Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Was it worth it?





Scripture

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
(Mark 8:36 NASB)
“For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Mark 8:37 NASB)
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
(Mark 8:38 NASB)

 

Observation

These words of Jesus come right after he tells them that they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. However, if one doesn't do that, one does just the opposite. The opposite is to fight for your personal rights and your personal things. Yes, if you do this you might gain all kinds of power and wealth in this world, but is it worth it? Are you willing to exchange eternity for the things of this world?

 

Application


When we stop and think about the things that the world has to offer, we have to as ourselves, "was it worth it?" Jesus was asking the disciples the same question because he knew that what they were forfeiting was their soul and eternal life with the father. You can't live half loving God and half loving the world. Those kinds of divided loyalties are destructive, and Jesus' question cuts right to the heart of it. "What will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Are we so afraid of what the world thinks that we are ashamed of what God wants to accomplish in this world? Are we so desirous of power that we are willing to ignore what God truly wants from us? Is there anything that you can gain here on earth that is worth your soul?

The response should be a wholehearted "no" but I'm not sure that IS the typical response. As much as we want to believe that we are totally sold out to Jesus Christ the simple temptations of the world seem to be lingering around us and trying to draw us to him. We want to look respectable to those around us, we want to be accepted by them. Maybe this religious stuff would look or seem strange to others. Yes, it just might but is it worth your soul? This is not a time to be ashamed of Jesus Christ. This is a time to deny ourselves and to take up the cross and follow him. To the world, or even to others that call themselves Christians we may look a little crazy with our radical embrace of Jesus, but we are called to follow him and we must be obedient to that call, no matter what. And it will be worth it! He has promised.

 

Prayer


Lord, may the distractions of the world fade into the distance as I seek your face. Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Do We Learn from Jesus' Activity?





Scripture

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away.
(Mark 6:45 NASB)
After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.
(Mark 6:46 NASB)
When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land.
(Mark 6:47 NASB)
Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.
(Mark 6:48 NASB)
But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out;
(Mark 6:49 NASB)
for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.”
(Mark 6:50 NASB)
Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished,
(Mark 6:51 NASB)
for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
(Mark 6:52 NASB)

 

Observation


This is simply one of many stories tucked into Mark's gospel presentation and there are many facets of Jesus' life that we can learn here:

1) Jesus took the lead when it came to wrapping up his time with people. He sent the crowds away. He sent his disciples away. Jesus went away to the mountain to pray.
2) Jesus kept a continual watch over his disciples, even when they didn't know it!
3) Jesus had intended to pass them by -- because he knew they really didn't need him in the boat if they would have enough faith.
4) Jesus recognized their fear and therefore spoke to them, and got into the boat with them.
5) Jesus knew that although they had already seen him do so much, they still did not understand.

 

Application


Jesus came to earth as a human to save humanity! In that process Jesus began to experience, not only in his own flesh but in the flesh of others, doubt and fear. This is the amazing significance of our God. Our God loved us so much that he sent his son, not to live as some superhuman, but to experience life as we do. Jesus had times when he got tired and worn out. He couldn't minister 24/7. He needed a break, he needed to get away from people, even from his dearly beloved disciples. Jesus knew that he had to get away alone and pray because without his personal time with God, he knew that he would not have the energy to continue his work. We, too, must get away and get alone with God. We can't continue to burn the candle at both ends and not allow God to recharge our batteries. If Jesus couldn't do it -- why do we think that we can? We must plan our time alone with God to learn from him, to simply soak in him and to gain strength from him.

We are to live out our Christian faith in community and therefore we are to pay attention to and/or notice the community which is around us. That community includes our spouse, our children, our family, and our church community. We have a responsibility to care for one another and to pay attention to the needs of those around us. Jesus went out of his way -- he changed his plan -- to reach out to those who needed an extra sense of his presence with them. Often there will be those around us who will need a special touch and we need to be sensitive to those around us.

Are we ever tempted to give up on people? Do we wonder whether some people will ever "get" it? I'm sure that Jesus did! Just imagine his disciples who got to watch him do miracles on a regular basis, and yet they weren't "getting it." Even earlier in this chapter we have the story of the twelve being sent out and they do all kinds of miracles -- meaning they themselves were healing people -- and they still don't get it on a personal level?? I can only imagine Jesus' frustration -- and yet he never gave up on them. Jesus continued to love and to lead his disciples until he ascended into heaven. He sent them the Holy Spirit to continue to be with them -- to be their comforter. Jesus knew what his disciples (and what we) so desperately needed and he continued to care for those needs and to love them until the very end.

We are to be Jesus to our world. We bear the family name. We are "Christians." We bear the family resemblance. We are not only to look like him, we are to act like him, we are to be his hands and feet to the world. Therefore we are to imitate Christ, while at the same time allowing his Holy Spirit to so fill us and transform us that there comes a time when we no longer know whether it is imitation of Christ, or Christ himself who is seen in us. This is what we learn from him!

Prayer


Lord, may I seek you with all my heart and be a reflection of you to our world. Thank you for the lessons we learn from you, and may I never stop learning from you! Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thorns





Scripture

“And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word,
(Mark 4:18 NASB)
but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
(Mark 4:19 NASB)

 

Observation


Thorns are rather prickly things and are a nuisance when trying to work in the garden. Thorns appear on several occasions in the Bible. Jesus wears a crown of thorns on his head when he is being led to his crucifixion. Paul refers to his "thorn in the flesh," and here Jesus' parable speaks of seeds that are sown among thorns. The only time I've heard of thorns being a good thing is when they've been used as a defensive barrier, but even in this instance they are strategically placed to inflict pain. In this case the thorns are having a direct effect on the seeds. The seeds are not growing. Jesus goes on to give a definition of the thorns -- for they are "the worries of the world, "the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things." What an amazing definition of thorns. And it is these things which make the seeds unfruitful.

 

Application


Today much of America glued to some form of media regarding the mega storm Sandy, or the upcoming elections. I think that these two items could certainly be included in the "worries of the world." However, I'm not sure that it's the big things that choke us up spiritually, but rather the small "worries of the world" that choke us up on a daily basis. When we do not trust in God the "worries of the world" will loom larger and larger and will keep us from trusting in him. We must learn to trust him in the big and little things of this world, allowing him to teach us that we can grow with him. As long as we hold onto the things of this world, as long as we desire to be the ones in control, nothing will blossom.

The second thorn is huge. "The deceitfulness of riches" can drive many people crazy. Somehow we have been fooled into believing that money will resolve all of our problems. There are even Christians who preach and teach about health and wealth. Is that really what God intended for his people? His followers in the early centuries of the church were certainly not all healthy and wealthy. All of the original apostles were killed because of their faith except for John. Doesn't sound too healthy to me! But these people grew spiritually and their treasures were laid up in heaven, not here on earth. We, too, are called to lay up eternal treasures and to not be hung up on the wealth of this world. The wealth of this world will lead us down paths of destruction. Jesus knew this!
Finally, the last thorn is a desire "for other things." There can be a whole list of "other" things, but I believe that anything that distracts from what God wants for us is "other" things. They can be good things. They can be people, or relationships, or sports, or cultural events -- but if they distract us from God, they are "other" things, and they will be like thorns that will choke us and keep us from growing spiritually.

