Sunday, March 31, 2013

Risen! Ransomed!



Scripture:

Psa. 49:1     Hear this, all you peoples;
        give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
Psa. 49:2     both low and high,
        rich and poor together.

Psa. 49:7     Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life,
        there is no price one can give to God for it.
Psa. 49:8     For the ransom of life is costly,
        and can never suffice
Psa. 49:9     that one should live on forever
        and never see the grave.

Psa. 49:15     But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
        for he will receive me.

Psa. 49:20     Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
        they are like the animals that perish.

Observation:

This is the day in which we celebrate the resurrection of our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  He is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed! 

And yet, for whom does this day of celebration have meaning?  There are many in the world who simply don't get it.  Why?  Because they don't understand that they stand in need of being ransomed and that today is the day in which eternal life became available to each and every single one of us. 

The Psalmist understood the plight of the people.  There was no ransom available for them.  No matter how rich or now how famous, there is nothing that we can do to buy our way into heaven.  Why?  Because the cost of that ransom is far too high.  No human has the resources to pay for what is necessary for us to have eternal life.  Therefore there is no way that we can trust in ourselves to be saved.  And there is the struggle for so many who may even go to church today and shout, "He is Risen!"  For while they may say this with their lips, they may not be trusting in him with their hearts.

The Psalmist goes on to tell us where that ransom will come from;  "But God will ransom my soul."  Only God has the power to save us from our sins.  There is no one else!  Humans who think that they are something will realize that they are nothing in comparison with the risen Savior.

Application:

Therefore today and we celebrate the risen Savior.  Jesus is risen from the grave. 

He is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed! 

And from that very moment all of history is changed because resurrection power was revealed to the world.  Every single human being could be ransomed from the curse of sin and death. 

For those mortals hoping to "abide in their pomp" there will be a rude awakening.  We will never be  too good, too educated, or too sophisticated for Jesus.  Our human accomplishments are nothing in light of resurrection power.  Paul said, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection." 

This is the goal of all of humanity -- to know Christ, and in knowing him to experience resurrection power.  We have been ransomed!  He has paid the ultimate price.  Today we celebrate.  He is Risen -- and I have been set free. 

Prayer:

Hallelujah.  Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Where Is Your God?



Scripture:

Psa. 42:1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
        so my soul longs for you, O God.
Psa. 42:2     My soul thirsts for God,
        for the living God.
    When shall I come and behold
        the face of God?
Psa. 42:3     My tears have been my food
        day and night,
    while people say to me continually,
        “Where is your God?”

Psa. 42:9      ¶ I say to God, my rock,
        “Why have you forgotten me?
    Why must I walk about mournfully
        because the enemy oppresses me?”
Psa. 42:10     As with a deadly wound in my body,
        my adversaries taunt me,
    while they say to me continually,
        “Where is your God?”
 
Psa. 42:11      ¶ Why are you cast down, O my soul,
        and why are you disquieted within me?
    Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
        my help and my God.


Observation:

The Psalmist was overcome with a desire to be in the very presence of God.  His soul longed for the quenching waters of sitting in God's presence, seeking his face.  But it was a time when things simply weren't going his way and the world would look at him and ask, "Where is your God?"  It was a dark day of wandering as the world mocked him in his losses.  He was mournful and oppressed and the world shouted at him, "Where is your God?"  He realized that he was giving in to the voices of the world and the sadness and depression were closing in around him.  In that moment of darkness he recognized the need to seek the face of God.  Yes, there is hope in God.  Yes, we can praise him.  Yes, he has helped in the past and he will help again.  Yes, I will choose to praise him, for he is my God!

Application:

Today is that strange day of quiet between Good Friday and Easter Sunday morning.  We all know the story so we know what it is that we will be celebrating tomorrow but today -- where are we today?  The Psalmist had experienced a great number of those "in-between" days.  There were the highs and the lows of physically being a soldier and winning and losing battles.  When he won it sure felt good.  But there were periods of time when he had to go and hide just to remain alive.  He was taunted by his enemies who teased him "Where is your God?"

This "in-between" day is such a moment for the disciples.  Can't you imagine how they felt that day.  The world taunting, "Where is your King?"  And they knew where he was.  He had died the night before and now his body was in a tomb.  What were they going to do?  Somehow that message that he was going to be raised on the third day had escaped them and they were thrown into utter despair.  I'm not sure that they could get to the point of the Psalmist who said, "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God."  I don't think they could see the hope of God that day. 

