him who was taking from him on a regular basis. And Jesus did NOT give up on him. Jesus loved Judas to the very bitter end.

The truth is, people will disappoint us. People disappointed Jesus. Our responsibility is our reaction to those who disappoint us. Jesus responded in love and we, too, must respond in love, allowing God to lead us in our response. Also, we must recognize that there are times that we may disappoint others, or we may disappoint God. May we pray that God will help us not to fall into that direction, but if we do, may we allow God to speak to us in truth. Sadly, Judas didn't want any help or guidance. Let's not be stubborn and let's allow God and others to gently nudge us back onto the right path.

People disappointing us -- Yes, it will happen. God disappointing us -- can't happen. That's part of this understanding as well. If there is someone in whom we want to put our trust, it is in him -- the one who will not let us down. Too often when we claim that God has disappointed us, it is because someone has disappointed us, not God. May we be encouraged by God today -- the One who is ever faithful!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me not to have my eyes on people, but on You. Amen.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Man's Plans: God's Plans





Scripture


So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.
(John 11:6 NASB)
Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
(John 11:7 NASB)
The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?”
(John 11:8 NASB)
Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”
(John 11:16 NASB)
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all,
(John 11:49 NASB)
nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”
(John 11:50 NASB)

 

Observation


This story of Lazarus is one which I have read and heard many times throughout my life. I've always been fascinated by the fact that Jesus knew that Lazarus was dying and yet he waited until he was dead to come and see the family. In some ways it has disturbed me because Mary and Martha (as well as Lazarus) go through a period of suffering which Jesus could have alleviated. The story does give incredible glory to God and reveals his power to raise from the dead and I've always assumed this was the full reason for the delay. However, today something different struck me and that was that the disciples who were with Jesus never had any intention of going there because they were afraid of being killed. The human plans of the disciples meant that they were seeking safety, not that they had a plan to glorify God in the resurrection of Lazarus.

Later in the chapter we find the religious leaders plotting the death of Jesus. They are concerned about his popularity and that they will lose their positions of power because of him. Wanting to keep everything at the status-quo they decide it's better to get him out of the picture to maintain stability than to allow everything to change should he become to powerful and popular. That's why the High Priest says that it's better for one man to die for the sake of the whole nation. The human plan -- let's get him out of the way by putting him to death. God's plan -- let's have him put to death to save the whole nation!

 

Application


In the midst of our life circumstances we may not see the hand of God at work. We, ourselves, may be guilty of trying to manipulate situations into what we think or believe might be God's plan. When we do that we don't get the full picture of what God wants to accomplish. If anything we see so very little! The disciples thought that saving Jesus' and their own lives was certainly a worthy cause. Jesus wasn't about just saving his own neck, but about revealing the power and the glory of God to the world. Raising Lazarus from the dead was a part of God's plan with a foreshadowing of what Christ would soon do for them all! Sometimes we think that something within the Church, or within our own lives needs to be "saved" when in reality God wants to use that situation as part of his bold plan for the redemption of humanity. We just don't see it -- we don't get it.

Jesus "got it" because he and the Father were one, and the Father's will was Jesus' will and therefore God's redemptive plan for humanity became Jesus' passion. The only way that we can truly function and exist in peace in this world is to get to know the mind of Christ. If we are trying desperately to figure things out on our own we will mess things up! Also, we will live in fear. The disciples were afraid that Jesus would be killed (and they along with him). Jesus lived and moved in confidence that he was in the center of the Father's will. The circumstances of life may throw us for a loop sometimes but we must stay so connected to God and so in the center of his understanding that we can trust in him. It is not our responsibility to try and figure things out, our only responsibility is to get to know Christ. When we remain in a deeply intimate relationship with him, he will lead us and guide us into knowing him in a deeper way each and every single day. Then, we will become at peace in God's plan, not trying to manipulate Man's plan.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to relax and trust in you this day and may you be glorified. Amen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Figures of Speech




Scripture

This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.
(John 10:6 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus used parables and figures of speech to try and help the people understand who he really was and what was happening in the world around them. The truth was that the religious leaders of the day knew what he was talking about, but they didn't want to understand what he was saying because if they did, they would have to acknowledge that he was pointing fingers at them. That made them extremely uncomfortable and instead of accepting what he had to say, they became angry with him, blaming him for his choice of speech.