I'm afraid that a lot of seed has been falling in among the thorns. Why? Because I think that we may have an overabundance of thorns these days. God wants us to grow -- to thrive -- to soar with him spiritually but the thorns of life have wrapped themselves around us and are tying us down. Maybe we need to get out the weed killer and get rid of those thorns so that we can be set free to grow into the people of God that he desires for each and every single one of us.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me be aware of any thorns in my life that may be keeping me from growing in you. Amen.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

No obstacles





Scripture

When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
(Acts 28:16 NASB)
After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
(Acts 28:17 NASB)
When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.
(Acts 28:23 NASB)
And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
(Acts 28:30 NASB)
preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
(Acts 28:31 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul had quite a journey to Rome. The boat trip which should have taken just a few days ended up taking months and months. However, Paul never allowed that to be an obstacle to what he believed God wanted him to do. Finally, after arriving in Rome he was allowed to be under house arrest in his own home. He wasted no time. After his incredible journey, on the third day after he arrived in Rome, he called together the leading Jews. He was ready to be at work and to fulfill the mission to which he believed God had called him. We see that during his entire time of house arrest he never allowed his circumstances to be an obstacle to preaching the good news about Jesus. Instead, he constantly looked for ways in which he could, day in and day out, tell people about what was most important to him.

 

Application


I think about how often we find excuses or obstacles to preaching the good news. We are waiting until the circumstances are just right, or until we see a mighty movement of God, or some kind of miraculous act. Paul never, ever sat around and waited. Instead, Paul was constantly on the move, making the very most of every single circumstance to continue sharing about Christ. Nothing ever seemed to be an obstacle to him, instead, he seemed to turn every obstacle into an opportunity.
That is a great lesson for us today. Obstacles are actually opportunities! What would happen if God's children embraced life in this way? What if we could rejoice in every obstacle which is sent across our paths and then ask God to use us in spite of the obstacles, to make a difference in our world. I know that it's easy to get discouraged and to see the obstacles as more than we can overcome. Within our own power that would be true, but we serve a God who is greater. We serve the same God that Paul served -- a God who takes obstacles and uses them to his glory. The result is that they are not obstacles at all, but can be moments of the revelation of God's grace.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to see the obstacles through your eyes! Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Respond Now!




Scripture:

Acts 24:25 And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”


Observation:


Paul had been taken to Caesarea where he was to stand trial.  The governor of the area was Felix, a rather corrupt man.  He made his money by taking bribes from those within his power.  Bribes were not the only thing that he had taken, he had also taken another man's wife.  Drusilla had been married to another man, a king from another region.  She had married him at a young age but by 16 had engaged in a relationship with Felix.  She was a Jewish woman who would have been raised in accordance with the laws of Moses and an expectation of righteous and upright living.  Now, she is around twenty years of age, divorced and married to her second husband, Felix.  It is this couple that invites Paul to argue the faith before them.  More than likely they were hoping to be entertained by his theological arguments regarding his faith.  Instead, he begins discussing the lifestyle that God's people are to follow.  They are to treat people justly, they are to maintain self-control and be aware of the coming judgment.  Obviously this message gets to Felix.  He becomes frightened.  Isn't this a turn of events!  Shouldn't it have been Paul that was frightened to have to argue his case before the governor.  Instead, through the subtly of Paul's message, it is the governor who is in the "hot seat."  Not knowing how to rightly respond, Felix sends Paul away.  Better to have him out of sight than to fill him with conviction.  More than likely Felix thought that eventually Paul would offer a bribe to be set free.  He never does and remains there for two years.  And what about Drusilla?  She appears to be unmoved. 


Application:

Paul could have argued his own defense in front of Felix and Drusilla but instead, what might be easy to miss is that he actually brings a message which he knows will bring convictions to their own lives.  Why?  Is it because he wants them to feel bad?  No, because even in this situation, where Paul is the prisoner, he is trying to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are lost and desperately need salvation.  Felix and Drusilla were lost!  They had made decision after decision that was leading them to a path of destruction.  Paul did not relish in this.  Instead he pointed out that God demands justice and self-control.  Why?  Because these were the points of temptation in Felix and Drusilla's lives.  Felix did not act as a just governor.  In fact, he was a very corrupt governor and that corruption would eventually lead to his demise.  Paul wanted to save the man.  The prisoner wanted to save those who had imprisoned him.  And Drusilla, she struggled with self-control.  She had been willing to throw away a marriage to a king so that she could be with Felix.  She was the daughter of Agrippa I, she was Jewish, she was from a royal household and yet she seemed to be the daughter of scandal.  She had shown no self-control but had simply followed the passions of her heart which had brought her to the place where she was that day.  And Paul preaches out of a heart of compassion, that God's people are to be a people of self-control.

Finally Paul leads into this discussion of coming judgment.  Why?  To scare them into repentance?  I'm not sure that it was about fear, but about realistically placing before them the fact that there would be a day of judgment where they would be held accountable for their actions.  Sometimes we need to experience some healthy fear and respect for God.  I know that in today's day we shy away from some of the negative discussions, but should we?  Paul was simply being forthright and honest with Felix and Drusilla.  They were not living as people of God, and as a result a day of judgment would come! 

Conviction gripped Felix.  He knew he was in the wrong.  But his response is the one that we so often encounter.  Instead of responding to the call of God, instead of repenting, he put it off.  He didn't want to be confronted and maybe it would be easier to go on with life if conviction weren't staring him in the face.  However, we all know that simply putting it off is not a solution, and it wasn't a solution for Felix.  If we are sensing God's leading or conviction on our lives we need to respond -- now!  It is not something that ought to be put off.  God places his truths before us so that we can ask for his help and leading so that we can live our lives as people of God.  Transformation is possible.  Paul was confronted on the Damascus road and that very day he said "yes" to Jesus and his life was never the same. 

What happened to Drusilla?  We know that she lived life, had two children and died in the explosion of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed the city of Pompeii, along with her son.  Her day of judgment certainly came!

Prayer:

Lord, may I be obedient on a daily basis to the truths which you place before me.  Amen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

More than a Damascus Road Experience





Scripture

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”
(Acts 23:11 NASB)

 

Observation


Throughout this chapter in Acts we have insight into Paul's different encounters with Jesus Christ. Yes, he first meets him on the road to Damascus, but that is not the only time. Several times Jesus continues to come to Paul, leading him and giving him direction in life. In this final encounter we see that Jesus comes right to him in prison and speaks to him. Paul has no doubt about what he is to do, for Jesus has given him instructions as to what lies ahead.

