Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Arrogance of Humankind



Scripture:

Acts 7:48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’

Observation:

Stephen continues his defense before the Sanhedrin.  He is simply reminding them of their history and what has brought them to this day but the words and scriptures he uses cuts them to the quick.  It is a constant awareness of their arrogance for they are proud of the religion that they have built.  Unfortunately it has not been built together with God.  Too much concern has been placed in having power, political power, and making the secular authorities happy with what they have been doing.  Compromise has been the common response.  Stephen reminds them that there is no way to contain God, or even to direct God.  Then, he attacks their arrogance by reminding them that God doesn't need them.  Why would God need their structures, systems and buildings for his kingdom when he owns the whole world!  He can use anything he wants to be his tabernacle -- for his hands have made it all. 

Application:

I'm wondering if most of us spent some of our childhood building a treehouse or a clubhouse?  I know I always thought something like that would be a lot of fun.  I tried making a tree house one summer that we were in Nebraska at my grandparents' home.  I think I ended up with a little set of steps going up a tree and a triangle of boards that you could sit on and that's about it -- but I thought it was pretty cool. 

While we were living in Russia our girls had the opportunity to work alongside many construction teams that came over to help us with building churches and our youth center.  One summer as a team was busy building on the youth center our girls were behind the building wanting to make a play house.  Roy, the construction coordinator told them that they could have any pieces of wood to use that were at 18" long or less.  He held up his hands to show them how short the wood was supposed to be.  Of course, they were supposed to be using the scrap wood.  Little did he know that they would go to the good wood pile and take it over to the man running the table saw and ask him to cut it into 18" pieces.  He didn't know what Roy had told them so he happily cut up the wood for them.  This was all discovered when they girls drug us all to the back yard to see the house they were building.  It was an interesting little house and they were working hard on it.  The only thing they didn't realize was that a house needs a solid foundation and they had taken the boards and nailed them straight into the dirt.  The little house lasted a short period of time until the entire structure began to lean. 

Now, at the time that the girls built their little play house, we had an apartment in the city.  Would it have made any sense for us to have moved, the whole family, into the play house?  It was cute what the girls had done but it certainly was not a home where we could all live -- we already had a home -- a safe home, a good home.  The girls knew we couldn't live in that house and they realized it was for fun -- but now, let's step back a minute.  The religious leaders of the day had built their own little unstable houses and then expected God to come and live in them!  Somehow they seemed to think that they had done something fabulous for God.  Oh the arrogance of it all!

We should never create limits or boundaries to the way in which God can work in and through our lives.  We must be willing to open ourselves up to his creative power and relax in his ability to do his work in and through us.  Trusting in him removes all fear, for we rest on him and recognize that the work he wants to accomplish is his -- and not ours.  This is on a personal level, but on the corporate or church level there is also a truth at work.  Why do we think that God must work through our feeble structures?  We are limiting ourselves and God when we try to put him in a box.  Instead, imagine what would happen if we let go of our preconceived notions of how God needs to work and where God needs to work and again -- relax and trust him to do what he needs to do.  The church of the future won't look like the church of the past -- but why should it?  Our amazing and creative God knows how to use all the resources of this earth that he created to minister to the ever-changing citizenship of the world.  That's his kingdom and if the church puts up structures that get in his way, he will simply go around them. 

Prayer:


Lord, please help me not to be so arrogant as to think that you need to work in any particular type of way.  May your will be done.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stephen - the Scapegoat



Scripture:

Acts 6:12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Observation:

Yesterday we read that the Sanhedrin had brought Peter and John before them and shared concern that they were making them look bad.  Is it any surprise that we discover that they have brought Stephen before them?  Not at all, and now Stephen is to become the scapegoat for their guilt ridden consciences.  However, the only way to justify his guilt is to bring false witnesses before them.  These men were still trying to justify their actions against Jesus and in doing so they had to set-up yet another individual.  Stephen was performing great miracles and yet they took his words and distorted them, using them against him.  They condemned him for preaching the message of the Messiah.  But Stephen was a man who spent time in God's holy presence on a daily basis.  No matter what these people hurled at him -- whether words, or eventually stones, they could not move him.  Instead, the glory of God shone through him -- and as they looked on his face they could only describe his face as that of an angel.  He was a man, like Moses, who had spent so much time in the presence of God that the glory of God was reflected in him.  And yet, they chose to punish him.

Application:

There are two places to find ourselves in today's story, either as members of the Sanhedrin, or as Stephen.  If we were to be honest we would probably have to say that there have been times that we have sat in judgment of the innocent.  We live in a day in which personal responsibility is in short supply.  Someone else always has to be responsible for what is wrong -- but certainly not me!  The religious leaders of the day knew that there wasn't much happening in the spiritual realm in their synagogues.  All of a sudden this new group shows up and all kinds of things start to happen; people are excited and begin following after them.  They are not really concerned, instead they are jealous.  If we were honest, those of us in the "church" business could find ourselves in the same position.  These are tough days for the established church.  Many churches are dead or dying and taking responsibility for that is rather painful.  There can be many reasons for the decline but I think we need to ask ourselves if it has anything to do with the presence of God! 

Stephen was a man who spent so much time in the presence of God that his face literally glowed!  Instead of pointing fingers at people like that -- maybe we ought to be asking ourselves what would happen if we spent that kind of time in prayer -- what would happen to our churches?  There are all kinds of strategic plans available for us to follow but if we do not take time in God's holy presence in prayer -- what good is it?  Instead of pointing a finger at the places that are growing and where the spirit is moving, maybe we need to examine ourselves.  It wasn't Stephen's fault that not much was happening at the synagogue down the street, but they chose to punish him to make them feel better.

