Friday, November 30, 2012

Foolish Wise Men (and women)




Scripture

Professing to be wise, they became fools,
(Romans 1:22 NASB)
and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
(Romans 1:23 NASB)

 

Observation


Faith in God is counter-cultural and Paul knew it. Even the wise men of his day, those who had studied in the great academies of the known world struggled with having faith in God. Why? Because they wanted to believe in something that they could see and touch. The result was that though they professed to be wise, they were really fools for they could not look beyond the surface level and find God in the mix. God, in his incredibly creative ability is revealed in all of creation. Instead of seeing the beauty and complexity of God in all things, they chose to worship the things they could see. This folly resulted in them worshiping the statue of a human. If that wasn't enough they also worshiped statues of birds and animals. How could wise people worship such "stuff?"

 

Application


While these days we may not have statues of creatures in our homes which we worship, are there other things that have the place of God in our lives? Have we become foolish as evidenced by the things we think are important. The glory of God is always in indicator of his holy presence here among his people. God, through the Holy Spirit is able to live here among us and in us, and yet, we do exchange this presence for the things of this world. We are living in a day and age where we are allowing the things of this world to encroach upon our spiritual lives. God is not our first priority. Church attendance is rapidly declining as Sundays become occupied with sports, weekends at the lake, and another trip to visit family! Are sports, holidays and family bad things? No, they are not, but they are a problem when they take over first place in our lives, crowding out God. Suddenly, without really knowing it we have become like those who profess to be wise -- because we know the Bible and we know the answers, and we've been to Sunday School all our lives -- and yet, in reality, we have exchanged what we have known for the things of this world. It's far too easy to slip and suddenly become foolish wise men and women. May this be a reminder to us today that God must always remain number one in our lives if we are to be wise people of faith.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to not allow the things of this world to encroach upon our relationship. Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rejoice, Pray and be Thankful




Scripture

Rejoice always;
(1 Thessalonians 5:16 NASB)
pray without ceasing;
(1 Thessalonians 5:17 NASB)
in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB)

 

Observation


Speaking to the believers in Thessalonica Paul had instructions for their daily spiritual lives. They were to make an effort to love one another and for their entire lives to be bathed in the love of Christ. How as this to happen? They were to "rejoice always; pray without ceasing; [and] in everything give thanks." These three were key to the kind of spiritual life that was to define the Thessalonians, and us as well.

 

Application


There are days when I simply don't want to rejoice and I want an excuse to be a grump! If I want an excuse, I can generally find one. However, on the other side of the spectrum, If I choose to rejoice, I generally can find an excuse to be joyful and rejoice as well. Therefore, there is a choice involved when it comes to rejoicing because there is a lens with which we may see all that surrounds us, and that is either through a lens of negativity, or a positive lens. Interestingly I think that Paul's second admonition has much to do with the first. How in the world can we really rejoice always? By praying without ceasing!

Praying without ceasing is really a mindset of continual communication with the Lord. It is a daily life which is completely and totally plugged into intimacy with him. If I am in continuous communication with the Lord, then he is already there in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life. Therefore, I can rejoice for the Lord is the one who is there with me in the midst of it all! It is separation from God which is the most desperate circumstance of life. It is connection with God which is the most joyful and therefore in the midst of our circumstances, we can find that when we are still connected to Christ, there is something to rejoice about! But let's be honest here, this isn't always easy. There are times in life when the circumstances are changed at such a rapid pace that it's hard to keep up, let alone rejoice. What's the best thing we can do? Stay connected to the one who can bring healing and comfort to the situation, by praying without ceasing. Sometimes it's in our very desperate circumstances that we want to run from him and cling to our hurts. He invites us to come to him with our hurts and then he helps us carry the hurts. Remember he invites us to take on his yoke. Why? Because we're all already carrying around a yoke and when we have one all by ourselves then we are completely weighed down. If we share the yoke with him, he takes the heavy part and carries it around on his neck so that we can continue to move forward and to function. Pray. Pray without ceasing.

Finally Paul tells us to give thanks in everything. Really? In everything? Sometimes this may seem as if it were an exercise in futility and yet, it is truly God's desire for each one of us, to be able to look at and be thankful in all circumstances. Does it come easily? I don't think so. The night that Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane he wasn't thankful that he was going to be crucified. Instead, he prayed that the Father would take it from him, if possible. Jesus went on and died a horrible death on the cross for you and for me. The silver lining? All of humanity was saved. I know there are those who are wondering whether there can really be a silver lining to their suffering. Paul knows that if we only focus on the very worst part of our pain and suffering, we will never see Jesus. We are to look for him, to pray without ceasing, and give thanks. Be careful here, the suffering is not God's will, but our response to the suffering is God's will.

Today and over the next few days a group of women have gathered in Wilmore, Kentucky to pray for a dear follower of Jesus Christ, Beth Coppedge. Beth is suffering terribly from her treatment for cancer and is extremely weak. If anyone knows Beth, you know that she is always looking for the silver lining -- looking for a way to rejoice. While she may be facing her own mortality and is terribly ill, she has been sharing about her personal encounters with Jesus Christ; about how he continues to become more real to her on a daily basis. That through this suffering she has gotten to know him as never before! For those of us watching from the outside we are astounded for we have seen her deep and intimate relationship with Jesus for years and it's hard to imagine there can be even more. I know that not every day and in every moment of her sickness does she feel like rejoicing, but she has learned to see Jesus in what is happening.

No, life isn't easy. No, we have no guarantee that things will be easy. Paul knew this and yet encouraged the followers to rejoice, pray and be thankful.

 

Prayer


Jesus, I love you. Thank you for the incredible privilege of simply getting to know you. Amen.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As gentle as a nursing mother




Scripture

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.
(1 Thessalonians 2:7 NASB)
Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
(1 Thessalonians 2:8 NASB)

 

Observation


It's interesting that the Apostle Paul uses this metaphor of a nursing mother for himself as he considers how he and the others who were traveling with him had cared for the people in the church of Thessalonica. Paul traveled during much of his ministry experience spending chunks of time in one place and then in another. Paul's spiritual leadership should be an example to all of us for his focus was not simply on teaching in an unattached setting with his students, instead he became deeply and personally involved in the lives of those whom God had placed into his care.

 

Application


One of the greatest experiences in life was becoming a mother. I will never forget the day that the doctor handed me our oldest daughter Christy. From that first moment when I looked into her eyes I was in love and it was a type of love that I had never felt before in my entire life. Here in my arms was a little person that I would be willing to die for! As a mother I had the privilege of nursing her. This in itself is an incredible experience that God has created. In the busyness of life when it's time to nurse, there is nothing else you can do. You stop, you put everything else aside and you focus on that little person that you are going to spend the next few minutes with, as you are able to provide them nourishment, but also simply moments of lovingly looking into their eyes. When babies are small their focus distance is about 18" -- about the distance from the mothers breast to her eyes. This is God's intention, his plan for the nurturing of this little one. Quiet, sweet moments of nourishment and love. And this is how the Apostle Paul described his relationship with the new believers in Thessalonica.

Think about how we as Christians sometimes respond to those in the world who are living in sin. Young people today will often say they love Jesus but they hate the church. Why is that? Because, if we take a hard look at ourselves, we probably have not been acting like a nursing mother with the world. Sadly, those who need Jesus see things like the Baptist church that goes out and protests the funerals of soldiers, or the church in Florida that burns the Quran. Of course, those are the extremes, but they are the ones who get the attention. Sadly, the ones who do minister and nurture like the Apostle Paul do not get the press. But, it's not about getting the press, it's about being obedient followers of Jesus Christ and interacting with our world in the way that God intended.