 

Application


I think that many of us seek a Damascus Road type of experience. We want Jesus to blind us with a light and speak to us audibly. However, for many of us there will not be an experience like Paul's, and too often we focus on Paul's one encounter with Jesus. In truth that first encounter was just that -- a first encounter. That first encounter led to an entire life which was devoted to serving Jesus, and other encounters with Jesus later on. Usually those later encounters are forgotten in the story and we focus on the one big huge encounter at the very beginning. Too often we do the same thing and we assume there has to be this huge beginning to the relationship, and instead of faithfully following the Lord every day of our lives and opening our eyes to rather ordinary encounters with Jesus, we seek the BIG ones.

Jesus doesn't always come in the big encounters. Yes, he might come that way, but more than likely he comes to us in a small whisper, or the sweet breath of God blowing gently on our cheek and waking us up in the middle of the night to have a heart to heart conversation. The reality is that for Paul, and for us, our walk with the Lord is not about waiting for a Damascus Road experience, but about tuning into Jesus on a daily basis and recognizing him when he does speak to us. It is about a relationship of intimacy which does not need to be a blinding road-side experience.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to have eyes to see you in the ordinary events of my day and ears to hear your gentle words of leading and guiding. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Do Not Shrink





Scripture

“And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.
(Acts 20:25 NASB)
“Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
(Acts 20:26 NASB)
“For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
(Acts 20:27 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul was saying his farewell to the people of Ephesus. He had come to love these people who had become his congregation. They were now followers of Jesus Christ because of his zeal and desire for them to know about the kingdom. So intent was he that he was able to say that he was innocent of the blood of all men. In other words, he had been so faithful in preaching the word to everyone that he was not guilty for those who did not respond. He had provided them with an opportunity because he didn't shrink from declaring the whole purpose of God.

 

Application

What was the whole purpose of God? It goes back to Paul's understanding of the kingdom. God's purpose is for his children to be full-fledged members of the kingdom. The kingdom is a place where God's transformed people live out their lives while still here on this earth, not living as people of this earth, but as people of the kingdom. And Paul was not ashamed to preach this whole purpose!

Sometimes I wonder whether we find it convenient these days to shrink from preaching the whole purpose of God, for God doesn't call us simply to a life of being "saved." Instead, he calls us to a radically transformed life with kingdom citizenship. The demands of this life are much greater than what most people would want to accept. I believe that for the most part people want a simple Christianity -- one that makes them feel good on Sundays -- and a devotional life that is about as short as the drive through the Starbuck's drive-up window line. Then we think that we are good to go -- but we are not. And if in any way, shape or form we have been advocating this type of Christianity -- or rather, kingdom life, then we are shrinking. Paul didn't mince words and he didn't always make people happy but he challenged people to understand God's whole purpose and his whole purpose was radically different from anything they had experienced. His message reached to the heart of peoples' daily lives and evidently had such an impact on the citizenry of Ephesus that it changed the local economy. Now, that's transformation.

I am challenged by Paul's statement that he is "innocent of the blood of all men." I believe that means that daily Paul didn't shrink from his calling. Everywhere he went he shared about Jesus Christ and no one would be able to blame Paul for not giving them an opportunity to enter the kingdom. Now that really sets me back and I wonder how many times I have shrunk from an opportunity. How many people have I sat next to an individual on an airplane and they would never know that I'm a Christ follower? Sometimes I envy the Catholics because they wear this garb that lets the world know that they are priests or nuns or monks -- but the world knows. Somehow we protestants travel incognito. The other day a priest was on the flight and I noticed he spent the whole time reading his Bible. I believe that his posturing simply became an invitation for anyone to speak to him about spiritual matters. Do I do that? Or do I blend in with the world to the point that I shrink from my responsibility? When I travel I preach from and read from the ipad -- but that hides even more the fact that I'm reading the word!

I don't want to shrink from what God would desire for me to do in the kingdom. I don't want to allow people around me to be lost simply because I've never shown them the way. I want to preach the full purpose of the kingdom and I want to be a part of a kingdom community that embraces the challenge to live life radically in the fullness of the spirit. There can no longer be business as usual. Paul gave everything he had to the people in Ephesus while he served there. May I pour out myself in service to where God has placed me today, tomorrow and in the days to come. I will not shrink!

 

Prayer


Lord, may your Holy Spirit empower me not to shrink from your calling. Amen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seasons of Ministry





Scripture

And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent;
(Acts 18:9 NASB)
for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”
(Acts 18:10 NASB)
And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
(Acts 18:11 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul had many ups and downs in his life and ministry. When he arrived in Corinth he worked for a period of time as a tent-maker, supporting himself so that he could share the news about Jesus. After a while his companions arrived and they were able to support him so that he could work full-time preaching. This is what he did and yet, he was constantly under attack. The Lord came to him and spoke to him telling him that no longer did he need to be on his guard. He could now freely go on speaking. He didn't need to be silent because he was not going to be harmed. He obeyed and trusted God and was able to settle in for a year and a half, providing a great time of discipleship and teaching among the people there.

 

Application


For all of us who are followers of Christ there are seasons in our lives when we may be called to have different responsibilities. One cannot look at Paul and find a cookie-cutter solution to what serving God looks like. Just some interesting things to note about this story:

1. There were times when Paul had to work to support himself. To be able to move into a new area and do ministry, Paul had to shoulder his own financial responsibility. We do not see that he grumbled about this, but instead, simply went out and found work and did it -- more than likely -- quite well. He allowed his work to also be a place of ministry and it is through his work that he became acquainted with Priscilla and Aquilla. God used the season of work to make a difference.

2. There were times when Paul was afraid. How do we know this? Because now God is telling Paul NOT to be afraid! I believe that Paul had a healthy fear which determined the boundaries of his ministry. There were times when he knew that he could not freely preach the gospel. He had to be wise and discern when and where he was able to preach and/or teach. There are seasons in our own lives when it may not be the smartest thing to be openly preaching the word. There may be times that God gives us a healthy fear and direction to know when to keep silent. This is okay, if it is truly from God.

3. Paul allowed others to support him and his ministry. For a man who could support himself I'm wondering if, at times, it was frustrating to become dependent on others. However, there came a period of time when Paul knew that he was to preach full-time and trust others to take care of his personal needs. I doubt he was rich -- but his needs were met. He knew that this period of time was for teaching of new believers and he poured himself out to them.

4. Paul discipled the new believers, teaching them for a year and a half. There were times in Paul's ministry when he was an itinerant preacher -- going from place to place preaching the word of God. Then, there were times, like this, when he was to simply stay in one place and teach the people there what they needed to know about walking as a follower of Christ.

