Monday, December 31, 2012

Come!




Scripture:

Rev. 22:17     The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who is thirsty come.
    Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Observation:

Here at the very closing verses of the Bible we find this ongoing and continuous invitation to come!  The Church and the Holy Spirit are sending out an invitation to come!  The invitation is reaching the ears of the needy -- those who are thirsting for the answers to life and they are invited to come.  And the water that will quench their thirst is available, if only they will simply come! 


Application:

Even after all of the plagues and warnings and the threats, there is still an invitation to come.  Jesus has declared that he is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end -- and that he is patient and is waiting for his people to respond.  What will it take for us to come?

It is interesting to see here that it is the Spirit and the Bride who say come.  The Holy Spirit has been at work speaking to the hearts and minds of those who need to come to Christ, but the Spirit works together with the Bride.  Who is the Bride?  The Church.  Therefore the Church has a responsibility to be extending the invitation for those who need to come.  It is when the Church and the Holy Spirit work together in harmony that we see people responding to the invitation to come.  But how often is that invitation extended these days?  In some places it may be frequently, but in others I wonder if the invitation exists at all.  Where is the problem -- the Spirit or the Church? 

The world around us is searching for answers or solutions to the struggles of life.  Often they are hot and thirsty, almost choked by the very existence of sin in their lives.  What they need is the refreshing and life-giving water which is found in Christ.  But how will they find this water? 

A few months ago I was in Nairobi, Kenya and was taken to visit a Youth Club in the midst of a terrible slum.  One of the biggest problems for the slum community was water and sanitation.  Open sewage literally ran down the middle of the muddy paths that were their streets.  In the heart of this slum a group came and built a water house as a ministry.  It was a building with water, toilets and showers.  It was literally an oasis in the midst of overwhelming need and poverty.  Why was this facility so effective?  Because it was built in the middle of the community that needed it the most.  The water was brought right to those who were thirsting.

How are those who are thirsting supposed to find the water that they so desperately need if it is hidden away behind walls and locked doors in communities where they would feel uncomfortable visiting?  For the Bride, the Church to extend her invitation, she must be willing to bring the water to those who are thirsty.  We must become the oasis of that eternal water which will forever quench the thirst of our world.  We must build our watering houses in the very midst of the driest and neediest places so that they have easy access to the water of life.  How else can they come?

Interestingly I'm guessing that there are also some who are living in the slum of Nairobi who have never visited the water house.  They know it's there.  They know what it can do for them -- but for some reason they've never responded to the invitation to come.  As we close out this New Year, if we have ever struggled with the invitation, if we are choking on the dust of our own making, maybe we need to put away our pride and be willing to come and drink of the water that will satisfy every need!  The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come!"

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be faithful in taking your living water to the dry and parched places of my world.  Amen.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Where would you find yourself?




Scripture:


Rev. 18:10 they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
    “Alas, alas, the great city,
        Babylon, the mighty city!
    For in one hour your judgment has come.”
Rev. 18:11  ¶ And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore,
Rev. 18:12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble,
Rev. 18:13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
Rev. 18:24     And in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
        and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.”


Observation:

In this Chapter of Revelation we find the fall of Babylon the great.  The timelessness of the Bible is revealed in the fact that through the years people have identified their "Babylon."  During the time of John, Babylon truly was an amazing city.  It was a trade center where all those associated with her work and trade became immensely wealthy.  That's why the merchants of the world wept for her demise!  It wasn't that they loved her -- they loved what she provided for them.  The people of the world worshiped Babylon and were willing to do her dirty deeds because they loved being rich.  Look at the list of items in their cargo!  They were involved in the sale of luxury items, not the least of which was human lives!

John Wesley believed that this passage of scripture referred to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church.  He was not alone in this.  For a number of years following the Reformation these scriptures were directly applied to the corruption of Rome.  For them it was clear that this was what the prophesy was talking about.


Application:

So, what does Babylon mean for us today?  Obviously people throughout history have tried to discern the exact place or time -- or is this truly a timeless prophesy?  Could it be true that in every generation we find ourselves selling our souls to the powers and authorities of this earth?  Do we become enthralled with the wealth that participating in the world has to offer?  Might we be standing at the edge of a "fiscal cliff" and mourning over the "stuff" that we will no longer have? 

This story begins and ends with two different groups of people.  At the beginning you have those who are weeping over the demise of Babylon.  All of the things to which they had given their lives are suddenly destroyed.  The wealth of this world is gone!  The systems that they had understood have all disappeared and in light of eternity, they are left with nothing.  They grieve the loss of their "stuff."

The second group of people are found in verse 24.  They are the people who also lived within the kingdom of Babylon but who did not become a part of the system.  They were not wealthy.  They refused to sell their souls to participate in the wealth of this world .  These were the prophets and the saints.  The people who were willing to continue to speak and to preach the Truth which is found in the word of God.  Among them were also found the saints -- not just a select handful of ultra-spiritual people, but all of those who had been transformed by the power of Christ to be his holy people.  They had also lived in the city -- but they had also died by the city. 

So, where would we find ourselves today?  Are we active participants in the life of Babylon?  Are we enjoying all that we can get from her?  Or, are we willing to be God's holy people, his prophetic voice in the midst of society and as such, are we willing to be martyred, whether physically or socially, to be his faithful few?


Prayer:

Lord, being faithful within the world is not an easy thing -- and it's only by your strength that it's possible.  Please, lead and guide me today.  Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Kingdom of our Lord



Scripture:

Rev. 11:15     Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
        and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign forever and ever.”


Observation:

The vision of John has expanded and he is seeing a great cosmic shift.  Evil has had the power and authority to rule over the earth.  Remember when Satan offered Jesus the earthly kingdoms?  Jesus knew that this was not a way to victory but a way of succumbing to the evil one.  The evil one tempted Jesus with power for a period of time, if he would be willing to give up his loyalty to his father.  Jesus understood the eternal implications and temporal power, wealth and authority could not sway him. 

Now, we see the great cosmic shift.  Jesus had ushered in the Kingdom of God.  Instead of siding with evil, the Kingdom had been firmly rooted and planted on the earth with the coming of the Messiah and was growing and expanding through the Church, Jesus' bride!  However, the Kingdom of our Lord and the Kingdom of the World have been in continual conflict -- a conflict that I'm sure each and every one of us can sense.  There is a continual tension between the two Kingdoms who are active and trying to contain the same space.  One constantly trying to push out the other.  When this seventh and final trumpet sounds the tension will finally be over.  Only one Kingdom will remain -- and it will be the Kingdom of our Lord -- of Jesus, the Messiah! 

Application:

We are living in the period of great tension.  We can feel it on a daily basis as we rub shoulders with the world and its Kingdom.  The question we have to ask ourselves is how we respond to living within that tension. 

We face the same temptation of Christ.  We are invited to participate in the Kingdom of the World -- and all that it has to offer -- which includes temporal satisfaction.  We may experience power, wealth, and authority by living in the Kingdom of the World -- but what does it mean for us when it comes to eternity.  Jesus, the Son of God, knew that it wasn't worth it to sell out to temporary satisfaction.  Why should we?  The Kingdom of this World will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah!  When that happens, where will we find ourselves?

The two Kingdoms are living in cosmic tension with one another.  If we are already living within the Kingdom of our Lord -- then the gates of heaven have been opened up to us.  When we spend intimate time in prayer we are ushered into the throne room of the Kingdom of our Lord.  We are able to participate in the new Kingdom and take our marching orders from the one who is already ruling.  The result is that at times we will feel like aliens here on this earth and our responses to the things of the world may make no sense to those around us. 

