Friday, September 28, 2012

Weighing Words





Scripture

But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.
(Luke 11:39 NASB)
“You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?
(Luke 11:40 NASB)
“But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.
(Luke 11:41 NASB)
One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.”
(Luke 11:45 NASB)
But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
(Luke 11:46 NASB)
“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.”
(Luke 11:52 NASB)

 

Observation


As Jesus became more popular in his ministry he became a greater threat to those who had the religious power. They constantly came after him, trying to catch him in something they thought was incorrect. Jesus was certainly critical of them, telling them that they cared more about how they looked on the outside than how they truly were on the inside, and for Jesus, what was on the inside of the individual is what mattered. The religious leaders also brought the lawyers into the conversation and they too combed over every word which came out of Jesus' mouth. They couldn't wait to catch him in something that they thought was just not quite right. Jesus became indignant with them for he knew that their heavy criticisms and judgements were creating a situation in which people felt stifled -- that they could not express themselves, nor explore greater knowledge for fear of being judged for the words that they spoke.

 

Application


The onset of mass-media has created an environment in which we must also carefully weigh our words. There are certain individuals who want to make sure that we are very clean on the outside and are measuring every word which is spoken or written to see if it measures up to a particular code or standard. The use of certain terminology has been deemed heretical and has brought us to a place where just as Jesus predicted, we cannot even have the conversations which are the keys to knowledge. Gaining knowledge and understanding is not borne out in a vacuum. Sometimes we need the "space" to be able to "think out loud" and work out our salvation. Jesus knew that grace was necessary for people to grow spiritually and yet he complained that the lawyers weighed people down with burdens that were hard to bear. Of course, the lawyers themselves did not hold themselves to this standard.

This morning this story has given me pause as I have thought about who we are as followers of Christ. Within the Christian world I hear and read much criticism of one another over politics, theological positions and our interpretation of the word. By being so openly critical have we created a burden which is too difficult to bear? Have we stifled healthy conversation that might help us engage today's world in a much more effective manner? May we learn from Christ, who is our example, that we must be changed on the inside and extend grace to those around us who may not agree with our opinions but who are working out their salvation in a space in which they have the freedom to not have to weigh every single word which comes from their mouth.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me today to allow you to clean the "inside" -- while at the same time helping me not to judge others from the "outside." Amen.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The One Who Showed Mercy





Scripture

And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
(Luke 10:37 NASB)

 

Observation


This is the final portion of the story of the Good Samaritan. We have all read and/or heard that story numerous times and we know that we are admonished to do good to those who are in need. However, there is more here than just doing good, but showing mercy -- and we are called to do the same.

 

Application

What all does showing mercy entail? There are several texts which give us a clue. For example Luke 6:36 says, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." In other words, this is a part of God's nature -- to be merciful and we are to clothe ourselves in his very nature and respond to our world in the same way that he would respond. The word merciful may also mean showing compassion, forgiveness, sympathy, understanding, leniency and benevolence. This is what God would want us to show to a needy and hurting world!

Interestingly in Matthew 5:48 we find this construct of the parallel found in Luke 6:36. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." How is it that showing mercy is equivalent to being perfect? Could it be that we are to be perfect in the sense that we are to allow God to bring to completion his work within us -- to make us all that we were created to be, and when that happens we are merciful? How counter cultural is that? In a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world, God is calling his people to be conformed to his image - to become more and more like him, and that means that we stop, slow down and show mercy to those around us.

We are told to love our neighbor. How do we love our neighbors? By showing mercy. It's that simple.

 

Prayer

Lord, please help me to show mercy to those around me today. Amen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bad Advice





Scripture

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building,
(Ezra 4:4 NASB)
and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
(Ezra 4:5 NASB)

 

Observation


The scene opens on the people of God wanting to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This wasn't Solomon's temple but the second temple, after the people had been in exile in Babylon. However, the people of God continue to be tempted as the enemy finds whatever way possible to keep them from their task. What better way to keep these people in disarray than to thwart their efforts to build a temple which would unify them in their worship of God. Interestingly the "people of the land" included the Samaritans -- remnants of the Israelites who should have known better. They are the ones who are willing to sell themselves to the rulers of the day and to frustrate the plans of the faithful Jews. One translation says that they bribed counselors to give bad advice. In other words they bombarded them with discouraging news -- telling them that building the temple would not be possible, it would cost too much, there weren't enough people to get the task done, etc. And sadly, they listened and were influenced by the bad advice and did not build the temple.

 

Application


How often do we go to the world around us to get advice instead of going right to God. The people were trying to accomplish the task which God had placed before them but instead of trusting in him, they were willing to listen to the counselors and the strategists who told them that it was impossible!
Just last week my husband and I sat for two hours and spoke with the research department of our denomination. They gave us all kinds of data and information regarding the demographics of our part of the country and the trends regarding Christianity and church growth. To be completely honest -- the strategy experts pretty much said that we live in one of the saddest parts of the country demographically with some of the least fertile opportunities for church growth. We probably didn't need experts to tell us this :) But now we have to ask ourselves what we are going to do with this information. We could use it as an excuse and say that there really is not much possibility to make a difference here -- or, we could be energized by the fact that "With God all things are possible!" We choose the latter -- because we know that we serve a God of possibilities in the midst of impossibilities. We know the end of the story of the Israelites -- that the walls of the city were rebuilt and that the second temple came to fruition. What changed? Their attitudes changed when they got better advice; and from whom did they get that better advice? From God!

Our world is filled with "experts" in all sorts of fields and topics who will be willing to give us advice. It's not bad to get expert advice, but it's wrong if the expert advice draws us away from God's will. There are times in our lives when the enemy uses the advice of "experts" to literally keep us from what God desires for us. The only way that we can find a balance is to spend so much time with God that we learn to discern his voice and his leading. Then, we learn to follow the best advice which we can be given -- the advice that comes from God -- and he is the ultimate expert!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to listen to you today -- to hear your voice as you lead in all things. Amen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Transformation of the Unclean





Scripture

Of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and he was called by their name.
(Ezra 2:61 NASB)
These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.
(Ezra 2:62 NASB)
The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest stood up with Urim and Thummim.
(Ezra 2:63 NASB)
And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone,
(Luke 8:43 NASB)
came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.
(Luke 8:44 NASB)
And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.”
(Luke 8:45 NASB)
But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.”
(Luke 8:46 NASB)
When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed.
(Luke 8:47 NASB)
And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
(Luke 8:48 NASB)

 

Observation

These are two seemingly unrelated scripture passages and yet, in a way they are connected. In the first place we read about a clan of priests who are returning from exile. They are unable to function as priests because they cannot prove their connection to the priesthood. Also, interestingly they have taken the family name of a woman, which is highly unusual. The priesthood was not open to women, and an argument in many churches throughout history is that women cannot serve in the priesthood because they have their monthly cycles which make them unclean.

What is interesting to note is that in the case of the priesthood it was the blood of the sacrifices which made people clean. However, in the case of women it was the blood which made them unclean. Was this as a result of the fall of humanity? That we do not know but we do know that it resulted in the exclusion of women from places of service within the kingdom of God. As God had predicted, the punishment of the woman Eve would reach out through all of humanity and women would be subordinate to men, suffering pain in childbirth and all that comes with that -- including a monthly cycle in which she was unclean to the world. The blood, the very thing which would normally bring life and cleansing, in the case of women brought separation and at times suffering.