Every follower of Jesus Christ is called to make disciples, who will make disciples, who will make disciples. Paul is our role model. He didn't just bring the gospel to people, he brought his very self. He didn't just teach on an intellectual level, he loved on a very personal level. If we are going to share the good news about Jesus Christ with our world, then we have to help the world see Jesus in us. The world is hungry to see the true Jesus interacting with them and this we can do if we will bring the good news, and also be willing to bring ourselves. We must be willing to invest in the people of this world on a very personal level; giving, sharing, loving and nurturing. God places people into our care that need to be loved just as a nursing mother stops and takes time to simply nourish and love on that beautiful baby which has been placed into her arms.

 

Prayer


Lord, may I pour myself out to love the world with your love. Amen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?"




Scripture

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!”
(Matthew 27:22 NASB)

 

Observation


Pilate had examined this man Jesus and he could find nothing wrong with him. The people shouted out even louder that they wanted him crucified. Pilate was frustrated by their response but his question to them is quite specific. He realized that this man whose name was Jesus, was also the Christ, and so in his question to them he literally asks them what do you want me to do with the one who is called your Messiah?

 

Application


I believe that this question reaches down through time and confronts us today as well. What are we going to do with Jesus -- the Messiah? This is the One who was promised to all of mankind -- the One who came and lived and died to take away the sin of the world. What are we going to do with the one who sets us free?

Today we may say that we don't crucify him, but maybe we do something worse -- we ignore him. Yesterday I saw a picture someone posted on facebook that showed the crowds of people out on Black Friday to go shopping, and a virtually empty church sanctuary on Sunday. In America, it seems, we have become passionate about our "stuff," but we have become dispassionate about our Messiah! Somehow we think that having enough stuff will make us happy and satisfy us instead of realizing that Jesus is the solution to the problems and desires and needs of life. We have to ask ourselves, what will we do with Jesus?

We are heading into the season of advent as we mark the coming of Jesus into the world. We anticipate his coming and his arrival which will change everything. But as we enter into this season of the year, maybe we need to ask, "What will we do with Jesus?" Will Jesus truly be a part of this season, or will this be a season of Santa, and gift giving, and cookies, and parties? We can look back on the Jewish folks of 2000 years ago and complain about how they treated Jesus. How could those religious people not have truly understood who he was and what he was doing? Same question for us today. How many of us "religious" folk have gotten wrapped up in so much of the world that we don't see Jesus for who he really is. He is the Messiah, he is the Christ, he is the promised One, he is the hope of earth, he is our only hope! There is none greater than he -- and so I ask, what will we do with him?

 

Prayer


Lord, please forgive me for when I allow the world's attitudes to encroach in upon me. Today my desire is to embrace Jesus, the Messiah, the One who has set me free! Amen.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What's Important to Jesus?




Scripture

Matt. 25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (NRSV)

 

Observation


The Pharisees were hung up on wanting to do really "important" stuff for Jesus. So much so that they had lengthy conversations about how to wear their clothing and how to pray and when to pray and how to walk. They were proud of themselves for being so spiritual, and yet, none of their spirituality involved a relationship with the poor and the needy. It was all about their own personal "spirituality" and how that looked from the outside. Jesus let them know that he really didn't care about those things. The things that they had poured themselves into, the things that they thought were so important, Jesus saw as having no value. Why? Because God's people were to be his ambassadors on the earth and this God of holy love desires for everyone to know him, and therefore his gracious activity in the world is to be all about bringing people into an intimate relationship with him. That's why Jesus told them that what was important was to bring the cup of cold water to the one in need. This was what was important to Jesus, because that little one, the innocent one, this was the one who needed that touch of holy love. The Pharisees went away frustrated because this was not how they wanted to define spirituality.

 

Application

I live in East Ohio and many days each week I spend hours driving through the towns, villages, countryside and urban areas which make up this part of the country. One day I may be stuck in traffic behind a horse and buggy in Amish Country, while the next I'm driving through a former bustling small town with a rusted out factory or empty coal mine. I may be driving through the inner-city of Akron, Canton or Cleveland and look around at what had once been prestigious neighborhoods and are now down-right scarey. But every time I wonder how we can be Jesus to this neighborhood. How do we take a cup of cold water to the least of these who live in these communities and who so desperately need a touch from our holy loving God? That is exactly what we, as his followers are called to do.

The Jews had the temple in Jerusalem and they loved it dearly. They put much time and energy into taking care of that facility and little did they know that in a few years it would be destroyed. Jesus knew what was eternal and that was the good news about the kingdom of heaven and this is what needed to be spread to the world. It is within the kingdom of heaven that his followers begin to behave not as people who are out to protect an earthly temple, but as as kingdom citizens. Kingdom citizens are ever looking and searching for the one who needs that cup of cold water. For me, that may be in East Ohio, or it may also be around the world. Again today my mind goes back to the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and the women and children around the world who are suffering at the hands of the more powerful, simply because they are weak. If you think about it, Jesus is already touching on the message of GBV in this very passage. What are we doing for the very least? This passage is Jesus describing the day of judgement! He is saying that we will be judged by what we did for the very least -- not for any "great" things that we thought we did for him. Today there will be women and children around the world who will be treated as commodities in the human sex-trade. Today there are little girls who will die of starvation because they were not deemed worthy enough to be fed. Today little girls will be aborted because they are not viewed valuable in man's eyes. And church, we are partially to blame. We have been caught up in taking care of the temple - or our church buildings and the congregations who attend them while there's been a world around us that is begging for a cup of cold water! We have been busy literally defending certain texts of scripture that would make the world believe that God thinks that women are not equal to men and therefore we have given the world an excuse to treat women and girls as second-class citizens, or no citizens at all.

Jesus IS the little girl who is dying today of starvation. Jesus IS the unemployed coal miner in East Ohio. And what's important to him is what we will be doing today to the very least of these!

 

Prayer


Lord, please forgive me for when I've gotten it wrong, and may I see the world through your eyes, giving a cup of cold water to those in need. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are we envious?




Scripture

‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.
(Matthew 20:14 NASB)
‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’
(Matthew 20:15 NASB)
“So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
(Matthew 20:16 NASB)

 

Observation


So often the religious leaders were the ones who were gathered around Jesus. Maybe they were genuinely curious, or possibly they were simply trying to catch him in some kind of contradiction. They certainly didn't have his best interest in mind, but instead were seeking to make themselves feel better. Jesus begins to talk about the ones who are laborers in the kingdom. At this point I'm sure they began to nod in agreement for certainly they were the ones who had been working from day one. They were the most qualified to be doing the work. They were the most educated. They had the best resumes. They had dressed for the part and they were enthusiastic about getting the work done. But as Jesus continued in the conversation they became disturbed. What was he saying? Was he saying that this rag-tag group of people who followed him around from the Galilee might be considered as great in the kingdom of God as they were? Surely not! How could God not look on them and all that they had done and give them a greater reward. No - the reward would be the same for everyone. Why? Because God doesn't look at those exterior kinds of things, but because God is generous. He loves everyone and doesn't want anyone to miss out on heaven, so much so that the reward is the same for all who give their lives to him, whether early on in their lives, or even near the end. Those who think that they ought to be getting all the rewards need to think twice. Those who are humble and grateful for what God has done for them will be first, and the others will be last. Jesus could see into their hearts. They were envious!