 

Application

Today there are times that the message from the Lord comes to us through a figure of speech. Sometimes the Lord speaks through a story, or a situation, or someone's testimony and yet our response may be similar to that of the religious leaders of his day. If we really thought about it we would realize that we know exactly what he's trying to say to us through these different methods or vessels, and yet, we complain and refuse to accept the message and we choose to criticize the delivery system. The religious leaders wanted Jesus to stand in front of them and say "I am God!" Of course they wanted him to say it in this way because their true motivation was to stone him. Instead, he kept using figures of speech which made them mad, not because they really didn't understand the message, but because they did -- and it didn't serve their purposes.

How often do we use excuses to explain away our disobedience? "If only I had REALLY known what God wanted me to do!" God is speaking to us today in many ways but sadly, we often the problem is on the receiving side. We put up barriers to him and to his messages to us because underneath it all we may be afraid of what he is saying to us. If God is speaking, we must listen, but not only listen -- we must respond in obedience. I think that's the hard part -- it's the response. It's a response of faith and obedience -- one in which we truly believe what he's saying, and then act on that belief.
God in his creative abilities uses all manner of speech to communicate his love to a hurt and dying world. What is our response?

 

Prayer

Lord, please help me to have open ears, eyes, and mind to what you are speaking to me today, and may I respond in obedience to you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Aunt Shirley





Scripture

And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”
(John 9:2 NASB)
Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
(John 9:3 NASB)
Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.
(John 9:16 NASB)
And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
(John 9:38 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus confronted a man who had been born blind. The people of his day were certain that the blindness was a form of punishment from God. Surely the man himself, or his parents had done something deserving of this man's blindness. Jesus came to bring good news to those who had been born with afflictions. The afflictions were not a result of their sin, or anyone else's sin -- they were not a punishment. Instead they were opportunities in which God could be glorified. Sadly, the religious leaders of the day could not see it that way. They continued to see the man born blind as a sinner and they saw his healing as a sin as well, for he was healed on the Sabbath. In their anger they could not see that the Messiah was standing before them and they sent him away. While the religious men could not believe, this man went away with sight, and a transformed life. He believed -- and he worshiped the Messiah.

 

Application


My dad had a sister by the name of Shirley. She was born in a parsonage on the prairies of Nebraska during the great depression. From the time she was born the family knew there was something different about Shirley. Shirley had Down's Syndrome and apparently, as is not uncommon, this was accompanied by a heart defect. There was no health care available when Shirley was born and it was simply remembered that she was a "blue baby" -- not breathing for an extensive period of time at her birth, but she survived! The result was that not only did Shirley have Down's, but she had extensive additional brain damage from the extended period of time without oxygen. Shirley would never be able to speak, feed or clothe herself. She was in constant need of care 24/7, and the doctors said she would not live very long.

My grandparents loved all of their children and cared for them each, giving them all the attention that they could. For all of their lives they served in the ministry in Nebraska, building one church after another across the State. Grandma was a very talented and attractive woman actively involved in all she could do in the ministry and community, but when Shirley came into her life many things changed. Well-meaning family members accused her of some kind of hidden sin or else should would not have had this child. She and her husband's days became consumed with caring for this "broken" baby.


Eventually life took on a rhythm which included caring for Shirley. The religious relatives never did understand what my Grandparents had done to deserve the punishment of Shirley and Grandma always felt a bit ostracized. But they did not allow the opinions of others to affect the way they saw Shirley. Shirley was a child of God. Shirley was a gift from God. Shirley was theirs to love and to care for as long as she was with them. Shirley had not sinned and nor had her parents sinned -- she was simply a girl with Down's Syndrome, born into a home that would show her love and affection.
Against all odds Shirley remained physically healthy and outlived her parents, living well into her 50's. Why? Because her parents didn't give up on her and God didn't give up on her. My dad was there at her bedside when she went home to be with Jesus. He said that a glow came over her body that night and all of a sudden she looked "normal" -- as if she had been completely healed in that moment of death. He knew that she was now set free from the pains of this life and was whole and complete in heaven, and enjoying fellowship with a father and mother who did all that they could to love and care for her.