But maybe we find ourselves in the place of Stephen.  There is that place of being completely misunderstood and being made the scapegoat for others.  There are times when one can become the "victim of the success" -- because others will punish you if God works in and through you.  What are we to do at times like this?  I think that Stephen becomes a great example to us.  He fixes his gaze on heaven and there he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.  Jesus is not sitting -- but at this moment is standing in a very active stance -- cheering on dear Stephen.  At the end of the day Stephen gets to be with Jesus -- the one whom he has grown to love.  Yes, Stephen the innocent has been punished.  Jesus was punished.  If we are truly following Christ there will be times that we too will be punished.  May we be willing to stand up, take responsibility for being a follower of Christ and may his glory shine through us because we have been spending time with him in the Holy of Holies!

Prayer:


Lord, I simply want to be faithful and glorify you today.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When Guilt Gets the Best of You



Scripture:

Acts 5:27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Observation:

The Apostles continued to perform miracles everywhere they went.  In many ways it wasn't even that they were trying but the power exuding from them was so great that even if their shadow fell on people they were healed.  Obviously the city of Jerusalem was in a complete uproar over what was happening -- people clamoring to see these men.  Everywhere they went they were preaching about Jesus and his resurrection.  How could they help it -- for he had become the central focus of everything in their lives.  They knew that Jesus was the Messiah and they knew that they had experienced power from the Lord on high and this consumed their lives.  Jesus was the overwhelming passion of everything in their lives.  They couldn't help but speak about him.

The religious officials were very unhappy that these men continued to speak about Jesus.  They brought them in to be questioned once again.  But this time you see their real motivation.  They are not excited about what is happening because of the personal ramifications.  They are not excited about the good that is happening to those who need it, instead they are worried about what this means for their own personal actions.  They are feeling guilty for what they've done to Jesus.  I'm guessing the Apostles were not pointing fingers at the Sanhedrin but were simply preaching Jesus!  The indirect implication was that the Sanhedrin were guilty of Jesus' blood -- and they were.  This is what bothered them.  They were too concerned about themselves.

Application:

Have you ever done something that makes you feel guilty?  I still remember an incident in fourth grade.  I don't even know why I did it -- except that I probably wanted to go out and play with my friend.  I had to prepare some kind of a report and I think it was on the State of Idaho.  There were all kinds of pieces to it including one on agriculture.  All of these  little reports were to be bound together into a larger report.  I was a good student and I regularly got good grades -- but I was in a hurry.  I had other things to do.  My best friend Connie was over at the house with me and wanted me to get finished so I could go and play.  Finally I remember asking her if she would write the report on "Sisal" for me.  Now she had much better penmanship than I did and today has a Ph.D. in English -- so not only was her handwriting better -- her writing was better!  I told her to try and write a little sloppy so it would look like my writing.  To this day I can still see that page of the report in my mind and it didn't look like my writing at all!  I still wonder what my teacher thought when she saw that report….and I still feel guilty.  I never, ever did that again in my entire life!  But I remember at the time trying to justify myself and one piece of justification led to another and eventually it was as if I could have tried to believe a whole series of things I knew were wrong.  But I couldn't.  And I remember having to ask Jesus for forgiveness of what I had done.

The Sanhedrin had done an awful thing.  Out of jealousy for a man they did not understand they pushed the local authorities to crucify him.  Even the secular authorities could not find anything wrong with him or any reason to put him to death.  Yet, they gave in to the will of these "religious" folks -- the Sanhedrin.  I'm guessing that from the day they had him crucified there were those who had a nagging sense of guilt.  Now, it didn't take anyone pointing out their guilt but the simply actions of the Apostles to make them realize how wrong they had been.  Instead of facing the fact that what they had done was wrong -- they had to try and defend themselves.  Over and over they tried to justify their actions and eventually they were trying to believe an entire string of untruths.  Obviously it was the Apostles' fault for making them feel guilty over what had happened.  They needed to punish the Apostles!  Their guilt had gotten the best of them and now they couldn't stop at simply having killed Jesus, they had to go after his followers as well and suddenly their little lie had grown into a giant cloud which they could no longer contain. 

When we are confronted with guilt, we have the opportunity to respond and ask for forgiveness.  It is a mechanism which God has built into us so that we can repent.  Sadly, the more that we sweep those feelings of guilt under the rug the less sensitized we become to them.  Did any of those Sanhedrin ever become followers of the Way?  History would tell us that some of them did -- but others did not.  They will have lost out for all of eternity as they hung onto their pride.  May God humble us today and if guilt grips us, may we turn toward him in a posture of repentance, seeking his forgiveness.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the convictions you send our way.  Please, help me be sensitive to respond to what you have for us each day!  Amen.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What We Have Seen and Heard



Scripture:


Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Observation:

Within a very short period of time over 5000 people had declared their faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ.  This was driving the religious leaders crazy.  Why in the world would so many people in Jerusalem suddenly believe that the man they had crucified -- Jesus -- was the Messiah and that he had been raised from the dead!  They went out to find the ring-leaders and they found Peter and John.  They tried to question them to discover what they were doing to persuade so many people.  What they discovered dumbfounded them.  These men, Peter and John were not highly educated men.  They couldn't have been persuading people with their fancy sermons!  What they didn't understand was the power of the Holy Spirit that was pouring through them.  They had been spending intimate time in the presence of Jesus in prayer.  All the power of heaven was available to them and that was much more than fancy speech.  Now the lame man was able to walk and no one understood that. 

The religious men decided that they would try and make Peter and John be quiet.  They didn't realize how futile that would be.  It wasn't their words that were so convincing -- but rather the simple testimony.  People were simply sharing what God was doing and those stories began to take off like wildfire.  It was a wildfire that could not be stopped because the message was so simple. 

Application:

The challenge for us today is to be careful not to be caught up in trying to have fancy and persuasive speech -- but instead to simply tell the story.  Go and tell what it is that we have seen and heard!  But here may be the glitch.  Could it be that we have seen and heard so little that is compelling that we have no story to tell?  And if that is the case, then why?  Could it be that we are trying too hard on our own and we are not going to the source of the power?  The stories of the disciples were not their own, they were the stories of the work of God through the Holy Spirit.  The disciples had waited for ten days in prayer in the upper room when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them.  It was after that when things changed.  Yes, they could tell the story of the resurrected Christ, but they could also tell the story of their own personal resurrections.  If anyone had known Peter before, they certainly understood that something had radically changed him.  He was now a man of power.  And he certainly understood the source of that change.  He continued to have faithful and intimate conversations with the Lord on a daily basis through prayer.  He had seen the way that Jesus had gone off onto the mountain to pray and be with the Father.  Back in those days Peter had simply fallen asleep.  No longer did he fall asleep -- but instead he carved out time to spend in intimate fellowship with the Father every day.  The result was that God was using him as his instrument to radically change the world.  Peter didn't need to have persuasive speech -- he simply needed to go and tell what he had seen and heard.  God did the rest!


