Friday, May 31, 2013
Prov. 16:31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
Prov. 17:6 Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their parents.
Here are more nuggets of wisdom that we get from Solomon. Gray hair only comes when one has lived a long life. People who die young, possibly at the hands of their own folly never get to have that gray hair. Wisdom says that this "crown of glory" comes from having lived a righteous life. At the same time it is those with gray hair that are probably the grandparents as well. Not only is gray hair a crown, but so are grandchildren. And the children are proud of their parents for the way in which the parents have lived and become glory for their own children.
Today's Scriptures brought me right to my parents. My mother has the most beautiful gray/white hair. I remember when she finally started "letting it go." That was a little hard on her, she didn't want to think that she was aging and yet, her white hair is prettier than her dark hair was. As she aged she seemed to glow and become more beautiful. She will soon be 90 years of age and yet, to me, she has been crowned with glory.
My mother and my father have learned to age gracefully, serving God in all that they do. They truly are a glory to their children. But it has been gained through a life of righteousness. Long ago both of them chose to serve God and they have been true to the Lord through and through. Even today it is not unusual to call my parents and one of them will be out ministering to someone who lives there in "the home." There never was a time when they thought they were to hang everything up and "retire." That is simply not in their nature. They never will "retire" for they will constantly be working to love and to help others.
My parents have been an incredible example to me and I am so grateful. They truly are my glory and I trust that I can age as gracefully in the Lord as they have.
Lord, thank you for the gift of my parents and what they have meant to me. Amen.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Prov. 13:23 The field of the poor may yield much food,
but it is swept away through injustice.
This proverb of Solomon is his observation. The poor may have access to a field that would produce enough for them to survive. But sadly, the injustice of the world creates a situation in which their crops are swept away and the poor do not reap the benefits.
This one little verse caught my attention today as we have been working on a sustainable agriculture project in Kenya. The poor have banded together and bought a piece of land so that they can grow crops to feed the hungry. Currently we hold our breath because either this will work, or the crops will be lost. Why would we lose the crops? Because there are those who would want to sweep into the fields and steal the food for their own personal benefit and gain rather than allow the food to feed the hungry.
Injustice after injustice exists in this world and it's amazing how often it affects the poor who may be working hard to get by. They want to survive. During the early years of the Soviet Union Stalin insisted on the forced collectivization of the farms. No one was allowed to own their farm and be in control of their own animals or crops. Those who had more than one cow were condemned for being "greedy" and "rich." The government came and took all the "excess" but had no plan to care for them. The animals died and the people began to starve. People tried to grow a few crops in small gardens outside their homes. As soon as the food was ready to harvest the government appeared and took their food from them, telling them they had to "share" -- that it was unfair that they had food. Injustice wiped away all that they had.
Interestingly there is another twist on this scripture. The older translation of this brought about the idea that the crops were swept away by lack of judgement. Even John Wesley commented on the scripture in this way. He said that even poor people can grow rich through hard work and diligence and the blessing of God. However, there are those who will be brought to poverty by their lack of discretion. That's another interesting way to look at this, and places the lack of crops on the lack of personal poor choices, rather than something that may be seen as systemic injustice.
As a follower of Jesus Christ maybe we ought to be concerned about both. We can hold on to the first part of that scripture. It is possible for the plight of the poor to be changed. We can plant a field in Africa and it can help to sustain a community. That is the promise of God and we hold onto that truth knowing that with God's help we can make a difference.
At the same time we must be realistic about the pitfalls which exist. As long as we live in this "already, not yet" of the kingdom of God we will experience and taste the kingdom, while knowing that we live on this earth. The crops can be lost to those who will steal. The crops can be lost to those who are greedy and corrupt. The crops can be lost by those who do not care for them. These are all possible consequences. But I don't have to stand by idly and allow the crops to be destroyed if there is something that I can do about it. Jesus stood up for the poor and needy against the injustices of the world. By his action he invites us to take action as citizens of his heavenly kingdom. No, we cannot fix everything, but we can become engaged in the problems which may be staring us in the face. We do not have to sit back idly and allow injustice to win the day and allow the poor to go hungry.
Lord, please help me to see the fields the way you do and engage in the way you would. Amen.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Rom. 10:14 ¶ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
Rom. 10:15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
This text was focused on the Israelites. Very few had believed and accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Now the good news was being carried to the Gentiles as well and they were responding. But there is an important question which is laid before us in this Scripture. How can someone come to believe if they have never heard? There is a place for the proclamation of the good news and there are those who are called to deliver this good news!
The concept of "relational evangelism" has become very popular these days. The idea that we need to develop relationships with people before we have the right to present to them the gospel. We know the statistics from the past -- that of those people who came to Christ at the large evangelistic crusades, very few remained as committed followers of Jesus Christ -- because the relationship piece was missing. But is it possible that we have come to a point of over-emphasizing the relational to the extent that we rarely proclaim the good news?
This Scripture makes it pretty clear that there is a place for the proclamation of the good news. It also makes it clear that there this is an incredible function of one who does already know Christ. When Isaiah is quoted, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" we realize the way in which the world is blessed by those who are called to proclaim! These are the messengers of God, the ones who are willing to carry that good news to all of those who need to hear.
I think that we need to ask God to overcome our fears when it comes to proclaiming the good news. More and more of American culture is slipping away from their Christian roots. Still, 80% of Americans today consider themselves Christian and yet -- most of them would not be able to tell us about the good news. We are becoming a Christian illiterate society and unless those who are armed with the word of God will be bold enough to share it -- they will never get to hear.
Maybe all of this is on my mind today because I'm at a "consultation" where we are discussing the future of pastors. What happens when even pastors don't see the place of proclamation? I'm afraid that this is a distinct possibility because I've talked to young people going into the ministry and many of them have never once led someone to belief in Jesus Christ.
There is a definite place of proclamation and we need to pray that God helps us to speak with boldness about the one whom we have been privileged to know.
Lord, please help me to proclaim with boldness your good news. Amen.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
A Scandalous Rock
as it is written,
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
This entire chapter is one in which there is discussion regarding the role and place of the Israelites as the children of God. They are indeed born Israelites, but are they born children of God? What they were unable to accomplish through the law is now able to be completed by those who are in Christ. And here comes the description of the Messiah. He is a stone which is laid among the Israelites, right in the center of Zion. But the Israelites would struggle with him because he wasn't what they expected. They stumbled into him and over him. He was the rock that would make them fall and in the Greek the root of the word to fall is the root for the word scandal. The religious leaders and others who were so arrogantly following the law found Jesus' behavior scandalous and so they tripped and fell, most of them never recovering.
Scandals are embarrassing and shameful. Jesus was an embarrassment to the established religious authorities. But for those who did believe in him they were not put to shame! The scandal of the rock left them eternally unscathed.
My husband and I enjoy the entertaining headlines on the tabloids as we check out at the supermarket. There is always some kind of new scandal to try and draw you in for people just love that juicy scandalous news. The twenty four hour news cycle feeds off of scandals. Somehow we seem to find these scandals exciting and yet the scandal of the Messiah was a real threat to the religious authorities. Thinking of this word scandal made me wonder whether we would find Jesus scandalous today. Somehow I think we would because he would not fit all of our nice preconceived, often cultural notions, of what he ought to be like.