Life was made difficult for my grandparents, not because they had Aunt Shirley, but because of the reaction of those around them. Instead of coming in and helping them out with Shirley, the relatives stayed away. Instead of being a support -- people found a way to be critical. Often we look at the religious leaders of Jesus' time and we are critical of them, wondering how they could have behaved the way they did. Did they not see what was before them? But maybe we're not seeing what's before us. Maybe we are reacting in ways that we shouldn't to situations which surround us. Maybe some of us have a Shirley in our families -- someone who is broken by no fault of their own -- and we react -- and we punish by our actions. The one who was broken was the one who said, "I believe." At the end of the day he is the one who is saved, not the religious leaders. May God have mercy on us! I know he did on Aunt Shirley.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your love and patience with us. Please, help me to love the world around me the way that you love. Amen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Liar by Nature





Scripture

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(John 8:44 NASB)
“But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.
(John 8:45 NASB)

 

Observation


We often talk about the nature of God, which is love. God, in the Holy Trinity is a relationship in which pure and holy love can be found as the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the Father loves the Spirit, who loves the Father, and loves the Son, who loves the Spirit, etc. It is an amazing relationship into which each and every one of us is invited. One would then think that the opposite of love -- or hate -- would define the devil, but that is not the case. Instead, Jesus says that in the devil, there is no truth. He is the master of deceit and lies. His very nature is to lie. He is so cunning in his deceit that those who believe that they are followers of God cannot even discern that they are being deceived. Jesus, standing before them, is attempting to speak to them in truth, but they will not hear it.

 

Application


What a cunning practice on the part of the devil, to deceive us with great sounding lies! Why not help humanity to begin to believe that what's right is wrong and what's wrong is right? In doing so there becomes great confusion and no longer do we know what we stand for or what we believe. We are to know the "truth and the truth will set you free." But, what is truth? Truth is not knowledge -- Truth is Christ! We are compelled to know Christ in a deeply intimate and personal way and only when we know Christ and his nature will we understand what truth is. That is why the devil is the opposite of truth -- because he is not Christ! He wants the world to think that he's Christ -- he wants the world to think that he represents truth -- but he is not. Along the way the enemy, who is skilled as a liar will attempt to take us down the path with him.

Living many years in the former Soviet Union I used to sometimes wonder at the way of thinking. I remember one day going to the open market and discovering that they were selling burned-out light bulbs. I asked my friend why they were selling burned-out bulbs. She looked at me rather incredulously and said, "Because they are cheaper." I understood that they ought to be cheaper than ones that really worked -- but why would they even be selling them? Then, the system was explained to me. If you bought the cheaper burned-out light bulb you could take it to work and replace it with one that does work and bring that one home and use if for yourself. Therefore, you could get a functioning light-bulb for cheaper. It was the way the system worked. My brain simply didn't work that way. However, under the years of Communism a system had developed that became so corrupt that literally the things you thought were right were viewed as wrong and the things you thought were wrong were viewed as right.

The Pharisees were the top religious people of their day, and yet they had been deceived. They no longer know the real Truth! They had become hung up on the externals and the enemy had led them astray. This scripture serves as a warning to each and every single one of us. We may think it would be difficult to deceive us, but the enemy is smart and he will try to find a way. We must stay plugged into the Truth on a daily basis or we too will become deceived. The one who is a liar by nature is trying to win us over.

 

Prayer


Lord, I want to know the Truth -- I want to know You. May You and Your Truth -- set, and keep me free! Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Water in the midst of drought





Scripture

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.
(John 7:37 NASB)
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
(John 7:38 NASB)
But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
(John 7:39 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus was preaching among many who were religious people, but were spiritually dry. They were going through the motions and following all the rules, but they had no life in them spiritually. Of course, this preaching made the religious leaders angry. How could he dare stand in front of the people and say what he did? He was revealing to them that he was the Messiah, and that it was through him that they could find living water which would quench their spiritual thirst for all of eternity.

 

Application

In the United States we are experiencing a drought this summer. Vast fields of crops are in danger of being lost because of the extended dry period. Even an occasional rain shower or thunderstorm is not enough to quench the thirst of the ground and provide for a healthy crop. What we need is a steady downpour of rain which comes on a regular basis so that the deep cracks which have formed within the crust of the earth will be melted away and the roots of the plants will be well watered and the crops will grow.

Sadly, it's easy for us to experience drought on a spiritual level as well. When we don't get enough spiritual water we too will become hard and crusty. There will be very little healthy crop. This can happen to us individually, but also corporately. In Jesus' day the entire religious community had become dry and brittle.

The only way that we can avoid these types of dangers is to remain well watered. The water that Jesus promised was to come from the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus went away into heaven so that he could send the Holy Spirit who could come and live within and among each and every single one of us, providing a way in which we could be a well-watered garden. Unfortunately, we often limit the presence of the Holy Spirit to a little corner of our lives when he wants to be right in the center filling us day after day after day with life-giving water and spiritual strength. The droughts that we experience in our own lives spiritually are man-made. We experience drought when we don't allow time and/or space for the Holy Spirit to water us on a daily basis. We must create time and space and allow him to fill us to overflowing on a regular basis. He has promised this for us -- we must just allow him to fulfill what he has promised and the drought will end.