If we believe like Martin Luther in the "priesthood of all believers" and the calling of all believers to do ministry then everyone can find themselves somewhere in Paul's story. The point is, there is not a "right" place in Paul's story. Too often we are looking for the "right" way to do things when in reality there are many ways and many seasons into which God may be calling us. Maybe right now we are to be silent and ask for God's discerning what he desires from us. Maybe we are to be engaged full-time in the ministry and trust God and others to care for our needs. Or maybe we're supposed to go out and get a job and allow God to use that for us to reach people who desperately need him. Whatever the place in life, God knows where we are and we are simply to be obedient in whatever our circumstance. Obedience and knowing Christ are the key, the results are up to him!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to be obedient to you and your leading and calling in my life today. Amen.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Leadership Principles from the Word





Scripture

“An idiot will become intelligent When the foal of a wild donkey is born a man.
(Job 11:12 NASB)
So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter.
(Acts 15:30 NASB)
When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
(Acts 15:31 NASB)
Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.
(Acts 15:32 NASB)
After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out.
(Acts 15:33 NASB)

 

Observation


As I read the different texts this morning different principles jumped out at me. First of all, the verse in Job is actually quite funny and I don't think I've ever paid any attention to it before. Job's friend is trying to give him advice and discover that his friend has quite a strong opinion about idiots! In other words, there are certain people out there in the world who do try and give advice, or who try to be leaders and are doing so far too much under their own strength and prowess. As long as we try to do it all on our own, without God, we will be like the idiot who has no chance of becoming intelligent, because there will never be a day when a wild donkey will give birth to a human. Therefore trying to be a leader on your own, without God's wisdom is complete and total foolishness.

In the book of Acts we discover some very practical principles from the Apostles. They were dealing with a really tricky issue which was brand new to them. Did they try to resolve it all on their own? No, they went to God for leading and for guidance and he brought them to a new understanding. This new understanding broke the paradigm to which they were accustomed. The good news of Jesus Christ was to be available for the Jews and the Gentiles and the Gentiles were not to have to be circumcised the way the Jews had been. Their understanding was about the interior life of the individual, not about following all the old covenant rules. In many ways this was a miracle that could only occur because of them allowing God to work in their lives.

 

Application

Looking at these scriptures we can form several ideas about leadership.

1) Leadership always seeks God's wisdom when it comes to decision making. To do anything otherwise would be completely foolish, the result of which may be that we look like an idiot.

2) After wrestling over a response to a difficult situation they took off with a plan of action. They knew what they were going to go and do.

3) Their plan of action included communication. They were careful to be inclusive when it came to their communication. They gathered the entire church together.

4) Their communication was both verbal and written. To make sure that the information was clear and consistent they wrote down what they wanted to say in a letter. They read the letter to the people, but also left the letter with them so that there would be no confusion as to what was being said.

5) The letter and the communication was done in a very positive manner. The people did not go away feeling condemned, but instead, felt encouraged. They were so encouraged that they rejoiced!

6) The encouragement was reinforced with positive preaching and teaching. The leadership team knew that continual preaching and teaching was going to be necessary for the development of these people.

7) The result of the positive cultivation of these people is that when the leaders moved on, they went in peace. There was no anger or animosity, but a sweet sense of the peace of God that went with them.

Prayer


Lord, thank you for practical lessons from your word which we can apply to our lives. Please, help me to apply these to my life and ministry. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stop making crooked the straight paths




Scripture:

Acts 13:9 But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him
Acts 13:10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?


Observation:


Paul encountered a man who was a false prophet and also a magician.  He was influential with the leaders of the area, able to share with them what seemed to be great words of advice, as well as do magic acts which gave the appearance of great power.  However, when Paul met with this man, he could see right through him.  He could see that this man was simply trying to improve his personal image, gain power and use it for his personal benefit.  Also, while pursuing his own personal good, he was very willing to lead others astray.  God has provided straight pathways for us, but self-interest turns those paths into winding roads which lead to destruction.

Application:

As followers of Christ we must pray for a discerning spirit.  God is good and faithful and has prepared straight paths for us.  What does that mean?  It means that when we are sensitive to him and his leading, it becomes easy to know the direction in which we should go.  Unfortunately it tends to be the voices of those who appear to be well-meaning individuals that can lead us astray.  Why was Paul able to discern who was a true follower of Christ and who was not?  Somehow he was able to see right through this individual for what he really was.  He could see that he was the "son of the devil" an "enemy of all righteousness," "full of deceit."  What's amazing is that the proconsul could not see it!  This man had come in and dazzled the leadership team with all of the wonderful things that he could say and do.  They were blown away by his personal prowess, charismatic personality and bag of tricks!  The result was that the straight paths that God had prepared for his people were being made crooked.  Being a follower of Christ was being portrayed as something it was not, and made much more difficult than God had intended.

In reality there may be times that we are making the straight paths of God crooked by our very own behavior.  We may think that we need to take the matters of life into our own hands and when we do, we make the straight paths crooked.  Suddenly we discover that we are no longer trusting in God for his leading and guidance and instead of following his easy path, we end up somewhere that he had never intended.  One day we wake up and wonder how in the world we have arrived at this destination rather than the one that God has prepared for us.  It's time to stop trying to do things with our own human power, to stop making the straight paths crooked, and completely and totally depend upon him.

Prayer:

Lord, may my life be one of complete and total dependence on you.  Amen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Day to Give God the Glory!





Scripture

And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.
(Acts 12:23 NASB)

 

Observation


This simple little verse tells us the end of Herod's life. He wanted to believe that he was more powerful than God and he wanted to take the credit for the things he had accomplished. God had enough, and Herod dies an ugly death.

 

Application


Today is a special day in my life and I want to give God the glory! In just a couple of hours I will head to the famous Whitworth Hall at the University of Manchester where I have the privilege of participating in the graduation ceremonies, officially receiving my Ph.D. The journey here has been very long and arduous, and to be quite honest, I don't have the personal skill or ability to have completed this degree. However, I do believe that "with God all things are possible!"

It has been a six year journey that has brought me to this day. Actually, it's many, many more years than that but we'll just think about this last leg. The reason I have to give God the glory today is that the way God has shaped me and formed me in the last six years as a result of my study has been beyond anything I would have ever imagined. People used to ask me why I was doing this and what I was going to do with it when I was finished. Even at that point I didn't really have an answer because it's always been more about the journey than about the destination.

I have been blessed with the chance to have an intense study of holiness and to get to know two families from the fourth century who struggled with what it meant to live the holy life. Sometimes they were successful and sometimes they weren't, but they taught me about perseverance, about the journey, about giving praise to God, and about the fact that when I unite myself with an infinite God the journey will never, ever come to an end.

Today is just a marker along the road of the journey that leads into an ever more intimate relationship with God. Today I get to celebrate, but it's not about me -- it's all about him! I give God the praise and the thanks and the glory!

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you! Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not a God of Partiality




Scripture:


Acts 10:34 ¶ Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,
Acts 10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Observation:


Peter answered the call of God and moved out of his comfort zone to a people whom he had always considered unclean.  This experience was for him personally, but also corporately for the Jewish Christians who began to realize that the good news was for all the world.  Peter's message here expresses the fact that God does not show partiality.  God doesn't favor certain people over others.  This was a huge statement because it meant that God did not favor the Jews over the rest of the world.  The new covenant changed everything and now the door was open to the infilling of the Holy Spirit to all of those who would open their hearts and lives to God, allowing him to transform them into the people of God.