Prayer:

Lord, may I know the intimacy of a life of prayer and may I see the works of your hand at work in the world today.  I want to go and tell your stories!  Amen.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Prayer First

Prayer First

Scripture:


Acts 3:1-2
Peter Heals a Crippled Beggar
Chapter 3
 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.

Acts 3:6
But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”


Observation:

Peter and John were in the habit of going to the daily prayer meeting.  On their way to prayer they came across a man who had never been able to walk.  For years he had been lying there at the gate hoping that people would help him, begging for financial assistance.  The disciples were very certainly not rich individuals.  They actually had very little from a materialistic standpoint, but they  had everything from an eternal perspective.  Why would they need things humanly when they could go to God's storerooms on a daily basis and have more than enough.  They were on the way to the storeroom of heaven when they came across the lame man.  He was asking for money.  Ah, how ridiculous that sounds when God's storehouses are available to you!  Money was not going to solve his problems.  Rather, money was only a temporary fix to feed him for a day, but he would be hungry the next.

Peter and John told him very honestly that they had no silver or gold.  They did not have these human treasurers...but they had so much more.  They had been to the storeroom on a daily basis.  They had the power of God to take care of this Man's problems now, and for eternity.  Why offer him something cheap like silver or gold?  Instead they offered him complete and total healing.  The man got up and walked for the first time in his whole life.  Now he could work and feed himself for the rest of his life, not needing to rely on others.  But he didn't stop there...he went walking and leaping into the Temple.  His healing was not temporary, it was eternal and now the disciples were going to show him how to feast from God's table for the rest of his life.  He was headed to the prayer meeting!

Application:  

This is a favored story from the life of the disciples.  We love to hear how Peter and John were able to heal this man but too often we fail to recognize where it is they were going.  Prayer, or communion with God had taken first priority in their lives.  Here, in the middle of a busy afternoon they are taking time to go to prayer.  This was their habit, it was what they did on a regular basis!  They never could have healed that man had they not been attending the prayer meeting.

These days it seems that we fail to notice what needs to come first!  We go to seminars and we read all kinds of books on how to live our lives, how to be successful, how to be disciplined and organized, but if there is no prayer, we will be doing all of this on our own.  Those serving within Christianity are some of the guiltiest.  It seems that taking time for prayer is almost unheard of!  Why?  Because it gets in the way of what WE have planned.  What if God wanted to break in and change all the plans?  Would he have e freedom to do so?  

If we are to experience God in a powerful way then we must take the time to get alone with him, commune with him, fellowship with him and rach into the very throne room of heaven.  Suzanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley was a very busy woman.  She raised a houseful of children, she taught them, ran the household and often held church services in her kitchen.  She didn't have much free time...and yet she awakened early each morning to spend two hours with The Lord before beginning her day.  Her son John followed his other's example.  They became a family that touched the world in miraculous ways.  Could it be because prayer came first?  

Whether in the life of the disciples, or people throughout history who significantly touched their world, they had one thing in common.  Prayer came first!  God is searching out among his followers for those today who will take the time to make prayer a priority.  Prayer first -- then touch the world.

Prayer:

Thank you Lord for the gift of prayer...a conduit to a personal relationship with you.  Amen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

For the Generations to Come



Scripture:

Exodus 16:33 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.”

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Observation:

The children of Israel were provided with all that they needed for forty years.  For six days a week they would step outside their homes and fresh bread from God was lying on the ground.  All they had to do was collect it and use it.  On the sixth day they could collect enough for two days and they could rest on the seventh day.  The manna really was a magical food product!  It must have had all the nutrients necessary to sustain human life for it sustained this entire community of people year after year.  There had never been anything like it before or after here on this earth.  It was so special and unique that God instructed Moses to save some and store it to show it to the future generations so that they could witness the miracle that God had provided.  Moses did this and placed it before the Lord so that it could be kept for the generations to come.

Somewhere along the way the people lost it.  Not only did they lose the jar of manna -- but they lost the faith that was to have been passed to the generations.  They people who witnessed and tasted of God's daily provision failed to pass that faith on to the next generation and the people of God struggled with their faith.

God continued to be faithful to his children and through Jesus had provided them with a promise for the future.  Jesus had told them to wait -- for a new type of manna -- which would fall from heaven.  His followers weren't sure what they were waiting for but they went to Jerusalem and spent ten days in a prayer meeting when finally the new manna -- the Holy Spirit fell from heaven.  Peter stood up and preached a message to which thousands responded and received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This was the new gift for the generations to come.  No longer did the gift have to be saved in a jar for future generations, but all future generations would have the possibility of experiencing the miracle of God on a daily basis through the Holy Spirit. 

Application:

I've visited numerous ancient churches in my lifetime and it's amazing to me how many different "left-over" pieces of "holy men" are out there.  It's interesting how many human relics have been collected through the years.  If you would put together all the pieces of Moses that are in churches you'd probably have a man with 20 toes and 15 fingers!  Of course there are lots of collected hairs as well.  Who is to say where all these pieces have come from but they sit, encased in glass in these churches, as a reminder of the holy men who have gone before us.  Yet there is something similar about all of these church buildings.  These items have been saved for the future generations so that we can understand the great ones who have gone before and be inspired to also be followers of God.  However, the similarity is that all of these buildings are rather cold and empty.  There is no sense of the presence of God in those places.  Instead they most resemble a museum;  a place to imagine the past. 