This brings us to the brief story of the woman with the issue of blood found in Luke 8. Generally we read over this and hear the story of one woman, but could there be more to its presence here in the gospel? The woman with the hemorrhage would have been unclean for the last twelve years. She knew better than to touch Jesus because touching him would cause him to be unclean. However, just as Eve set things in motion for the fall of female flesh, so this woman by reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus' garment reverses that direction. The symbolism of her healing here is huge, not just for her, but for all women. She is healed of the thing which has made her unclean -- the one thing that makes all women unclean. Jesus' power is revealed because he has come to restore all things, including those things which were corrupted by the fall of humanity. The woman who reaches out in faith can find restoration in Jesus Christ. She may step out in faith and live in the peace of God.

 

Application


The implications for this type of restoration of humanity are huge. Jesus is the second Adam and throughout his life he demonstrates that he is again setting things right, as God has originally intended before the fall of humanity, and the final victory over sin and death comes through Jesus' death and resurrection. Saved female flesh is no longer unclean! No longer does she live in the fallen state of subordination but is invited back into God's original plan of equality for male-female relationships, and into a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ who is the Head -- or source of all things. Through this woman Jesus reveals that he has also healed the female flesh from her time of being "unclean" and this is no longer a prohibition for her to reach out to God through Christ. No longer should it be an excuse within the church to keep a woman from serving at the table -- because she is unclean. Jesus has already done the work of cleansing her!

When the church does not preach this complete message of restoration for all of humanity -- both male and female -- then people suffer. In many countries of the world women and children are still seen as commodities which may be bought, sold and traded. Somehow they are viewed as less than total humanity. This perspective is a result of the fall and Christianity has an obligation to share this news with a world that desperately needs to hear about how God values all human flesh. This is not an American cultural view, but is a biblical view of restoration. It is a message of hope for a world that desperately needs to know that there is good news which is transformational. In some places it may seem to go against the norm of culture, but so be it! The kingdom of God is counter-cultural. Jesus was counter-cultural. That's what made the religious officials so mad! And yet that did not stop him -- he continued to preach, teach and touch people whose lives were transformed.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for opening our eyes to what you have provided for all of humanity. Please, help us to be faithful in communicating what you desire. Amen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Am I Grateful?





Scripture

And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.”
(Luke 7:40 NASB)
“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
(Luke 7:41 NASB)
“When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”
(Luke 7:42 NASB)
Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.”
(Luke 7:43 NASB)
Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
(Luke 7:44 NASB)
“You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.
(Luke 7:45 NASB)
“You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.
(Luke 7:46 NASB)
“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
(Luke 7:47 NASB)
Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
(Luke 7:48 NASB)
Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”
(Luke 7:49 NASB)
And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
(Luke 7:50 NASB)

 

Observation


This story asks us to examine ourselves and see whether we are truly grateful for all the Jesus has done for us. The "reputable" people of the day didn't really think that they were in need of being saved. Jesus had been out preaching, teaching and healing thousands of people. He was making a difference in so many peoples' lives and yet when he entered the home of this man, Simon, he was not even treated with the respect that you would commonly show a guest. Because of the dirt and the dust created by the heat of the climate it was customary for a guest's feet to be washed when they entered a home. This was like inviting someone who has just arrived from a long trip to your restroom so that they can use the facilities, wash up and refresh themselves. It was considered a common courtesy -- and yet, this common courtesy had not been shown to Jesus. The irony is that a woman comes and wipes Jesus' feet with her tears and hair. Of course the host was appalled at the woman's behavior but the end result was that the woman not only paid honor to Jesus, but she herself was saved from her sins.

 

Application


Many of us are privileged to have been raised in the church and we have been taught about Christianity from our very childhood. That is good, but there is also a danger in that we may become like the host who took Jesus for granted and was unappreciative of what Jesus had done for him. In my church tradition, the Church of the Nazarene, we have now existed for a little over 100 years and we have seen a huge shift in the demographics of those who attend the church. We began as a ministry to the down and out -- to those who had done much and needed forgiveness. That first generation was filled with people like the woman in this story and they were so grateful for what God had done for them that they could not keep it to themselves. They had been set free -- they were forgiven! However that first generation gave birth to the second generation -- and that generation had never experienced the sin of the first generation. They were not as grateful as that first generation. And now, we are at the third, fourth and maybe for some, the fifth generation. We have grown up and we are now a respectable people, but somehow we have forgotten what it is that Jesus has REALLY done for us. We treat him with respect -- sometimes. But probably most of the time, we're like this man who didn't even offer him a basin of water. Why? Because it's all become commonplace to us and we have not allowed ourselves to fall in love with him and realize our deep need of him. We may not have lived a life of deep sin like some, but any sin is sin -- and we are all in need of a Savior. He has given everything for us and we need to step back and realize what we have been given and not take it for granted.

I will never forget the blessed opportunity of worshiping together with our pastors in the CIS (former Soviet Union). I was overwhelmed by their passion and love for Jesus Christ but in that room, worshiping together were recovered alcoholics and drug addicts. One day Pastor Roma looked at me and said, "God has done so much for us, there is nothing we can do but praise him!" And praise him they did, and they convicted me of my attitude. It was our pastors who were recovered addicts that taught me a great lesson -- a lesson in gratitude and love toward God. Not only that, but they taught me to worship and to pray for they had a passion which was contagious. And therein lies a secret -- the passion of those with great gratitude toward Jesus is contagious. That's why we, as a people of God, must not simply worship God in respectable places with other respectable people. In that setting, we will not "get" it. We must go back to our roots, to our heritage and purposely reach out to those with great need and help bring them to Jesus. Not just because they need Jesus -- but because we need them too! Congregations must be filled with first generation believers so that those who are third and fourth generations will catch the passion that is present. So that the love of Jesus will be contagious; So that we will have an awareness and be grateful for what Jesus continues to do in our world today.

 

Prayer


Lord, I thank you and praise you today for all you have done in my life. Thank you for allowing me the joy of worshiping with those who have been set free from the bondage of addiction in this world. Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mercy and Judgement





Scripture

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.
(Luke 6:26 NASB)
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
(Luke 6:35 NASB)
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6:36 NASB)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.
(Luke 6:37 NASB)

 

Observation

The Beatitudes are a blueprint for the holy life and through them we are challenged to understand what Christ was presenting to his followers. The kingdom of God is radically opposed to the kingdom of the world and the standard way in which things and people function. Jesus understood that to live life within the kingdom would not necessarily be seen as "acceptable" behavior. We all like to have people like us and we want people to speak well of us but when we are living life in the kingdom the reality is that there will be those who will not like us and they will not speak well of us and we must understand that serving God is not a popularity contest. However, we are not to isolate ourselves from those who don't "get" what we are doing but instead we are to love them. Loving them means that we are to go out of our way to do good things for those who may not like us. We are to lend to them and not expect to get anything back. Why? Because this is what Jesus has done and we are to follow his example and to be his reflection here on this earth. So show mercy and don't judge those who have been hard on you. Sometimes we just may not understand what they are up against, or what they are facing. We are to show the world mercy, and we are not to be the ones who judge.