Application:


This statement by Peter is so very significant, the idea that God shows no partiality!  It also means that we should show no partiality, and yet, I'm afraid it's so easy to do that just.  If we think about it, we tend to feel the most comfortable with people who are like us.  Who do we hang out with?  Who do we minister to?  And yet, God does not show any partiality!

If we think about it we tend to fall into patterns where we see "normal" as looking just like us.  Whether it's the way that we define success, ministry, or even godliness.  God shows no partiality to nationality, gender or race!  The reality is that there are multitudes of cultures that exist in the world --even sometimes within our own microcosms.  Where we live in East Ohio there are numerous cultures present in a very small geographic region.  Being a student of Church History I've enjoyed learning about the different groups which settled in the area, but they have all left a lasting imprint on the region, and a different culture.  The Friends who came over from Pennsylvania settled around Salem and were incredible people of peace who helped with the underground railroad during the civil war.  The Scottish came, and continued to invite their friends from back home to come and settle in an area called the Scottish Mile, establishing numerous Presbyterian churches, and bringing with them their culture.  The Moravians came and brought with them a deeply contemplative spiritual life and German-speaking culture, as well as a missionary spirit.  The Amish and Mennonites came seeking freedom to be separate from the world and worship God in the way that they believed he was calling them.  Our cities became populated with immigrants seeking work in an age of industrial revolution.  Entire groups from the "old country" came and began to work in the steel mills, pottery factories and rubber plants.  Communities of Italians, English, German, Greek and Easter Europeans began to dot the countryside.  On this west-side of the Ohio river we were also a "free" state so that those who had been oppressed by slavery could move into the area and enjoy a new-found freedom.  And today, the migration from the south continues as Spanish-speaking individuals move into the region.  And not only from the South, but from South Asia as well and daily I see my neighbors walking through our community dressed in their clothing from their native India.  Therefore, within a region that is only a two hour drive east-west and three hours north to south, numerous cultures can be found! 

And yet -- I have to confess, our church looks rather monolithic!  I think we would need to be willing to confess that we have been comfortable with those who are most like us and to reach out beyond those barriers makes us uncomfortable.  Peter was extremely uncomfortable and didn't think he could do it -- until God got ahold of him and gave him a vision to reach beyond the barriers which had been placed around him.  Now, he understood that God is not partial!  All people who fear God and do what is right, are acceptable to him.  If that is true, maybe we need to ask God to help us to break through the barriers which we may have personally created that keep us from reaching out to a very diverse world that is in need of knowing Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me today to see the world with your eyes -- and love ALL of those who you have placed around me.  Amen.

Do you know Saul?





Scripture

But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
(Acts 8:3 NASB)
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,
(Acts 9:1 NASB)
and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
(Acts 9:2 NASB)
and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
(Acts 9:20 NASB)

 

Observation


Saul was a very capable and successful man who worked hard at everything he did. During the period of time when he was persecuting the new believers, he did it with everything he had. He breathed "threats and murder" against the disciples. He believed they were wrong and he was going to destroy them! He was very well connected politically and he had authority from the High Priest! He even got letters in writing to take with him and prove who he was. But when he met Jesus, everything changed and all the strength and the energy which he had to destroy the followers of the The Way, went into preaching about the Messiah. All the skills, abilities and talents went into use to proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God.

 

Application


Last week I was in Moscow and on Thursday afternoon we had the privilege of having tea with our former neighbor. Timofei and Larisa lived next door to us for nearly nine years. They became our friends, they watched out for our children, and they taught us much about Russia. Along the way Timofei gave his life to Jesus Christ and has now gone on to be with Jesus. Larisa reminisced about the changes in Timofei, the man he became in the final years of his life. She brought out a picture album and it was about 3/4 full of old pictures from his years of service to the Soviet government as a scientist and as secretary of the Communist party. These were old black and white photos -- and included he and his wife and their children as they grew up. But at the back of the album, the last quarter, it was filled with color photos -- nearly all of them of his new life. They were pictures of him at church, with his church friends, and sitting around our table eating meals with us. And while he was aging, there was a twinkle in his eye that was even evident in the pictures. God had transformed him.

One day Timofei said to us, "I was Saul, but now I am Paul." At first we didn't understand, but he went on to explain that one of his responsibilities as the secretary for the Moscow Communist party was to determine the fate of those who had gone to church and worshiped on Sundays. Some he might send to Siberia (and possibly their death), others he persecuted by sending the KGB after them, or restricting their freedoms or simply making life miserable. He never thought that Jesus could forgive him for the things he had done, until one day he asked Jesus to set him free -- and he did. And last week, we sat around his dining room table, rejoicing and thanking God for what he had done for Timofei.

After Timofei had been walking with the Lord for quite a while his old communist friends began to be concerned. They thought he'd lost his mind so they made an appointment for him to meet with an Orthodox Priest. They thought surely a priest could knock some sense into him and get him away from that Protestant sect! I will never forget the day he returned from meeting with the priest. He came to talk to us -- that glint in his eye. He said that his friends thought that the priest could talk him out of the new life he had embraced. He said, "I spoke from the Word so much that the priest didn't know what to say." Timofei had preached the Word to the priest and left the priest simply dumbfounded. Timofei took all of his skills and abilities and threw them into following Jesus and learning everything he could about Him!

Many of us may know a Saul. Maybe they're not out actively persecuting Christians, but maybe they are taking a huge talent and using it to their own glory, or for personal power or political gain. What would happen if God would get a hold of them? What if we really allowed God to get a hold of us? I am convicted today and realize that every single thing I have is from God -- and it's not for my own personal benefit, but for his benefit. Therefore I must use every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that so desperately needs to know that Jesus is the answer. Saul immediately went out and proclaimed Jesus! That is the call to each of us today. Leave the past behind and move into the new future which God has prepared, where we are willing to proclaim Jesus in all the seasons of life!

 

Prayer


Lord, I need you to help me to be focused on you day in and day out. Please, use me for your kingdom's purposes. Amen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Keeping Right On!





Scripture

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
(Acts 5:41 NASB)
And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
(Acts 5:42 NASB)

 

Observation


The apostles were singularly focused. They knew what they were to be doing every single day and that was to tell others about Jesus. They wanted to be faithful to Jesus and so they gave everything they could to him every single day. Their positive feedback came in the form of punishment. When they were punished for spreading the word about him they rejoiced for it simply reinforced that they were doing what Jesus had called them to do.

 

Application


Sometimes it can be easy for me to become discouraged. Being back in Russia for a few days has reminded me about just how difficult life can be here. Simple tasks in the US become a major project and the emotional and physical energy to complete the tasks can suck all the life out of you! We all have moments like this when we simply don't feel that we have the energy to go on, and yet, we are called to go on! We are called to keep on keeping on! The first century followers of Christ were not encouraged by outsiders. Rather, they were torn down, criticized, beaten and told to keep their mouths shut. What did they do in the midst of those circumstances? They praised the Lord -- and they went out and continued to do what God had called them to do, and what they were called to do is the same task to which we are called. We are to be God's people who day in and day out keep on keeping on, teaching and preaching Jesus! The obstacles of life should actually serve as catalysts to the ministry. Yes, things are difficult, but it is in the difficulties that we see God do his work. We are encouraged in the midst of the persecution and in the obstacles for they simply become more circumstances in which the power of God can be revealed in our lives! Let them throw the stones in our paths -- because if we make it through the obstacle course it will not be to reveal who we are -- but rather who He is! We must not give up -- we must keep on doing his work every single day.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me today to be your servant in all that I do! Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Where does our walk take us?