 

Application


NT Wright wrote in "Simply Christian" that the church has tried to take the Holy Spirit and direct its movement, almost as if we think we've put in a plumbing system and have tried to plumb the presence of God into particular places and institutions. Due to a lack of maintenance the pipes have begun to burst and the Holy Spirit is popping up in all kinds of places. He's popping up in a ministry to drug addicts and alcoholics in Ukraine. He's popping up in a ministry to the LGBT community in the heart of Kansas City. He's popping up in a GBV center in Kenya. He's popping up in the Hope House of Stark County. And the good religious folks are looking around them and they are envious. Didn't we do church right? Haven't we been going to church twice on Sundays all of our lives? Haven't we looked right? Haven't we been going to Sunday School and been Bible Quizzers?

It seems that there are times that we become critical and complain that God is pouring out his Spirit in places where sinners hang out. How could he do that when we've been so good? Are we envious of what God is doing in other places? Maybe we ought to take a little time and examine ourselves. If we are waiting around to get "something" from God, then we don't understand what he is doing. God is our Father, and he is a dear and loving Father who is wanting all of us to be reunited in a relationship with him. That means that he will do everything that he can to draw his children back to him. Aren't we grateful that he is that generous? So, why are we jealous? Because somehow we think that it's what we "do" for him that it's important. That's not the point. He rejoices that we are "in" him -- and when we are "in" him then we will understand what it is that God desires. Remember Jesus kept saying that God desires "mercy, not sacrifice." If we are "in" him then our hearts will be filled with the same passions that fill him and we will desperately want all of the lost to come to know him. We will want him to be as generous as he wants to be -- we will want to see the Holy Spirit being poured out in unusual places and we will go to those places to participate with God in his activity in the world. We won't just sit on our pews and wait for him to come to us. We won't be envious but we will be generous and will rejoice every time a lost one comes to him.

What a blessing that the first will be last and the last will be first! May all envy disappear as we grow in him and love for God and neighbor displaces all things selfish.

 

Prayer


Lord, my desire is to join with you today in your activity in this world. May I go with you. Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Can I be childlike?


Scripture:

Matt. 18:1 ¶ At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Matt. 18:2 He called a child, whom he put among them,
Matt. 18:3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 

Observation:

The disciples had an on-going dispute among themselves and those who had been faithful in following Christ were wondering what they were going to get in return.  They saw this as an earthly kingdom and surely each one of them would be assigned a job in Jesus' leadership team.  Who was going to have the best jobs?  Had Jesus been thinking about whom he could have sitting in the positions of greatest authority, on his right and his left?  All of this was probably a frustration to Jesus and I'm sure he wondered if they would ever truly understand what he was talking about.  Finally he decided it was time for an object lesson and he calls to a little child for him to come and stand among them.  (History tells us that this little boy is Ignatius who grows up to be a great leader in the church and is eventually martyred)  Jesus points to this little child and a great lesson is taught.  His followers had been very childish in their petty arguing over position.  They were not to be childish, but they were to be childlike!  They were to humble themselves and come to Jesus with child-like trust and faith.  They were to simply enjoy sitting on his lap and being in his presence.  That's what it meant to be serving in Jesus' kingdom, and his desire was that his disciples would put away the childish bickering and allow themselves to become childlike.

Application:

At the end of a Sunday morning service a few weeks ago we were invited to celebrate the Eucharist together.  For me this is one of the most exciting parts of the worship experience as I am blessed to participate in a sacrament that is celebrated the world over by Christians.  This particular Sunday teams of two were placed around the sanctuary as we were invited forward to partake.  At the station where I was to partake the team consisted of a young lady and a five year-old girl.  I watched the little five year-old as she became a part of this team.  She took her responsibility very seriously and as I watched her ooze with childlike love and humility I thought that I was truly getting a glimpse of Jesus sharing himself with us.  When little ones (smaller than her) came forward she would bend way down to offer them the cup and look lovingly into their eyes.  When the big tall adults arrived she stood up on her tip-toes and lifted up her face to theirs -- her face simply beaming with joy.  In the sheer happiness of her moment I saw what Jesus wants from all of us.  She didn't care about any kind of position, she was just thrilled to be serving Jesus, however that might be.  You could literally sense her love for him. 

Sadly we can become caught up in the "adult" bickering and concern over place and/or position just as the disciples.  There are times when Jesus must place before us a beautiful example of what it means to serve in the kingdom.  We are called to put aside childish concerns and to throw our arms around Jesus, joyfully sitting in his presence and enjoying who he is.  IF and/or when he calls us into service, we are to do it with such joy that we simply cannot contain ourselves for the king of all creation has asked us to serve with him. 

Prayer:

Lord, may the sheer joy of being in your presence lead me to childlike service to you in your kingdom.  Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Still more don't get it.




Scripture

And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread.
(Matthew 16:5 NASB)
And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
(Matthew 16:6 NASB)
They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.”
(Matthew 16:7 NASB)
But Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?
(Matthew 16:8 NASB)
“Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up?
(Matthew 16:9 NASB)
“Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up?
(Matthew 16:10 NASB)
“How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
(Matthew 16:11 NASB)
Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
(Matthew 16:12 NASB)

 

Observation


This theme of truly understanding the teachings of Jesus vs. the Pharisees and Sadducees continues. Jesus was sending a message to the Pharisees and Sadducees using the things that they would have learned and they just couldn't get it. It's a message that he's sending to us today, that we need to listening to the teachings of Jesus and not be obsessed with the letter of the Law. Finally in this scene we find Jesus realizing that the disciples didn't understand the seriousness of his concern. They weren't getting it either.

 

Application


The ways in which the Pharisees and Sadducees thought and applied Scripture were detrimental to the faith and spiritual development of the disciples and Jesus knew it! He knew that just a tiny bit of their legalism would be disastrous. Just as a tiny bit of yeast infuses an entire loaf of bread, a small kernel of their rigid protection of the law could destroy what Jesus was planting in their hearts. He was planting a new way of looking at the Law. Remember, Jesus wanted mercy, not sacrifice. This new way was organic and it grew out of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The goal was not to keep every little element of the law, the goal was Christ. Every human being is being invited into this deeply personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in which we become a reflection of him to this world. Our actions and reactions are to be his and that means that every inch of who we are should be filled with his Holy Spirit, or be entirely sanctified! Jesus knew this was the new way to go for his disciples but he also knew that a small fraction of miss-placed faith could ruin the whole person and derail what God intended for his people.

 

Prayer


Lord, may we be aware that the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees still exists today and may your Holy Spirit so fill us that there is no room for teaching which keeps us from knowing you on a personal level. Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

They didn't get it!




Scripture:

Matt. 12:1 ¶ At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
Matt. 12:2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.”
Matt. 12:3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
Matt. 12:4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.
Matt. 12:5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?
Matt. 12:6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matt. 12:7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Matt. 12:8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Observation:

In yesterday's reading Jesus was trying to teach the religious leaders that they needed to take seriously the scriptures that they would have memorized.  He quoted to them Hosea 6:6.  Surely some time had passed between Matthew chapter 9 and now the incident in chapter 12, but Jesus brings up the same verse again and this time emphasizing the fact that they obviously did not know and/or understand what the verse really meant.  Or, maybe they did know what it meant but they chose to ignore it, picking and choosing which parts of the scriptures they wanted to emphasize in their own personal lives.  Somehow it was so much easier to stick to the hard and fast, black and white rules than to get into that messy territory of figuring out what may have really been meant by showing mercy. 