 

Application


Jesus gives very specific instructions in the Beatitudes about how we are to life the Christian life. It is a radical set of instructions which basically calls on us to be imitators of Christ. But why is imitation of Christ so important to our Christian walk? Is it so that the world can see Christ in us, or is it so that we can literally be transformed through imitation? The answer to both is yes! As we begin our spiritual journey we learn all that we can about Christ and as we follow him, we try to follow his example. We try to live by what he has taught us here in the Beatitudes. As we continue in the journey of imitating Christ we are in fellowship with him in a way which is transformational. There comes a point in our walk with him that our participation in Christ through imitation of Christ becomes so intermingled that we no longer know whether our responses are ours -- by imitation -- or whether it is Christ in us being revealed to the world. This is why Paul could declare, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." He understood that he wasn't asking people to be like Paul, but instead was asking others to follow into a life of imitation of Christ which would ultimately be transformational.

The spiritual journey brings understanding to the fact that we should not be judgmental. Why? Because we are all at different places on that journey and we don't want to do anything to throw anyone off of that path. Too often our criticisms of others makes them want to get off the path and give up on the journey. God has called us to follow him, to become like him, and to draw others toward him on the journey. That's why we must show mercy. Help keep them on the path!!! Our negative attitudes and criticisms will only work to harm those who are trying to follow Christ. Let's ask God to reveal to us what needs to be changed in us and may he be merciful to us while we do not judge the hearts of others. This will be transformational, not just for us, but for others as well.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to seek you today with all my heart. Please, help me to live a life in imitation of you and please help me not to judge those around me. Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Go Home Glorifying God





Scripture

Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God.
(Luke 5:25 NASB)

 

Observation


This is the man who had been paralyzed and his friends brought him to Jesus. So often we remember that he was healed and could now walk but we don't remember how he left the presence of Jesus. He picked up his mat and left glorifying God for what he had done.

 

Application

There is an important message here in the healing of the paralytic and that is that Jesus did not just heal people physically, he healed them spiritually. As a result of his healing this man knew that it was God who had healed him. He entered into a personal relationship with God as a result of what had happened and when he went home he didn't keep it to himself, but instead he left telling people about what God had done for him.

I've been writing a lot lately about responding to Gender Based Violence (GBV) in our world. Why? Because there are many people who are being affected by what is going on in our world and are the silent victims of the violence. I feel that God is calling his children to be a voice and to help make a difference for those who are suffering from this violence. Why? Not just to help heal physical wounds, but so that God can be glorified. Physical wounds may be healed, but ultimately in the issue of GBV people need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ which has the power to set them free! It is the transformational power of Jesus Christ in the lives of people that will make the difference in the long run. We don't need people going home praising a government, an NGO, or an individual -- but to go home glorifying God. Therefore our efforts must be directed just as Jesus was -- yes, to heal the sick, to touch people at the point of their deepest need, but always to point them toward Jesus Christ.

Christianity should be transformational because it should lead people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that transcends culture. The problem comes when we turn Christianity into culture without the power of God's Holy Spirit. When that happens we see people wanting Christianity to change things by force. That's not how transformational change occurs. That can only happen from the inside out. That's what happened to the paralytic. He wasn't just physically healed, he was transformed and the result was that he left that place glorifying God.

 

Prayer


Lord, may my life glorify you and may the ministry you lead me to result in you getting all the glory. Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What's the vision?

Scripture:

Dan. 8:27 ¶ So I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I arose and went about the king’s business. But I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it.


Observation:

Daniel was a man of prayer who spent lengthy periods of time in God's holy presence.  His daily discipline included three separate times of prayer every single day.  He wasn't shy about this practice -- throwing open the window of his home and praying as he looked up toward heaven.  There were times, however, where Daniel received visions as he prayed.  This particular vision came in the third year of King Belshazzar's reign and it was extremely vivid.  Daniel wasn't sure about what he had seen but God sent Gabriel to speak to him.  Gabriel told him that the vision spoke of the "appointed time of the end."  Daniel, a man whose heart was very close to God and to whom much had been revealed, did not know what this meant.  The vision was overwhelming and literally made Daniel physically ill.  While he overcame the physical symptoms, as Daniel went back to work, he was unable to shake the sight of the vision. 

Application:

There are times in my spiritual life where I have literally felt like I have been wrestling with God in prayer.  These times generally happen when the Lord wakes me up in the middle of the night and I feel encouraged to pray about someone or something in particular.  There is literally a sense that you are feeling what God is feeling or that you are seeing what he is seeing and he is asking you to join with him in what is happening in the world.  There are times when it takes physical strength to participate with God we join with him in spiritual warfare.  And when we are finished doing battle, we feel like Daniel -- we are overcome with exhaustion and we have to take time to recover. 

Exhaustion is sometimes the cost of seeing the vision, and I must confess that sometimes I tell the Lord that I just don't think I have the energy to go there -- and then he calls me on, into his vision.  The point is, it's his vision and we need to trust in the fact that what we do and how we engage in the world is simply as God's ambassadors.  The vision wasn't necessarily about Daniel or about what was going to happen in that day.  Instead, the vision was about God and about revealing God to his people.  Daniel was simply a participant together with God in seeing a glimpse of God's future.  As we participate with God in prayer he may give us a glimpse of his future, or he may not.  However, if he does, we must pray and ask God what we are to do with that information, and ultimately we may end up being like Daniel, unable to understand what it means.  It's in that moment that we turn our hearts toward the God who loves us so deeply and so intimately that he trusts us with his vision and we tell him that whether we understand it or not -- we will trust in him.  For the purpose of prayer, as Daniel came to understand, is to know God and to be transformed into his image so that we can become a reflection of him to the world.  So, ultimately, what is the vision?  The vision is to be a radical follower of Jesus Christ who is willing to move forward with God, trusting in him whether we understand the vision or not. 


Prayer:

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus!  Thank you, Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Your Life-Breath





Scripture

Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.
(Daniel 5:1 NASB)
When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.
(Daniel 5:2 NASB)
Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them.
(Daniel 5:3 NASB)
They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.
(Daniel 5:4 NASB)
“Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this,
(Daniel 5:22 NASB)
but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified.
(Daniel 5:23 NASB)

 

Observation


This is one of those Old Testament stories that I have always found very fascinating. This king, Belshazzar, had grown up in the palace with his father, Nebuchadnezzar. He would have experienced the seven years of his father's insanity -- all of which was the result of his father's pride. His father had to learn how to live humbly before God. Now, this young king is full of himself and has an arrogance which results in poor decision making. The God of the universe, the very one who provides for life-breath had been in a personal relationship with his father, and yet this young man chose to ignore all that he had seen and experienced and be a materialist. He called for the goblets from the temple in Jerusalem -- the very items that were consecrated to God, and then, with God's items he praised the gods of material goods -- the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. He had no fear or respect for the God who could give him the breath of life, and that very night his breath was taken from him.