Scripture

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
(Psalms 1:1 NASB)
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
(Psalms 1:2 NASB)
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
(Psalms 1:3 NASB)

 

Observation


The Psalmist reminds us that God has prepared paths for us, if we simply choose to take those paths. There will always be those around us who will encourage us to go in a different direction. The wicked will be giving us counsel -- only we probably won't think that they are wicked. Instead we will believe that they are trying to give us wise, earthly advice. It will probably sound rather reasonable and logical to us, but if it is not God-directed, then what is it? Of course we think of those who are sinners -- those who are truly taking a path to destruction and most of us want to head off in a completely different direction and then we might run into scoffers. They taunt us and tease us about the decisions we've made. They make us second guess ourselves as we go along the path but we are invited into the Lord's path. To find this way we must be willing to meditate on him day and night -- and in doing so we will find incredible delight and joy. We will discover that his path is not that of this world but we will rise about that and be amazed by God and what he can do! And by planting ourselves in him -- we will be fed day and night by the waters of the Holy Spirit, leading, guiding and directing us into eternity.

 

Application


The hours flew by yesterday as we shared in the open-house at Moscow First Church of the Nazarene. Chuck and I reminisced about the years we had spent there and the people whose paths had in some way brought them to Jesus and to the church. There were many who were not there yesterday, because today they have found their eternal rest. But there were also those who weren't there because they have chosen to take different paths and no longer find their path leading them to Christ.

It doesn't matter where we live in this world or what we do, the call to follow God is the same! The temptations along the way are the same. The world is constantly calling out to believers to walk a path which may seem a bit easier, or is advertised as being more fun. But where does that walk take us? What is hidden behind the next hill? Do we know? Of course we don't, and that's the ploy of the enemy. He tries to get us to walk down a path that will lead to destruction because we can't see what's hidden behind the next curve. God doesn't work that way. He asks us to trust in him; to plant ourselves in him and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, and feed us on a daily basis. Then, we will walk the paths that he has prepared for us and even when life throws things at us, he will be with us, helping us and leading us.

It's Sunday morning -- where will your walk take you today?

 

Prayer


Lord, I pray for an outpouring of your Holy Spirit as we worship today. May you come here -- and around the world. We desperately need you to draw people back to the path which they have chosen to leave. Amen.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Taking Time to Understand the Word




Scripture

They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
(Nehemiah 8:8 NASB)

 

Observation


The walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt and it is time for the people to celebrate and to recommit their lives in service to God. Ezra is called upon to bring out the holy book and to read from it the law of God. Interestingly, while it is written in Hebrew, the people are struggling to understand what it says and it needs to be translated for them. Why is that? Some of them had been living in Babylon and may have spoken that local language for most of their lives. What should have been their native language was now a foreign tongue, one with which they struggled. Also, through the years different words had taken on new meanings and so simply reading from the book they were unable to understand its meaning. It took a holy man of God to place the words from the book into context.

 

Application


I grew up in Germany where my parents were missionaries. My mother had been raised in a German-Russian community in Canada where they only spoke German at home. She had to learn English when she began attending elementary school. However, her German was not the same German which was spoken in the Germany where I grew up. The German-Russians were colonies of German citizens who had moved to Russia under Catherine the Great. She lived from 1729-1796 and the time of her rule roughly covered the period of time of the American Revolution. She was originally German but married the Russian Emperor, moved to Russia and after his assassination she came to power. She invited groups of Germans to come to Russia and live along the Volga River, southeast of Moscow. While they were provided with land in which to settle, they also were to be a human buffer between the Mongols and the Russian people. These people came from Germany, settled in Russia, and retained their lifestyle, culture and language, always living as Germans in Russia. After a hundred years the contract which Catherine had with the Germans concluded and life began to change. Little by little many began to leave and make their way either back home to Germany or to a new adventure in the Americas. My mother's family was part of the latter -- first coming to Nebraska, making their way to the state of Washington, and then finally settling in Alberta. All the while they brought with them their lifestyle, culture and language. However these people remained isolated from Germany and the developments which had occurred. In some ways it's as if they lived in a time warp, frozen in time from the 1770's.

Fast forward to Germany in the 1960's and my mother wants to try out her German. The young people from the church have come to our home to visit and my mother wants them to sit down and enjoy supper. She looks at one of the young men and thinks she's telling him not to be so "shy" but to have a seat. He gives her a very strange look, but sits down. Later that evening after everyone has left the apartment she goes to the dictionary to look up the word that she has used for "shy." It had always meant "shy" in her understanding of the German language but -- oops, the word has changed meaning and now it means "idiot." My mother had told the young man to not be such an idiot -- but rather to have a seat. No wonder he looked at her and wondered what she was saying!

Even in the last 50-60 years words have taken on new meanings and if we try to explain them with our literal understanding we will make mistakes. Too often people try to do this with the word of God. I have had many a good-meaning friend say that they don't need anyone to tell them what the Bible means because they can believe it literally! Well, can we really? If you are reading an English translation of the word you are reading the best idea that a well-trained translator has of what they understand the original text to be saying. However, you are not looking at a literal word for word translation because if you were -- it would probably not make sense. There must be a scholar who has studied who is able to read the word and help us to put it into context for us, and the reality is that every person who does this will give us their particular slant on the word. Each one of us reads the word with their own preconceived notions, or interpretation of the word. How many times have I had people tell me that they like to go to a non-denominational church where the preacher just preaches the Bible and none of that "theological stuff" that comes from a particular person's perspective. The reality is that you cannot escape the "theological stuff" and just because a pastor doesn't mention their theological perspective doesn't mean that you aren't getting it from them! You are, because we need it!

The Jews could no longer understand the word of God. They needed someone to interpret it for them. Most of us today cannot read the word of God in the original languages, and even if would could read the languages we would not necessarily always understand the context because we are so far removed from it. But this does mean that we have to take time to prayerfully and studiously look at the word of God. We need to allow God to speak to us through the word and form us into his people by what we learn from the word. We have to take time to understand the context in which it is written and then ask God how it applies to us today. What we must be careful about is becoming dogmatic about what we call "literal" interpretations because ultimately we have to realize there is no such thing. A literal interpretation would actually be much easier, but the word of God invites us into a personal relationship with God and the Word! Relationships are very personal and growing things that mold us and shape us. That is God's intent for the word. Therefore it must become a priority in our lives to read the word, but at the same time ask God to use it as a living and breathing instrument to shape us and form us.  We must be willing to go and read and study other sources so that we have a good way of understanding the word.   Only in this way will we be able to fully allow the Word to make a difference in our lives.