Application:

God's goal for humanity is that we become reflections of the Son, reflecting his nature to the whole world, and his nature is holy love.  This holiness of Christ is to be our goal in all that we do here on this earth, and that is why Hosea had reminded the Israelites in the Old Testament and now Jesus is reminding the religious folks that mercy always comes before sacrifice, because mercy is a reflection of the character of God.  However, we can be like the religious folks getting hung up on the black and white of the rules and somehow missing God's real intended purpose.  No, even when given the chance they didn't get it.  What about us -- do we really truly get it? 

It is messy and uncomfortable to realize that everything related to our Christian life isn't always neat and tidy and tied up in a box.  Instead, we are given a mind and God asks us to use it so that we can have a real impact on the world around us -- having mercy, instead of sacrifice!  One area in which Christianity has expended a great deal of energy is in trying to prove the literalness of certain parts of scripture.  The religious folks of Jesus' day would have been right on this one, for they believed that their purpose was to protect the "truth" of the scriptures and tradition.  However, Jesus' reuse of this scripture makes us realize that they were not understanding that what Jesus had to offer was a leaving and breathing faith that moved beyond the rigid boundaries of the restrictions which they had personally created.  Their own interpretations of the scriptures created a situation in which the true nature or character of God could not be revealed in their lives. 

We might be surprised to discover that when the United States was arguing over slavery there were "good" Christians who used scriptures very literally to argue in favor of slavery.  Today we might be appalled at that thought but while we think it's appalling, we may still be doing the same thing but simply with new and/or different arguments.  Jesus said that we were to get over it -- and to understand the underlying purpose of the law.  Clarke in his commentary provides us with four ways in which to understand when laws should be superseded:

1)  When it is required by the natural law of necessity.  What happened at this point and time?  It was the Sabbath but the disciples were starved.  They had no food and Jewish law did allow for you to walk through someone's field and to pick grain by hand (as long as you didn't use a sickle).  The necessity of the day was that they were hungry!  These men needed to eat and therefore in this case it wasn't work, but the sticklers of the law saw it this way.  They would have preferred that the disciples went hungry, rather than to get food from the field.  Jesus said they were to have understood that mercy came first! 

2)  If there is another law which is superior, the other law is overridden.  Which law is superior to all?  Love God and love neighbor.  Therefore, the very purpose of God for mankind, to be a reflection of his image to the world supersedes all laws.  What would a loving Father have done for his hungry children?  Would he have made them starve and wait for another day?  Never!  He would have fed them.

3)  There is a law of charity and mercy.  This is what was indicated by the scripture from Hosea.  God's desire is for mercy and not for sacrifice.  The law of mercy says that love always trumps rigid rules and sacrifices. 

4)  Laws are also superseded when the one giving the new and/or different law has authority to do so.  Jesus Christ had the authority to say what could happen on the Sabbath.  He had power and authority from his Father -- only the religious leaders didn't want to see it or believe it, and therefore were always there, quick to judge everything that he did.

It's a question of the purpose of the Sabbath -- for whom or what was it created?  The Sabbath was created for mercy, and a law should never be used to contradict it's very purpose.  However, the religious people still didn't get it.  They clung to their traditions and their defense of the scriptures and in the meantime they allowed the sick, the needy, the poor, and those who needed a touch from God to suffer around them.  If we think that we have to be defenders of the letter of the law then somehow we don't believe in God's power which has made his word enduring for thousands of years!  Instead, we need to focus on being the merciful people of God that he intended for us to be. 

We have been given many chances just like the religious folks of Jesus' day.  My prayer on this Thanksgiving Day is that we truly do "get" it and that we embrace sacrifice and reach out and love our world in the way in which Jesus would have wanted. 


Prayer:

Lord, I am so thankful today for your mercy.  May I be an agent of your mercy to the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do you get it yet?




Scripture

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Matthew 9:13 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus is speaking to the religious rulers who believe that they have their act together spiritually. They have been doing everything that they can to follow the letter of the law, but in their hearts they are harsh and stubborn people. They have been studying the scriptures their entire lives and can quote long passages of scripture. That is why Jesus responds the way that he does. He tells them to go and learn what a particular passage means and then he quotes from Hosea 6:6. These people would have studied the scriptures growing up and they should have already known this verse which says that God values compassion, steadfast love, or mercy more than sacrifices. That is, Jesus is much more concerned about the state of their heart, rather than a strict enforcement of the law. The love of God should have been flowing out of them but instead they showed perfunctory service to God through the giving of sacrifices. But what does it mean to give sacrifices, if your heart is not right? Jesus knows that they do not truly understand this scripture and that's why he tells them to go and learn it, for they will only learn it by putting it into practice in their own lives. Jesus' final statement is to let them know that he is not going to focus all of his time and energy on them because he didn't come to call the righteous (or at least those who are so worried with proving that they are) but instead is going to go and work among the sinners. The problem was, they just didn't get it!

 

Application

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we get it or not!? Where do we fit in this story? Are we like those who have had the privilege of being raised with the gospel? Were we one of those Bible Quizzers who memorized long passages of Scripture? Jesus is saying that all of that is fine, but that he doesn't want our long list of "things" that we have done for him, but instead he wants mercy. Really the two words become two sides of a coin which ought to go together. It is when they become separated that we have a problem. When people believe that giving sacrifices alone is enough to please God, then we have a problem. However, if on one side of the coin we find the person who understands mercy, then the result will be sacrifice but out of a pure heart with right motivation. This is what Jesus desires because he understands that mercy (love, compassion) really reveals the nature of God. It is only when our hearts are opened to God and we allow his nature to pour into us that we are transformed from the inside out. Then, our lives reveal his nature and in the end we do sacrifice. The religious folks were trying to do the work from the outside in. They seemed to believe that if they followed the rules on the outside, if they offered enough sacrifices that somehow holiness would make its way in. Jesus knew their hearts and he knew that they just didn't get it.

But I ask the question of myself today; Do I get it? I have been raised in the church, raised to be a good girl and to serve God, but God doesn't desire my service to him -- he desires my heart. God doesn't care about all the "things" we can do for him, he wants us to fall in love with him. God doesn't want us to be so busy that we are running out the door to do "things" for him everyday, if we never sit down and just spend time with him, getting to know him, allowing ourselves to fall in love with him, and relish in the intimacy of his holy presence. Jesus told the religious folk -- you don't get it! Go out and REALLY learn what the scriptures you have memorized are talking about, and then there will be the "aha" moment where you finally do get it and you realize that all he wants is you. Does he have it?

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your patience with us, because sometimes we are slow at "getting it." Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Kind of Fruit?




Scripture

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
(Matthew 7:15 NASB)
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
(Matthew 7:16 NASB)
“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
(Matthew 7:17 NASB)
“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
(Matthew 7:18 NASB)
“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
(Matthew 7:19 NASB)
“So then, you will know them by their fruits.
(Matthew 7:20 NASB)

 

Observation


In Jesus' day there were those who claimed to be prophets and who enjoyed a life of religious preaching. Sadly, their motivations were completely wrong and selfish. Jesus said to look at the fruit that they bore and this would reveal what kind of prophet that they were. Only good trees can bear good fruit. If there is no good fruit then they will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In other words, it will become obvious that the false prophets were just that -- false -- because there will be no real fruit of their labors.