 

Application


The failure of this young king seems to clear to us, and yet can't we just imagine the headiness of being in a party where 1000 people are praising you. The praise becomes almost intoxicating and so somehow you believe you need to prove that you are as good as everyone is saying you are -- and in this case, you pull a crazy stunt -- trying to prove your greatness compared to God. All of this may seem over the top and yet are there times when we worship the god of materialism over the God of life-breath? My mind turns toward the gadgets of our day and how they have come to fill our lives. They can do all kinds of tricks for us and we enjoy them but do we allow them to consume us?
Maybe it's time to step back a moment and remember that we are created to be a reflection of the life-giving God. We are not called to be a reflection of gold, silver, bronze, wood or stone. I'm sure that we can all find examples of us having these items in our lives and things made of these items may be important for our lives, but they certainly cannot be the most important. But if people look at us -- what do they see? Do they see the God of breath reflected in us -- or do they see the god of these things reflected in us?

For many of us we have had the privilege of witnessing the lives of those who have gone before us. These are people who have been faithful in so many ways and God has been faithful to them. If we have had the chance to have these experiences and to see their testimony -- then why would we have any desire to worship the god of materialism? Aren't we just like this young king? We don't need a hand to appear and write on a wall -- we have the word of God. God is constantly calling his people back into a personal relationship with himself. He is our life-breath and we are to be a reflection of him to a world that is dying and suffocating from all its stuff -- the material things, that will eventually suck the life out of us until we are left gasping for air.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me today and every single day of my life to seek you and a daily infilling of your breath. Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Whose house?





Scripture

Then he brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east, for the house faced east. And the water was flowing down from under, from the right side of the house, from south of the altar.
(Ezekiel 47:1 NASB)
He brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate by way of the gate that faces east. And behold, water was trickling from the south side.
(Ezekiel 47:2 NASB)
“By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
(Ezekiel 47:12 NASB)
The city shall be 18,000 cubits round about; and the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there.’”
(Ezekiel 48:35 NASB)
And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?
(Luke 2:49 NASB)

 

Observation


We all have choices that we can make about life and about where we want to dwell and/or spend our time. A common theme runs through the Old and New Testament texts here regarding the house, for this is no ordinary house, but it is the house of God. Ezekiel's words are prophetic and become echoed in the final chapters of Revelation where we see the water coming from the Temple of God in which God has come down to earth to dwell with men. The waters represent the Holy Spirit who flows from the very throne of God, providing all the nourishment which is needed for life, for sustenance and for healing. The little boy Jesus understood all of this. He lived in the moment but he also lived in all of time and when he went to Jerusalem he was at home, for he was in his Father's house. He was instantly drawn to the comfort of knowing this was the dwelling place of his daddy -- and it foreshadowed the possibilities of what were to come for all of humanity.

 

Application


Just about a year ago we moved from our home in Indiana to Ohio. Our oldest daughter had been living in England. Little did we know how much this move would trouble her -- for no longer did she know where "home" was. She didn't know what "home" looked like, or whether there was a bedroom there that would be hers. Somehow she just needed to come and experience "home" and to know that this was her parents' home. A few months ago we brought her "home" so that she could see and experience this new place in which we were living. Her response was interesting. When she walked in the door she said she instantly felt at home -- because mom and dad's stuff was there. The familiar pictures were on the wall. Her bed was in the bedroom. Hanging out with dad and mom was like it normally was -- because it didn't matter WHERE the house was -- it mattered that it was dad and mom's house. That's what made it home.

We are all invited to come home to the Father's house. It is a place in which he will make us feel very comfortable -- where he will supply all of our needs -- and healing for all of our wounds. We ARE his children and as such, we are welcomed in his house. The problem is that many of us seem to think that we are too busy to come home and hang out with him. We seem content to live in a lost world with its accompanying sense of bewilderment when all the while home is waiting for us.

What are we missing out on when we're in the wrong home? The very waters which flow from the house of God -- the presence of God experienced in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit flows from the throne of God and empowers us to live our daily lives. The Holy Spirit brings us comfort in our time of trouble. The Holy Spirit brings healing to our hearts and souls and wounds which have been inflicted upon us from the world. All we have to do is go home -- and dwell in the Father's house.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for the promises and peace which come from your house. Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

For the People





Scripture

Then he brought me out into the outer court and led me across to the four corners of the court; and behold, in every corner of the court there was a small court.
(Ezekiel 46:21 NASB)
In the four corners of the court there were enclosed courts, forty cubits long and thirty wide; these four in the corners were the same size.
(Ezekiel 46:22 NASB)
There was a row of masonry round about in them, around the four of them, and boiling places were made under the rows round about.
(Ezekiel 46:23 NASB)
Then he said to me, “These are the boiling places where the ministers of the house shall boil the sacrifices of the people.”
(Ezekiel 46:24 NASB)

 

Observation


This is a description of the reconstruction of God's temple and ultimately where the Priests were to be located when making sacrifices for the people. Out in the furthermost corners of the courtyard were small private courtyards and it was in these places that sacrifices could be boiled. These courtyards were designed to be near the people who needed them the most -- the ordinary people of Israel.

 

Application


God designed the ministry of his holy temple to be near to his people -- so that it would be convenient for them to fulfill the requirements of the law. The church today must also evaluate whether its ministry is close to, or far away from the people who really need it! Sadly, in some cases, we have become ivory towers -- places which we have made very nice so that we ourselves can enjoy them. We have not put the place of ministry as close to the street as possible, but have sequestered our worship of God behind walls and fences.

Think about this -- what does it take to get to the place of worship where you are? Over a year ago I visited a church on a Sunday morning in the United States. I drove around the building wondering where I was supposed to enter. I really wasn't very sure. Finally I decided on a particular door. I made it to that door and I believe it was a main entrance. That day there was an adult there with a child helping them to "greet." The only problem was that the adult never said a word and allowed the small child to hand me a bulletin, which was sweet, but that was the end of it. No adult talked to me. I walked in feeling a little bewildered. I wasn't sure where to go next. I found some signage and made my way upstairs to find the sanctuary. While many people were there, still no one talked to me. Finally, I walked into the sanctuary and found a place to sit -- all the while wondering if I'd just taken the seat of regular "saint" and might be chided for my location. Now, I am a person who is familiar with attending churches -- usually at a different church every Sunday -- and if making my way to the place of worship was this uncomfortable for me -- imagine what it must be like for those who don't know Christ!

We must do everything that we can to take God to the people who need God. The good news which followers of Christ have to share is for the people -- it is not for us! We must remember that worship is about worshiping God and that the best news we have to share needs to get out to the people who need it. We ought to make our places of worship convenient for those who need to know Christ. We ought to work to break down every barrier which we may have created that makes it difficult for people to come to Christ. This may mean rethinking what we do inside the walls of the church, but it may also make us rethink the fact that most ministry is what happens outside the walls of the church. If we spend all of our time tweaking the things we do in the church building, we will never get to the people who need the Lord, who are outside. Make things accessible -- for the people!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to have eyes to see the world the way you do and to take you out into that world. Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Discernment





Scripture

“Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.
(Ezekiel 44:23 NASB)

 

Observation


God is speaking through his prophet and is preparing a way for when the exiles will return. The Levites are again to fulfill their duties and function as priests, one of which is to teach the people about things which are holy and profane so that they can discern between clean and unclean. The priests are not just to be serving God in the temple but to be the ones who teach and train the people of God -- to be the people of God.