How do we keep ourselves from being brought down by the scandal of the rock? Honestly I'm not sure there is an easy answer for this because I'm afraid that when we really get to know Jesus we discover some of the things that he did and the places that he went to be quite scandalous. Our focus and/or emphasis on his action on the cross tends to distract us from the way in which he lived his life. It was his life that was a scandal to the religious believers and it was his life and our imitation of it which takes us beyond the scandal and shame. Jesus' life becomes, for us, the model of the holy life. And yes, that holy life took him out into the every day dirt of the world. He hung out with rough people, he had women as part of his entourage, and he reached out and found the needy, taking care of their needs and forgiving their sins.
Jesus spent time along with the father; long hours in prayer, but when he had done this he was ready to return to the work among the people. For Jesus the holy life was not lived in seclusion from the filth of the world. The world could not make Jesus unclean, rather he could make the world clean. You also don't hear Jesus talk about his own rights. He was constantly bending to the will of the father. Whatever was prudent in the ushering in of the kingdom was what he wanted to do. And this was seen as scandalous.
I've had a few scandalous conversations in my years; conversations with good religious folk who say they want to do all they can to further the Kingdom of God. And then they tell me that they can't adapt their style of worship for other people. They need new young blood in the church but not if they have to sing some new songs! They tell me that they won't share a pastor with another church (even if they don't have the money to support a pastor)...reiterating, "We don't share!" And then I wonder what would happen if Jesus walked into the room? What would he require? And I'm guessing it would be scandalous what Jesus would suggest! And there are only two options, believe in him and trust in him to take care of things, or fall over the scandalous suggestions. Where would we find ourselves? Would we be with him or flat our on the floor?
We are being challenged to be reflections of Jesus Christ to our world. This means that there will be times when he may ask us to do something that may seem scandalous and yet he has promised, those who trust in him will not be put to shame. Are we willing to trust him?
Lord, trust is easier said than done. Please give me your strength to trust each day. Amen.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Rom. 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Rom. 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
Rom. 8:39 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.
This is one of the more famous sections of Scripture, one which I have read and heard frequently throughout my lifetime. The believer in Jesus Christ is faced with the realities of life here on this earth and they are not always pleasant. More than likely they are more frequently unpleasant. However, as God's children, those who have been adopted into the family, we are encouraged that we are not just conquerors in these situations, we are MORE than conquerors, we are victorious because of the one who loved us. Because of God's great love for us we have been invited into the relationship of the Holy Trinity and we are now "partakers of the divine nature." Therefore God's love is not just poured out on us, God's love, God's very nature, has bound us to him.
We are now united with God and the bond is so great that nothing on this earth can separate us from God's nature. Human death cannot separate us from God. We have already seen this in the life and death of Christ. Life, and the joys thereof, cannot separate us from God. Angels (maybe here insinuating fallen angels -- therefore sources of evil) cannot separate us from God. The powers of this world -- no matter what they try to do to us cannot separate us from God. Neither can things that are happening right now, nor things in the future, or people in power, or forces of power--- nothing at all is going to be able to take us from that bond of love found in the Trinity. Nothing -- but us.
When I was a little girl I was often worried about my relationship with God. My Father was a preacher and I was probably one of his best "seekers," often finding myself at that altar. I just knew that when I walked out the door of the church I might have a bad thought -- and if I did -- and then were hit by a car -- I wasn't sure I'd really go to heaven. The altar almost became my "confessional" where I would go to just make sure that I had confessed everything that needed to be confessed and I was going to be okay. Somehow I missed the whole concept of the love of God. I was trying to do all of this on my own and wasn't allowing God to draw me into this holy relationship of love.
One day while sitting in a Systematic Theology class and studying the Holy Trinity I had my "aha" moment. The love of God is drawing me into this relationship of holy love found within the Trinity. It is a perpetual invitation to participate and have fellowship and commune with God. The deeper I go into that relationship the stickier it becomes. It's like glue and I want to stay in that place; I have no desire to go anywhere else! It is love and at the same time it is grace.
Yes, I believe it's possible to lose my salvation but it has to be because of a purposeful choice on my part to turn my back on God and walk out of that sticky relationship with the Holy Trinity -- and I think it's much harder to do that than I had ever thought possible. God's love and grace is reaching out to me and drawing me back into the relationship. Nothing that is of this earth, nothing that God has created can come in and separate me from the stickiness of God's love. The enemy may throw everything there is at us but God will keep reaching out to us in his abundant love and will continue work to draw us deeper into our relationship with him.
However, we can draw away from him. In our pain and suffering we can choose to close our hearts and our minds to him. We can turn around and walk away and only in this way can we be separated from the love of God. Sometimes it happens a little step at a time. We move out and become more distant from him and we close ourselves off from the community of faith. All of a sudden we discover that we have stepped outside of the relationship with God. This is when we really are in trouble! This is when we do need to repent and confess and return to the relationship that God has waiting for each and every single one of us. It's not that one bad thought, but it could be the combined accumulation of those bad thoughts -- going unchecked -- and the building of an emotional barrier between myself and God that eventually leads me to that separation from him. I am the only one who can separate myself from the love of God.
God in his infinite love is reaching out to us today to join him in holy fellowship. This fellowship leads to victory -- victory over anything the world can throw our way, as long as we remain stuck in the stickiness of God's love.
Lord, thank you for your peace and love which I have been privileged to experience. I need more of you today. Amen.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
16:12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Prov. 3:21 My child, do not let these escape from your sight:
keep sound wisdom and prudence,
Prov. 3:22 and they will be life for your soul
and adornment for your neck.
Prov. 3:23 Then you will walk on your way securely
and your foot will not stumble.
Prov. 3:24 If you sit down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
We read Jesus' words for his disciples and in them he begins to unpack what will happen. There is a new era which is approaching and there is no way that Jesus' followers could comprehend the massive changes in store for them. Jesus was explaining the Trinity to his followers and that through the Spirit they were going to be able to participate in God. Because of the Spirit it would be possible to know the mind of God. The result is that Jesus would be glorified because the Spirit would be able to declare all Truth.
In the Old Testament we read the Proverbs of Solomon. These are amazing declarations of wisdom and truth and the stunning fact is that if someone would walk in that truth they would have been saved. However, at the end of the day, Solomon himself did not walk in his own proclaimed truth. He did not keep sound wisdom and prudence in his own personal life. Ultimately he lost most of the kingdom because he was powerless to walk in truth.
And this is why it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to come and dwell among and in God's people. These comments by Jesus inaugurate a new era in which Truth will reign and people will no longer be powerless to walk in that Truth. Instead, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, even the wisdom of Solomon becomes a reality.
When I was a young teenager I would have trouble sleeping at night. We had recently moved to Kansas City and I would listen to the news broadcast and daily there would be reports of murders and shootings. Somehow the environment in which I lived, an American suburb, was terribly frightening to me. That might sound crazy, but I wasn't accustomed to American suburbs. I had been a city girl in Germany and when we went to bed at night the house was locked up tight. The shutters were closed over the windows and no one would be able to get into the house. These American houses lacked security and they frightened me. I would lay in bed at night listening to the darkness and wonder what murders were happening in Kansas City!