 

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your life-giving water, the infilling of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Growing Spiritually





Scripture

For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images.
(2 Chronicles 34:3 NASB)
Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah an official of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God.
(2 Chronicles 34:8 NASB)
When they were bringing out the money which had been brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the LORD given by Moses.
(2 Chronicles 34:14 NASB)
When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes.
(2 Chronicles 34:19 NASB)
“Go, inquire of the LORD for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD which is poured out on us because our fathers have not observed the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.”
(2 Chronicles 34:21 NASB)

 

Observation


The story of Josiah is really quite amazing. He had become king at the age of eight, and when he was only sixteen, he began to seek the God of David. We will discover later that he didn't even have any written word of God, but instead simply began to seek God with his heart. By the time he was twenty he understood that something wasn't right about the way the people of Israel were living and he began to purge the country of the high places. When he was twenty-six he began to repair the house of the Lord. It was only then that they discovered the word of God which had been lost and when Josiah began to read it, he tore his robes because he realized how far they had wandered from their faith. Now, he was calling the entire nation to repentance. God was able to use Josiah's personal desire for spiritual growth to influence God's chosen people.

 

Application


This is an amazing story of a young person who desires to get to know the God of David. Every now and then we hear stories of those who so desire to know God that even without any training or teaching are able to seek him out and get to know him. There is something profoundly simple in that truth. Too often we make this "Christianity" thing too difficult. Somehow we forget that God's desire for us is not wisdom or knowledge, but a very simple relationship. God loves us and wants us to be in a deeply personal relationship with him. When we seek him out -- when we desire that relationship, we will discover that he has been there all the time, simply waiting for us to respond. He is constantly reaching out to us, and to the whole world, deeply desiring a relationship with us.

Josiah sought out a relationship with God and he began to discover the very nature of God. Without having the book of the Law he understood something about the purity of God. If he was going to love God, there couldn't be other gods around. There was to be purity and fidelity in the relationship, and therefore the other things had to go. When we begin walking with the Lord we will discover that we become uncomfortable with things we may have been doing in the past. We decide that we have to get rid of those in order to be faithful in our relationship to him.

Josiah moved past his personal faithfulness to God and moved into what might be called a ministry of influence. God had been working on him personally and he understood that but now he had to put his faith into greater action and he repaired the very house of God. When we seek God, our relationship with him is developed, we discover the heart of God, and then out of the love which flows from that relationship we want to do things for God. In the midst of that repair which Josiah was doing for God, he received an added blessing -- the word of God. And isn't that just like God? Often in the midst of us doing something for him, we end up being the ones blessed! We don't do things to be blessed, but so often it is the result.

In today's "instant" world we want everything to come quickly and easily, even in regard to our faith. The reality is that our faith is something that needs to be cultivated and nurtured and as that happens, God begins his work in us. Josiah was transformed from an eight year old little boy king into a man of God who tried to lead a nation back into a relationship with God which was vital to their existence. That didn't happen overnight but Josiah was a man who grew spiritually and allowed God to speak and move all along the way. We must never think or believe that we have "arrived" spiritually for there is so much more that God wants to teach us as he daily forms us so that we may be a pure and undefiled reflection of his image.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for the examples from history and for the hope of our relationship with you. Amen.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Glory




Scripture

“I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him.
(John 5:43 NASB)
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
(John 5:44 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus reveals much about himself and his nature and close relationship with his Father in this chapter. There is nothing that Jesus does apart from the Father -- he is connected in a very real sense to the God of all creation and yet, the people of the day continued to reject him. Jesus was representing God and the people didn't want to hear what he had to say. Others showed up representing themselves and their personal charisma, and the people clamored with excitement. They loved the praise which they received from one another and they considered this "the glory." They were willing to put up with a false type of glory because they didn't want to seek what God really had to offer them.

 

Application


Why are we satisfied with the glory that comes from human praise and refuse to seek the face of God and his glory? Are we simply too uncomfortable with him on a personal level that we are almost afraid of experiencing his glory? Has it been so long that we have experienced his glory that we don't even know what it's like and therefore we create a facsimile which does make us comfortable? Whatever the excuse, the sad reality is that we are missing out on the glory of God's presence in our lives both individually and corporately.