 

Application


These days it seems as if "anything" goes. Society has taught us that being "tolerant" means that we have to accept every single behavior as "acceptable" behavior. The problem with this is that the church has developed a couple of responses to this. One is a rather rigid response that truly is not "tolerant," or rather, shall we say is not loving toward the sinner. Jesus must be our example in this regard. As we think back on the sinners whom he met along the road -- whether Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the demon possessed, the lepers, or the woman caught in adultery -- he did not condemn them. Instead he showed compassion on them, met them at the point of their deepest need, but then instructed them to go and sin no more. When the church becomes rigid, she becomes incapable of reaching out to the very ones who need the touch of the church. This is where followers of Christ, and especially church leadership must pray for discernment. We must pray for God's leading that allows us to be faithful to God and to what we believe, while at the same time being able to reach out and minister to those who so desperately need a solution to their life problems.

A second response is one in which we simply put our seal of approval on everything. The attitude of acceptance and love is to reach out to those who are outside of the faith community but there must be discernment among those within the faith community. Within the faith community there must be discernment and teaching regarding clean and unclean, holy and profane. One area within the church where we have let down our guard is in regard to living together before marriage. All the world does it! It's the normal progression of things on television -- so, why can't we all in the church do the same thing? The progression of a relationship, according to the world, seems to be -- go on a date, sleep together, move in together, have a child together, think about getting married. This type of behavior is literally eating at the very fiber of our society leaving us with poverty levels in the United States not seen since the great depression. Why? Because the number of single mothers has skyrocketed -- because we have the system wrong -- because even the church is not being discerning. If we have children before there is a commitment to a marriage, why do we think that there will be a commitment to raising that child? Secular statistics show that living together before marriage results in a 50% greater chance of the marriage ending in divorce. The priests of Ezekiel's day were to teach their people the right way to live -- a life of discernment. This is a challenge to the church of today. In a world which doesn't want to hear about things which are right and wrong, there are certain issues about which the church needs to be prophetic and be willing to speak out and teach the people of God to be discerning. The priests of God must take responsibility to teach discernment.

There are many more issues which the church is facing today and the leadership must determine how to be discerning. Yes, marriage is an issues, but so is pornography, drug use (making meth) and a general lack of discipline among our people. God is calling us to be a holy people. Maybe we need to not look around and condemn others, but begin with ourselves and ask God to give us a heart of discernment so we know the difference between the holy and the profane -- and not just know it, but embrace it until we ourselves are new.

 

Prayer


Lord, please give me a heart and mind of discernment and lead me so that I can know how to lead others. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

First Things Are Gone





Scripture

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
(Revelation 21:3 NASB)
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:4 NASB)

 

Observation


John's vision is beginning to come to a close as he sees the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. He realizes that what he is seeing is something completely new and different from anything that has ever existed. He has been living in the period of the "first things" and now all of those are passing away. The first things included death, tears, hurt, anger, mourning and pain. In the new Jerusalem none of these will exist. Instead, God wipes away all the tears and comes down to physically dwell with his people and a new era begins.

 

Application

We do live in a world in which there is much pain and suffering. The symbolism of tears expresses so very much. We live in a world in which there is so much pain that the end result is tears. Even good and faithful followers of Jesus Christ struggle when hit with illness and unemployment. The result is that we cry out to God and wonder where he is in the midst of it all. God is always there and he is always with us -- but there is coming a day in which there will be no more tears, no more doubts and God will be visibly present.

For the people of John's day life had spun out of control. The persecutions for the followers of Christ had reached a fever pitch. They had to look forward to the day when God would dwell here on the earth. They knew that for them their death was imminent. We have brothers and sisters in Christ, living in the world today, who are faced with the same types of persecution. We may want to encourage individuals to focus on the already of the kingdom of God, but when you are looking death in the face, you are looking into God's future and you begin to see things in a new and different light. They were waiting with anticipation for the first things to be gone.

There will come a time in life when we too will look forward to the day when all the first things are gone and that we will be able to step into the new and experience the joy and peace of the presence of God who will wipe away all the tears and pain. Until that day, we continue to work in his kingdom and pray that we might be able to bring a little bit of his peace and presence to the world in which we live. But we are encouraged by having a small glimpse of the future which lies ahead, when the first things will have passed away.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for the promises and may we live in those promises with you on a daily basis. Amen.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

God's Sanctification





Scripture

All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You.
(Psalms 145:10 NASB)
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power;
(Psalms 145:11 NASB)
My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.
(Psalms 145:21 NASB)
“When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall be sanctified through them in the sight of the many nations.
(Ezekiel 39:27 NASB)

 

Observation


That title probably seems a bit odd because we all know that God is holy, it is his very nature, and he is not in need of sanctification. However, the world's perception of God comes through what they see in his people. God is not viewed as a holy God if his people are not viewed as a holy people. When God's people act and respond in ways which are not in line with God's character, the people of the world assume that this is God's character being revealed. The Israelites had long ago given up holy living and had given themselves over to so many foreign gods that no one even know who the true God was anymore. Now, God is speaking through his prophet that when they return home from exile, they will be worshipers of him alone -- and by doing this, God will again be seen as a holy God. He will be sanctified because they will lift him up as the God that he truly is. Through the praise of the people, through the blessing of his name, his nature is revealed to all the earth.

Application


This week our world has erupted into trouble and turmoil, much of it blamed on differing religious views. As followers of Jesus Christ I think we need to take time to stop and think about our response. Our response is not just a personal response, but is viewed as a religious response. If the world sees us as Christians, what about our response reveals the God whom we truly serve? Is God sanctified through our responses, or are we revealing some sort of a personal god to the world that in no way resembles the true holy God?

Too often it seems that we speak, or write, or post about things without taking the time to think about the consequences. We do not simply speak for ourselves, but if we carry a particular label -- be it Christian, Jew, Muslim, American, Arab, etc. we must recognize that others around us will connect us to the labels which we wear. Our actions and behaviors do have consequences and they are not just for us singularly but become a reflection of a society and the God whom we purport to be serving and representing.

In reality it is a huge responsibility to think that the reflection of God seen in us is the way that the world will perceive God. If God's people are not sanctified, will the world see God as being sanctified? I believe that as followers of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility to as genuinely reflect the true God to this world as possible. Therefore, we must allow God to sanctify us, to fill us with his Spirit, to allow his thoughts to become our thoughts and to seek him with all our hearts -- before we react. May our reactions only come from him so that the world may see the true God and that he may be a sanctified God through the actions of his people.

 

Prayer


Lord, we seek your mind, your wisdom and your leading for our world today. Amen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Restoration





Scripture

“Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land;
(Ezekiel 37:21 NASB)
and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.
(Ezekiel 37:22 NASB)
“They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.
(Ezekiel 37:23 NASB)

 

Observation


After all the failures of the Israelites, God was confirming their restoration. Their time in exile would come to an end and they would be gathered back together as God's holy people. Not only were they going to be restored, but reunited with one another, and finally, they were going to live according to the Shema -- honoring God as one, and not giving themselves to the idols of the world. The promise of God remained constant -- that he would cleanse them. The relationship would be restored. They would be his people and He would be their God.