A misconception for Christians is that we have to fight the battle between the two Kingdoms!  How arrogant is that?  Do we really think that we have the power to take on the Kingdom of this World?  This is a battle which is happening in realms we can't even begin to understand and with powers beyond anything we can even imagine.  We are asked to be faithful servants in the Kingdom of our Lord -- as our Lord continues the battle against evil.  We must act in obedience to Him -- but also in accordance with the new Kingdom.  Jesus laid out those rules quite clearly in the Sermon on the Mount.  The principles that He describes there are counter-cultural because they are really counter-World Kingdom!  When we respond to the world around us we need to examine ourselves and determine whether our response is coming from the Kingdom of the World, or the Kingdom of our Christ! 

Yes, the tension continues today but when the seventh trumpet sounds the battle will all be over.  The Kingdom of this World will be broken and the Kingdom of our Lord will have complete and total control of this earth.  Where will we find ourselves on that day?

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me for the times that I am tempted to listen to the voices and responses from the Kingdom of the World.  I want to be a faithful servant in Your Kingdom!  Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

They Did Not Repent




Scripture:


Rev. 9:20 ¶ The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.
Rev. 9:21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.


Observation:

Throughout history people have believed that the author of these scriptures was writing about them and their time-period.  Historically commentators and writers such as Clarke and Wesley have already placed these scriptures within a particular time context.  For them the rise of the Turkish Empire and the fall of much of the Christian East to the Muslim world was the sign that these things had come to pass.  Now, in our day, we read these scriptures again and we apply them to our lives.  There are timeless truths in these scriptures which apply to each and every generation.  Every generation has an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways and to follow after Jesus Christ and at nearly ever turn we encounter those who will not repent. 

The understanding of the terms within these verses has changed through the centuries but again can have a timeless meaning.  What was it that kept these people from repenting?  The activities in which they were engaged were more important to them than worshipping God.  They were enthralled with the lives of those who had gone before and wanted to follow in their footsteps, therefore, in a way, worshipping the demons of past.  Man has always had hand-made idols, and while we may not be carving them into statues to worship, we may be worshipping them none the less. 

How many ads are there on television today for gold?  Fear the government and put your trust in gold.  Buy gold now -- the real thing.  Put some gold bouillon in your safe at home!  If you can't afford gold, try silver.  You can trust gold and silver to get you through any kind of a financial crisis!  Really?  What are bronze, stone and wood going to do for us?  Maybe they are used in the construction of our homes or buildings where we work.  Can we put our trust in the things that we own?  As the author says, these cannot see or hear or walk!  Why is that significant?  Because our God is a relational God!  Our God tells us that the greatest commands are to love him and to love our neighbor.  We have the joy of trusting in a relational God who pours out his love to us.  Gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood are simply items which he created and cannot be in a relationship with us.  And yet we put our trust in them.

The final verse here is quite profound because again it is timeless.  They did not repent of their murders, their sorceries or their fornication, or their thefts.   To look at the original Greek words here the root of murder is to slaughter, of sorceries is pharmakeia, and fornication is porneia.  Could we translate this to say that we are unwilling to repent of legalized slaughter, of our addiction to drugs and pornography?!  Wow, that could certainly sound like a description of the world today.  And they did not repent.


Application:

Unfortunately many of us do not want to repent of the things which have crept into the world and into the private lives of many individuals.  Instead, we want to legalize them and rationalize them away.  In most of the world abortion is used as a form of birth control.  In the US it is most common when women find themselves in uncommitted relationships -- when they are simply living with a man.  There is no commitment on the part of either individual to raise a child.  Therefore there is no commitment to the consequences of the relationship.  We want the freedom to have a casual relationship but we want none of the responsibility which may go with that relationship.  The number one cause for children living in poverty in America today is single-parent homes.  We have put our seal of approval on a society where no one has to take responsibility and we all have the freedom to live as we choose without consequences.  If we feel no consequences, then we certainly do not feel as if we have to repent either. 

The use of drugs has a significant impact on the part of the country in which I live.  The loss of jobs and the consequent depression of entire communities has led people into a lifestyle of drug use.  Within the last few years oil and natural gas have been rediscovered here in Ohio because fracking makes the release of these natural resources a possibility.  The oil companies have moved in and the communities were excited about the possibility of jobs coming to their areas.  Today you hear nothing but complaints about the oil companies and that they are only bringing in their own people to work in the oil fields.  It is true that in some parts of East Ohio you can hardly find a motel room and that the big pick-up trucks have out of state plates.  But why is this?  The oil companies did intend to hire local workers but when they began to do the pre-hiring drug-screenings such a high percentage came back positive for drugs they decided they would have to look elsewhere.  The sheer cost of screening so many non-hirable individuals has driven the oil companies to change their tactics.  So now the locals complain that others are coming in and doing the jobs on the oil-fields and they can't get hired.  Of course the complaint is about the oil companies, but what about taking responsibility for the drug use and abuse.  At what point does it stop?  And they did not repent.

The final word that jumped out at me is usually written fornication in English but the root is porneia.  Oh my!  Since the internet pornography has literally become a cancer in society.  It used to be that "dirty old men" had to go to the "Adult Book Store" in the past but now they can sit in the privacy of their own home and have access to anything that they want…and the destructive force of pornography is being seen in the destruction of marriages and relationships.  Sadly this issue has touched many a home, including those who are in the ministry.  When one begins to engage in pornography -- one begins to commit adultery against their spouse.  Jesus said that if a man looked at a woman with lust in his heart he had committed adultery.  What do you think is happening by watching porn?  But society is trying to make it more normal and acceptable.  Jokes are made on television about how "every guy does it!"  Do they?  And they did not repent.

Why is there such little repentance these days?  I believe it is because the world, and also the church, have bought into the idea that many of these behaviors are normal and acceptable.  When we place our seal of approval on these types of behaviors, then there is no need to repent.  At the same time I think the church needs to examine herself and how she ministers to a world in which these types of behaviors have become acceptable.  Standing on a street corner and yelling condemnation on the world will not result in people repenting.  Instead, we need to go back to what the author talked about in terms of God.  Our God can see, walk and talk.  Our God is relational.  We are to be a reflection of our God to the world.  We are to see the needs around us, and then we are to walk into the world rubbing shoulders with these people who are in need.  In the time of Christ he did not stand on the street corners condemning people -- instead he went out and had dinner with them.  He loved them and he gently showed them the right path on which to walk, not out of condemnation but out of love.  But he provided a way for them to go.  What do we have to offer the world?  Do we have a solution?  We cannot condemn if we offer no way out!  The church must speak into the very issues of this world and provide positive solutions and directions for peoples' lives.  And then our hope will be that they will repent.


Prayer:


Lord, I am a bit overwhelmed by your word today.  Please, help me to know how to minister in this world.  Amen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Tree of Life




Scripture:


Rev. 2:7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To those who are victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.


Observation:

In the opening book of the Bible we learn about the beautiful garden -- Paradise -- in which Adam and Eve have the privilege of living.  Their every need is provided and yet there is a tree in the center of the garden from which they are not to eat.  This is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  At the same time there exists in the garden the tree of life.  Once they have eaten the fruit from the forbidden tree God sends them out of the garden and away from the tree of life.  Sinful humanity must not eat from this tree and they are banned from its very presence. 

Here in the final book of the Bible the tree appears again.  The promise of the tree of life is reaffirmed for the faithful followers of Jesus Christ for God has been caring for the tree all along.  The tree is no longer in a garden, but is in God's paradise.  This is a view of what is to come for God himself will be among his people and he WILL be our paradise.  Therefore the tree of eternal life will be found in him.  All of this is possible because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  That's why the writer encourages us to be victorious -- to hang in there and be faithful to the very end for the reward is greater than anything that any of us could ever imagine.  The tree of life is now found in God and God is our paradise. 