Having a jarful of manna wasn't enough to convince the children of Israel to stay true to their faith.  They could see it and they could hear the stories but unless they personally engaged in a  relationship with God, it didn't mean anything for them.  Therefore God found a way that they could experience him every single day of their lives and he sent the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit certainly became a way of God entering into communion with humanity on a daily basis.  No longer would they have to look to the events of the past but they could commune with God now!

For those of us walking with God we have the choice to engage our faith in these two ways.  We may either be enamored with the old and try to keep the faith from being contaminated by placing it under glass, or we may engage in personal communion with God.  One will leave us cold and empty with very little to pass on to the future generations.  The other will breathe life into us, transforming us and making our faith desirable to the following generations. 

For the generations to come we must be willing to engage in the life-giving relationship with God that is only available through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This relationship will challenge us to be engaged with our world in new and different ways -- never the same -- so that they too can experience transformation.  We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the working of God in our lives and be transparent for others to see what he is accomplishing.  This is for the generations to come.

Prayer:

Lord, may my life reflect you and may that draw the generations to come into a personal walk with you.  Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Foreigner Residing Among You



Scripture:

Exodus 12:48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”

Observation:


We read of the plagues which came over the Egyptians because they would not let the people of God be released to go home.  Over and over again the plagues strike the people of Egypt, but in the land of Goshen where the Israelites live, they remain untouched.  God has his hand on the Israelites and now this final plague is to come to the country.  This is the final and worst plague -- one in which the first born of all creatures will die.  The result is terrible emotional pain throughout the entire land.  Only the Israelites are to be saved -- or so I remembered until reading this portion of scripture today.  From the very beginning the God of the Israelites was an evangelical God.  He was not exclusive to them -- but others could be grafted in and included in the chosen people of God, if they lived by the laws of God.  No, not everyone had to suffer the final plague of the passover.  Whether they were Jewish, or whether they were foreigners residing among the children of Israel the simply had to be obedient. The law applied to both the Jews and the foreigners.  This means that after they had suffered from all of these plagues they could have turned their hearts toward God and he would have accepted them.  The foreigner was of no lesser value in God's eyes than the Israelites.

Application:

There are rights and privileges that come from being native-born -- rights which we, at times, take for granted.  This can relate to us on many different levels -- whether politically, or spiritually.  From a political perspective I am a native born US/Canadian citizen -- born in Germany.  (That's why I have a blank look on my face when people ask me where I'm from  -- so hard to explain :)  All my life I have had the privilege of carrying around my little blue US passport.  Yes, there have been privileges associated with that little blue book.  It allows me to enter certain countries of the world without difficulty.  There have been times when exiting a plane that they have separated those of us with the little blue book and those who don't have the little blue book.  Those with the blue book being free to walk off the plane without being hassled, and all the rest to have their documentation thoroughly searched.  Am I of any greater value in the eyes of God than people who may be carrying a red book or a green book or a bright blue book?  Absolutely not!  I just happen to have been native born and that is something that I cannot take for granted.  I cannot take for granted the rights that I have because of my birth.  Instead, I must realize the privileges which have been granted to me as a result, and use those privileges to make a difference in this world.  Also, I must join with God in his salvific plan to reach out to the foreigner and welcome them into the community without creating barriers for them.  This means that as people of faith we must recognize that the barriers which exist are simply human barriers.  God does not have these barriers and when we work with "foreigners" we must realize that within the kingdom "the same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you." 

On a spiritual level there are those who are native-born and foreigners as well.  Who are the native born?  They tend to be the second, third and fourth generation believers within a community of faith.  They have been raised in the church and there is a sense of pride or "citizenship" regarding their membership within that community of faith.  Sadly the same temptation can develop within these people as within the Israelites.  They begin to take their faith for granted…that they really are the chosen ones.  They have been born into this faith and they struggle with sharing the church with the newcomers, or "foreigners."  Why is that?  Because the "foreigners" don't know how to do things the way the "locals" do.  The customs and the traditions are simply not the same and when they arrive they bring with them their customs and traditions and sometimes it just seems to mess things up!  But God doesn't look on our cultures and/or traditions -- he looks at our hearts.  It is the law of God which is the same for everyone including the native-born Christian and the brand new believer.  It is not the traditions of the church which matter to God, but the heart of the person.  Are they following the law of God, are they living in obedience to him?  The truth is that there will be more "foreigners" who may be living the life of true faith than the "native-born" -- and what does that mean?  When Jesus came he spoke directly to the "religious" folks of his day and told them that if they were not producing fruit they would be cut off and thrown into the fire.  Being "native-born" will not get you privileges in the kingdom of God.  Instead, whether native-born or a foreigner, living in obedience to him will get us grafted into the true vine and we will be able to serve as true children in the kingdom. 

There is no difference between the native-born or the foreigner.  May we work to bring down the man-made barriers as we work together as citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to serve you together with my brothers and sisters who are involved in kingdom business!  Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Burning Hearts



Scripture:

Luke 24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Observation:

Jesus' followers were devastated by the news of his death.  Many had waited around in Jerusalem for a few days but the time had now come to go home.  We discover two men walking home to Emmaus.  They are sad and distraught.  On their way home they are joined by a man who walks with them and asks them why they are feeling so dejected.  They are astounded since it seems that everyone knew what had happened in Jerusalem.  They engage in a lively discussion regarding the Messiah and he shares with them a great deal from the Scriptures.  They still do not understand who he is, but they invite him home for dinner.

While they are sitting at the dinner table Jesus breaks bread with them and all of a sudden there is a recognition of who he is.  It was Jesus!  Then they realized that they should have known that it was him because during the time they traveled, as he was sharing with them from Scripture, their hearts burned within them. 

Application:

These two men who were traveling home were now filled with great doubt about Jesus.  Although they had seen and experienced much of what he had done, they were profoundly disappointed.  Even when Jesus was now there with him, they could not comprehend that he was alive and that the Scriptures had been fulfilled. 

Before we quickly become judgmental of them, let's consider our own lives.  How often have we had little faith in Jesus and the reality of his work?  We, too, are looking for human signs of Jesus' existence.  But that's not always the way it will happen.