 

Application


Recently I was flipping through our television channels on a Sunday night and came across the church service of a televangelist that used to be hugely popular. However, this modern-day prophet has become well known for his moral failings, as well as questionable financial dealings. What was odd during this service seemed to be the camera angles. There were no big shots of the whole sanctuary, but instead, strange views taken from between two or three people, or from behind and instrument. We began to realize that there were very few people in that service, but the cameramen were doing their best to make it look like the place was full. The reality is that there is little or no fruit of this man's labor. Yes, it looked like he was incredibly successful for a period of time but when the reality began to set in with his followers, they were disappointed and they began to leave in droves.

This scripture challenges me on a very personal level. Throughout my life I have had the joy and opportunity to be involved with many people who needed to know Jesus Christ. I have had the privilege of watching God perform miracles in peoples' lives and of seeing them grow up into mature followers of Jesus Christ. However, now, I find myself in a very different position and I am seriously praying about this point of bearing fruit. My job doesn't take me to the places and/or people that it has in the past and so I want to be a fruit-bearing Christian and I'm wrestling with what that looks like in my life today. I know that it begins with faithfulness and obedience to the Father in all things and that's where I have to begin each and every single day. I want to decrease so that He can increase -- so that people will see Christ in me -- and that people will be drawn to Him -- not to me. I want desperately to bear fruit for him. For that to happen I must, on a daily basis, humble myself before him to be used of him in any way, shape or manner that he desires. I am his instrument. I am his tree. I am available to be used by God. I want to bear his fruit -- not mine!

 

Prayer


Lord, may today and every day be a portion of the journey with you and may you lead me to fruit bearing that you desire today. Amen.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who is being baptized?




Scripture

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
(Matthew 3:7 NASB)
“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance;
(Matthew 3:8 NASB)
and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.
(Matthew 3:9 NASB)
“The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
(Matthew 3:10 NASB)

 

Observation


I was struck in my reading today that it was the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming out to see John the Baptist and to be baptized by him. These were the religious leaders of the day and yet they were coming and being baptized by John. Why would they do that? Was God truly speaking to them and were they repentant in their hearts, or was something else happening? Is it possible that these sticklers when it came to the law heard about what was happening and and simply did not want to be left out. Did they go for the wrong reasons and/or motivations? Was it more about covering their bases? John could see right through them and that's why he responded in the way he did. Repentance was much more than just a public proclamation of faith, instead it was also life-changing and the result was that this individual would bear fruit. The warning is found there as well -- if this is just about a public show of spirituality, beware, because the axe is ready to cut down those who bear no fruit!

Application

The message and the warning for us becomes quite clear. Our Christian walk is one which must be genuine, and to be genuine means that there will be fruit, otherwise we are no better than the Pharisees and Sadducees. If there is anything about our Christian life that is simply about show and impressing other people, then we have it all wrong and God will reveal what we have done to the whole world. The axe is already in his hand and he will cut us off if we are not genuine and we do not bear fruit.

John was calling people to true repentance. We are all still called to true repentance today, no matter who we are! We must examine ourselves on a daily basis and repent for the wrong attitudes and motivations that we may find our hearts. We must repent for ignoring that needy person who really wanted our attention last week. We must repent for not bearing the fruit that God has intended for us.
What does it mean for us to bear fruit? Since we are all a variety of people (trees), we will all bear different fruit. If it all looked the same it would be a strange world and/or church in which we live. However, whatever God has created us to be, that is what we are, and that is the kind of fruit we are to bear. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees were unique trees from God who should have been bearing fruit. They should have been the ones raising up the incredible Biblical scholars and Godly church leaders who would deeply influence the world -- but they were not -- they were not bearing fruit! And what did God have to do? Because of the unfaithfulness of those who called themselves God's people, and because those to whom God had intrusted the Law did not raise up a new generation of spiritual leaders -- God had to go outside of them. And God chose a rag-tag band of twelve individuals who, when filled with the spirit, went out and bore fruit and changed the world.

Who is it that's being baptized -- and why? What are we doing at church? Why are we there? The axe is already sharp, it's time for us to really repent and be about God's business!

Prayer


Lord, please help me to be your servant who is producing fruit for you and your kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Parents save up for your children




Scripture

Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
(2 Corinthians 12:14 NASB)
I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
(2 Corinthians 12:15 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul was talking here in a spiritual and physical sense. He was going to come and visit his spiritual children in Corinth for the third time and he wanted to make sure that they understood that he was not coming to be a burden on them. Why? Because he was their spiritual father and as such, it was his responsibility to care for them, and not for them to care for him. He was ready to give out all that he had for them because of his deep love for those children.

 

Application


As human parents we know what it's like to want to do everything we possibly can for our children. Parents sacrifice for their children. They give up selfish wants and desires to give their children the very best that they can. They make sure their children are well-clothed and well-fed. They sacrifice for them to be educated and they love them with all their hearts! At least, that is God's intention. Sadly, I'm afraid that we live in a day and age where there are parents who don't put the best interest of their children first. Somehow this idea has become distorted and there is the idea that the children are there to care for the parents, even from a young age. When did all of this get turned around? Could it possibly be because we don't have our spiritual house in order? When we love God and then love others, it means that we put our family in front of ourselves. It means that we would do just about anything for those children, if it were in their best interest. Why? Because we love them so very much. As God's children this is the kind of parent we are called to be -- to do everything that we can to take care of our children.

Within the spiritual realm we are also to have children. God places people along our paths that need him and we have the blessed opportunity to become spiritual parents to them. We are to love them and lead them and not be a burden to them. Being a spiritual parent takes time and energy, but it also has eternal rewards, and along the way we will learn things about a hurting and needy world that we would never have imagined. And like the Apostle Paul we are to be spent and expended for these individuals.

Finally, If we walk with the Lord, we will have children -- either physical and/or spiritual. It is our responsibility to care for them. If we are to care for them, we need to save up for them, and not they for us. That means that I must be learning and drawing closer to God on a daily basis so that I have something to give to those children placed into my life. I am not to be a spiritual drag on any of them, but instead, I am to be a spiritual lift up to them. For me to be a good parent spiritually, I have to feed my own soul spiritually. May we never think that it is the children who need to be saving up for the parents!

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to be the kind of spiritual parent that I need to be and to be dependent upon you for all things. Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Perfecting Holiness




Scripture

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
(2 Corinthians 7:1 NASB)

 

Observation

Paul is talking to people who are already followers of Jesus Christ but he is challenging them in their Christian walk. There is more to this relationship than simply accepted Jesus as their Lord. Instead, there has to be a lifetime of transformation into which every believer is called. We have the great promises of God and that he will do all that he has promised, but we must also hold up our end of the bargain. We must realize that the goal is holiness, or becoming like Christ. If that is our goal, then we ought to pattern and/or fashion our lives after the goal. If my goal is to become like Christ, I need to work at it as well. Jesus did not lead a life of defilement, so why should we? Why should we continue to do things in the flesh that Jesus would never have done. We are to stop living in sin. We are to stop making excuses for continuing to do things that Jesus would never do and we are to put on Christ. In this way we become active participants in perfecting holiness. The way this phrase reads in the Greek helps us to understand that "perfecting" is a process which is leading us toward a goal -- which is to be like Christ -- and his nature is holy love. Perfecting holiness is working toward a goal of becoming Christlike. How does this happen? It happens throughout a life time of spiritual growth and maturity and formation, but also in moments of spiritual crisis subsequent to our salvation. It is this both-and of holiness which challenges us continue in spiritual growth and maturity until the day we die. Finally Paul ends by saying, "in the fear of God." I don't believe that this is any kind of panic attack, but instead is a healthy respect for God and his nature of holy love. Respect for the fact that I ought not to be engaged in activities in which Jesus would not be engaged.