Application:

The world promises all kinds of places where we can experience paradise.  It may be at a beach in the Caribbean, in the heartland of Armenia (where they claim the original Eden existed), or at a man-made indoor water park in the midst of a freezing cold winter, but none of these have anything to offer in comparison to God's paradise.  This letter was written to the church in Ephesus.  They had been faithful for so long and in so many ways but now their love for God had grown cold.  They had forgotten what it was that had drawn them to Christ in the first place.  They were just "doing" church and being good people but somehow they were no longer passionately in love with Christ.  This was a reminder of what it was all about. 

To be victorious spiritually means that we learn how to camp out in the presence of Jesus Christ.  This is simply a foretaste of what is to come.  What is to come is beyond anything that we could ever imagine.  We will have the joy of being in God.  There in the center of his holy presence we will discover the tree of life -- of eternal life.  When we are connected to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit we are connected to eternity. 

I'm not sure what paradise we may be searching for today but maybe it's time that we discover true paradise which is found in our relationship with God.  When we find this place we will discover that we can enjoy a foretaste of that paradise on a daily basis in our personal walk with him, enjoying his fruits.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me, through your power to be a faithful and victorious follower.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

His Statutes Last Forever




Scripture:

Psalm 119:152
Long ago I learned from your statutes
  
 that you established them to last forever.

Observation:

It's the day after Christmas and for some of us across the US we are tucked into our homes, not going out on this snowy day.  People are cleaning up from yesterday's celebrations, some are out shopping and many are already looking forward to putting 2012 behind them and move into the New Year.  Quickly, within the hustle and bustle of life we can put Christmas behind us.  Yes, there may have been one day that we set aside to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, but have we already moved on?  The Psalmist writes in the past a message which reaches out to us even today.  He is speaking to his heavenly Father and realizes that the laws of God, the statutes that God has established have been created to last forever.  When the things of this world come and go, they do not.  We can trust God to carry us through the things which happened in 2012, and into the things which will occur in 2013. 

Application:

Last evening we were playing 90's Trivial Pursuit with our daughter and son-in-law.  That's a rather crazy game for our family to play because we lived the 90's in Russia and much of popular American culture is lost on us.  However, we muddled through!  The interesting thing we realized was the rapid pace of technical development which occurred in the 90's.  The use of the internet had just begun.  The first singing group (you would never recognize who they are) put their music on the internet.  The Palm Pilot became the rage.  The first on-line game used via telephone modems about put the phone system under in Europe when too many people tried to get on-line at the same time.  Sitting in a room filled with iPhones,  iPads, and laptop computers it was hard to imagine the technological changes which have happened within such a short period of time.  I still remember the time my dad and I had a discussion when I was in elementary school that some day every home in America would have a computer -- and we were both wondering why!  Last evening I pondered what would be coming next.  If so much has happened in the last 20 years, what will the next 20 years hold for all of us.  In some ways it is unnerving because it's almost too much to absorb and apply.  We must constantly be learning if we are going to stay current. 

And then I think about the Jesus that we celebrated yesterday.  His statutes are forever!  Suddenly there is a calm and a peace in the midst of all the frenetic world in which we live.  God doesn't change.  His laws don't change.  His love for us doesn't change.  We don't' have to learn about him anew every 6-8 months -- he is the stable factor in all of our lives.  This day after Christmas I am grateful for the peace of Jesus which I sense in my life.  I am grateful for the morning meetings that he and I have -- and that he is always there waiting for me to slow down enough to join him.  He has established his statutes forever.  I think that even the Psalmist was grateful for the unchanging nature of a loving heavenly Father. 

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the consistency which you bring to a chaotic world.  Thank you for your patience with me.  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Testimony is True




Scripture:

John 21:24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.


Observation:

Sometimes when we read the gospel accounts of Jesus they may seem far removed from us.  What are these stories?  Are they just that -- stories?  No, they are first-hand accounts of what these people encountered when they met Jesus Christ.  The gospel writers had to pick and choose what they would put down in writing.  The story of Christ's coming and life here on earth was so amazing that there was no way it could all be written! 

Application:

It's Christmas Eve and I love this night of celebration.  Growing up as a child in Germany, Christmas Eve was my very favorite day of the year.  I will always remember going to church and singing carols by candlelight.  We truly did sing with candles.  The youth group would work to put together the candles for that evening using plaster of paris for a base.  Stuck into the plaster of paris was a red candle and a sprig of evergreen.  As we gathered to worship that evening everyone would grab one of these candles and as the service progressed they would be lit one by one throughout the sanctuary until the place was a glow with those worshiping the newborn king.  I had favorite songs like, "Oh Du Fröliche…" and "Stille Nacht."  The presence of Jesus was very real for me, a little girl, getting to worship with my parents, brothers and beloved extended family. 

It is a joy for me to testify to what I experienced so many years ago, but that is not the end of the story.  The story continues in our lives today as we become the living testimony of the good news of Jesus Christ.  The testimony is true.  Jesus did come!  Go now, and share the good news.



Prayer:

May my life be a living testimony to you, Lord.  Thank you for the birth of your Son.  Amen. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Labor Pains

Scripture:

John 16:20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Observation:

Jesus and his disciples were going through difficult days and yet this was just the very beginning of all that was going to happen to them.  Jesus knew that he was about to be arrested and the days that would follow would be emotional and painful for his followers.  For all of them life would never be peaceful ever again.  They would go on to faithfully preach the good news about Jesus and all of them, with the exception of John would be killed for their faith.  John would have to live out his years in exile on the island of Patmos.  None of this sounds very exciting and Jesus knows what lies ahead for his dear friends.  He equates the times of trouble to labor pains.  The pains are difficult and yet when the child is born, one really does forget what they've gone through to hold that little one in your arms!  I don't think that any of us can comprehend what lies ahead when we will be privileged to be in the presence with Jesus!  I think he's telling us that all of the pains of this life will fade in comparison to being in his presence. 

Application:

I really struggle with churches that preach a prosperity gospel -- that if you follow Jesus everything in your life will be wonderful!  How can that be?  Jesus had said, "In this world you will have trouble."  That doesn't sound like a promise of things always being smooth and easy while here on this earth.  What about examples from history?  Look at the disciples -- martyrs.  Look at the early Christians -- many of them were martyred in gladiatorial events.  Nero covered them with tar and burned them as torches in his gardens.  And the list goes on and on.  Those who have gone before us, who have been faithful servants of Jesus Christ have lived through the good and the bad.

So what do you say to my friend Mike whose son Grant has been slowly coming out of a coma for nearly two years?  Grant still can't talk or walk.  In the midst of Grant's accident Carol's cancer came back with a vengeance and a year ago Carol died.  Now Mike's a single father with a son who should be at college and enjoying life and instead he's in a hospital bed receiving intensive therapy on a daily basis.  "In this world you will have trouble." 

The families of Newtown, Connecticut have faced their greatest fear -- their little ones who were to be safe were shot down before their lives could ever blossom.  "In this world you will have trouble."

We live on the edge of an economic cliff and none of us has any idea what next year will hold.  "In this world you will have trouble"

The reality is that this life will have its ups and downs.  Jesus promised that!  But he also promised, "Take heart I have overcome the world!"  The troubles and trials of this world, the difficulties which we face on a daily basis are labor pains.  They actually point us in a direction of hope for there will be a time when this prolonged labor will come to an end and the return of the baby which was born nearly 2000 years ago will bring such joy that all the troubles of life on this earth will fade into the distance.  Labor pains are always difficult but when we know that there will be a beautiful outcome as a result we can tolerate the pain.  We may be facing those days now, but we have hope in the baby who came and who will come again.  We will survive the labor pains and when we celebrate Jesus the joy of his presence will make the pains of life fade into the distance. 


Prayer:

I thank you for the labor pains which brought two beautiful daughters into my life.  Thank you for the reminder of the beauty which is to come in my relationship with you.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."