There are days when we too walk around wondering about the hope of God.  To be quite honest the thorough lashing that Christianity has been receiving lately has been quite depressing.  Friends around me ask about the future of the Church.  What's going to happen?  Will we be living in a post-Church society? 

Maybe we are simply living in that "in-between" day where the world looks at us and says, "Where is your God?"  But we know that this day doesn't last for long because Sunday is coming.  The Psalmist, even in the midst of his despair knew that all he had to do was look for God.  His hope was still in God.  He knew that he needed to praise God.  He knew he needed to seek the face of God.  And that's the point.  It may be a dark day, but we need to continue to seek the face of God for we know that our God is not dead!  Our God, Jesus Christ, is risen from the dead and tomorrow we will celebrate that victory. 

In the meantime, we can't allow ourselves to be distracted by the taunts of the world.  Our responsibility is to continually seek the face of God.  When seek him, we WILL find him.  The disciples found that to be true as well!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your faithfulness throughout all generations and in the ones to come.  Please, help us to be a people who will continually seek your face.  Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Did Jesus Die?



Scripture:

John 17:1 ¶ After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
John 17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Observation:

It is in Jesus' prayer before his death that we have a glimpse of his personal understanding of the path that lay ahead.  The hour had come, it was now time for this final chapter of his life on earth to be written.  The connection between the Father and the Son is always present.  When the Son is glorified, the Father is glorified for they are one, but the Son was on a mission.  His mission was to save God's people -- all people and to provide a path for them to have eternal life.  Interestingly here we don't hear the language of saving people from their sins, but John allows us to hear this plan of salvation for humanity -- "that they may know you."  Jesus' death on the cross was ultimately so that humanity might have the incredible privilege of intimately knowing God. 

Application:

Today we will go to our churches and we will "celebrate" (a strange word to use) the death of Jesus on the cross.  It is truly a day of remembrance and mourning over the horrible and painful death that Jesus was willing to suffer for each and every single one of us.  What Jesus experienced that day was probably worse than anything any of us could ever imagine.  He was completely undeserving of this punishment.  It was customary for the crimes of the individuals to be nailed to be written on a sign and nailed to the cross so that passersby would know what they had done to deserve their punishment.  This was to be a deterrent to those who might think about committing the same crime, but for Jesus, the sign stated, "King of the Jews."  This was his crime and just so that was clear for all the world to see it was written in three languages.  And so on that terrible "Good Friday" so long ago Jesus died on a cross because he was the King of the Jews.

As King he ushered in a new kingdom that day, one that was not interested in earthly and material wealth, but one in which relationships were restored.  The great divide between God and humanity was destroyed and now those who walked in faith could have a personal and intimate relationship with God for all of eternity.  This death made it possible for all of humanity to become "partakers of the divine nature."  This is what it means to "know" God and Jesus Christ.  Because of this "Good Friday" we are invited into an intimate relationship with the Triune God.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- bound together by this incredible holy loving relationship is reaching out to all of humanity and saying "come and join us!" 

Yes, Jesus died for our sins, but that is only the beginning of the story and too often we allow it to end there.  What Jesus did was open the door for humanity to be restored as God's holy people by way of participating in an intimate relationship with the Triune God.  Therefore his death is not just about a moment, but it's about a lifetime of participating in God.  If we limit Christ's sacrifice to a single moment of salvation we lose out on God's entire intent.  Jesus' prayer makes it clear.  Eternal life is to know God!  And to know God is to participate in and with him on a daily basis, all this made possible through Jesus, the King's obedience.  That's why Jesus died!

Prayer:

There aren't enough words to express gratitude for what you've done.  Thank you seems so inadequate but my heart is filled with joy and thanksgiving today for all that you have done for me and continue to do daily.  Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Knowing God's Love



Scripture:

I Corinthians 13

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Observation:

Throughout the Scripture we are encouraged to seek the face of God.  There is something about actually being able to see the face of God which speaks to us about our participation in God.  We know in the Old Testament that if anyone truly looked upon the face of God they would die.  Moses who spent a great deal of time in God's presence speaking with God was so covered with God's glory that the people could not look on him and he had to wear a veil over his face.  If this is true for Moses who was simply in God's presence, how much greater is the glory of God that we cannot look upon his face and survive.  Therefore in this life we can only look upon him as if through a reflection in a mirror, anticipating the day when we can look upon him face to face.  However, that becomes our goal -- to be able to be united with him until we can see him face to face. 