Prayer

Lord, I am so grateful for your word which teaches, changes and transforms me.  Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Do not be Discouraged





Scripture

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
(Nehemiah 6:3 NASB)
Then I sent a message to him saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.”
(Nehemiah 6:8 NASB)
For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
(Nehemiah 6:9 NASB)
Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.
(Nehemiah 6:19 NASB)

 

Observation


Nehemiah was doing the job that God had called him to do and he was showing his leadership among the people, however, there were those on the outside who were doing everything they could to discourage him. Nehemiah had tried to be a noble and upright man. He hadn't even used the money sent to him, which he could have used, for his food. He tried to be honest and above board and yet those who were against him tried to undermine his leadership. They tried to entice him, thinking they would make him feel important, by sending him an invitation to meet with them. Nehemiah knew the job to which he was called and that was to work in Jerusalem. He was not enticed by the a flattering invitation. Next, word reached Nehemiah that stories were being invented regarding him personally and his leadership. He would not be dissuaded, and he stood up for the truth, while at the same time continuing the work. He refused to be discouraged by the things that were being said about him. Finally the others, representing a leader named Tobiah, came to Nehemiah and told him about all the wonderful things that Tobiah had done, but Nehemiah responded with truth. That means they took what he said, twisted it and reported it to Tobiah who sent back a threatening letter just to try and frighten Nehemiah. But he was not discouraged and moved forward in completing the work to which God had called him!

 

Application

Probably most of us have experienced a Tobiah in our lives and the enemy would like nothing better than to have us derailed from the task which God has placed before us. Nehemiah was not unkind to Tobiah, but he was firm. Nehemiah remained faithful to the task which God had placed before him and even in the midst of personal attacks and lies which were being spread about him, he kept his eyes on what God wanted from him.

Nehemiah is always upheld as a great leader and one from whom we can learn leadership principles. Why? Not because everything always went well for him, but because he learned to navigate life's difficulties with the grace of God. In reality, there is nothing more that any of us can ever do in life but keep our eyes on God and serve him wholeheartedly. Only by doing this can we keep from discouragement.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your eternal truths. Amen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why were they there?




Scripture:

Neh. 3:12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
Luke 23:28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
Luke 23:29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’
Luke 23:30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’
Luke 23:31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Observation:

In both of today's readings we find women present in rather improbably situations.  In the story from Nehemiah we find a ruler of Jerusalem who, along with his daughters is making repairs to the walls of the city.  Why were they there?  Some commentators suggest that they were not really physically present, rebuilding the walls, but simply were wealthy women who could pay laborers to rebuild their section.  While this might be true, the actual mention of the women in this place becomes curious.  The reality is that as you read through Nehemiah it doesn't sound like there were many "extra" people around who could have been paid to do the labor.  Every person they could grab in the city was either helping to physically rebuild a section of the wall, or standing guard, protecting them from their enemies.  This would lead us to believe that these women truly were out there with the men of the city, working with their bare hands to rebuild a section of the wall.  And why not?  They were living in desperate times and their father was head over half of the city!  One would image that he did not have any sons and so it appears that he rallied his entire family to go and work together with the rest of the believing community to build a future for all of them.  Unusual times required unusual action! 

This brings us to the New Testament passage where Luke interjects these women into the story where Matthew and Mark do not include them.  Why?  Somehow Luke seems to notice the women in the entire Gospel story more than Matthew and Mark.  Combined Matthew and Mark mention women 49 times in their gospels, but Luke alone mentions them 43 times.  What was it about the presence of the women that Luke believes is important for us to know?  Somehow he wants us to know why they were there.  On the day of the crucifixion the mobs and cried out for the death of Jesus.  The very ones who had experienced what Jesus had to offer were now the ones who wanted him dead.  Somehow we have thought that it was a turn-around of the entire crowd, but Luke gives us a glimpse into the confusion which was occurring that day.  Not everyone wanted Jesus crucified and the women of Jerusalem saw him for what he really was.  They were not crying out for him to be crucified, but were weeping and beating their breasts because he was dying! 

Jesus turns and looks at them and tells them not to weep, but this is not a condemnation, but rather a comfort.  He doesn't want them to worry about him because he knows that worse days are coming for these women.  Jerusalem would fall in a few short years and the suffering that the women of the city would endure would be more than many could bear.  It had always been the prayer of women that they would not be barren, that God would open their wombs and they would bear children.  However, today Jesus looks at them, knowing the suffering that lies ahead and tells that they will now be blessed if they do not have children in the coming years because if they do, they will suffer even more watching their children go through persecution.  It would be better at that time to not have children!  It would be better if creation -- the mountains would cover and protect them from what is to come. 

Application:


While it may seem out of place that the women were present in these circumstances, it appears that God was using them to make a difference.  Whether we are male or female, it doesn't matter, but there are times when we find ourselves in unusual situations.  The important thing is that no matter the circumstance, we are to be obedient to God.  Circumstances should not dictate our behavior -- and for that matter, nor should culture.  Over and over again we recognize that being faithful to God is counter-cultural and in that way we may end up in places that we may never have imagined.  Why were these unusual people there?  Because they looked beyond the expectations of others and were simply obedient to God.

Prayer:

Lord, may I be willing to walk into whatever circumstance that you desire -- for your glory!  Amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Where does leadership begin?





Scripture

When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
(Nehemiah 1:4 NASB)
“O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.”
(Nehemiah 1:11 NASB)

 

Observation


The book of Nehemiah has great lessons for leadership and Nehemiah himself becomes an example of the type of leadership that God desires. Right here in the opening chapter of the book we find Nehemiah hearing news of the situation in Jerusalem. He is overwhelmed with the condition of his homeland. A burden is placed on his heart and he cannot get away from the sense that God is asking him to respond to the situation. He literally goes into a state of depression as he grieves over what has happened in his homeland. For days he mourns and weeps, but not only does he grieve, but he also cries out to God. He does not simply wallow in the depth of his emotion but he fasts and cries out to God. He realizes that God alone can help him in these circumstances for the who in their right mind could think that they could bring about the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. While praying Nehemiah becomes acutely aware of God's plan and then he begins to pray into God's plan for success. This is not a human plan, but very distinctly he recognizes God's desire and he doesn't pray for the whole plan, but just for the next step. He is going to have to broach the subject of helping Jerusalem with his boss. How will this go over? He doesn't know but he has to ask God to pave the way and for his boss to have compassion on him. This is the first step in the completion of God's plan.

 

Application


There are times when I feel that God speaks to me and genuinely gives me a plan for what he wants me to do, but I'm also a rather impatient type and I love to see the whole plan laid out before me -- from start to finish! I'd love to know the end game from the very beginning. I am also more of a 'doer,' than a 'be-er.' I don't know if that makes sense but I tend to feel like I'm getting in there and doing what God wants me to do when I am busy doing things. The problem is that this can get me into trouble because I may take off and "do" things without learning what God really wants me to do.