Scripture:

John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Observation:

John starts right out with relating love to the relationship with the Holy Trinity.  If we love Jesus, we will keep his commands.  He doesn't say if we fear him, or if we want to go to heaven -- he said if we LOVE him.  Love becomes the very foundational core of understanding the relationship into which we are invited and Jesus sets this up for us beautifully.  He understands that for us to be lovers of God that we also need to be connected to him.  How is that possible?  The advocate or comforter -- the paraclete -- the Holy Spirit will come to help us and he will be with us forever! 

The relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one of intimacy beyond anything that we can humanly imagine, and it is an intimacy which is defined by love.   Jesus' declaration that we will not be left orphans is powerful.  This relationship defined by love means that we are welcomed into the very family of God.  We throw that term around rather lightly without taking time to allow the concept to truly sink in.  We are invited into the family relationship found in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him, and through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is in us.  This is a mystery yes, but it also means that we are drawn into the relationship of love found in God.  When we are his children, we love him and our lives will be changed and our desire will be to follow his commandments. 

Application:

In the 1960's the song, "What the World Needs Now is Love" was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and went on to receive popular acclaim.  While the song was secular in nature and not related to God, the premise of the title remains true to this day.  What we need is love!  When Jesus was born into this world he was ushering in a new era of love -- one that the world had never before seen.  The laws were not longer to be written on hearts of stone, but through inclusion in the relationship of love found in the Trinity the laws would simply pour from the hearts of God's children.  Jesus came into the world to love us into his family. 

Last Christmas was the first year that we celebrated without our girls.  We missed all the family things that we normally do at that time of year.  It had been customary for us in the past to welcome others into our home on Christmas day and help them to feel as if they were a part of our family.  Our girls simply thought that this was a part of life.  Last year we had only been  in Ohio for a month and were living in temporary housing out on the campgrounds.  For Christmas day the tables were turned on us and we were invited into the home of new friends.  They opened the doors of their home for us, set places at the table for us and even presented us with gifts.  We felt loved and welcomed to a new part of the country and while we missed our own children they made us feel very special that day. 

That first Christmas is when Jesus came so that we would have the privilege of being loved into a new family.  Today we may be called children of God!  Emmanuel -- God with us.  Yes, but we can also say, God in us!  The world truly needs the love of God today and the only way they can experience that love is for his children to take it to the world.  If we are trying to keep commands by simply following a list and not allowing ourselves the intimacy of a relationship with Christ then we are missing the whole gift of Christmas.  Yes, the world needs "love sweet love," and Christ followers should be oozing with the love of God.  The gift that came over 2000 years ago should continue to reach out and overflow to our world through you and me.  Why?  Because Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in him, and he is in us, and all of this because of love. 

Prayer:

Lord, may your love flow through me today.  I am so grateful for your love!  Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Shepherd or Hired Hand




Scripture:


John 5:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Observation:


There was a radical difference between the good shepherd and the hired hand.  The good shepherd loved his flock.  The hired hand wanted to use the flock for his own benefit.  The good shepherd was willing to lay down his life for the flock -- anything so that they might be saved.  The hired hand ran from the flock and left them unprotected in the midst of danger for he had no vested interested in the survival of the flock, only in himself. 

Application:


This text can be applied at three levels.  The first is Jesus as the good shepherd and the other religious leaders as the hired hands.  That was what Jesus was facing in his day.  The religious leaders wanted to use the people to obtain power and wealth, but they certainly did not love the people, nor would they have given up their lives for them.  But Jesus was the ultimate good shepherd.  He came, knowing that he would have to sacrifice his life for the sheep, and this he was willing to do.  As we celebrating his coming we realize that he was the ultimate good shepherd who has done all that he can to protect his flock.

At the second level ministers today are also seen as the shepherds of their flocks, or congregations.  They will either be good shepherds, or hired hands.  The good shepherd will learn to love their community and their people and will do just about anything for those people to be safe.  Being safe means that we passionately preach the good news about Jesus Christ to them so that they will find eternal life.  The hired hand is a maintainer.  This is someone who works his/her shift and then heads home.  There is no passion for the people within the congregation.  More often than not there is frustration with the congregation and complaints about why they don't do more.  Hey -- they are sheep!  Sheep don't do things well without a shepherd who will lead them in the right direction and the best paths. 

On an individual level we may choose to live our Christian lives as a good shepherd, or a hired hand.  The good shepherd is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ and is filled with love and passion for the bridegroom.  This love and passion overflows into their everyday life and reaches out to a lost a dying world for they have the compassion of the good shepherd.  They see the world as an extension of Jesus' flock and realize that they are to participate together with him in reaching the lost ones.  They leave the comfort of the 99 who are sitting in church, and they will go out after the one that is lost.  Meanwhile the hired hand will show up from time to time at church on a Sunday and feel that they have "done their time."  They have worked their shift at being a Christian.  There is no overflow into their daily lives for when they are "off the clock" they can do whatever they please. 

In just a few days we will celebrate the arrival of the Messiah.  The Messiah came to change us at the very core, so that we could participate with him in his activity here on this earth as the good shepherd.  The choice is up to us, either to participate with the good shepherd, or to live has hired hands.  That decision has eternal consequences.

Prayer:


Lord, may I serve you, the Good Shepherd by participating with you in your mission to this world.  Help me to flee from the temptation to ever simply be a hired hand.  Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Pastoral Response to Newtown, CT



There are times in life when we are faced with issues that touch the very core of our being and shape the culture in which we live.  In our lifetimes we have faced the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union, The 1993 war in Moscow, 9/11, the Beslan school massacre (380 deaths), the Moscow theater hostage crisis, and now this needless shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.  These may not be the moments that come to your minds or stir your attention, but they are the moments of our history.  Just writing them down brings about emotions which usually remained buried beneath the surface.

Living in the former Soviet Union we always lived with a heightened sense of awareness that we and our children were targets.  International schools are especially considered soft targets for terrorism.  Every day we sent our children off to school knowing that they had to be kept safe by those around them, and in the protective arms of God.  The school itself had a safety perimeter with guards at the gates.  All cars had to have permits to even enter the property.  All doors were made of heavy steel and had electronically coded locks.  The codes were changed on a regular basis.  This is what we came to expect living in Russia, but somehow it’s not what we expect when we live in America.  We have always thought of America as the safe place where children could run freely, without the worry of looking over their shoulder for the suspicious individual who may be following them, or monitoring for left packages or bags that could be bombs.  But maybe that is all changing, and the church must be prepared to speak into that change.

As ministers of the gospel we must bring Jesus with us into the pain of this world and into the world’s cultural changes.  When society experiences a collective tragedy such as the one in Newtown we must be willing to speak into that pain with our congregations.  This is not something that should be pushed aside and forgotten.  We must address the situation and be willing to provide Christian leadership.  Where do we begin?

Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God (Is. 40:1).


The first responsibility of ministers is to provide comfort for those who are living in the midst of this tragedy.  While we do not live close geographically we must be willing to realize that today’s media makes these events very live and real for all of us!  The reactions this week make us realize that this shooting has hit a collective nerve in the psyche of America.  That includes the people within our congregations.  We have heard reports that church attendance was up on Sunday.  Why is that?  Because when we are hurt we seek comfort from God and from his people.  It is moments like this that the church must step up and be a voice for the love and comfort of God which can come to us in the midst of tragedy.

The minister must be willing to acknowledge the incident and the pain that it has inflicted among those in Newtown, but also here in our local congregations.  Recognize the fear that exists within the hearts of children and parents and share the good news of Jesus Christ – that it is the Lord who wants to come and comfort us in the midst of these difficulties, as well as take away any anxiety which we may fear.  Every day we step out into a world full of uncertainties.  Any day could be our last!  As God’s children, he promises to come and be with us.

No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13).