There were nights that my mother would come in and pray with me and share with me different scriptures regarding the peacefulness of sleep that only comes from God. And then there was an overwhelming sense that Jesus was there in the room with me, guarding and protecting me and I could go to sleep. It was the knowledge that the Lord was with me that allowed me to enjoy sweet and restful sleep. However, it was also this experience that brought me into a wonderful relationship with Jesus Christ for I became accustomed to having conversations with him every night until I fell asleep. He was in the room with me, watching over me and caring for me. We would talk and I would drift off.
It is this invitation today that is for all of us. We are invited into a personal relationship with the holy Trinity. And when the Holy Spirit surrounds us with the love of God, then the darkness of the world is revealed in the light of his truth. This transforms every part of our lives and the proverb becomes a reality. "If you sit down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." This truly is the sweetness of the invitation of the Trinity. A life in which God guides us in all things.
Lord, thank you for many years of sweet conversation. May there be many more in the years ahead. Amen.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Rom. 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
This entire passage in Romans is called "Slaves to Righteousness." Here we find a contrast between being slaves to sin vs. being slaves to righteousness. For the follower of Jesus Christ everything has changed, they have been set free from sin. The pull of sin is exchanged by the pull of righteousness. The pull of righteousness effects the way in which we live our lives, and the result is a life full of the fruits of holiness. This is the benefit of being a slave to God -- a holy life. By being a slave to God we may once again become the holy people of God that he intended us to be. And the telos of it all is eternal life. This is the goal or the end game -- the result of the life of holiness is eternal life.
This verse makes me reconsider the way in which we have so often presented the gospel to people. We ask them if they were to die would they know for sure that they are going to heaven. Of course this can be valid in light of the fact that this becomes the "end game" but it leaves out so much along the way. Somehow we jump from being a slave to God and a benefit of holiness to the final result. Isn't the true gift, the benefit which is mentioned here, the life of holiness? The central focus of this verse is truly on the transformed life. We are invited into the new kingdom to live as the holy people of God. This is the true joy and benefit of being a slave to God. We can already live an abundant life within his kingdom here and now. The problem with focusing on eternal life is that we make it about a gift of going to heaven. No, the point is that we reap the benefit of holiness in this life and that holy life will then continue throughout eternity. What begins now is eternal. We are not waiting for that moment to leave the earth, but instead we are engaged in the holy transformed life while here on earth.
The "normal" state for every believer should be holiness. We have tried to make that terminology about some special people and yet it truly is the desire of God for every one of his followers. Sadly it is those who have adopted the term "holiness" about themselves that have tended to give the word a bad reputation. Unfortunately some people who call themselves "holiness" people are some of the most unhappy and downright mean people I have ever met. And this is what the world sees and says that they don't want anything to do with that -- and can we blame them? But maybe we have allowed the true concept of holiness to be misconstrued. There are times we have basically turned this verse around and put it in a different order. We have made being a slave to God mean that we are going to heaven with the end goal of holiness. When that happens our focus and energy is in the wrong place. Instead the energy and focus is supposed to be on living life in obedience to God and being blessed with the fruits of holiness. God knows that if we are made holy, if we are sanctified, that we will experience transformation which will allow us to live life as a reflection of Jesus Christ in this world. The emphasis should be on how we live our life! It is possible to live a life that is not enslaved to the world or to sin. Instead, it is possible to live a life focused on God in which we are transformed in the here and now.
Can you imagine what would happen if the world saw followers of Jesus Christ in this way? A true follower of Jesus Christ who is reaping the benefit of holiness should never need to declare that they are holy; it should be visible in who they are. This is what it means to reap the benefit of holiness. Focus on being a slave to God and the benefit will be holiness.
Lord, may I simply focus on serving you this day. Amen.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Psa. 136:1 ¶ O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psa. 136:2 O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psa. 136:3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Psa. 136:4 ¶ who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Psa. 136:5 who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Psa. 136:6 who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Psa. 136:7 who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Psa. 136:8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Psa. 136:9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
As Solomon's Temple was completed there was a time of dedication. The musicians were instructed to play and sing "The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever." This was to be repeated time and again. Here we find the same phrase within this Psalm. While singing about the great works of God, every attribute of God is reinforced with the phrase, "his steadfast love endures forever."
This Psalm becomes a template for us when it comes to our worship and prayer. We must take time to focus on the good things of God and worship him for who he is and what he has accomplished. Too often we leave out the praise of God and jump right to the requests. But when the people of God begin to stop and pray into his very nature we become overwhelmed with who this is that we are worshiping. Our own self-centeredness tends to take the focus away from God, and on ourselves. This is why we want worship in church to be the way we like it and our prayer time becomes a litany of requests. Instead, our focus should be on God, on who he is, and thanking and praising him for what he has done. When this happens the focus of attention is God, and not us!
The line which is repeated over and over again in this Psalm is truly a reminder of who God is -- of his very nature. God's nature is eternal, holy love. We are invited to be partakers of this divine nature, to participate in this nature together with God. And so this Psalm is a reminder to praise God for who he is, but it is also a reminder of God's intent for us. If we are to participate with God in his nature, then his steadfast love is what should define us.
When I think about the word "steadfast" somehow my mother comes to mind. My mother has always been a rock. The quality of her character goes right to the core. She is a holy woman of God; and a hard-working woman of God at that. Her life has been so consistent before me that I understand the word "steadfast." God is steadfast as well, his nature is who he is, all the way to the core. God's nature does not change.
God is steadfast in love. I have to stop and ponder that a moment. I think that we have a hard time comprehending the love of God. It's so much more than human love. There is a depth that is beyond our comprehension. The Psalmist sang about all the things that God had done, and yet that wasn't enough to describe God's steadfast love. God has been reaching out to humanity in steadfast love from the Garden of Eden to this day. Evidence of his love surrounds us on a daily basis. This includes the stars in the sky and the beautiful spring flowers budding in the fields. Everything cries out to us that God loves us!
And this love from God will never ever go away. Even in the midst of our difficulties we can be assured that his love will be eternal. Even in Tornado torn communities such as Moore, Oklahoma God's eternal love endures and reaches out to every single individual. Even in the midst of a funeral for your dearly loved spouse, the eternal love of God is present. And this love draws us into God's future, a place that he is already preparing for us where his love will continue to stretch out infinitely. No, not even in heaven will we fully comprehend the steadfast and eternal love of God. We will simply be invited to continue to participate in the experience and nature of God for all of eternity, for "his steadfast love endures forever."