 

Application


Aren't we grateful for the promise of restoration? How often in our own lives do we fail and we wonder what that means for us in the long run. What becomes damaged when we fail is relationships; our relationship with God and our relationships with others. Probably most of us can think of relationships that have been damaged through the years. A simple word spoken here or there and feelings are hurt and we withdraw. The once thriving relationship is hurt, or no longer even exists.
 The children of Israel had destroyed their relationship with God, and even with their fellow Israelites all because they had given themselves over to their neighbors. They loved interacting with their neighbors, marrying their neighbors daughters and in return allowing their neighbors idols into their own homes. This wasn't just the ordinary folks of the community involved in this kind of behavior, but it started at the top with King Solomon. Israel wanted to be a respectable nation -- they wanted the people of the world to think that they were wonderful and powerful. In return they sold their soul to the world, and left their relationship with God far behind. God, the faithful Father was left sadly standing in the background wondering where His children had gone. It's a sad picture.

What is it that entices away from God today? What is it that others have to offer us? Are we willing to sell our relationship of obedience with God so that we can be accepted by those around us? Would we seem far too boring to those around us (even those who call themselves Christians) if we lived by a lifestyle of obedience to God? I find the temptation to live as close to the world not to come from those who are in the world, but rather from those who call themselves followers of Christ. Somehow there is a reaction against what is perceived as legalism from previous generations and now it is "cool" to adopt as much of the world as possible. Gone is the seriousness with which people embraced their relationship with Christ and the radical obedience which followed. Instead, little by little we are welcoming in our neighbors idols and before we know it, the Father will have been left far behind. The relationship with God and with God's people will be broken and suddenly we will find that our friends are those who have enticed us out of the place of relationship God had intended. And like the Israelites we may wake up one day to discover that what we've lost is precious -- and that our "new" friends have dumped us off after using us.

The good news however, is that there is complete and total restoration in Jesus Christ. We can come home and allow God to heal our relationship with him and with others. God is calling us home to him and to a lifestyle of radical obedience to him. It is a lifestyle in which relationships are healed with God, and with the people in the world around us. It was in exile that the Israelites buried their polytheistic urges. They emerged a monotheistic nation and have remained so to this very day. God is always reaching out to us and offering us restoration, if only we will leave the things of the world which entice and go running back into his arms. Restoration awaits us all!

 

Prayer


Lord, thank your love which reaches out and restores your people. Help me today and every day to serve you faithfully and may you help relationships which may have been damaged to be restored. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fat Sheep and Lean Sheep





Scripture

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
(Ezekiel 34:20 NASB)
“Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad,
(Ezekiel 34:21 NASB)
therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.
(Ezekiel 34:22 NASB)

 

Observation


This scripture is not an indictment on what we eat or how well we exercise but instead has to do with those who have and those who do not. Even those within the Christian world there are those who have more than others, and not just in a physical sense, but even in the sense of power and influence. Sadly there were those who were in positions of leadership, those with power and influence, who were pushing and shoving the weaker ones to the side. Instead of caring for the weaker sheep, they pushed them aside, scattering them. God was displeased with this behavior because he cares for every single member of his flock, the fat sheep and the lean sheep, the rich sheep and the poor sheep, the sheep with power and those with none. He loves them all the same! However, he expects the fat sheep to have cared for the lean sheep, and if they do not, he will come and judge them.

 

Application


This is a rather sobering thought. Could it be true that there are those among us who are marginalized, and not necessarily by the world, but by God's children themselves? Yes, I believe this is very true and I think that it's one of the issues that the secular world struggles with within Christianity. Recently while in Kenya I learned that the government has legislated that there must be minority representation on all committees which are formed within the country because they believe that there are serious issues of marginalization which must be addressed. It is amazing that a secular government can see the need and be intentional in its activities to be inclusive (caring for the leaner sheep) when so often the church cannot. The church must seriously address this issue of caring for her weaker or leaner sheep and pray for God's leading in creative ways to care for them and allow them a voice within the fold. If not, then we have given them the shoulder, poked them with our horns and cast them abroad.

Within my own life I have come to realize that I am less marginalized than others. God has challenged me of late to consider my own actions and what my responsibility is to the leaner sheep. I believe my responsibility as one of God's children is to care for those leaner sheep, to invite them in, to share power with them, and to help them have a voice. They must feel that they are just as important within the sheep pen as the fat sheep. If we as God's children do not do this, he will come and he will deliver the weaker sheep and then he has warned us that he will judge between the sheep. He will judge one Christian's behavior over that of another. Have we loved one another? Have we cared for one another?

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for the reminder today that we have responsibilities within the kingdom to care for all the members of the flock. Amen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

God is faithful -- are we?

I had written today's entire devotional thought when the computer lost it.  Don't we love those days -- when things just seem to go wrong?  They do happen from time to time, but I was actually quite inspired today by the story in Daniel 3 of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego.  So often our focus is on the fact that these three men are saved from the fiery furnace and that is very true and it's exciting to see how God steps into history and does something like this.  At the same time there is something else very important happening in this event.  The Israelites were in exile because they had been unfaithful to God and had been willing to bow down and worship foreign gods.  This seems to be a very pivotal moment in the life of the Israelites as a whole, not just these three.  This signals a turning point in their relationship to God.  It's as if these three represent the people of God who are saying "enough is enough, we will no longer worship any foreign god."  They are willing to put their lives on the line to be faithful to God and in return, God does just what he had always promised his people -- he saves them.  Therefore this story represents the returned commitment of the Israelites to serve God and him alone -- and God's renewed covenant with his people that if they are faithful to him, he will take care and protect them.

Therefore we see that God is faithful, fulfilling his promises even when his people are in exile.  But the question we must ask ourselves today is whether we are living our lives in faithfulness to him?  Too often I think it's easy to get caught up in describing faithfulness as us "doing" things for God, but does God really need us to do anything for him?  Does he need us to design his strategy for him?  This is God we're talking about -- the one who created our minds!  Does God need us to raise funds for him?  You know, God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills!  God is simply asking us to be faithful to him in our personal relationship to him and he will take care of the rest.  We are supposed to trust in him.  The three young men put their entire faith and trust in God and God took care of the rest.  Not only did he save them, but he revealed himself to them in that furnace.  God's promise wasn't just for three young men, but for all of his people who would remain true to him.  The Israelites had struggled with fidelity over and over again.  They had been enticed to serve the foreign gods, and not only to worship them but to put up altars to them right in their own backyards.  I wonder what kinds of idols we have put up in our own homes?! 

The promise that God gave to the Israelites is a promise for us today as well.  God is faithful -- but are we? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It Is Done!





Scripture

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.”
(Revelation 16:17 NASB)
And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.
(Revelation 16:18 NASB)

 

Observation


Here the final plague is poured out on humanity but this time it's not just on the earth, but it is diffused throughout the air as well. It is all consuming and all of heave and all of earth are able to witness what will occur. The result is that God's complete and total power are revealed to all of humanity -- those who have died and those who are alive. All can see what he is doing and it becomes the climax of all time -- with the result that it is all done. The plagues are over. This is it. God wins!