“Did God make this happen?”  This is one of the questions that ministers are frequently asked in a desire to understand the awful circumstances.  Well meaning Christians might say that God had a plan for this situation and that he purposely planned it so that we could learn a lesson.  Some have gone so far as to say that God did this so that we would learn that we need to have public prayer back in the schools.  First of all, prayer should have never left the schools if Christians who work and study in the schools continued on with their prayer-lives.  No one has ever outlawed a person having private times of prayer in a public school.  I know of teachers who come to school early in the morning and spend time sitting in every chair in their classroom praying for each child who will enter the classroom that day.  I believe that God is pleased with this type of prayer from someone whose heart is genuinely turned toward him, and no laws can keep someone from doing this.  Therefore God is in the schools, as long as Christians are in the schools, following the Apostle Paul’s example of praying continuously.

God’s nature does not allow any space for evil.  The early church Fathers wrestled with this question and laid a foundation for our understanding.  Gregory of Nyssa writing long ago said that the image of God is marked with “alienation from all evil.”  In other words, evil is completely beyond the realm of God’s attributes.  God cannot be the father of evil.  Nyssen explains that it is the person’s “departure of the better state” which becomes “the origin of its opposite.”  “Since then, this is the peculiarity of the possession of a free will, that it chooses as it likes the thing that pleases it, you will find that it is not God who is the author of the present evils, seeing that he has ordered your nature so as to be its own master and free; but rather the recklessness that makes choice of the worse in preference to the better.” In other words, it is the human’s will which is “swept away by deceit” that becomes the “inventor of evil.”

This was not something that the human simply discovered “after it had been invented by God. Nor did God create death; man, in a way, is the founder and creator of evil.” Instead, according to Nazianzen, you will be on a journey toward God. “‘God,’ according to bright students of Greek etymology, is derived from words meaning ‘to run’ or ‘to burn’ –the idea being of continuous movement and consuming of evil qualities hence, certainly, God is called a ‘consuming fire.’”

We, as humanity must take responsibility for the actions at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  What happened there is the result of choices made by humans and now we, as God’s people must choose how we will respond to what has occurred.  We must also ask ourselves how might we become involved so that there might be a different outcome in the future.  This is the responsibility of God’s people.

Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

“But couldn’t God have intervened?”  Jesus was sitting at the right hand of that Father that fateful Friday morning interceding for all that was happening, and who’s to say that he didn’t intervene?  Wasn’t Jesus visible in the courage of the woman in the school office who called 911?  What about in the young teacher who locked away her children in the cupboards only to face the shooter herself, saving the lives of numerous children?  And what about the first responders who put were willing to run into the midst of that dangerous situation to stop the senseless violence?

But how could Jesus allow so many little children to die?  Honestly, we don’t have the answer to that.  There are times when we may need to admit that we don’t have all the answers and that we cannot completely explain God.  He says,

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).  

If we can’t answer all the questions, what are we to do?  We are to be reminded of the promises of the love of God.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.


For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).


There is a very personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who came to this earth to save us from our sins.  When we run into the arms of the Savior, we are also running and fleeing from evil.  Even the children who died that day ended up in the arms of a dear loving Savior.  If we are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ there is nothing in this world that can separate us from his love.

This is the advent season.  We have been horribly reminded of the pain that exists in this world.  May we join together and pray,

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20b)!



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Whose Glory?




Scripture:


John 5:44 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?

Observation:


Human ambition was an important feature in the lives of the religious leaders.  They loved receiving praise from one another for the things which they were doing.  Would Jesus have been the "right" kind of Messiah they would have gladly accepted praise and glory from him, but he was not what they wanted.  Just imagine applying the Sermon on the Mount to these kinds of religious leaders.  The humble Messiah was not what they wanted.  They were used to the power and the glory which came with their positions and Jesus offered none of that!  Jesus knew that their personal pride was precluding them from putting their faith and trust in him.  How could they believe?  He knew that they could not believe in him because they were too consumed with seeking one another's approval.  What was most important to them was being accepted and praised and promoted by the people of the religious world in which they worked, lived and functioned. Jesus knew that salvation would only come when they could put all of that aside and seek only the glory which comes from God.  This passage was a foreshadowing of the teaching message of Jesus Christ, one which required self-denial, taking up one's cross and following a humble Savior, Jesus Christ.

Application:


I think that we would like to believe that we are immune from the symptoms which seemed to engulf the religious leaders of Jesus' day.  However, if we were to examine ourselves, we just might discover that we are far too similar.  How often do we look to the people around us to seek approval and affirmation for a job well done?  And the problem with this is that there will never be enough affirmation.  There will always be tomorrow and the next day and the next, and there will be no satisfaction because there will never be enough praise to make us happy. 

The scripture today isn't necessarily about praise or glory, but about contentment and satisfaction.  Jesus provides us the very opposite of what the world can offer.  Whereas when we seek the glory which comes from the world we can never be satisfied, with Jesus, he is the satisfaction.  The glory which comes from God is a sustainable glory, not one which subsides with each action or inaction.  Today's scripture is really an invitation to believe in Jesus, and to relax in the glory which comes from God.  This is a sustainable glory because it is borne out of an intimate relationship with the Creator of all things.  This relationship is deeply satisfying and nurturing. 

Jesus is placing a choice before the religious leaders.  You may either choose the glory of the world, or you may choose the glory which comes from God.  The reality is that if we go the direction of the world, while we may look religious on the outside, we lose the personal relationship with Christ on the inside.  The choice for Christ involves humility and satisfaction in the glory which comes from God alone.  Our eyes are taken off the things of this world, and are placed on the object of our love, Jesus!  As we stare deeply into his eyes, we are drawn in by his love and the glory of God pours out from him and he sustains us in a way which we could never have imagined.  Let us turn from the exhaustible glory of this world to the eternal glory found in following the Messiah who came for us.

Prayer:

Lord, this day and every day may I seek your glory, and yours alone.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Look!




Scripture

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.
(John 4:35 NASB)

 

Observation


This simple conversation with the disciples comes sandwiched in the middle of the story of the woman at the well. The Samaritan woman was probably the most unlikely candidate to become a follower of Jesus Christ. The words we use to describe her should have written her out of the story. She was a Samaritan -- hated by the Jews -- and she was a woman. This pretty much made her at the lowest rung on the ladder, and yet, this is who Jesus sat down with and chose to converse with on a very personal basis. As a result she became a follower and also went and spread the good news about Jesus to all of those who lived in her village. And in the middle of that incident, Jesus reminds his followers that they are not to make excuses about telling others about him. Don't say that you have to wait until just the perfect moment. Look! People like the Samaritan woman are sitting in front on you on a daily basis. Simply Look! People around you are ready to hear about the Messiah -- you just have to be willing to see them.

 

Application


I think about the corner of Ohio in which I live. I drive through towns which are simply a shell of themselves. I see church after church which is struggling to survive -- churches from all denominations. I see communities in decline and an increase in complex social issues. What so many need is the hope which is found in the true message of Jesus.

Jesus tried going to the synagogue and sharing the good news about the Messiah. Remember what happened? They tried to throw him off a cliff. He never did find the harvest flocking to the synagogue for worship on Saturdays. Instead, it is in the middle of a story about a sinful woman that Jesus reminds his disciples that the harvest is right in front of them. What would happen in East Ohio, or anywhere for that matter, if we got outside the confines of our church buildings and went and looked for the very least of the very least that needed help. Why do you think the Samaritan woman was at the well at noon? This was the absolute worst time of day to be at the well. It was too hot to be drawing out water. The fact that she was at the well at noon by herself meant that she had been shunned by every other person in her community because of her behavior. She was the worst of the worst -- and yet Jesus said, open your eyes and see this is the harvest which is ripe!