The other day I was on a flight that experienced a great deal of turbulence.  The natural instinct is to look out the window to see what is disturbing the flight.  Of course, there is nothing to see and sometimes the worst turbulence is experienced on clear days.  As we were traveling through this rough air I thought about the faith that we have in the wind and air currents.  They are not seen, but they certainly are experienced.  No one on that flight would have denied that air currents exist!

Let's examine our own faith.  The two men on the road to Emmaus did finally recognize Jesus but then they realized that they had already experienced him all day long as their hearts burned within them.  They really did not need to see him to see him, and neither do we.  Just as we experience turbulence in a plane because of unseen wind, we experience Jesus' involvement in the world today on a daily basis.  We just need to allow our senses to take in the fact that we are seeing the movement of the hand of God. 

John Wesley many years ago had an encounter with Jesus Christ during the reading of Luther's Commentary on Romans, and his heart was "strangely warmed."  The men on the road to Emmaus heard the Scriptures and their hearts burned within them.  We are invited to encounter Jesus today.  He is here with us in the Scriptures, in other readings, in other people, and in life experiences.  If we are sensitive to his moving we will also experience a burning in our hearts -- a strange warming -- coming from his holy presence.  This is the personal invitation of Jesus -- let us come, let us open our hearts, let us see and hear, may we understand that he is here, reaching out to us and touching our hearts with the warmth of his presence.  May our hearts burn from our times with him.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the work of your hand in the world and in my heart.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Their Shouts Prevailed



Scripture:

Luke 23:20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Observation:


In many ways this is a rather strange interaction.  Pilate is the leader.  He finds nothing wrong with Jesus and wants to release him.  (I really wonder why he just doesn't!)  Of course the crowd is out of control and they continue to shout that he needs to be crucified.  Pilate comes out again and announces to the people that he won't have Jesus crucified, but he will have him punished.  Another interesting thought since he finds that Jesus did nothing wrong, but why not punish him???  But no, the people don't want him released and they don't just want him punished, they want him crucified.  Pilate, again -- he is the leader, finds nothing that this man has done wrong and finally we are told "their shouts prevailed."  Pilate gives in to their demands and decides that a completely innocent man will be put to death. 

The leader was not a leader -- instead, the people became the leaders and forced their opinions and desires upon the leader.  He responded to the growing crowd and not to the truth.

Application:

As we look back upon this story today we imagine Pilate as a rather weak leader.  Why couldn't he stand up to the people?  Why did he test the wind, so to speak, and then decide how to respond?

Sadly, this seems to be the way in which society leads these days.  All over the world there are political experts who are willing to tell leadership what it is that people "want."  The problem with this is that leaders, like Pilate, will become more interested in their own political survival than in being leaders.  The reality was that Jesus had done nothing wrong and simply should have been set free.  When Pilate saw that this was a problem he began to bend the law.  Okay, why not just punish this man?  (For what???) Well, that didn't make the people happy -- okay, we'll put him to death!  (Again -- for what???)  The problem was that the shouts of the people prevailed over the law of the land and in an effort to maintain his popularity, he gave in to the shouts.

This scenario may seem extreme, but I'm afraid that if we examine our Christian lives we, too, may be guilty of succumbing to the shouts of popular culture and society.  To stand up for right and to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ may not be popular.  There may be shouts of ridicule which come to us from those around us, and yet, we must be willing to follow Jesus and allow him to inform the way we live our lives.  Living for Jesus on a daily basis should result in a clash with culture, and this may not simply be popular culture, but possibly even Christian culture.  A culture has developed within the church which may not always be true to following Christ.  At times there are loud voices in the congregation saying how things need to be done, and they may be the popular voices.  Do we succumb to the shouting, or do we get away and seek the face of God? 

In the busyness of our lives it may be difficult to turn off the clutter of the noise around us.  Everything that wants our attention and our time is shouting at us.  Will we let those things prevail?  Or will we find ourselves in that quiet place of rest in the presence of God, allowing his truth to shine into our lives and guiding us and our decisions.  There will be many voices shouting at us today and the only way that we can keep on the right path is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and allow him to lead us into all truth.

Prayer:

Lord, please help the shouts to be tuned out and me to be tuned in to you.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When you don't feel comfortable



Scripture:

Exodus 4:13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Observation:

Moses had been quietly living his life away from the pampered royalty of his childhood.  He enjoyed the serenity of life with his wife and two sons and spending time out herding.  Now, quite suddenly, God comes to him in a burning bush and tells him that he is to go and lead his people out of captivity.  The tasks seems overwhelming and Moses lacks the self-confidence to go and make a difference.  It seems that in the very presence of God, the one who is sending you, that you would respond in his confidence. This was not the case with Moses.  In a polite manner he responded, asking God to please send someone else.  He knew that he lacked the personal skills, and especially the public speaking skills to take on this task.  While Moses was quite capable with the help of God, God did allow him to partner with his brother in the project which lay ahead.  In doing so the task became more complicated and there were times that Moses had to deal with conflict with his brother, but Moses did move forward and walk in obedience with God.  Not only did he walk in obedience with God, but he literally learned to walk with God.  He and God developed a personal relationship in which Moses was changed and had personal communion with God which was not to be seen again for many generations.

Application:


How often do we feel uncomfortable, just like Moses when God may be nudging us in a particular direction.  The Christian walk is not about being comfortable.  There may be times when God asks us to be "out there" -- very far out of our comfort zone, just for him.  In reality we'd like to retreat to our homes and cuddle up in front the fireplace with a good cup of tea and a book to read.  We'd like to say, "Um…pardon me God, but could you please send someone else?" 

What we can learn from Moses is that if we trust God, he will give us strength, wisdom and power for the task which lies ahead.  God knew that there was no way that Moses could do all that God wanted on his own.  That's why God was looking for someone who realized their own limitations and was willing to put their trust in God.  If we are so confident that we can do it all ourselves, and if we are comfortable in all the places that God may send us, then maybe we aren't being realistic, or trusting in him.  When we serve God he stretches us and takes us to places we never would have thought possible.  That's when we know that we are trusting in him.  If we are simply operating out of the comfortable groove of life, maybe we need to consider that we are not allowing God to take us out of our comfort zones.  We will never grow spiritually, if we are never stretched spiritually.