Lord, I praise you for your steadfast love which endures forever. Amen.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
2Chr. 7:12 ¶ Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
2Chr. 7:17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,
2Chr. 7:18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’
So often the focus of this scripture is on verse 14, but it is interesting to look at the paragraph in total. This response to Solomon's prayer by God is not immediate. Solomon has to wait for quite a period of time for this answer from God, and God sets up an expectation regarding the entire community of faith. The children of Israel are called to be God's holy people and as a people they are to be different from all the others of the earth. God makes provision for non-Israelites to be a part of the holy people, if they will serve God. The very existence of a holy people of God on the earth is evangelistic. The presence of God among them and God's care for them would be a light, drawing all men to God. This was God's intent for these people. Therefore when the corporate people of God do not follow God's commands and are disobedient, there will be consequences. These consequences included drought, locust infestation, and other types of pestilence. But note -- the consequences were corporate. All of these are not consequences for a single individual, but the entire people of God suffer for corporately not being the people of God.
Now God brings them to the necessary understanding of corporate repentance. As God's holy people, as his called-out ones, they are to humble themselves before him, and seek his face. Therefore there is a cry that goes out to God, one in which there is the desire for a restored relationship with God. But it doesn't end with prayer, the people, as a whole, must be called to action. True repentance includes a change in behavior. The wicked actions must be left behind and only then will God accept this true sacrifice of repentance and the corporate healing will occur.
God promises that he will be attentive to the prayers that are offered in the Temple. If only people will cry out to him -- he will hear! Not only will he hear, but his eyes and heart will be present in the temple as well, so that God can see our actions, and with his heart sense and know our motivations.
Finally God gave instruction to Solomon -- the leader of this corporate body. With his role came great responsibility. He was to be the shining example for all the people to follow. His life, his daily practices were to be completely and totally dedicated to God -- he was to keep all of God's statues and ordinances. And if he did this, the personal promise was that his family line would remain over Israel forever.
We, especially in American, tend to view our faith in a very individualistic fashion. In this scripture we find both the individual and the corporate. There was the responsibility of King Solomon, as an individual, to maintain the faith and to be an example to his people. At the same time there was the sense that corporately the Israelites were the holy people of God.
I think we must be careful to not interpret this scripture today in nationalistic terms. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were the ones who were called to be God's Holy people. But Jesus came and ushered in a new kingdom, the kingdom of God, into which all people had the potential to be grafted. Jesus established the Church to be the bride of Christ. Therefore, instead of looking at this scripture in terms of a nation, now, as we live in the era of the new kingdom, we must interpret it in light of the Bride.
Corporately the people of God, the Church, the Bride of Christ, are to be God's holy people. Corporately we are to live our lives in such a way that God's presence in the midst of us. And the world should be drawn to God's holy people because the world sees God's hand of care upon them. But could it be that the Church has not always been a faithful representation of the presence of God to the world? Does his glory truly fill the Church, or might we find churches with walls but no shekinah presence inside? If so, might there be a place for corporate repentance as the people of God.
I believe that even in Solomon's day there were those who were seeking the face of God on a regular basis. This core group of individuals could help to draw the corporate body of faith into the direction in which God was calling them -- to seeking his face and asking for forgiveness. Today I believe that God has already called a core group to begin to pray for the corporate repentance of his church. They are humbling themselves and praying and seeking his face. But as the people who carry the label "Christian" we must also turn from our wicked ways. The statistics for things such as divorce, pornography and child molestation should not be the same in the church as they are in the world; and yet they are! It was not the responsibility of the people in Solomon's day to point fingers at the neighboring pagan communities, but it was the responsibility of the people of God to live holy lives.
Today we are not called to turn a nation to God, we are called to turn the Church back to God! This is where we must begin -- this is the corporate body that so desperately needs to be seeking the face of God. And if the body of Christ, corporately, and globally would humble themselves, pray and turn from their wicked ways, then the nations of the world would be changed! There is a place for corporate repentance. Maybe we need to begin with admitting that the holy people of God have not always lived as the holy people of God. May we then seek his face, ask for forgiveness and turn from our wicked ways. Then we will see the healing which we so desperately need!
Lord, please forgive us for when we've put the spotlight on others and failed to look at our own need for you. Amen.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
2Chr. 5:13 It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever,”
the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud,
2Chr. 5:14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
Solomon was dedicating the Temple to God. Elaborate worship and sacrifice had led up to this very moment when the musicians began to play their instruments and the vocalists sang. The focus, energy and attention, it was all on worship of God. A psalm of praise to God was sung in which they praised God for his goodness and recognized that the loving nature of God is eternal. As they sang this song of love and praise to God, his presence began to fill the temple. The glory of God became so thick that the priests could not stand to minister. God had come home and rested in his new dwelling place here on earth.
There are lessons to be learned from this scene regarding the worship of God. Too often people attend churches and think that they ought to be looking for the right worship styles for themselves. However, this should not be the case. We ought to be participating in the right worship for God. We are there to worship him!
One can only imagine how loud and exciting the worship was that day at the dedication of the Temple. The trumpets had played, the cymbals had clanged and then the people began to sing. Our praise and worship of God must include a focus on the positive attributes of God. Worship of God should not be about us! Instead, we need to focus on who he is and how we can praise him. This is even a lesson for our times of prayer. Our focus should be on God and who he is and our praise of him, and not on our own personal desires. Here, the people of Solomon's day focused on the goodness of God. God is good! And God's love, his very nature will never change. When the people genuinely worshiped God, his presence completely filled the temple.
Isn't it amazing that when the presence of God so fills a place that the priests can no longer stand and minister! The glory and presence of God is so overwhelming that it displaces human worship. When we begin to experience this type of glory in God's presence we will realize how small and insignificant we are and our worship of him may be. His glory, his presence is all consuming and transforming. If we truly worship God, we will discover the truth of this glory. But to get to this place means that we have to open ourselves up in vulnerability, and genuine love and worship of him. And when God's presence fills the place, we must step back and simply let God do his thing! That's what happens when the glory fills the house.
Lord, I praise you today and worship you. Please help me to be patient and relax in your presence, waiting on you. Amen.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
2Chr. 4:2 Then he made the molten sea; it was round, ten cubits from rim to rim, and five cubits high. A line of thirty cubits would encircle it completely.
2Chr. 4:3 Under it were panels all around, each of ten cubits, surrounding the sea; there were two rows of panels, cast when it was cast.
2Chr. 4:4 It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; the sea was set on them. The hindquarters of each were toward the inside.
2Chr. 4:5 Its thickness was a handbreadth; its rim was made like the rim of a cup, like the flower of a lily; it held three thousand baths.
2Chr. 4:6 He also made ten basins in which to wash, and set five on the right side, and five on the left. In these they were to rinse what was used for the burnt offering. The sea was for the priests to wash in.
Solomon's temple is taking form and the furniture is being made. One of the items for the temple is the molten sea. This is to be a large bronze container that will hold 3000 baths of water, the equivalent of 18,000 gallons or 66,000 liters of water. There are those who believe that the panels of the sea included depictions of the ten commandments. Therefore we see the symbolism for the priests were to wash themselves in this sea, representing the cleansing through the law of God, and then be able to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people.
Just a few years ago while in modern-day Turkey I was walking through the ruins of an ancient church. There in what would have been a holy back room was a very large basin let up on a pedestal. While reading the scripture today I could see this large basin in my mind. It would not have been as large as this sea and yet it was quite significant in size. This basin I had seen in Ephesus and was used for baptism. Could there be a significant connection between the sea and the baptismal basin?