The only way to reach the harvest is to get out into the harvest fields. Jesus' people must be willing to move outside the confines of the church building and out into the world to bring the good news. Yesterday was about bringing the light of Jesus into the world. Jesus knew that this would be what the world needed both then and now. Look! There is a harvest out there -- there are plenty of people that need to know Jesus Christ! Look! Pray, and then join Jesus out in the harvest fields, reaping that which we didn't even have to sow. The time is now and there are people waiting, even today, at a well, in the middle of the day, hoping that Jesus will come by and give them the gift of salvation. Look!

 

Prayer


Lord, may I look today at the world around me and share your news with those who are in need. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Light in the Darkness




Scripture

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(John 1:1 NASB)
He was in the beginning with God.
(John 1:2 NASB)
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
(John 1:3 NASB)
In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
(John 1:4 NASB)
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
(John 1:5 NASB)

 

Observation


As we continue celebrating this Advent season we try to comprehend the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The reality is that it is at times difficult to grasp. Humanity had, and still has, fallen into the very dark depths of sin. The result is darkness. What happens when we are stuck in darkness? Sometimes we become accustomed to it and we think that this is the normal state of things.

I remember long dark winters in Russia where the darkness became normal. One hoped that the street lamps would be working so you could make your way through the ice and the snow. Generally you carried a small flashlight so that you could try to light up the path which others had created through the snow, following closely in the footsteps which had gone before, creating the possibility of finding your way to the light. Even when we would arrive home there often would not be light. Entering a dim hallway one waited for their eyes to adjust before fumbling to the elevator, or walking up a darkened staircase. If trying to find someone's home you tried to count the numbers to determine whether you had arrived on the right floor or not. There you would be greeted by four darkened doors, sometimes with no numbers. Again -- out came the flashlight in an effort to determine, there in the darkness whether the destination had been reached. Maybe there was a number penciled in on a door post somewhere?!

For many years we burned candles every winter evening in our Moscow apartment because the building didn't have enough electricity for all the new electric appliances everyone was wanting to use. Gradually the building would go dim at night as more people came home from work and tried to share the power. Tea lights work for four hours! I know. They would burn every evening from 6-10pm in our apartment. Time for dinner, homework and when they went out, it was time for bed. The darkness had come.  But oh the joy of a crisp, cold and sunny winter morning! While the sun may not have arrived until 9am or later, the brightness of that light changed the day. At times the darkness had become normal to us -- and not until that sun-filled day did we know what we had been missing.

 

Application


The light of Jesus is shining into our sin-darkened world today, but have we become accustomed to the darkness? Do we feel comfortable with the dimness where we can hide away, hoping that we ourselves and others don't see our weaknesses? The gospel of John tells us that the world did not comprehend the light of Jesus when he came into this world in the flesh. How much more so now when we must accept him and who he is by faith!

One by one we light the advent candles. One by one the lights begin to shine in the darkness.  Finally, this coming Sunday there will be four candles lit until we gather to celebrate his arrival and the Christ candle in the center will finally shine. The light of a single candle can shatter the darkness. The light of Jesus can shatter the dark world in which we live. But how does this light of Jesus reach into our world today?

Have you ever wondered why the beautiful palaces of old had mirror covered walls? Even if you see a picture or an old movie you notice that old homes and palaces had gorgeous rooms but with many mirrors. These rooms were created before electricity. The candleabras would be lowered to the floor and filled with candles for an evening's events. Depending on the planned length of the event, 4-6 hour candles would be used. However, to increase the light in the room, the mirrors were placed on the walls to reflect the light of the candles, making the room multiple times brighter.
 

We, as God's people are called to be a reflection of Jesus Christ to this world. He is the light. We are the mirrors. If we are facing toward him -- seeking his face, then the reflection of the light will shine into our dark world.

We are the ones who are now taking the light into the darkness. The world needs hope. Think about where you may need to go and bring the light of Jesus into the darkness. It's Advent. It will soon be Christmas. The Light has come. How will we each respond in lighting our world?

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to carry your light to this world today. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Be Holy




Scripture

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1:13 NASB)
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,
(1 Peter 1:14 NASB)
but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;
(1 Peter 1:15 NASB)
because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
(1 Peter 1:16 NASB)

 

Observation


Reading through the New Testament we are reminded by the varied authors that there is a goal for all of humanity and that is to take on the very nature of God and to be his holy people. This Christian life is to be one of transformation in which the believer participates with God in the process. Our responsibility is to prepare our minds by way of spiritual discipline. Yes, we are to read, to study, to learn, to take care of our physical bodies, to be sober in our spirit and to realize that all of our hope is in Jesus Christ alone! Yes, we are to run from the sins of our past. When we begin to understand that the things we have been doing can lead us to destruction we are to literally run from them. Instead, we are to take on the behavior of Jesus Christ. Through imitation of Christ, we participate in Christ and we are transformed into his holy people. Yes, it is possible! Be holy!

 

Application


I have heard many well-meaning people through the years say that there is no way that they can be holy. Of course they are referring to the fact that they themselves cannot make themselves holy and this is very true. But has this well-meaning response revealed that we do not have the faith to believe that God can do his work through us and that we can be holy because He is holy? God's hope for all of mankind is that we be made holy. That is the journey on which we are traveling.

We have to admit that along the way we have, at times, distorted the call to be holy. Somehow we have made holiness about the externals of life. Yes, even in these verses we are told to run from the past life in which we lived in sin, but holiness is not about the externals. The externals are what drag us away from the holiness of Christ. Holiness comes from participation in Christ, and that is where our central focus must always remain. However, we must understand that the word participation implies two parts. It includes my action and His action as well. Therefore we must be active participants in the journey of holiness. Run from evil -- and into the arms of a loving God who will envelope us with his holy embrace. The verse is an imperative -- it is a calling -- be holy!

 

Prayer


Lord, in the midst of the craziness of this world may we run into your arms today and may you surround us with your overwhelming holy love. May that holy love spill over today. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where are My Children?


Scripture:

James 1:26 ¶ If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 2:13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2:14 ¶ What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?
James 2:15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,
James 2:16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
James 2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Observation:

I'm watching a beautiful sunrise over East Ohio.  A new day is dawning, and yet I know that for many people this day brings with it a greater realization of the horrors of yesterday.  The light of this day will simply be shedding more light on an indescribable event which will forever scar the lives of many individuals suffering in Newton, CT.  My friends who live in Newtown could find no rest last night.  They were posting messages throughout the night.  Messages of pain and anguish;  a town which could not sleep, and probably did not want to see the light of this new day for the dawn brings with it a realization that this is not some horrible nightmare from which one can awake, but the new reality that will forever shape and define their community.  And the world looks on and wonders how to respond. 

There are parents who are waking up this morning and asking "Where are My Children?"  At the same time, could it be that the heavenly Father is asking, "Where are My Children?"  How are God's children to respond to this indescribable tragedy? Today's scripture reminds us that there are times when we must bridle our tongues.  Now is not the time to be arm-chair analysts, now is the time for action!  We are reminded that we are to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, while being unstained by the world.  This is not a time to place blame, but to focus on those who have been hurt by this terrible incident.   Our focus should not be about how we can try and legislate Christianity, but a time to think about how we can live Christianity.  If all Christians were truly traveling on the path to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ, then our world would be filled with reflections of Jesus surrounding them and no one can legislate that kind of behavior.  Our faith in an unseen Savior should result in a visible Savior through the works of his followers. 

Application:


This morning my eyes are filled with tears and I am reminded of the horrific scene in Bethlehem when Herod had all of the baby boys under age two murdered in an effort to destroy the Messiah.  I'm sure that as Newtown awakens today, "A voice is heard in Ramah [Newtown], weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matt. 2:18).  Today there are homes in which the joy and laughter of a Saturday morning are missing because the children are no more.  There are gifts under a Christmas tree that will never be opened because the children are no more.  There are the arms of parents that are aching because their children are no more.  There are parents remembering the last embrace with their little one.  There are siblings who are lost and confused, wondering what this means for them.  Let us take time today to focus on those who are suffering, lifting them to the father, asking for his care and comfort.  May we become actively engaged in being His hands and feet to this world so that He doesn't have to ask, "Where are My children?"