So the next time that we are tempted to respond, "Pardon me Lord, could you please send someone else" -- maybe we ought to step back and ask ourselves why this is our response.  Maybe it's fear, or a lack of self-confidence.  However, if God is in it -- won't he supply the resources necessary for the assignment given?  He did for Moses, and he will for us as well.  No, the Christian walk and service to God are not supposed to be about comfort.  The walk is about obedience and trust in God.  Then, when we find ourselves way outside of our comfort zone, we can stop and look on his holy face and allow his strength to pour in and through us as we move on in the calling which we have received from the voice of the one who calls in the desert. 


Prayer:


Lord, I have to confess that there are times when I am scared and I want to respond just as Moses -- but please, help me to walk forward with you in obedience.  Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jesus' Routine


Jesus' Routine

Scripture:

Luke 21:37-38
Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Observation:

In this frenetic world at times it's nice to imagine what kind of form or structure could be useful to our lives.  Jesus is our role model and if we are to be like him, we are to model our lives after him.  Jesus faithfully went about his business on a daily basis.  He knew that he was called to teach.  There were times that he preached, but also many times that he taught.  While he maintained his schedule of teaching, he knew that he could not do this without power and strength from the Father.  He would depart from the crowd of people and he would go out to the Mount of Olives where he could be fed emotionally, spiritually and physically.  Then, early in the morning he was back again in the temple, back at work, teaching the people.

Application:

We are not all called to the same occupation but for those of us wanting to follow Christ, he places before us an excellent routine and example for life.  Now, my personality likes structure and routine.  For others that may seem foreign.  However, seeing that Christ took off in the evenings to go and rest and to be in prayer is important for all of us.  If the very son of God needed this time, how much more do we?  

The older I become the more keenly I am aware of my deep need of God's leading and guidance in my life.  The more that I get in touch with God, the more I realize I hardly know anything.  Somehow I have only barely begun to experience God in my life and my heart yearns for so much more.  I am tired of the busyness of life and I desperately want time to simply enjoy falling in love with the bridegroom!  

The Father has always been desperately in love with the son, who has been in love with the Father, who is loved by the Holy Spirit, who is loved by the Father...etc.  Jesus would go in the evenings, away from the crowds and allow himself to be united with God, basking in the love found in that relationship.  It recharged him and helped him to go on with what he had been born to do!  We are invited to slow down...to go to our Mount of Olives and participate in that relationship as well.  A simple taste will bring us back time after time, wanting more and more, and we will be strengthened and renewed for service to him on a daily basis.

Prayer:

Father, thank you for the sweet rest found in you.  Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Strength through Praise


Strength through Praise

Scripture:

Psalm 8

1 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.

Observation:

The mighty warrior David knew much about strength.  Much of his life was spent fighting battles and he was known for his physical prowess.  He also knows how to give praise and honor to God.  He worships God, recognizing the hand of God seen in all of creation.  Interestingly he also recognizes the power of the praise of children, possibly even more powerful than that of grown-ups!  It is through the praise of children and infants that enemies are put down, and God is victorious.  

Application:

The purity of praise found in infants and children is powerful enough to put down God's enemies.  Sadly, I wonder what this says about the praise of those of us who are older?  Have we lost the purity of our faith and is it hard for us to believe or imagine the greatness of God?  Or it it possible that we have become so focused on the difficulties of life that we are unable to see the power of God visible in all of his creation?

This is Sunday, our traditional day of praise and worship of God.  As we head off to our places of worship, I wonder how much of that experience is focused on God?  Do we come into the house of The Lord to genuinely praise and worship him, or to have our own enjoyable worship experience?  Maybe we are missing out on this power because we have made it all about us.

What would happen if we went into worship with an attitude of genuine praise for God?  When we enter into his presence all that we do ought to be for and about him.  We should be with concerned with what is pleasing to him, rather than what is pleasing to us.  Genuine praise of God unleashes the very power of heaven.  Could it be that often our worship experience is weak because we are too concerned with what we like and not on what he likes?  We are weakness humans and the heights of heaven are not reached through us, but only through him.

May we head into worship with our hearts and minds focused on giving him glory!  May we look at the mystery of creation which surrounds us on a daily basis and praise God with all of our being.  May our daily times in prayer focus on praise of him.  He is great and mighty and gaily to be praised!

Prayer:

Lord, I praise you today for your mighty works!  Teach me to praise.  Amen.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Waiting around for the Kingdom to Come



Scripture:


Luke 19:11 ¶ As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
Luke 19:12 So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.
Luke 19:13 He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’
Luke 19:14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’
Luke 19:15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading.
Luke 19:16 The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’
Luke 19:17 He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’
Luke 19:18 Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’
Luke 19:19 He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’
Luke 19:20 Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth,
Luke 19:21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
Luke 19:22 He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?
Luke 19:23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’
Luke 19:24 He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’
Luke 19:25 (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’)
Luke 19:26 ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
Luke 19:27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”
Luke 19:28 ¶ After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.


Observation:


In my mind I often think of the story of the ten talents, but not often do I think of the story of the ten pounds, or minas.  This story takes on a little different character because Jesus lays out an understanding about the kingdom right in the first verse.  The people listening to him that day were supposing that he was going to march into Jerusalem and take over the city.  They were ready for the kingdom of God to be a political power, overthrowing the current authorities and taking control.  The parable was spoken for the listeners that day, and for us as well for the kingdom of God was different from anything that anyone had ever considered.  The kingdom of God would transcend earthly powers and authorities and Jesus would begin the rule and power of the kingdom with his death and resurrection.  However, the kingdom would not come to completion until his return.  In the meantime the servants working within the kingdom were to care for and work to expand the kingdom.  The Master would know whom he could trust with his resources.  To some would be given much, and to others very little.  Those with much would take the resources and work hard and expand the kingdom and become responsible for more and more within the kingdom.  But there would also be those servants who would hear the good news, receive their pounds and then do nothing.  They would literally take God's resources and wrap them up and hide them away somewhere so they could not be "damaged."  The Master did not want his resources to simply be protected -- he wanted them used, and this one lost all that he had.