 

Application


It's done and God wins! This sounds something like a news headline after an amazing football game, however, it's not a game. We are all living our lives here on this earth and there is a constant and continuous battle which is on-going, but we know the end of that battle. Jesus has already come and won the victory of life over sin and death and his kingdom is spreading. The question for us is whether we are going to participate in his kingdom or not? But since we know which side will win in the long-run, why do we even consider being on the wrong side? And yet, that's where many of us find ourselves, fighting the battle and hanging out on the losing side.

The love of God reaches out through all of time and invites us to participate in his kingdom. There are times in life when it seems like it's hard to participate in his kingdom. I get tired and worn out. Sometimes the other side looks enticing and tries to make it all seem so easy and yet I am comforted by the fact that God says it's already done! We know that ultimately the battle is over and so I want to rest in the arms of the one who has won the victory and will carry me through to the very end. I don't want to be enticed by momentary pleasure, but want to stick in there with God for the long haul. I want to know Christ -- I want to follow him -- I want to be his servant and the power of God, the power which is able to move mountains, create lightening and thunder, and shake the earth, is able to keep me as his until that moment when we hear, "It Is done!"

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your staying power in our lives. Help us to love you with all that we have. Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Jerusalem





Scripture

Our skin has become as hot as an oven, Because of the burning heat of famine.
(Lamentations 5:10 NASB)
They ravished the women in Zion, The virgins in the cities of Judah.
(Lamentations 5:11 NASB)
Restore us to You, O LORD, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old,
(Lamentations 5:21 NASB)

 

Observation


Lest we think that the issues facing our world today are new, we find similar circumstances in the writings of Jeremiah. The people who were left in Jerusalem were starving, searching on a daily basis for food. When Jerusalem was overtaken the women were raped -- right there in God's city, in Zion. And now the victims are suffering and trying to survive from one day to the next. Jeremiah cries out to God, for he knows that salvation can only come from him. He prays for restoration, that the Israelites may be able to again step into the relationship they had with their God, for only in this was there hope!

 

Application


It is amazing how history repeats itself and how human behavior doesn't seem to change. Today in Africa there are people starving and in the midst of the famine we find people under unusual stress. Why is it that stress seems to bring out the very worst in human behavior? This stress in Africa has had a similar result as it did in Jeremiah's day. The women are raped, the virgins are defiled! Somehow in the midst of our panic of hunger we use and abuse others around us. It was true in Jeremiah's day, it's true today and it's been repeated over and over again. Although here in Lamentations, in Jeremiah's tears we find a solution. The answer to these horrible situations is to be found in humanities restoration in relationship to God.

When our relationship to God gets out of focus, or when we allow the things of this world to take over the place of God in our lives the end result is destruction. Just as the children of Israel experienced personal pleasure for a period of time, and had been warned of the destructive nature of their behavior, still they chose to go in the direction of worldly pleasures. They probably thought that God didn't really mean it, or the results couldn't really be that bad, or that God really does love everyone and he won't allow anything bad to happen to them. However, this relationship with God is two-sided. It is a covenant relationship in which God desires his people to be faithful to him and in return he does everything in loving and caring for his children. That's why Jeremiah uses the word "restore." Just as a couple who experiences difficulties in their marriage and infidelity -- their relationship must be restored. Our relationship with God must be destroyed if we are to tackle the issues of violence against one another which are the result of sin.

GBV, sadly, is nothing new. What's amazing is that it's been around for so long and we've been unable to do anything about it. Why is it that the church has been silent on the issue? Jeremiah was crying out to God about GBV thousands of years ago! We must cry out to God about GBV today, but we must also look at the root of the issue. First of all, God's people must be in a right relationship with him. We must put aside the things of the world that distract us and focus on him. We must be faithful to our loving God. We must also cry out to him and intercede for those who are victims in this world. We cannot leave them alone to fend for themselves but just like Jeremiah we are called to be their intercessors. And ultimately, we must be willing to share the good news of Jesus Christ with our world, because the root of the problem is a corrupted relationship between God and man. We will not fix problems of GBV by simply trying to treat the symptoms without going to the root of the cause. The cause is that humanity is not a relationship with God. We must be willing to be God's instruments who share the news of the transforming work of God in our lives and in our world which are possible by way of a personal relationship with him. This is the best news the world can ever hear and continues to be in need of hearing to this day. The Christian's response must be a wholistic response, both the spiritual and the physical.

GBV -- it's nothing new, but that may that not be an excuse to allow it to continue in the world. May we take action with the gospel, food, counseling, treatment, laws, water, and education -- to make a difference!

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for allowing us to learn from the past, but please help me through your leading to make a difference for the future. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And God Mourns





Scripture

How lonely sits the city That was full of people! She has become like a widow Who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces Has become a forced laborer!
(Lamentations 1:1 NASB)
She weeps bitterly in the night And her tears are on her cheeks; She has none to comfort her Among all her lovers. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; They have become her enemies.
(Lamentations 1:2 NASB)
Judah has gone into exile under affliction And under harsh servitude; She dwells among the nations, But she has found no rest; All her pursuers have overtaken her In the midst of distress.
(Lamentations 1:3 NASB)
The roads of Zion are in mourning Because no one comes to the appointed feasts. All her gates are desolate; Her priests are groaning, Her virgins are afflicted, And she herself is bitter.
(Lamentations 1:4 NASB)

 

Observation


Lamentations opens on a very sad note leading us, together with God, into a time of mourning. Jerusalem, the crown jewel is now desolate. The people have been taken away into exile and there is very little left. Those who are there cannot continue with the traditions of the past. They can barely survive. Daily the few left in the rubble of what was once a glorious city have to search for food and hope to make it another day. The people of this nation have become slaves. Why? Because the Israelites sold their souls to foreign gods. They were the unfaithful bride. They were willing to sleep around with the other nations but they were not loved by the other nations. God, the faithful one looked on as Israel time after time gave herself away to others who simply wanted to use her for their own benefit and then toss her away like the prostitute she had chosen to become. The result was not just a single life, but an entire citizenry who, when they had run out of resources to give to their pimps, were utterly destroyed so that every last ounce of money could be taken from them and then they were taken as slaves into captivity in a foreign land, no longer to function as the people of God. And God looked on it all and mourned. His heart was broken as he looked on the shell of the great city of Jerusalem.

 

Application


It's a beautiful Sunday morning and I am looking forward to heading out here shortly to go and worship the Lord. It's what I love to do on Sundays. But I'm imagining what it must have been like for Jeremiah as he walked the empty streets of Jerusalem. What would it be like to drive to church today and find that everything familiar to us had been destroyed? Smoke is pouring out of every building along the road as you dodge the piles of bricks and rubble. Eventually the roads are completely blocked and you get out of your car and begin to walk. You hear a handful of voices as a few others begin to pick they way to their destination. Along the way you see an elderly couple, too old to travel, out searching for something to eat. You give them your last granola bar and continue heading toward your church and when you finally arrive you discover that the building has been used for target practice. The enemy enjoyed mocking the Christians by using the church building for entertainment. The minister is gone. That morning a handful gather and try to go through the motions of worship....and in the midst wonder "where is God?"