Prayer:

Father, God, I am really at a loss for words today.  My heart is broken and I know that yours is as well.  My prayer is that you will help me, as one of your children and followers to respond in the way that you would respond.  I pray that your love would surround the community of Newton, that you would envelope the parents whose arms are aching because they will never hold their child again.  Those children are in your arms today and you are caring for them, but their parents are hurting.  I know you understand that hurt, and have felt that pain at the loss of your own son.  We cry out to you and ask you to send angels of mercy to minister to them in this time of incredible pain.  And may we, your people, be your children of faith.  Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fixing our eyes on Jesus




Scripture

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

 

Observation


As children of faith we are to fix our eyes on the goal. The goal of our lives is Jesus himself. Jesus is the one who brings to completion our faith for because of his death on the cross, he is now at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Therefore I must fix my eyes on him, the goal, and in my spiritual journey continue to move toward him on a daily basis. The end result is that I have the privilege of joining him someday in heaven.

 

Application


Distractions! Everywhere in life these days there are distractions. Television is a distraction. Music is a distraction. Computers are a distraction. Smart phones are a distraction. How can we ever pull ourselves from the distractions and fix our eyes on Jesus Christ? That is the challenge of our day. All of the distractions are not bad, but if they keep us from the goal, they are destructive. Therefore I must ask God to help me to work through the distractions of life and still continually fix my eyes on Jesus.

When Jesus came to this earth on that first Christmas day, most people missed it! Why? Because they were distracted by life. The religious folks who had been waiting for the Messiah missed it! The government officials missed it! The ones who didn't miss it were the shepherds who were out in the field. On the night of Jesus' birth they were quiet and they heard the angel voices. Not only did they hear, but they immediately responded to the voice. They were the ones who were not distracted. The wise men were not distracted. Although they lived in a far off country they were intent on knowing the new king. They fixed their eyes on the goal and traveled for an extended period of time to arrive in Bethlehem and see the newborn king.

Today I have my list of to-do's. Normally my to-do list is quite long because whenever I'm able to check something off, there i something new added. However, the one thing that should always be on the top of my to-do list is Jesus! I want to fix my eyes and my life so much on him that everything else comes in after him. Even in this Christmas season as we are supposed to be celebrating his coming, we become distracted by the "trappings" and take our glance away from him. May we purposefully keep our eyes on him this year, this Christmas season. May we ask that Jesus infiltrate every part of our Christmas celebrations and may we lift up to the world the one on whom we have chosen to fix our gaze. He is the object of our love and our lives. He is the goal. Our eyes are fixed on him.

 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to fight my way through the distractions of life and keep my eyes on you. Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Faith in Santa or Jesus?




Scripture

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1 NASB)

 

Observation


This verse is the true definition of faith and according to Barnes there is no verse in the Bible greater than this. John Chrysostom said, “Faith gives reality or substance to things hoped for.” There is no faith if the object of that faith is seen. When the object of hope is unseen, then faith, according to Garvey, can exist in its fullest form! Therefore our hope is directly in proportion to the our faith which is either the "assurance" or "substance" of things hoped for. This word "assurance" or "substance" are words that really mean the foundation on which hope may be built. Therefore faith is the foundation of all hope. For example, I believe that a place such as Beijing exists. I have never been there, but I believe it is in China and therefore I act as if it's possible for me to go there someday. In this context faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done gives us hope of the resurrection and eternal life.

 

Application


Yesterday the news showed a large billboard placed in Times Square which said, "Keep the Merry!  Dump the Myth!"

Photo of the Atheist sponsored billboard in Times Square (Courtesy athiests.org, http://aka.ms/atheists-billboard) Keeping the Merry meant to embrace Santa Claus, and dumping the myth showed a picture of the crucified Christ. I find it interesting that atheists would want to keep the merry by embracing the story of a man named Santa Claus. In other words, they do have a faith and choose to put their trust in a man who lives in the North Pole, has elves as helpers, and travels around the world on the night of December 24th in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. On the other hand we wouldn't want to put our faith in a man who came to earth nearly 2000 years ago, who claimed to be the Son of God the Father, who died on a cross for our sins and is currently in heaven preparing a place for us to enjoy eternity! Honestly, they both take a step of faith. That's what this verse is telling us. Faith means that I do believe in things that I cannot currently hold onto -- I hope in things I cannot see. This is the very nature of faith. Therefore if I am going to make a choice as to the kind of faith I choose to have, do I want to believe in the one who might bring me a gift this year at Christmas, or do I want to have faith in the one who came once as a gift that will last throughout all of eternity? My odds are much better with Jesus, than with Santa! I'd rather dump the merry and embrace the myth.

 

Prayer


Jesus, I do believe. Thank you for your eternal gift. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gifts and Sacrifices in Prayer




Scripture

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.
(Hebrews 8:3 NASB)

 

Observation


The writer to the Hebrews is defining Jesus' role as High Priest. What he was unable to do on earth, he is now able to do in heaven. He has his own temple and has made gifts and sacrifices that none of us can even begin to imagine. Therefore he fills the role of the High Priest as no other priest before him, nor after him will ever be able to fulfill. The two items of significance, gifts and sacrifices must be noted. They represent two different ends of the spectrum. The first are known as Eucharistic gifts. They are the gifts of gratitude for the benevolence of a mighty God who has provided all of creation for the use of his children. The second are the sacrifices for the sins of humanity, the very need for forgiveness. This then can also become our pattern for prayer and fellowship with Christ, our High Priest, who then offers up our prayers as a sweet aroma to the Father in heaven.

 

Application


We find that Jesus is the pattern for our lives for he is the goal. The goal of the entire Christian life is to be transformed into the likeness of the image, who is Jesus Christ. He becomes the pattern for our lives and what better way to become like the pattern, than to imitate the pattern. Therefore Jesus provides for us an example of our own prayer lives. It is while he is in the Holy of Holies, that very inner chamber in the very presence of God that he lifts up the gifts and the sacrifices. We are invited to enter into sweet communion with Jesus Christ on a daily basis -- into that Holy of Holies on a very personal level. It is through prayer that we come to that place of communion with him. But now I ask whether we ever spend time bringing him our gifts of gratitude, or do we automatically shift into the list of confession and/or requests. If Jesus is offering gifts of gratitude to the Father on our behalf, how much more should we be engaged in giving gifts of thanksgiving.

As we go into prayer we must first take time to present our gifts, which are our prayers of gratitude. These gifts, in the past, were in gratitude for how God has provided for his people through his beautiful creation, the earth. Do we thank God for the things which we are able to possess and enjoy? Do we realize that they are all from him, or do we simply take it for granted, or somehow believe that we have what we do because of our own personal efforts? Something beautiful happens in our time of prayer when we begin by praising and thanking God for who he is and what he has done. The trajectory of our prayer lives begins to change in dramatic ways when God is given his true praise and honor. Then, somehow our list of requests gets removed to the end of the line and the focus becomes the very worship of God, and not us!

If we were to be honest we could all confess to becoming tired with the old prayer meetings because of the way they have digressed. No longer are they spirit-filled times of meeting in God's holy presence, but have become extended periods of time in which we discuss the physical ailments of numerous individuals. If there is time left there will be a short and perfunctory prayer for the organ recital which we have just received. There is no passionate prayer of thanksgiving to God. There is no pouring out of oneself in humility before our Creator. There is no time of simply worshiping the Creator of all things for who he is and what he has done. The entire "gifts" section of our prayer lives is often missing.