The leadership principles we learn from Nehemiah are:

1) Great leaders take time to pray! It is in praying that we become more of a 'be-er.' We are in a state of 'be-ing' or certainly of being transformed. We recognize our weaknesses and we place them before God and learn to trust in him for guidance and direction. As we read through the word of God we discover that every great leader took time to go off by themselves and pray. They also fasted and prayed. In other words, they took prayer very seriously and realized that without the leadership of God in their lives they could do nothing! In our fast-paced world taking time to pray may be viewed as a waste of time. How in the world do we measure prayer? We don't -- because it's not about 'doing' but about 'be-ing.' Nehemiah spent an extended period of time in God's presence before he ever took action. We, too, must learn to spend extended periods of time in God's holy presence before we jump into the business to which God has called us.

2) Great leaders take things one step at a time. While God may have given Nehemiah a vision to complete the reconstruction of the walls, Nehemiah also realized that there was a way to get there. He would never be able to complete the reconstruction without the approval of his boss. Therefore he didn't spend time praying for the walls to be rebuilt, but he prayed that God would speak to his boss and that his boss would be compassionate with him. This was the immediate need! There are times when we go to God in prayer and instead of being sensitive to what we need to do in little chunks, we pray for the whole big picture. There is a place for praying for the big picture, but there is a need to also depend on God's leadership in the little steps that need to be taken to get to the big picture. Great leaders understand and follow God's leadership of the little steps which must be taken to get to the big picture. Those who only focus on the big picture tend to get frustrated when it doesn't come to fruition -- but that's because they've not been willing to focus on the little things that are needed to get them to that point. Sometimes the little things seem insignificant in the big picture -- but are they? No, a great leader understands the little things and is willing to invest time, energy and prayer in the little things that become the building blocks to the big picture.

Prayer and God's guidance in the little steps -- that's where we need to begin! Neither of those two probably sound very "successful" in the world's eyes, but serving in the kingdom is not about being "successful" by human standards, and kingdom leadership begins by understanding this, and knowing that the principles which are followed are not necessarily of this world.

 

Prayer


Lord, I want to listen and be obedient today in the little things. Amen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Holiness Unto the Lord





Scripture

And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one.
(Zechariah 14:9 NASB)
In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “HOLY TO THE LORD.” And the cooking pots in the LORDS house will be like the bowls before the altar.
(Zechariah 14:20 NASB)
Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the LORD of hosts; and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and boil in them. And there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts in that day.
(Zechariah 14:21 NASB)

 

Observation


This passage of scripture is the place where we find the old King James Version using the phrase "Holiness Unto the Lord." This is what was to be written or inscribed on the bells of the horses. What was the significance of this event? Zechariah is prophesying about a major change which will occur in the days ahead. In the past only the High Priests were the ones who were holy enough to enter into the Holy of Holies and meet personally with God. To infer that the bells on the horses -- on an animal could have anything to do with holiness might have almost sounded absurd, but the key to this is in verse 9 where we see that Zechariah is seeing a day in which God will be the Lord and king over the entire earth. Everything within the structures of the past will change.

This change came about through the work of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Holiness moved out of the confines of the Temple and was now available to all of those who would be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Canaanite -- representing the one who could make things unclean, would no longer be able to make things unclean! Holiness was now to be about the presence of the Holy Spirit and not about a list of clean and unclean items. The power of God's holiness is so great that even the ordinary things of life could become holy. The bells of the horses rang as they walked or trotted down the street ringing out the good news that everything could now be "Holy to the Lord!" Even the cooking pots -- the things that represented the most ordinary work of life could be made holy and the very act of eating, when done by the sanctified individual becomes an act of worship to God.

 

Application


Sunday evening I preached a message in a small Nazarene church in East Palestine, Ohio. This church was founded in 1908 and I was told she is the oldest Church of the Nazarene east of the Mississippi river. Just above the place where I was preaching there hung a sign which read, "Holiness Unto the Lord." When that church was founded a little over 100 years ago I would guess that this was the war-cry of the congregation. Those old-time holiness people really believed that the power of the Holy Spirit was transformational and could reach out to the most dirty down and out sinner and transform them into holy individuals in service to God. They believed it so much so that they made signs and plaques and sewed banners which read "Holiness Unto the Lord" and hung them around their church buildings, and even wore and carried them in parades!

The reality is that we are living in the day about which Zechariah prophesied. We are living in a time when even the most ordinary can be made holy, because the Holy Spirit is here living among us. Many of our churches have removed those old signs that read "Holiness Unto the Lord" thinking that the phrase is rather old fashioned sounding and not relevant today. Or maybe we've simply forgotten what that sign really stood for and the incredible message borne therein! "Holiness unto the Lord" is the most hopeful message we can share in the world today -- the message that God is here on earth and can take very ordinary individuals, clean them up, transform them and turn them into holy vessels for his use. Let us consecrate every aspect of our lives to him and to his use -- even the cooking pots -- and allow him to make us "Holy to the Lord."

 

Prayer


Lord, my desires is for you to fill me on a daily basis until every part of me is made holy by you. Please, help me to lives this way on a daily basis. Amen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Difficult Decisions





Scripture

It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.
(Luke 14:1 NASB)
And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy.
(Luke 14:2 NASB)
And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
(Luke 14:3 NASB)
But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away.
(Luke 14:4 NASB)
And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”
(Luke 14:5 NASB)
And they could make no reply to this.
(Luke 14:6 NASB)

 

Observation

The Pharisees saw the world in black and white. They had memorized all the rules and regulations and believed that they were the protectors of those rules. They had no ability to think outside the box of those rules and when Jesus made them think that the moral law might be contradictory to their black and white laws, they didn't want to respond. They simply kept silent. Then he turned the question into a personal one -- what if this were your child?

 

Application

Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a neat and tidy world in which decisions could always be made according to a simple list of rules? The reality is that things are much more complex and the issues of this world are much messier than any of us would probably ever want to believe. Sometimes solutions can be found in a list of rules, but sometimes they cannot. Jesus was challenging the Pharisees to look beyond the written law to the higher moral authority which was at work in that situation. Would God deprive someone of the gift of healing just because it was the wrong day of the week?

Long before this time the prophet Ezekiel had prophesied that God's children would no longer have a heart of stone but a heart of flesh and that God's law would be written in their hearts. Jesus' action here is a glimpse of what is to come, a time when the law would move from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. The Pharisees had hearts of stone, and for them the laws were concrete! Jesus had a the heart of flesh and for him, the love of God would guide him. The love of God and his personal relationship with God shaped his heart, not the rules. He was revealing the future which was a restoration of the relationship with a personal God and not a people who were trying to follow a stiff set of rules. When we become aligned to God and are walking daily in a personal relationship with him, then we become guided by the very heart of God. Jesus commanded his people to show mercy -- and by showing mercy they would fulfill the purpose for which they were created. Become a holy people through the power of the Holy Spirit and the nature of God will be revealed in you. Decisions will not always be easy but you will look upon the situation as if it were your child, your son or daughter, and you will not make the black and white decision, but the compassionate decision of our Lord.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to walk daily in your grace. Amen.