Jesus was rejected over and over again by the people of his day. They wanted to depend upon themselves or the practices which had long been practiced. Earlier in this chapter he heals a man who has been lying beside a pool of water waiting to be healed for over thirty years. How often do we wait around for the ordinary when the extraordinary is available to us? To experience the glory of God is to get to know God and to seek him and his face with all that we have. We may have all kinds of fancy preachers around us and we may enjoy listening to them, watching them or following them around, but if they replace God in our lives, we have a problem. Jesus said that the people rejected him while receiving those who came in their own names. Why? Because all that they did was much more palatable to the people of the day. More than likely they wanted one of two things: 1) Their ears to be tickled -- they wanted something that made them feel good and comfortable or 2) They wanted a good show. Jesus was neither of these. He wasn't going to make them feel good or comfortable but he was going to push them from their comfort zones and into his realm. He wanted a people who would be willing to step into his future and be God's instruments in the world, being just as rejected as he was. Also, he didn't want people to be attracted to a "good show." Have you ever noticed how Jesus continually changed his method of healing? He did not develop a particular "style" or "methodology" so that no one could claim those were the manner in which he healed. Instead, Jesus constantly gave glory to God by allowing God to be revealed through him in the fact that healings and miracles constantly came in different ways. This was the way in which the glory of God was revealed.

We must seek the glory of God, and this only comes when we truly seek God and nothing else. I think we must ask ourselves whether we are seeking the glory of God in our own lives and in the life of the church, or are we allowing the temptation of human glory to get in the way? Let's put that aside and seek him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and invite the glory of God on high to come and visit us.

 

Prayer


Lord, may your glory be revealed today in and through all that is done in your name. Amen.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Signs and Wonders





Scripture

So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”
(John 4:48 NASB)
Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.
(John 4:50 NASB)
This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.
(John 4:54 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus had all the power of heaven and earth at his disposal. He could have put on great "magic" shows and yet this was not his mode of action. Instead Jesus came and lived a rather ordinary life until he began his public ministry. Even as he began that ministry he was cautious about his use of power. He didn't want people to be attracted to the power, but to knowing God in truth. I think we can hear the frustration in Jesus' voice when he says, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." It is after this moment that Jesus goes ahead and heals the leaders son, however, he does it in a very low-key manner. Jesus isn't even present when the boy is healed but instead, in a quiet moment in the home, the boy is simply better. However, the people recognize that this healing comes at the moment that Jesus has spoken. His power is so great that he doesn't have to perform signs and wonders, but can simply speak, from a distance and his will is done. This is to know God in truth for it reveals his nature where it is simply normal for him to be able to speak and creation responds.

 

Application


In some ways I think the people may have been a bit disappointed in Jesus that day. I'm guessing they were hoping for a good show and instead they experienced the gentleness of God. Too often we're looking for the "signs and wonders" that we believe are going to reveal God through some kind of big show. However, if we look at Jesus as our example, we discover that he did not work in this way. The goal of our life is to get to know Christ and the way to do that is to seek him daily with all of our being. A life of holiness means that we are constantly and daily being transformed into the very likeness of Christ. As we are transformed into his likeness we begin to take on his characteristics, which includes our involvement in Christ-like behaviors.

Throughout history there have always been those who have had the ability to perform miracles. Most of those who have participated in genuine miracles are God's humble servants who try hard to keep themselves out of the limelight or attention. Why? Because they want the world to see Christ and not them. One of my favorite healing stories comes from the fourth century and a woman by the name of Macrina. She was the sister of St. Basil the Great and she had developed a monastery in their community. Her entire life was devoted to become like Christ and the longer she lived, the more she became like Jesus. A soldier and his wife brought their baby with an eye disease to see her, hoping for a miracle. Macrina was a woman of God, but she also practiced medicine. She promised them some eye ointment but encouraged them to stay with the community of faith through the dinner hour. The man spent time in prayer with the men of the community and he was overcome with their devotion to God. The wife had the same experience with the women of the monastery. After dinner they headed home and were simply reflecting on how they had experienced God in that place -- and then realized they had forgotten to get the medicine for the baby. The baby was with them and when they looked down into the babies eyes, they discovered the child had been healed. There was no fanfare -- there was simply a community of faith loving God in truth day in and day out -- and a child was healed. Macrina was taking on the characteristics of Jesus, and this included his ability to heal, but she didn't want people coming to experience "signs and wonders" but God himself.

What are we looking for today? Yes, there are times that we are praying for miracles. There are people having surgery today for whom I pray for a miracle! And yet -- do we only want the miracle, or are we wanting to get to know the one who performs the miracles. God loves us and wants us to know him -- not just the things he can do for us.

 

Prayer


Lord, I pray that you would help me to desire you -- on a personal level -- on a daily basis. Amen.