The sea was created for the use of the priests alone. They were the only ones who could be purified by the cleansing of this water and go into the very presence of God, placing sacrifices before him. It is believed that the sea itself was a container for the water, but that the water came out of the sea as a type of fountain which provided for the cleansing. Only after having been cleansed could the priests move forward with their responsibilities. The water sprang forth from a sea which contained the ten commandments on the sides; a reminder that the cleansing of the priests also came with obedience to the law of God.
That sea no longer exists, and neither does Solomon's temple. Jesus had said that the temple would be destroyed but that he would raise it up again in three days. We all know that he was referring to himself and that he is now the living temple! No longer does a priest have to make sacrifices for us, but now we are invited into the "priesthood of all believers." We don't need an intermediary because we may have a personal relationship with Christ and go direction to him and he intercedes for us with the Father.
If we are all priests, then it would make sense that we are all invited into this symbolic cleansing. The sea is replaced with the baptismal font and instead of the priest being cleansed, we are the ones who are made clean, and instead of the ten commandments being written on the walls of the sea, they are written on our hearts. This is the sign of the new covenant. The old has passed away and all things are made new. And we are not cleansed by the water, but we are cleansed by stepping into the fountain of the Holy Spirit who washes away all the filth of our lives and leaves us clean in the presence of God.
It is not a select called group of individuals who are called to bathe themselves and to be in God's presence. We are all called to be bathed in the Holy Spirit and to be cleansed so that we can be in God's presence today. We celebrate this through the sacrament of baptism. The temple is gone, the new has come. Sadly, some of us are still trying to make our way to God through the old system. We are trying to follow the legalism of the past without wanting to step into the bath ourselves. Somehow it seems easier if we don't have to get wet ourselves -- let someone else do it for us! But Jesus has called us to jump into the deep end -- to be so filled with his holy presence that we are bathed in him day in and day out.
And the result of this soaking, or this standing in the fountain on a regular basis is an overflowing love for God and love for others. Today we are overwhelmed at the loss and devastation in Moore, OK. There are parents who are crying out in pain because their children never made it home from school. There are children weeping over the loss of a parent. Many are in shock as they look around and discover all that they had owned is now gone. It is time for the people of God -- those who have been through the bath -- to splash some Jesus around. What would Jesus do in the midst of this tragedy? He would be -- and IS -- right in the middle of it all. And we as God's people are called to go where he is. We must help, we must respond, we must be Jesus in the midst of tragedy. This is what those who have been through the bath do! Their lives genuinely reflect a change. They become living panels of the ten commandments and the world sees Jesus in them.
Her is a practical way in which we can all become involved today:
Have you had your bath?
Lord, please help those who are hurting so desperately today. Our hearts break for them. Please, help us to respond with your heart. Amen.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Samuel Oketch, NCM AEF Coordinator wraps labels across homebank tins meant for BottleaAid Campaign. Looking on is Collins, our security guard.
NCM AEF is engaging Kenya Nazarene churches to contribute towards GBV Project by way of BottleAid Campaign. The Campaign was launched by Samuel Oketch at Madungu Centre in Lake Victoria district on 12th April, 2013 during pastors regular meetings. 60 pastors at the event admitted the reality of GBV in our society and agreed to drive the campaign in their churches. To show their seriousness, each and every pastor picked a home bank tin for their churches. So far we have distribed 250 homebanks tins to 250 Nazarene churches in three of our six Kenyan districts. We are yet to launch the campaign in Rift Valley, Western, and Central Districts. Central District Campaign launch is scheduled for this Saturday May 25th at Central Church of the Nazarene during pastros’ regular meetings. There after we are going to organize with our District Superintendents on how to do a similar event in Rift Valley, and Western Districts. This campaign is driven by our pastors, and NCM district Coordinators. We are hoping to reach atleast 300 Nazarene churches with this campaign in Kenya and another 10 non-Nazarene churches.
The non-Nazarene churches are being reached by volunteers who have shown interested in raising awareness on GBV in our society. Recently Faith Wafula, a university student heard of our GBV campaign awareness through a friend and came to express her interest in helping us raise funds. She said, “I am always interested in supporting GBV activities and especially fund raising that I am very good at.” We are hoping that through her, we can get BottleAid Campaign spreading to universities.
For More information
NCM AEF Co-ordinator
Rom. 1:4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
In this opening greeting to the church in Rome we find this section which is a defense of the nature of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and he is fully man. Most affirm that the statement, "the spirit of holiness" exists to affirm the divine nature of Jesus Christ. However, there are those who would argue that the term ought to simply be the Holy Spirit -- or they read it to be the Holy Spirit. But this is not the case. This is not a description of the action of the Holy Spirit, but this is a description of the very nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ's nature is a spirit of holiness. It is holiness which defines who he is, and if this defines his nature -- then the invitation which we find later in 2 Peter 1:4 takes on clearer meaning:
2Pet. 1:4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
We are invited to become participants, or partakers of the divine nature. If the divine nature is a spirit of holiness, then this is the nature of which we are to partake. The spirit of holiness was used to describe Christ, but it also becomes available to become a descriptor of those who have united with Christ and are participating in his nature. And this nature includes resurrection power, a power that can transform any life. This is why Paul declared:
Phil. 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
To know Christ is to participate in the spirit of holiness.
The word "holiness" has not been the most popular in the last number of years. Popular culture has not been kind to the concept of "holiness" depicting people believing in holiness as crazy snake handlers, or rigid, legalistic dirty old men. On the other extreme "holiness" seems to mean saints who live such extraordinary lives that there is nothing to relate to the ordinary individual. Therefore the word is reserved for places like the Roman Catholic Church where we can refer to the Pope as "His Holiness." In the meantime the ordinary "Holiness" church has become increasingly reluctant to use the term. But could this be a problem of our own making?
Could it be that we have allowed the faulty concepts of "holiness" to so win the day that we have stopped seeking our personal participation in the spirit of holiness found in Christ? This would be the worst thing that could happen to us! Personally, I think that the message of holiness is so powerful and so transformational that it is exactly what the world needs today and that probably most people would be shocked if they discovered what true holiness means. This is a call to every single follower of Jesus Christ, that we are invited into this spirit of holiness. It is the spirit of Jesus Christ, it is his nature, and we are to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ so that his very nature flows from every single one of us. That means that we are called to live in the spirit of holiness. It is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Holiness is not some option for just a few individuals, it is the calling for all of God's people. We are called to be a holy people.
If God's people would lean into this life of holiness in the way in which he intended, I think that the popular perception could be changed. We shouldn't be afraid of what God wants for us because of what others might say. The world said all kinds of bad things about Jesus. We should move forward in boldness and in resurrection power, embracing the spirit of holiness.
Lord, please help me to live in the power of your spirit. Amen.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Acts 2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
Acts 2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
It was the day of Pentecost and the humble band of Jesus followers had been waiting and praying for ten days in an upper room in Jerusalem. They didn't know what it was they were waiting for -- but they were being obedient to Jesus and so, they waited. Suddenly something happened that no one had ever before experienced and the entire place was filled with the sound of a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire landed on each of them -- but then they all began to speak and tell the good news of Jesus Christ. The miracle was that everyone present began to hear them speaking in their language. In that very moment the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed the spread of the gospel to every corner of the earth. For the first time people from all over the known world heard the news about Jesus in their own language, and it was with such clarity that they had to respond. Over 3000 people spontaneously were baptized into faith in Jesus Christ that day.