If Jesus is to be our pattern, then we must make a concerted effort to come before him with our prayers of thanksgiving. We must work to focus our attention on the good that God has already provided for us and simply to enjoy his holy presence, praising and worshiping him. From there we may go into the "sacrifice" of prayer, in which we intercede for those who need to know him, and finally intercede for the physical needs around us. Sadly, if we miss out on the "gifts" portion of prayer, we will more than likely also miss our on the sacrifice as well, for they go together. May we slow down and enjoy the sweet presence of Jesus in the Holy of Holies of our prayer lives and bring to him the sweet offering of our gifts of thanks, followed by our sacrifices.

 

Prayer


Lord, I praise you today for all that I can see and cannot see. Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The radiance of God's glory!




Scripture

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
(Hebrews 1:3 NASB)

 

Observation


Who was Jesus? People are still asking that question today. The writer to the Hebrews wrote a very lengthy sentence (verses 1-4) trying to describe who Jesus was. This portion of that explanation brings us to the core of understanding the very nature of Jesus Christ -- the tiny babe whose coming be celebrate this month. Jesus, the tiny baby, was God! God's glory and radiance cannot be separated, they are one and the same. The early church understood this as describing the sun, and the light which shone from the sun. They were so connected to one another that you could not have one without the other. The same is true for the Father and the Son -- The Son is the radiance of the glory of the Father. You cannot separate the two for they have existed together forever. And Jesus is yes, the exact representation of the nature of the Father. The English language is too weak here, because a representative makes it somehow sound like something less than the original, which here is not the case. He is made of the same stuff -- he is exactly the same nature as the Father, and this differs from anything that we, as humans are made of. Only the nature of God can be found in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus is the radiance of the God's glory, eternally united with the Father and is made of the "stuff" of God, he has the power to uphold all things. Why? Because he was creatively active from the very beginning of time. That is why the power of creation is the very power that existed in that little baby who was able to come to earth and provide for the purification of our sins. The language here lets us know that he did this, he completed the task; it is done! Therefore he can now sit at the right hand of the Father. And all of this he has done out of his love for you and for me. Jesus wanted his creation to be in fellowship with God, and he took a "whatever it takes" attitude toward humanity. The very radiance of God's glory was willing to come to this earth to provide a way for all of humanity to be saved.

 

Application


We tend to gloss over the story of Jesus, who he was, and what he did. It's in moments like this, when I really stop to ponder who he was and what he gave up for me that I am overwhelmed. Do I really appreciate all that Christ did for me? Do I understand the salvation that is at hand?

This morning I'm thinking about my friend Christina. Christina delivered the newspaper to my home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She figured out that we had a rather crazy dog that liked to go outside and pick up the paper every morning and bring it in to us. However, we had an invisible fence. If the newspaper was too far down the driveway our dog would sit out there and bark and until one of us came and moved the paper a little closer to her so that she could proudly carry it into the house for us. Christina, or Tina, as we came to know her, tried to always make sure the paper was up high enough for Zoey to be able to reach. One day Tina and her son Kevin showed up at our church. She had been up and down spiritually through the years but now really wanted to settle things, to get things right with God. She did, and she began to do all that she could to be the best mom to her kids and walk the right path in life. It wasn't easy because she was a single mom with many issues to overcome. She wasn't perfect, but she was seeking God and his leadership in her life. Her facebook posts reflected her desire to know God. She sent me forwards on e-mail about the Lord. I knew she was in love with him. She and Kevin began singing in the Christmas program at church and she became a regular member of the group I taught on Sunday mornings. Every morning in Fort Wayne I was blessed by Tina's ministry of the newspaper at my home. She prayed for the whole community as she delivered her papers.

Yesterday, very suddenly, Tina went home to be with the Lord. She had been at church on Sunday where Kevin sang in the Christmas program. Tina had not been well and was unable to sing this year, but she was there. Today my friend Tina is seeing the very radiance of God's glory. Today all things have been brought to completion in her life because of the work of Christ. There is no more pain. There are no more struggles. She is in the presence of the one who is sitting at the right hand of God, the Father. Why? Because she was obedient and listened when God was calling her -- and he brought her to the very Christ of Christmas.

Today we are all invited to enjoy being in the presence of the radiance of God's glory. Even while we are here on this earth we may walk in nearness to him. Just as we enjoy laying in the sun on a warm spring day, enjoying the radiance of the sun, we should enjoy the radiance of God's glory every single day of our lives here on this earth. Then, there will come a day when we, just like Tina, will step from this life to the next and we will experience the glory of the presence of God at another level, but for now, let us enjoy the foretaste of the things to come. Jesus is coming! May we enjoy the radiance of the very glory of God.

 

Prayer


Lord, thank you for allowing Tina to be a part of my life and touching me. Thank you for your coming and that I can enjoy your presence today. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reconciliation




Scripture

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
(2 Timothy 4:6 NASB)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
(2 Timothy 4:7 NASB)
Make every effort to come to me soon;
(2 Timothy 4:9 NASB)
Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.
(2 Timothy 4:11 NASB)

 

Observation


Paul is now facing death in Rome and is writing his final letter to his dear disciple, Timothy. He wants Timothy to come and join him while he awaits what he knows will be his final days here on this earth. Interestingly he wants Timothy to stop by and pick up Mark and bring him along. This is the very same Mark over whom Paul and Barnabas had such a bitter dispute many years before resulting in the two of them going separate directions in their ministry. Paul had been frustrated with the young Mark because he felt that he had been irresponsible. But now, in writing he tells Timothy that he wants to see Mark and that Mark is useful to him. Not only is this an acceptance of Mark, but an affirmation of Mark and a willingness on Paul's part to reconcile his relationship with him.

 

Application


She sat on the back pew of the church with her head down most of the service. She looked tired and worn out, at least ten years older than her actual age. About ten feet from her, on the same pew was a beautiful young woman, tall and slender with flowing dark hard and brilliant blue eyes. At the end of the service the older woman raised her hand that she wanted to accept Christ into her life. In conversation later she shared that she had given up everything in life, including her relationship with Christ and with her children for what she thought was the love of a man. Of course he had turned out to be less than loving, and more taking than anything. Now she found herself at a complete and total loss. She had nothing. No children. No man. No Savior. Weeping she poured her heart to God, asking for his forgiveness and desiring to put her life back on track. She mentioned to me the loss of relationship with her children, and then pointed out that the beautiful woman on the other end of the pew was her daughter. They hadn't spoken in years.

Our world is filled with broken relationships. Yes, we have those who disappoint us in life and we may become frustrated. Even the Apostle Paul became so frustrated that he and his dear friend went different directions. But I believe that Paul mellowed with age, and I believe that Mark matured with age. Here, near the end of Paul's life, Paul wants to mend his relationship with Mark. It is Paul who is willing to go out of his way and ask Timothy to please bring Mark to him. He even compliments Mark -- in writing. It takes a big person to do that -- be willing to reach out and be affirming after having been a bit obnoxious in trying to prove who was "right" so long ago. Paul had been on a spiritual journey throughout his entire life where God had been transforming him into the very likeness of Jesus Christ. Paul acknowledged this along the way, and now, before his death, we see the love of Jesus reflected in him. We may have broken relationships and we may be embarrassed about the way we acted somewhere along the way. The question is whether we are allowing God to transform us to the point where we are willing to reach out to the individual with whom we may not have a relationship and ask for forgiveness and allow for healing. I don't think that Paul wanted to die with things still rough between he and Mark. He reached out to him. We may need to reach out to someone.

About an hour after the church service ended, the lady came and motioned for me to join her in the hallway. Again there were more tears as she gave me a giant bear hug. "I just talked to me daughter and I asked her for forgiveness." It was the first step in a process of healing and reconciliation. That day she had set things right with God, and then began the long journey home to a relationship with her daughter. Reconciliation is not an easy thing. It takes putting our egos aside and allowing God to speak in and through us, and reaching out, allowing God to pour out his oil of healing on old wounds.

 

Prayer


Lord, may I be an instrument of reconciliation. Amen.