In America we've had our 9/11 and a few other natural disasters but never anything on the scale that Jeremiah experienced. And yet, I wonder if we may be setting ourselves up for what happened there. This didn't just happen overnight, but was the result of years of infidelity. This was individual and corporate infidelity, and all the time God was mourning. I believe that God looks at us today and he mourns! There are individuals who are faithfully serving God, but as a whole, corporately, where are we? Have we given ourselves to others for a brief period of pleasure? Have we given ourselves over to the god of consumerism and been willing to sell our neighbors and our souls just to have a cheap toy? Has it all been so gradual that we have not discovered what is happening? We are challenged to love God and to love neighbor! These are to be the first priorities of our lives and when those priorities are no longer in alignment, we have to realize there will be tragic results.

We still have time to turn our hearts back to God, individually and corporately. We must seek him with all our hearts and pray for a genuine outpouring of his Holy Spirit among us today. I must be willing to listen to the still small voice of God each and every single day, being obedient to his leadings every moment of my life. It must begin with me and as I love my neighbor, and pray for my neighbor, may the spirit of God overflow and may we be a faithful people. May God look at us and rejoice, and not mourn. May God help us to be the faithful bride which he so desperately desires!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to serve you in obedience every moment of every day. Amen.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

From one Generation to the Next




Scripture

Consider her ramparts; Go through her palaces, That you may tell it to the next generation.
(Psalms 48:13 NASB)
For such is God, Our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death.
(Psalms 48:14 NASB)

 

Observation


God had always been faithful to his people. This is his nature and God's nature is unchangeable. Somehow the Israelites needed to be constantly reminded of the faithfulness of God, for they seemed to forget. The people needed to trust in him and share that from one generation to the next. It was important to understand that the faithful nature of God meant that his presence would be a constant forever.

Application

We've all heard the different lines. "God doesn't have any grandchildren." "The church is only one generation away from extinction." And while these may sound like cliches that we've heard far too often, maybe we need to reflect upon them in a sober manner. The reality is that we ARE just one generation away from extinction and I believe that we are seeing this come to fruition with lightening speed. The children of Israel were as well. This is not a new problem, it is one which the people of God have faced over and over again throughout history and there have been moments in which his people have had to realize that they were at a crisis moment and take action.

The action begins by examining ourselves. How are we living out our faith? Are we living out our faith in a manner which would be pleasing to God? Is our faith consistent with the way in which we live our lives? If the young people of today look at us and examine our lives and our lifestyles, would they see God there? They want to see genuine lived-out faith in community. If they do not see us living our lives consistent with what we preach or consistent with our convictions, they will not buy into our faith. Let's consider the church -- the city -- the world in which we live. May we be faithful servants of God, taking his presence to every nook and cranny so that the world, and the next generation will see that God is alive and well.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to look at myself and my short-comings and may you cleanse me and keep me on a pure path. May my lifestyle reflect you to the world around me! Amen.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Make the Enemy Angry!





Scripture

And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood.
(Revelation 12:15 NASB)
But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.
(Revelation 12:16 NASB)
So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
(Revelation 12:17 NASB)

 

Observation


These scenes from Revelation are a bit cryptic and are, at times, difficult to decipher. However here we do understand that it one who is faithful that is under attack. The enemy is doing all that he can to sweep her away in the tide of his evil and ugliness. The earth responds to protect the woman from the flood of evil which is coming her way and while she is protected it seems to raise the ire or wrath of the enemy and so he goes after her children. The enemy is angry!

 

Application


I'm wondering whether there have been times in our lives that we have made the enemy genuinely angry? Has our faithfulness and/or obedience to God ever been a threat to the enemy? A threat to the point that we face evil repercussions? For those of us in the West we remain protected or shielded from what is happening in countries which are hostile to the gospel. Probably on a daily basis there are those who are losing their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. They are willing to put their lives on the line, along with the lives of their beloved family members, just so that they can remain faithful.

Today I ponder whether I am willing to live in that kind of radical obedience to Jesus Christ. Is my faithfulness to him something that raises the ire of the enemy, or is my walk so shallow that it barely causes a ripple of frustration to him? It's a scarey thing to say, but I believe that God is calling us to radical obedience and faithfulness -- the kind that changes the world. He needs followers who are willing to be so genuinely his that the result shakes the very foundations of the world around us and makes the enemy mad! However, I believe that God is calling us to a radical obedience that will shake the very foundations of our livelihood and will make an incredible difference in our world. We can't be looking for comfort, but for the place where God would want us to stand in the gap, and in standing in the gap, making ourselves and those we love vulnerable. The Christian walk is not about being "safe" in this world -- its about allowing Jesus to transform us to the very depths of our core so that when the enemy looks at us he sees Jesus and it makes him angry!

Does this scare me? Yes, on a human level it truly does -- but with an eternal perspective, we have no choice but to be radically faithful to our Father in heaven. The rest -- I have to leave up to him! He is faithful and he loves us beyond what we can imagine. In that I can trust.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me this day and every day to be willing to be radically faithful to you. Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Kingdom of our Lord


Scripture

Rev. 11:15     Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
        and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign forever and ever.”
Rev. 11:16  ¶ Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God,
Rev. 11:17 singing,
    “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
        who are and who were,
    for you have taken your great power
        and begun to reign.


Observation

At this moment in John's revelation we become witnesses to a cosmic shift.  The earth had fallen under the authority of the enemy and he had ruled causing chaos and destruction but now, a new moment was appearing on the face of the earth.  The kingdom of the world was going to be replaced by the kingdom of God.  Jesus had preached for three years announcing the coming of the new kingdom.  The world, including the religious leaders of his day did not comprehend what was coming their way, but now John was proclaiming it!  "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord….you have taken your great power and begun to reign."  Jesus was now on the throne and the already - not yet - of the kingdom of God was beginning here on the earth.

Application

As I look around at the Christian world it seems that there are those who look at this kingdom in two different ways.  There are many who are awaiting Christ's return and with his return the kingdom.  They still see the world as fallen and that the prophecy is about a future time. Or, there are those who believe that John was referring to a kingdom which was already being ushered into existence.  What difference does it make when it comes to our spiritual walk?  I think it makes a big difference!  If I am waiting around for the kingdom to come at a future time then I don't engage in the kingdom which already exists here on this earth.  Somehow I fail to see the hand of God which is already at work and reigning here and I don't participate in that kingdom. 

Jesus had declared that the kingdom of God was at hand!  John was proclaiming that the kingdom had now come -- that the kingdom of the world had become the kingdom of our Lord!  Jesus' death on the cross had provided that victory and as followers were baptized into the new birth, they were also baptized into the new kingdom.  We are invited to step into the new kingdom which does already exist here on this earth.  We are invited to be active agents of the kingdom in the here and now!  We are invited to participate in the victorious kingdom!  And yet, so often we are content to sit back and wait for the kingdom to come.  We are waiting for something out there in the future. 

God's people are called to be active kingdom people.  Active kingdom people worship the One who is on the throne.  They spend time with their leader and they get their marching orders from him.  They do not act on their own in a fallen kingdom.  Instead, they work together with him to fulfill his will and purposes in his kingdom.  We must open our eyes and see the kingdom of God … just as the elders did.  And when they did, they were overwhelmed with what they saw and had to fall to the ground in worship of him.  That's the kingdom in which I want to serve.  What about you?

Prayer

Lord, I thank you for your kingdom presence already here on this earth.  Please help me to be in tune with you and what you are doing in this world today and join you in your activity.  Amen.