Application:

Last evening I was wandering through Barnes & Noble Bookstore perusing the shelves with the almost endless supply of books.  In the Christianity section a huge variety of materials are available.  One subject which is obviously quite popular with readers is "end-time" prophesy.  (On a side-note, the literature often found in the religion section of Barnes & Noble reveals what popular Christian culture 'likes' but does not necessarily reflect the really good stuff that is available to help us in our Christian walk.  So, just because it's on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, let's not think that is an endorsement that it's the best resources available!  Barnes & Noble is a business out to sell books.)  My struggle with the sheer volume of end-time prophesy is that it would seem to instill an attitude much like the third individual in the story.  The focus becomes on protection and survival.  Isn't that what the third person did with their money?  Didn't they wrap it in a piece of cloth -- protect it -- and refuse to share it with anyone else?  When we are consumed with concern over the second coming of Jesus Christ we do not focus on the expansion of the kingdom.  Instead, we become concerned with encroachment of the world into the kingdom and so we pull back, we protect, and we hope and pray that Jesus will soon return!

This is not the way that Jesus wanted his followers to be living in the kingdom.  Instead, he was looking for good and faithful stewards who could be entrusted with the Father's resources.  There is great encouragement in this word from the Lord.  The days in which he lived were extremely difficult for God's followers, and yet, he was suggesting that not only could they live out a life of faith in the kingdom, but that if they harnessed the resources given to them by God, they could work to expand the kingdom.  When we join him in praying "Thy Kingdom Come" -- we are not praying for a someday thing, we are praying that today -- may his kingdom come!  May his kingdom expand today as I actively take part in expanding his work in the world.

God's followers are not supposed to sit back and be protective of what we have, but we are to be active "doers" within his kingdom work.  This is God's plan.  Therefore we may need to step back and reevaluate the resources that we have been given and examine how they may be used to expand the kingdom.  There is a hurting and needy world out there today that needs to experience Jesus and the touch of the kingdom of God in their lives.  Will we be Jesus to them?  Will we use God's resources to touch them?  Or are we waiting around in "safe-mode" awaiting the return of Jesus Christ, clutching onto what we have been given with all our might, not willing to let anyone see what it is that we have. 

"Your kingdom come, your will be done."


Prayer:


Lord, please help me to be a faithful servant within your kingdom today.  Amen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Merciful God



Scripture:

Luke 18

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Observation:


Jesus continues to teach his disciples with many different stories but here there is a recurrent theme.  The very nature of God is revealed in the first story of the woman who continues to bother the judge.  He is an unjust judge but when the woman continually cries out to him, he takes care of her.  God, who is just, always hears and responds to the cries of his children, because he is a loving, just and merciful Father.  And because he is just, he comes to bring justice to those who are desperately in need.

The humble sinner -- the tax collector cries out for mercy.  Why?  Because he knows that he has been cheating -- and God responds to his sincerity and he receives mercy.

Finally we find the blind man on the side of the road.  He cries out for "mercy."  In other words -- God, please stop and show me some compassion -- have patience in who I am.  And Jesus does stop and reaches out to him asking him what he wants.  He wants to see.  Jesus heals him and again the merciful God has reached out and physically touched wounded humanity.


Application:

It is the just God who shows mercy to his wounded children.  The Pharisees were so proud of how they had lived their lives, but how in the world could these terrible sinners be shown mercy?  Because somehow mercy and justice are linked together.  Suddenly my mind went to the storyline of Les Miserables, "the miserable ones."  Over and over again the poor and hungry were called criminals and thieves because they had stolen -- but what they had stolen often was bread or any kind of food to simply survive.  There was no way out of their circumstance.  The young lady sells her hair and even her teeth to try and feed her little daughter.  And the wealthy looked down upon these poor souls in judgement and wondered why they were leading these terrible lives of crime.  Because there was no option -- and I believe a merciful God will look down on those who have become caught in a vicious cycle which has no exit and he will show mercy.  The real question is whether we, God's people will show mercy?

The story of "Les Mis" continues today.  How do we judge the young teenage girl who shows up at a medical clinic with a terrible sexually transmitted disease?  She has been working as a prostitute for the last year and her body is beginning the feel the ravages.  And we look down on her.  But should we?  In many parts of northern Kenya young teenage girls are being forced into prostitution by their fathers.  Why?  Because the family is starving and there is no way for them to eat.  Young girls can be sold to the traveling caravan of truck drivers who will trade a "trick" for a bottle of Coke or Fanta.  Then, this girl takes the bottle of Coke to the local store and exchanges it for a loaf of bread.  She takes this home to feed the starving members of her family.  And we have the nerve to judge her for what she has done!  What have we done?  Have we shown mercy -- and has there been justice?  Think about how easy it is for us to pick up a Coke, or a Diet Coke every single day.  Just imagine that the one drink is worth a young girl's life.  And I sit around leisurely drinking my nice iced Coke while judging this young girl for selling her body.  No wonder mercy and justice are connected.  Where is the justice here?

As followers of Jesus Christ we are being called into a life of transformation into the image of Jesus Christ.  Yes, we serve a merciful God!  Amen and thank you, Lord.  We need God's mercy poured out on us, but at the same time we need to become a reflection of God's mercy to the world around us.  The Pharisees couldn't see the need.  Can we?  If God's very nature is justice and mercy, as people who embrace the very holiness and nature of God, then we too become a people of justice and mercy.  What we would want God to do for us, we must be willing to express to the world around us as well.  Lord, have mercy!


Prayer:

Lord, I am so sorry for the times that I have not shown mercy.  Please, help me to be your faithful servant, continually transformed into your image. 