 

Application

In many ways this was Paul's statement about human activity in the process of sanctification. You must be an active participant in the process -- you can't just wait around for Jesus to zap you into something. This week Dr. Diane Leclerc from Northwest Nazarene University was speaking to our pastors. She shared this illustration regarding our personal human involvement. What if we plan to run a marathon. What would it take to look like a marathon runner? Would we sit around every day eating five Big Macs a day and never going out for a run -- and then head out on Marathon Day and expect to do a good job? No, every single day we would do what it takes to become a marathon runner. We would condition ourselves mentally and physically so that we could be a marathon runner. This would affect what kind of food that we ate and how much and what type of exercise that we would do on a daily basis. Therefore, if our goal is to become like Christ -- shouldn't we also begin training ourselves for the goal. Wouldn't we practice spiritual disciplines which would work to transform us into his image? Wouldn't we spend time in the word and in prayer? Wouldn't we spend time doing things that Jesus did? Wouldn't we spend time helping the poor and the needy? Wouldn't we spend time telling others about him? This is what Paul means when he tells us to perfect holiness. He says to work on it! He wants us to work on it every single day. The problem comes when we think that the process is completed in a crisis moment alone. Yes, there is a moment of entire sanctification, but it is part of the process. According to Dr. Leclerc, John Wesley argued that if we focused too much on the moments of crisis without an emphasis on the process we would be wrong. He also argued that if we spent too much time focusing on the process without the crisis, we were wrong. There must be both and in this instance what Paul is saying encompasses both. To perfect holiness in our lives means that we must continue to grow in grace each and every single day of our lives, while at the same time realizing that we must be open to a crisis experience along the way because this is what it will take to reach the goal, to become like Christ.

May God help us to become as excited and disciplined about reaching the goal of Christlikeness as we are about the popular activities of the day. It's Saturday and for many their goal today will include being the best college football fan the world has ever seen. Tomorrow, could we put on the same energy and excitement about being the best follower of Jesus Christ the world has ever seen? This is Paul's encouragement to you and to me. Please, join me in perfecting holiness.

 

Prayer


Lord, please forgive me for the times I have not taken seriously the process of perfecting holiness in my life. Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reconciliation




Scripture

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB)
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
(2 Corinthians 5:18 NASB)
namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
(2 Corinthians 5:19 NASB)
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:20 NASB)
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB)

 

Observation


Jesus is the master reconciler. The gulf between God and humanity had grown wide as a result of sin and no matter how hard humanity might try they simply could not make their way back to God on a consistent basis. Enter Jesus. His death on the cross brought about the reconciliation of the damaged relationship between God and man, a relationship that had not been damaged by God, but by humanity. It was humanity that needed the assistance in getting back to God, and "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." God loves us so much that he came to earth in human flesh just so that he could reconcile us back to him. Once we become partakers of this reconciliation, we too, become a part of the process of reconciliation. We are his ambassadors, working to reconcile other relationships. God is making his appeal through us to a hurting world.

 

Application

If this is true, that God is working through his children to be his ambassadors, then we have to ask ourselves what our responsibility is in the area of reconciliation. As we continue to grow in grace, God may reveal to us that we have damaged relationships which must be healed, if we are to be his ambassadors of reconciliation. The result of sin is damaged relationships. Humanity's relationship to God was damaged, as well as humanity's relationship to humanity. This is exactly why Jesus came to remind us that the Law was summed up in the fact that we were to love God and love neighbor. Therefore, we must ask ourselves who our neighbors might be. They may not be the people in closest physical proximity, but instead those who should be in the closest emotional proximity.

We live in a world of broken and unreconciled relationships. Yesterday I was visiting at a church that does clothing distribution and Salvation Army Christmas baskets. Many people came to get clothing or to sign up for a Christmas basket, but for the most part, who were the people who came for help? Mostly it was single parent women. I felt sorry for them because I knew they had to swallow their pride to come, and yet, come they did so that they could do something to help out their family. But at the same time I want to ask, "Where are the men?" The greatest cause of poverty in the United States today is the single-parent home, and why do we have so many of these? Because humans are not reconciling relationships. Because we are not living as Christ's ambassadors here on this earth and the results are literally devastating. The first relationship which we need to examine is the one with our spouse. Does there need to be reconciliation? If we are "in" Christ, then he is calling us to work to reconcile our relationships within the home.

What about parent-child relationships? For many of us we could be on either end of that formula! We could be the parent, or we could be the child and the relationship could be horribly damaged. How can we be a follower of Jesus Christ and not work to reconcile our relationships with our parents and/or children? From time to time I talk to people who tell me that they haven't talked to their "loved" one for years. Really? How can we be growing in the grace of God -- how can we be Jesus' ambassador here on this earth -- if we can't have a relationship with our family? Growing in grace has very practical implications and it includes reconciling relationships.

And finally we are to be ambassadors of healing to this world, reconciling relationships which may have been destroyed over a difference of opinion. The pundits are telling us that today America is the most divided politically it has ever been. Church -- are we partially responsibility for this division? What would happen if Christians were reconciled to Christians who happen to differ with one another across the political aisle? What if Christians exhibited this kind of reconciliation to a world that is desperate to find peace?

God has called us all to a ministry of reconciliation. We are called to be a healing ointment in the rough of things. It is in this ministry of reconciliation that Jesus is revealed to the world that so desperately is in need of him.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to be an instrument of your reconciliation today and every day. Amen.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Job's Reward




Scripture

The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold.
(Job 42:10 NASB)
Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him. And each one gave him one piece of money, and each a ring of gold.
(Job 42:11 NASB)
The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys.
(Job 42:12 NASB)
He had seven sons and three daughters.
(Job 42:13 NASB)
He named the first Jemimah, and the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.
(Job 42:14 NASB)
In all the land no women were found so fair as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers.
(Job 42:15 NASB)
After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations.
(Job 42:16 NASB)
And Job died, an old man and full of days.
(Job 42:17 NASB)

 

Observation


Job has endured much affliction during the years, and it is for this pain and suffering that he is famous. Finally here at the very end we find a different story. After he has suffered almost unimaginable pain, God restores him and everything about his life. The end result is much more than what he began with. He has double the number of animals that he started out with and the exact number of children, both boys and girls are given to him.

 

Application


The problem with this final view of Job's life is that the story can be distorted into a type of health-wealth gospel. "If only we endure suffering God will give us everything here in this lifetime!" However, we must ask ourselves whether this is about what happens in this life, or if God has pealed away the curtain of heaven and allowed us to see the eternal reward which awaits those who love him and are faithful to the end. Does this final chapter of Job's life really tell us about what God has in store for each and every one of us?

The contrast here is interesting. Job's earthly brothers and sisters bring him gifts for his endurance. Each brings him a gold ring and a piece of money. In the scope of things these are all pretty small. In the scope of things the rewards of this earthly life are going to be pretty small in comparison to what God can do and what God has awaiting us in the life of come. Earth may be able to give us a few coins and a ring, but what are those in comparison to what God has to offer. God doubles the original earthly wealth of Job. This can only be provided by the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills! God has the ability to do this and not man.