The Church was birthed at Pentecost long ago, in the midst of power and clarity of the gospel. In just a short period of time I will be leaving my home to go to church and worship the Lord. We will celebrate Pentecost Sunday and yet will we join into the experience of that powerful first Pentecost? In a day and age where churches are struggling to survive is there something simple that we could take away from this very first Pentecost?
First of all, the people of God took the time to pray. They were obedient to what Jesus Christ had called them to do and they were willing to wait in humble obedience for what God wanted to accomplish. I think this is the hardest thing for us to do these days. Waiting is not one of the gifts of this society. We are all in hurry, we don't want to waste any time, and surely God could hurry up and do things on our schedule! And if God knows what we need before we ever ask him -- then why in the world would we need to spend a lot of time in prayer and waiting on him?! And yet, I believe that God is still asking his people to be willing to set aside time to pray and to wait upon him and his moving. Too often we are trying to do everything on our own. It is when we wait on him that we have the privilege of experiencing his power.
Second -- the church needs to experience God's power. Because we are impatient we try to manufacture the power on our own. Somehow we think that if we have the best worship music, or the best sermon, or the coolest videos that we will experience the power of the presence of God. I'm not sure that God cares all too much about that stuff. I think what God cares about is a willing heart that is open to following him. This means that we are willing to put aside our personal desires and sit back and watch the Holy Spirit do his work. God gets all the credit in this -- not us! We simply become obedient vessels through which the power of the Holy Spirit can flow. And this is God's plan and desire for the church. Our job is to know him and allow ourselves to be obedient vessels to the movement of God's Holy Spirit.
Third -- we need to present a clear message. The "Good News" that we have to share is all about Jesus Christ. This is what they discovered on the day of Pentecost. Too often we try to make things difficult. It's not that hard to share the story of Jesus who was willing to come to this earth to provide a path for all of humanity to be restored in their relationship with God the Father. Often I have had people tell me that they would have no idea how to lead someone to the Lord. Just share your story! The story on the day of Pentecost was simple and clear. Through the miracle of language, the whole world understood it and they responded.
What a combination; power and clarity! What a difference this would make if we experienced these in our churches, but also in our personal lives today.
Lord, may I be patient and wait upon you. Amen.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
2Th. 2:16 ¶ Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,
2Th. 2:17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Those who had become followers of Jesus Christ were facing, or would be facing times of persecution. Paul knew this far too well for life had been a challenge from the moment he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, it was a challenge which he was willing to meet for along the way he discovered the comforting presence of Jesus Christ in all things. This final prayer was not about having a life of comfort, but instead was about having the privilege of experiencing a relationship with the Holy Trinity that would result in a deep and abiding sense of comfort in all things. Through grace we experience eternal comfort -- and the Greek here says something like comfort through the eons. This means that we step into a relationship of comfort that begins today but leads out into eternity. And the word comfort struck me as well, for the word here is paraklesis -- the same root of the word paraklete, whom we have come to understand as the Holy Spirit -- the "Comforter." So this eternal comfort is a sense of peace which comes from a relationship with God in which the Holy Spirit is with us through all of eternity; and this gives us hope. This comfort brings peace to our hearts and strengthens us in all that we will do and say. And this is the prayer, the promise for those who will face persecutions in Thessalonica, but for all followers who will read the epistles in the years to come.
Just this morning I've been listening on-line to a funeral service of a gal from my High School class. Tragically she died much too young, but at her own hand. She was a vibrant Christian, a wonderful wife and mother, and yet, she struggled deeply with depression. The family had asked the minister to address the depression head on in the funeral service for it is something that too many are afraid to discuss. Their hope was that his words might bring hope to someone else. And so the message was a powerful one and one that spoke to the need for comfort. Too often the pain of depression becomes so great that the one suffering believes that the only way to resolve the pain for themselves and for their family members is for them to be gone. Sadly the depression has brought them so low that they cannot hear the still sweet voice of Jesus reminding them that he is the God of all comfort. And maybe this is where our works and words may need to become active. Maybe we are the carriers of that comfort to others in their times of need.
One of the greatest needs in our world today is to experience the comforting presence of God in our lives. And today I was touched by this idea of eternal comfort. How often do we think that this sense of peace which we receive from God is something that will come and go. The thought that I might sense him today, but what if I don't tomorrow? But that's not what we are told. We discover here that if we step into a relationship which Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that the "Comforter" will now be with us throughout all of eternity. This is not a hit and miss thing. This idea of comfort is not just for the bad days. This is a relationship in which we are comforted day in and day out for the remainder of eternity.
Within this relationship I have discovered that there is always a resultant action. The relationship is never static, but calls us into interaction with the world and here we are encouraged, comforted and strengthened to do good works and speak good words. In other words, there is a change in the person's behavior as a result of the presence of the Comforter. With comfort comes transformation. Paul was radically transformed as a result of his experience on the road to Damascus and as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. The same is true for the church in Thessalonica, and for us today. We are challenged through this prayer to maintain a deep and abiding relationship with God on high and through this we will experience his comfort.
May this be our prayer today!
Lord, may you comfort my heart and strengthen me today in every good work and word. Amen.
Friday, May 17, 2013
1Kings 2:17 He said, “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.”
1Kings 2:18 Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak to the king on your behalf.”
While King David was sick and dying a beautiful Shunammite by the name of Abishag kept him company and cared for him. She was his concubine, although he never had sexual relations with her. Now, David had passed away and Abishag, while still a virgin, belonged to the new King, Solomon. However, Adonijah, Solomon's half-brother had wanted to be king. He was Absalom's younger brother. He had been just as conniving as his older brother and had worked hard to get the support of the community so that he could be their king. This was not David's plan -- nor God's plan and ultimately Solomon was anointed and crowned king. Now, Adonijah had to live with that defeat -- but somehow he just could not be content to move on with his life.
Under the pretense of love, Adonijah decides to ask Bathsheba, Solomon's mother to intercede for him, and ask Solomon whether Abishag can be his wife. Somehow she must not have understood the political nuances and Adonijah must have woven an incredible story of romantic love. I believe he led her to believe that he was deeply in love with Abishag and now that he had lost the kingdom, wouldn't it be great if the king could just give him this one thing -- the love of his life! But, we doubt that she was the love of his life.
His older brother Absalom, during his power grab, had purposefully slept with David's concubines. This was a tactic in which power was taken from the one in leadership. By asking for David's concubine, Adonijah was signaling that he had not given up. He was not content to live his life under the leadership of Solomon and so he was going to make one more effort to appear as the leader by sleeping with David's concubine, just as Absalom had done. The symbolism was not lost on Solomon! He immediately saw through the ruse and ultimately Adonijah lost his life as a result.