Thursday, January 17, 2013

Famine in the Presence of Food



Scripture:

Genesis 42:1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” 2 He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

Psalm 5:1Listen to my words, Lord,
    consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
    my King and my God,
    for to you I pray.
7But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.
11But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
    let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.

37b He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”



Observation:


Yesterday we reflected on the spiritual famine which may be coming at as at an alarming speed.  However, the famine may not be as a result of a lack of spiritual food, but stem from a refusal to take and eat.  Jacob's sons were starving in the land of Israel because they were afraid to go to Egypt to get more supplies.  What was their reaction?  They sat around looking at each other!  Their father had to shake them into reality, sending them off, rather reluctantly,  into Egypt to find food.

The Psalmist brings the promise of hope for those who are hungry.  We can cry out to God -- the source of all nourishment -- and as his faithful children we are welcomed into his house.  We can get up and go into the place where the spiritual food is stored.  Those who take refuge in him will be glad and he will spread his protection over those whom he loves. 

Jesus continues the conversation for us.  Yes, the famine is coming at us with lightening speed.  There will be things that will cause men and women to stumble and to fall.  However, as one of God's children, may God help us not to be the ones who lead others to starve spiritually.  May we not become dead bodies spiritually because as soon as we do, the vultures will begin to circle. 


Application:

Some very serious consideration here today regarding the need for spiritual food.  As God's children it is time for us to take action.  We cannot be like the sons of Jacob, sitting around looking at one another -- and yet, I'm afraid that may be what we are doing.  Are we like deer in the headlights -- caught in the midst of great change and frozen by the fear of what lay ahead.  It's time for us to get up and get going.  No more time to sit around looking at one another.  That time has passed and the famine is coming at a rapid pace.  The best thing that we can do is to go the place where the food is and get filled up and prepared for the difficult days which lie ahead.

And the promise is there for us from the Psalmist.  For those who love God, for those who are his children, he will always welcome us into his home.  Just as Joseph welcomed his brothers and prepared a feast for them and fed them better than they could have ever imagined, so God has already prepared a spiritual table for us -- if only we would come for dinner!  We are settling for microwave "Lean Cuisine" because we are so busy when in the next room the dining room table is spread with Christmas Dinner!  And the host sits there at the head of the table, ready to carve the Christmas goose -- and no one comes. 

We are beginning to starve spiritually because we haven't taken the time to go to the food and to be fed.  Some of us are supposed to be spiritual leaders, but our spiritual lives (or lack thereof) may actually be causing others to stumble and to fall.  Oh -- may God help us!  May we repent and ask God to forgive us for trying to get by with so little.  May we examine ourselves today because if we don't -- the vultures will begin to circle and will pick away at our flesh.  Could that be what's happening to the bride of Christ today?  Could the vultures be circling her -- hoping to pick away at her as she is wasting away?  The only way to stave off the vultures is to put off the scent of death.  And this can only come through vibrant life. 

May we get up out of our barren Israel today and may we be willing to travel the distance necessary to be fed with the spiritual food from heaven.  There is no need for us to be starving in the presence of holy food!  We simply need to get up -- take and eat!  And the life-giving strength of God will flow through to our very core, breathing new life into our dry bones and providing an oasis for a thirsty and hungry world in the midst of famine.

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me for not spending enough time being fed in your holy presence.  I need you.  We need you.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spiritual Famine



Scripture:

Genesis 41:53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”
56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.

Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?


Observation:

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament passages deal with the management of goods during the time of crisis.  Joseph became the manager of all the food in the country of Egypt.  He learned to prepare for the famine that was coming.  For seven years he filled the storehouses with grain until they were filled to overflowing.  Then, when the time of famine arrived, he had enough to feed the entire world that was coming to him for nourishment.  We know that as the story unfolds he will also feed his entire family, including his brothers who had sold him into slavery.

In the New Testament Jesus continues to talk about good management.  Jesus was talking directly to the Pharisees for they were the ones who had inherited the faith of their fathers.  It was their responsibility to care for what they had been given, which was the good news about the coming Messiah.  Sadly, they realized that they were the poor managers and now Jesus was saying that the true riches were going to go elsewhere.  They had been irresponsible managers of that which they had been given.  And now, in the time of spiritual famine, they had no spiritual food to feed the people who were spiritually hungry. 


Application:

Could it be that we are leading up to days of spiritual famine in our world?  It seems that we are on a trajectory for radical change within  Christianity and I'm afraid it will hit us with such speed that our world will be rocked as never before.  In conversation with a friend the other day she said, "Did you ever think that it would come to this -- that we might be seeing the end of church as we have known it?"  What if that is true?  What if we are coming to the end of this phase of Christianity and the institutional church begins to dissolve in ways we had never imagined? 

The very same thing was happening to the Pharisees.  Jesus came and he didn't fit their mold of how he was to function within the institutional structures and it scared them to death.  He continued to remind them over and over again that they were focusing on the institution and not on the relationship with God.  Could it be that we are living in a time parallel to that of the Pharisees?  Could it be that we are catching a glimpse of the tidal wave of change which is coming and that God is calling his people to become good stewards of the "real" kingdom.  Maybe a time of incredible spiritual famine is coming at us at lightening speed and at the same time God is trying to call his faithful mangers and stewards to be prepared.

We need to prepare ourselves for the time that is coming.  We need to store up our spiritual barns so that we may give out to the entire world during the time of spiritual famine.  It means that our energies must be spent on spiritual food and growth.  We will be completely unprepared for the days ahead if we do not get serious about spending time in intimacy with Jesus.  Jesus himself, when he walked this earth, had to go away on a regular basis to be recharged by his time alone with the Father so that he could face the battles.  He knew how to manage his life -- so that his barns were always full and he was able to feed the spiritually hungry of his day.

Let us put aside everything that entangles us and keeps us from the goal -- Christ!  May we throw ourselves into this glorious relationship with the bridegroom, allowing him to fill us completely with him so that we are prepared to give out of our overflow as we encounter a world that is dying from spiritual famine.


Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the precious times that we have together.  Please help me to be faithful with what you have given and provided and may I constantly come to you for filling and refilling.  Amen.