And what about the seven sons and three daughters? In the life to come we will be reunited with those whom we have lost. The children are restored to him and the names of the three daughters indicate the beautiful promise of God. Jemimah is the one who shines as radiantly as the day. There will be no more darkness, no more pain, no more suffering. Keziah is a the beautiful fragrant perfume which sweetens the day. Can you imagine the stench of Job's body during his time of illness but now God sweetens the air. In heaven the stench of death and dying will be gone and the sweet fragrance of Jesus' presence will fill the air. Finally, there is Keren-Happuch, the horn of paint, or the face that is beautiful because God has wiped away all the tears. This is the beauty of heaven which awaits all of those who will patiently endure to the very end.

Finally this glimpse of heaven is a foreshadowing of what will come about in the New Testament. Numerous times we learn in the New Testament about the barriers which have been destroyed in Christ and one of those is the barrier between men and women. Galatians 3:28, "There is now therefore no more slave nor free,....male nor female." The fact that Job's three daughters are partakers of the inheritance signals a revelation of God's promise for all of humanity. The playing field is leveled in God's reward system and the barriers which were brought about as a result of the sin of man will be laid bare. And the father, Job, enjoys his taste of heaven.

No, we don't always understand what's going on here on earth, but there will come a day when there will be a reward and it will be beyond anything we could have ever imagined, just as it was true with Job's reward.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for this beautiful glimpse in through the window of heaven today. Amen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"If" Christ is preached?




Scripture

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
(1 Corinthians 15:12 NASB)
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:19 NASB)

 

Observation


The absolute power of God is revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His resurrection, the first of its kind for a human body, was to pave the way for the hope of the resurrection for all of humanity. In Christ we are all changed and we can know resurrection power. Christ and his work in incarnated human flesh is the central message of the Bible. Jesus came and set things right for corrupted humanity and it all ends in the resurrected Christ. Here is the power of God, the victory over sin and death and an eternal victory, showing us that we will all be resurrected just like him. The Muslims would like to believe that Jesus was a good man who lived a good life but there is no power or victory in that. Paul says that if we have hope only in the life he lived that we should be pitied. Yes, we should because that is not what Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection. His resurrection punched a hole into the curtain of eternity and gave us a glimpse of what is to come.

Application

What is interesting is that Paul begins this section with "Now if Christ is preached." I find the placement of the "now if" quite fascinating. I think that its placement begs a question for us today. Do we preach and/or share the story of Christ on a regular basis? Or, do we assume that everyone knows the story of Christ? Do we ever, in excitement, share with someone that Jesus Christ lived on this earth as a human, died on a cross and rose again from the dead! Or has that story become so ordinary to us that we keep it to ourselves? "Now if" we share about Christ. Wow, is there even a question whether I would share or preach about Christ? Then I think back to sermons that I have heard preached. These days we have become the masters of topical sermons preaching a series from the latest popular Christian book, but are there weeks and/or even months that can go by without us ever preaching about Christ? Have we lost the very central focus of who this "Christianity" is all about?

The entire Christian life should be one in which we have dedicated ourselves to becoming Christlike. Like Paul I declare, "I want to know Christ!" I only get to know him if I study him, and then I imitate him while I spend time with him in intimate relationship. Christ is in me and I am in him and there comes a point and time where I hope that the world can't tell if they are seeing me, or if they are seeing Christ in me because I have become one with him. Yet, how can this happen if Christ is not the measuring rod for our lives, if we never share him, if we never preach him? How can I be involved in his work in the kingdom of God if I have never experienced resurrection power?

This admonition of Paul to preach Christ is a nudge that tells us that Jesus must be the very center of all things in our lives. Our goal must and should be Christ. Anything else that distracts us from the goal, while it may seem like a good thing, will lead us to a place of destruction. May there be no "if" in our lives but instead "when" we share and/or preach Christ.

 

Prayer


Lord Jesus, thank you for your death on the cross and your resurrection. Thank you for the power of the Father which is revealed in you and is made possible for us. May the strength of your power to heal and resurrect be revealed today. Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Love: The Greatest Gift!




Scripture

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
(1 Corinthians 13:8 NASB)
For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
(1 Corinthians 13:9 NASB)
but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
(1 Corinthians 13:10 NASB)
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
(1 Corinthians 13:11 NASB)
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB)
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul is affirming the most important thing which should exist in the life of a believer and that is love. He mentions some of the gifts he had talked about in the previous chapter and he reminds us that these will all pass away, but love will remain. Why will love remain? Because love is the very nature of God! Therefore this spiritual walk is not about obtaining different gifts, but about becoming partakers of the divine nature, which means that our nature becomes his nature, which is love. This is certainly what Paul understood and why he was encouraging the church in Corinth to stop arguing about the gifts of the Spirit, but instead to focus on what's really important, which is putting on Christ and his nature. Why? Because putting on Christ is God's intention for all of humanity and that is where the perfection and/or completion comes. When Paul talks about the partial, he is talking about the life here in the flesh and the giftings that we have. They are not the ultimate perfect plan of God. Paul is talking about a person growing up spiritually from childhood to adulthood and it is in adulthood that we begin to truly understand this love of God.

 

Application


Too often we are focusing on the "things" of our spiritual life instead of the "person" of Jesus Christ. The Bridegroom, Jesus Christ loves us dearly and is drawing us toward him into a continually deeper relationship in which the distractions of the world simply fade away. Our desire for him becomes so great that our vision of him becomes clearer and clearer as the things of the world that used to so entice us simply fall into the distance. Love draws us toward him and eventually we become completely and totally consumed by his love until there is nothing else of significance. The things that we used to argue about are gone. The thing that unifies us is all that remains. The arrow of his love has pierced us and his love fills the wound creating a desire in us for nothing but him. Faith and hope are wonderful, but they are nothing compared to his holy love with which he has gifted us. I drink in this love as if I had found a stream in a barren desert and am completely and totally satisfied. Who would want anything else?

 

Prayer


Lord, please continue to draw me on toward your all-consuming and all-satisfying love. Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Greater Gifts




Scripture

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:27 NASB)
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
(1 Corinthians 12:28 NASB)
All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?
(1 Corinthians 12:29 NASB)
All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
(1 Corinthians 12:30 NASB)
But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
(1 Corinthians 12:31 NASB)

 

Observation

The church in Corinth was going through a time of great difficulty for there were those who were displaying spiritual gifts that were creating division in the church. It was the more flamboyant gifts that were getting the attention of the people. Suddenly there were those through whom God was performing miracles and they were seeing a great many people healed. There were those also who were speaking in "tongues" and there continues to be much argument to this day over what exactly Paul was talking about in the use of this word. Most commentators that I read say that he meant diverse languages. In the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, at a crossroads with much of the world, the ability to speak in multiple languages would indeed be a gift, and the ability to interpret carried with it power for those without the gift were dependent upon their translators. (Believe me -- I've been there!). Or it could have been that he was referring to those who were practicing speaking in "unknown" tongues, or a language of angels, and we simply cannot say for sure. However, this we do know. Those who had the more outwardly "exciting" gifts were using them to say that they were more spiritual than others in the church. The result was a church which was divided and at odds with one another.