This story fascinated me because this "love" for the Shunammite seemed to come out of no where. At first glance I didn't catch the nuances nor the motivation of Adonijah and I had to do a little further research -- but something just didn't feel right. What we see here is ambition couched in the pretense of love, but ultimately the story reveals the true motivations of the man's heart. And this begs the question as to whether there are times that we try to hide our own ambitions within something that would seem to be more acceptable?
David had understood the necessity of a pure heart -- and pure motivations. As a man who deeply loved God he knew that this type of deception would not be acceptable in the eyes of God. He had penned:
Psa. 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
Psa. 139:24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Yesterday we had talked about the need to be sanctified through and through. David understood that every motivation and every desire had to be brought into alignment with the will of God. Even our thoughts need to be brought before God, along with the desires of our hearts. If there is anything wicked -- if there is any wrong ambition or motivation -- may it be removed.
My desire is that my life be genuinely motivated by love -- love of God and love of neighbor. May there never be a pretense of love out of a motive of ambition. If that be the case, let us be sure that those who are wiser will find out us. Pure love should be the motivating force of our lives. Human ambition is nothing in light of the incredible peace which comes from knowing and loving God. Adonijah couldn't be content with what he had. He had to keep reaching for more. His ambition got the best of him and his false motives ultimately led to his destruction.
Lord, search my heart and thoughts today. Please lead me in your everlasting way of love. Amen.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
1Th. 5:23 ¶ May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th. 5:24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Here Paul is expressing his desire for the people of Thessalonica, and that is that they would become wholly and entirely God's holy people. His prayer is that they would be entirely or wholly sanctified, and then he goes on to explain that this includes the spirit, soul and body. In other words, every part of their being is to be made holy. But this is not on their own or by their own power, but by the power of the God of peace. The God of peace is faithful and he is capable of making them holy, through and through (Luther). Wesley says, "every part and all that concerns you; all that is of or about you." This is what can be made holy by the power of the God of peace.
I find it fascinating that Paul refers to God as the God of peace in this passage. What is it about sanctification and peace? There must be some kind of a relationship between the two. Could it be that there is a relationship to being made holy and to peace? When the God of peace sanctifies you through and through, then it means that his very nature penetrates through your entire being. There is a change in nature which brings about peace in the body, soul and mind. I'm afraid that this is a picture of sanctification which we rarely see. Instead we have so often equated holiness with rigidity, anger and intolerance. Could it be that entire sanctification has, at times, so focused on the body that we have forgotten about the need for the Spirit of God to penetrate the soul and the mind? But it is in the penetration of the soul and the mind that we find real transformation.
Real transformation of the individual into the image of God, into a reflection of Jesus Christ, is possible through the work of the God of peace. To be a holy person is the telos, or goal of all of humanity. This is what God created us to be. And it is possible to be a living reflection of Christ -- to fulfill the telos while still living here on this earth. But only when we are in a right relationship with the God of peace. He is calling us into a deeper walk with him -- wanting to sanctify us through and through to the very core of our being.
Paul raises the bar pretty high in this passage. He believes that God can sanctify every nook and cranny of a person's being. In a recent conversation with a group of students we were discussing this "high bar." We were also discussing the fact that there is the possibility that, as Christians, we have been lowering the bar for quite some time. Somehow we have tried to make the Christian life easier -- one that doesn't take too much time -- or expect too much out of us. We have tried to make it easy to be "in this world, but not of this world." Maybe this was what Paul saw in the believers of Thessalonica. Maybe he realized it was time to raise the bar again -- to help people realize that the goal of this life is Christlikeness. If we would truly understand holiness or sanctification in this way -- that the goal is to be transformed into the image of Christ (through and though -- including our body, soul, and spirit) then I think the bar is pretty high! Wesley had accountability groups that helped those new believers understand that the bar was high -- to be reflections of Jesus Christ in the world. This is what it means to be sanctified through and through. To be like Jesus through and through.
This can only happen when we are steeped in his presence, day in and day out. Then the God of peace envelopes us with his deep and abiding peace which reaches to the very core of our being and we live facing the one that we love and we allow his reflection to shine out of every corner of who we are. Paul was raising the bar. Maybe we need to raise the bar again as well. The plan is for us all to be peacefully sanctified -- entirely!
Lord, draw me closer to you this day so that I might be a complete reflection of you. Amen.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
1Th. 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication;
1Th. 4:4 that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor,
1Th. 4:5 not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
Many believe that Paul is writing from Corinth to the church in Thessalonica. He has a deep love and concern for these followers of Jesus Christ who are living for him in the midst of a very secular society. The people of Thessalonica were commonly engaged in pagan practices of worship which included sexual acts. The pagan religions gave license to all kinds of sexual behaviors and deemed them appropriate for worship. Corinth was one of the worst towns for this and I'm sure the daily activity of the temple prostitutes was on Paul's mind as he was writing to the people of Thessalonica. But this God whom we serve is different from the pagan gods. The God who created us is a holy God and had declared, "Be holy, for I your God am holy." It was always Yahweh's intent that his people would be a holy people. And this meant not being influenced by the practices that the world had deemed acceptable. Again -- the kingdom of God is counter-cultural.
Paul is simply reiterated the fact that God calls his people to be a holy people. It is God's will that his people be sanctified! And sanctification is an act of God, but it is also an act of participation on the part of God's people. It is God who makes his people holy, but it is also a holy people who choose not to participate in the unholy things of this world. Paul goes on to list the things which may be a problem to the people. The first is "fornication" or, in the Greek, "porneia." Subjecting oneself to "porneia" does not lead to holiness. Therefore each one is to practice self-discipline and not to wade into the tempting waters of destruction. It is the pagans who engage in worship that encourages them to succumb to their lustful passions and thus further distanced from a personal relationship with our holy God.
A number of years ago I was visiting Corinth. In the archaeological digs they have discovered that people would create plaster casts of body parts that were ill and would present those before the god whom they believed would heal them. I was amazed at the piles of genitalia. More than likely the community was severely afflicted with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) which resulted in painful sores and even senility. And yet this was tolerated by society for they had deemed it a part of their worship.
Today's society has deemed most everything acceptable and is pressing the Christian community to "tolerate" all types of behaviors. We must recognize that this letter was written specifically to believers so responsibility for holy living must begin with those of us who have declared allegiance to Jesus Christ. Paul did not tell the Thessalonican believers to go and make the pagans stop doing what they were doing -- he told the believers to not participate in what the pagans were doing. This holy living must begin with each one of us who is a follower of Jesus Christ. It's easy to point fingers at others to divert attention from ourselves.
God wants his people to be a holy people. As followers of Jesus Christ we must recognize that this is the call of God on our lives and we must participate with him in being his holy people. Therefore we are to abstain from "porneia," and honestly, this is a big problem among Christians! The problem is pornography being broadcast into every electronic device which we own. No longer does someone have to go to the "adult" book store, but instead they can hide under their covers in the darkness of night and have it broadcast directly to their smart phone.
This is why we are admonished to control our own bodies. But maybe that control goes beyond sexual practices. Does the call to be God's holy people mean that we practice spiritual disciplines -- and if so, what do they look like? John Wesley said that this verse means that you have one wife and you fulfill the passions of your flesh with her and her alone. However, I think that the verse goes beyond this and includes daily discipline in terms of the spiritual life.
The younger generation today is more concerned with the discipline of health than my generation may have been. They want to eat good healthy food and they work out regularly to take care of their physical health. I recently had a young Christian person tell me that they don't want to have to be paying health care benefits for those who have not taken responsibility for their personal health and that they see this as un-Christlike. Ouch!
God's desire is that all of his people be a holy people. And this translates to his people participating in a holy relationship with him. It also means that we practice spiritual discipline when it comes to our personal lives because we don't want to drag God into filthy places. But the spiritual discipline must begin in the place of a personal relationship. I find it hard to believe that an individual who spends an hour or so in the word and in prayer can then go and tune into pornography on their computer. Somehow I believe the two are connected. If we put our relationship with a holy God first, then he will help us with the struggles of the flesh. The flesh wins over when we do not put God first. God's will is that we all be sanctified!
Lord, please help me to live in the power of your presence in all things. Amen.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
1Th. 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain.
Paul was a passionate man when it came to two things -- his Savior, and his spiritual children. In this case the emotion becomes evident in the words that are spoken. Paul is deeply concerned that the people of Thessalonica are going through a period of temptation and he's not sure that they are able to stand firm in their faith. Therefore he sent Timothy to them, so that he could encourage them to persevere in the face of temptation.
Paul did not preach a prosperity gospel, but instead he preached a realistic gospel. Jesus himself had been tempted and yet by the very power of the word he did not yield to temptation. Now, these young believers were also to face a time of temptation. Paul's concern was that they were so young in their faith that they would not be able to withstand the works of the tempter. Would they all slip away from their faith in God? This was Paul's concern.
Paul was extremely passionate about these followers of Christ which were found in Thessalonica. They were his spiritual children but he also knew that the enemy would be after them. Earlier in the Scripture we read that Paul prayed for them continually. This is what one does when one loves and cares for their spiritual children -- one prays for them on a regular basis. But prayer alone was not enough. He knew that they needed sound teaching. He had laid a foundation of faith for them, but now they needed more. Temptations were coming and Paul could simply "bear it no longer." Now, that is a passionate person. He is overcome with his concern for these new believers -- so much so that he has to send them Timothy. Timothy was coming to reinforce their faith. There are times in life when this is necessary -- especially when the enemy is coming at us, firing everything he has in his arsenal to attack us. We need reinforcements! And Paul, who would have enjoyed having Timothy around to support him, sends him as reinforcement to encourage the faith of the people of Thessalonica.
What can we bear no longer? Are we ever so passionate in our faith and concern for others that we simply can't take it anymore and we have to take action? Or, somehow, sadly, has our passion been lost? We need to have a fire burning within us that consumes us with desire in service to God. Paul prayed continually and God filled him with that passion and desire. When this happens our desires are his desires and our passion is his passion. Just as God sent Jesus into the world when he knew the people just couldn't take it anymore, so Paul sent his faithful "son" to the church in Thessalonica. He could stand it no longer -- his love for the Thessalonicans won the day. This consuming passion and love for his spiritual children is what prompted him to action. Our consuming love and passion for God and others must drive all of our actions. God's passion had become Paul's passion. That's what happens when we are united with Christ. God's desires become our desires and we are willing to put aside any personal goals or aims to be faithful in service to the Lord.
Lord, may my heart be filled with the driving passions of your heart Amen.
Monday, May 13, 2013
2Sam. 24:24 ¶ But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
1Chr. 21:24 But King David said to Ornan, “No; I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
David had disobeyed God and sent his commander out to create a census of his fighting men. What was he doing? Instead of trusting in God for the victory he wanted to check on his own resources, and God was not pleased. David knew he had done something terrible and now he would have to suffer the consequences. God told him that there would have to be punishment and David could choose from three different options. He chose to have a plague come on the nation for 3 days because this would be brought about by the hand of God and not by his enemies. Nearing the end of the third day the angel of the Lord that was bringing the punishment made it to the threshing floor of Araunah, or Ornan, and stopped there! David wanted to come and worship God and make an offering in that very place. When he approached the owner, the gentleman wanted to give him everything that would be necessary for the sacrifice. David refused. He knew that he was the one who had caused this punishment to come upon the people. He could not sacrifice an offering to the Lord that had cost him nothing. Therefore he paid the price and made the offering.
How many people today are trying to find the easy way out? Somehow we want to worship the Lord, but we don't want it to cost us anything. Let's look at the facts related to worship of God these days. There are plenty of folks complaining about the condition of the church, and yet the Church (as far as my Bible reads) is still the bride of Christ. God has chosen the Church to be his vehicle for his presence in the world. The fact is that we have filled up our lives with numerous activities and there is little time left for God and the church. Sports have become our god and it's more of a priority to go to a game than it is to be in church. It doesn't cost us anything to be in church because it is no longer a priority. We fit it in if it's convenient. If God and worship of him are to be a priority it will cost us our time. We can't delegate our time out to anyone else. We have to give of our own personal time -- not anyone else's as a sacrifice to God.
What about the financial cost of serving the Lord? What has happened to the concept of tithing? I've heard people say that tithing is pretty much out of vogue these days. So, when did we start rewriting the Bible? It seems to me that tithing is a concept that God established thousands of years ago but all of a sudden, in the last 30 years, we can choose whether what God teaches us to do in the Bible is right or not? The problem again becomes priorities. What are our priorities when it comes to spending our money? The sad truth is that many people are so over-extended financially that they can't even imagine tithing. They are simply living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if they can pay the next set of bills. Unfortunately those bills include the purchase of items which were simply out of reach for these individuals. But we have a mentality that tells us we "deserve" all kinds of things and those become our priorities. If we are going to take responsibility for our spiritual lives, we will need to pay the price. This means that we need to practice storehouse tithing as a minimum. This is our responsibility and seriously -- it will change the way we manage our money! No longer is it ours, but it is a gift from God and we realize that we are privileged to have 90% of it!
Ultimately this story was about David making a sacrifice for sinning. This is another place where it's difficult for people to take responsibility these days. For years we used to hear, "The Devil made me do it!" Now, we don't even bother giving the Devil credit -- we just say that everything is relative and while that might not be right for you, it could be right for me. Meeting with a group of young people recently we were having a discussion regarding sin. They weren't sure that they could describe what sin was -- or even list a single sin. Everything was relative for them. Everything needed to be evaluated in terms of context. Well, if no one knows what is right or what is wrong these days -- how will anyone ever have a sense of needing to pay the price and take responsibility? David was convicted of his sin. He knew that he had done something wrong. God had told him not to count the soldiers and yet he did. It was pretty clear that he had gone against what God had desired of him. But David also had a tender heart and conscience. He was spending time on a regular basis in God's holy presence and God is the one who convicted him of his sin. We must sacrifice to spend time in God's presence so that he can speak to us and bring about conviction in our hearts so that we can take responsibility. And when we recognize that we must take responsibility -- we must take action -- and we must be willing to pay the price to maintain our relationship with the Lord.
Lord, may I have a willing heart and spirit to respond to your leadings. Amen.