Paul decides that he has to bring some order to this chaos which the church is experiencing in Corinth. Several times in this chapter he refers to different people with different gifts and finally, here at the end he lists a type of hierarchy for authority and/or structure within the church. There end up being three groupings, if you will, regarding the gifts and authority. He wants to make it clear that outward acts doesn't necessarily bring with it greater authority. The first category of leadership comes from Apostles, Prophets and Teachers. The Apostles were those original twelve, and then the sent seventy and also included people like Paul and Barnabas, Andronicus and Junia. Those who had actually seen Christ and were carrying the news about him to the world. Also included in this category were the prophets, or the preachers. Those who had not seen Christ but were preachers and champions of the gospel. This would include individuals like Apollos, the daughters of Philip and others who was traveling the known world and preaching about Christ. But even Apollos had some issues with his theology and had to come under the authority of some teachers -- like Priscilla and Aquilla who had to help him understand that sometimes his preaching wasn't always right. These would all be found in the first category and Paul was saying that while you may not be seeing charismatic gifts from these leaders -- they are the leaders and they are the ones whom God has placed into authority and this is their gifting. Just because they don't have the other gifts does not mean that they are not spiritual people.

Next in his list came those who could do miracles and gifts of healing. Obviously this was happening in the life of the church and God was giving this gift to a number of individuals. This was exciting to see that God was pouring out his Spirit and working in this way and I'm sure that the crowds gathered around to watch those who had these spiritual gifts. However, with the crowds would come a temptation to believe that they were more popular and more spiritual than the ones who were gifted with the leadership. They may have begun to take on the leadership of the church, we don't know for sure, but we know that they were boasting about what was happening and Paul had to respond.

The final category included helps, administrations, and various tongues. These would have been those with the practical skills to be helping out in the church. These are the worker bees, the ones who are organized, the church treasurers, etc. They love to keep all the pieces of things together and going and there are times when the prophetic types and/or the miracle types drive them up the wall! Why? Because the movement of the Holy Spirit is such a messy thing -- can't we get it organized and planned out a little better!

Paul is telling them that all of these things matter to God. They are all important in the church, but that there is a way in which God wants it all to function in an orderly manner. But he doesn't end there. This chapter ends by saying that this is all good, but now, he's going to tell us about something much more excellent....

 

Application

I believe that Christianity is deeply desiring a movement of God's Holy Spirit. We realize that in many ways we are in desperate times and that the only solution is the Lord. In our desperation we want to see God work and move. We are looking for the flamboyant answers because there we can really "see" God. There is nothing wrong with this. This is how God works and he wants to work, but Paul says don't get hung up there. There is more to the whole body of Christ. This is just one part, and especially don't ignore the fact that God has gifted Apostles, Prophets and Teachers. I'm afraid that within American Christianity a chasm has been developing between the first and second categories, just like it was in the days of Paul. The Apostles, Prophets and Teachers should not be afraid of the ones who are able to perform miracles and heal, while at the same time those with those gifts should not look down on the ones with the gifts of leading, preaching and teaching. They are all gifts and we need them all. Just as in Paul's day, these gifts need to be drawn together and bound together for God's use in the whole body of Christ. And the only way that they will be bound together is in the same way that Paul explains to us in Chapter 13, the great love chapter. The more excellent way has nothing to do with these spiritual gifts, but with love which pours over us as a holy anointing oil which unites us and makes us one strong body of Christ. There can be no time for envy and strife. There can be no time to argue over who is more spiritual than the next person. We must all unite together to pray that God's love be poured over us and the world in a mighty revival of God's interaction in the world today.

 

Prayer


Lord, I pray for your love which unifies to be poured out upon your people today. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What will you do for the gospel?




Scripture

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
(1 Corinthians 9:19 NASB)
I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
(1 Corinthians 9:23 NASB)

 

Observation

Paul was consumed with loving service to the Lord. This was his passion, day in and day out. The result was that he was constantly looking for those who did not know Jesus Christ. He was willing to change his plans, he was willing to be flexible, he was willing to lay down his own rights so that he might be able to bring someone to the Lord. There was nothing selfish about his actions. Instead, his goal was to be a partaker of the gospel, which meant that ultimately he wanted to participate in Christ. Christ was in him, but he was also in-Christ and this co-mingling with the Gospel so penetrated his very being that Paul couldn't help but be like Christ. Christ's passion for the lost consumed him and there was nothing he could do, but reach out to a hurting and dying world. He did everything for the sake of the gospel.

 

Application


I'm afraid that these days I see very little passion for the lost. Somehow I think we've fooled ourselves into thinking that somehow everyone is going to be okay. They're not all going to be okay! We need to pray that God will again pour out on us his passion for the lost world around us so that we would do whatever it takes to bring people to Christ. But at the root of it all is how Paul ended this section. He did all things for the gospel so that he could be a fellow partaker of it. Our passion for winning the lost does not come from simply a desire to win the lost -- but from our passion for Christ. Ultimately what may be wrong with us today is that we don't have a passion to be partakers of the Gospel, who is Jesus Christ! Jesus is the good news, and when we unite ourselves with him, his passions become our passions. But have we truly united ourselves with him? Or have we simply enjoyed fellowship with him that has been beneficial for us, but we have been unwilling to take the plunge and truly allow ourselves to become partakers together with him?

May we allow ourselves to become so consumed with the gospel, may we become partakers of him to the extent that we want nothing but what Jesus wants. Jesus gave his life for the lost. The passion of Christ should so consume us that we would be willing to do whatever it takes for the lost to come to him.

 

Prayer


Lord, may you place a fiery consuming burden in my heart for the lost. Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Arrogance?




Scripture

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
(1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB)
If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know;
(1 Corinthians 8:2 NASB)
but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
(1 Corinthians 8:3 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul throws in a simple phrase here about knowledge. In this case it is related to knowing about food that has been sacrificed to idols. If they knew it had been offered to idols, they felt that they should not eat it. Somehow this did not seem to be God-honoring. The problem is that the meat that had been offered to idols was then sold as sort of "second hand." Obviously it was much cheaper than "first hand" meat that had not been used as a sacrifice. The rich people were able to purchase the "first hand" meat, but the poor people could not. The people with the "knowledge" in this case were the rich people who looked down on eating meat that had been offered to idols. However, the result was that they were creating a barrier between themselves and their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ. Can't you just imagine the church pot-luck dinners? People whispering to one another about the food dish. The poorer individuals working hard to bring something to the table only to have the wealthy church members snobbishly walk past and not touch what they had prepared. Their knowledge of this meat had made them arrogant. They were acting as if they were spiritually superior. Paul tells them that love needs to become the overriding factor. He warns them that their knowledge will make them arrogant, but if they will love it will be edifying and ultimately unifying.

 

Application


Knowledge can come from a number of different sources. We can gain academic knowledge, but there is also a cultural knowledge that can lead to arrogance. I'm one of those people who has moved a great deal in my lifetime. Every time I arrive someplace new I have to try and learn the culture of the place in which I am living. I have discovered that sometimes there is a type of arrogance which can be displayed by the "locals" when new people arrive. New folks don't know the customs or the ways in which things have "always" been done. Sadly we don't always respond with love, but sometimes with arrogance at the "foolishness" of those individuals who don't get it. This is some of what Paul was talking about. We need to put aside our "knowledge" and ideas of how things are to be "proper" if we are to welcome everyone into the family of God. We cannot create human barriers by our own personal expectations, but we must do everything that we can to remove every barrier that may keep someone from Christ. If we don't, we will be viewed as arrogant Christians and the world will never see the love of God.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to be sensitive to the barriers I may create and do everything in my power to tear them down! Amen.