Therefore, while in this flesh, we will know in part -- that is, we will know God and his nature in part.  But there is the beauty.  We can know his nature now and we can begin to get a taste of what it will be like when we will know God fully.  And that little bit of a foretaste of his nature that is brought to us in this entire chapter -- for his nature is pure holy love.  That's why Paul completes these chapter with the fact that there are three things that remain -- faith; faith in Jesus Christ and who he is -- hope;  a hope for a future with God -- but finally there is love, and no wonder love is the greatest for this is the nature of God poured out and revealed in us.  There is nothing greater than the "stuff" of God.  Paul's point is that the people of God were hanging onto the things of the world, the behaviors, attitudes and things the world had to offer, but they were not focusing on the ultimate goal which is to become like Christ and that means to partake of his divine nature.  If his nature is love, there is nothing else! 

Application:

No wonder this chapter becomes the climax of his letter to the Corinthians.  He's been talking to them about all kinds of activities within the church and the community surrounding them.  He goes from immorality, to discussions of how they are having communion to spiritual gifts…and then ends up here talking about love.  But isn't this a bit of our conversations today as well.  So often we are hung up on the distractions of the debates that rage around us and the enemy uses them to keep us from the real goal.  It was happening in Corinth -- why do we think we would be immune to it today? 

So often we try to explain Christianity away in negative terms -- what it is not!  This chapter turns it all around and describes it in terms of what it should be. 

Sadly we have misconstrued what Paul means here by love.  We have this human understanding of love -- this do good, feel good, let everybody do what they want kind of luv.  My husband likes to call it, "I luv my truck" love.  This is what the world understands and sometimes it's what we tend to accept as well.  That is NOT what Paul was talking about. 

Paul was saying to the Corinthians and to us as well that the focus of the Christian life is not supposed to be on the exteriors but on participating in the very nature of God.  Our goal -- Christlikeness -- comes out of participating in the divine nature of holy love.  This is a love that is so pure and powerful that it makes all the arguments of this world pale in comparison.  Therefore take time to seek what God has in store for each and every single one of us, which is participation in his divine nature.  That concept may seem difficult to us today and just as Paul said, it's like looking at the image and it isn't clear and yet, some day it will be and we will understand completely and fully.  In the meantime, don't let the distractions of the world's arguments keep you from the goal.  Seek him, seek his face, get to know him, spend time with him, and allow his love to flow into our hearts and lives and his grace will take us through the journey of interacting with the world.

Prayer:

Lord, may I know your love.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Loving Diversity


Holy Loving Diversity

Scripture:

1 Cor. 12:12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

1 Cor. 12:22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Observation:

Problems within the Corinthian church continued to be revealed by the actions and reactions of those within the community.  There were those who thought they were of greater worth within the community of faith than others.  It's easy for that to happen when society treats some people better than others.  We pay attention to the wealthy, the famous, the beautiful and the powerful.  This would not have been unusual in Paul's day either, except that all of this was to change within the new kingdom.  All of the barriers were to be destroyed and all members of the community of faith were seen as equals within the kingdom.  The formula here is familiar...the barriers are gone between Jew and Greek, slave and free...and as in Galatians, male and female.  Every part is to be treated with equal respect for every part is necessary for the healthy function of the body.  

Application:

God has an amazing plan for his community within the new kingdom.  This plan ushers in a new reality for all of his people in which we are all welcomed into the kingdom as children of the King.  We have all become royal heirs within the kingdom and along with this comes great privilege and responsibility.  The beauty of this new kingdom is a diverse body that works in harmony to fulfill God's mission here on this earth.  

Unfortunately we can get can get caught in the same trap as the Corinthians.  We can begin to believe that some people are more important than others.  Lets admit it, it's kind of nice getting that special treatment from time to time.  I have to confess that I really like it when I get that upgraded seat and I get to board early and enjoy a cup of tea while others are getting on the plane.  At the  same time it makes me a little uncomfortable.  I've done nothing to deserve that kind of treatment and I am just as ordinary as everyone else on the plane.  

The Enemy is hard at work trying to divide God's children.  Don't you sense it? The issues facing the church today are huge and the pressure from the world to conform is event greater.  The Enemy wants to split us up over political issues but we must stand firm and not allow it to happen.  We may not agree about everything...for there is diversity in the body...but we can agree on the essentials and unite together to function as a whole body that continues to bring the news of transformation to a needy world.  What the world needs desperately is holiness in the form of Christlikeness.  This is not the time to lower the bar, but instead to raise the bar with an expectation that through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we can be drawn into a relationship with God that transforms us into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  This must be our goal.  Anything that distracts from the goal is a victory for the other side.  

Can you imagine an army of heirs being transformed into the image of Christ, united in God's mission?  That is a powerful picture and one that Paul saw as possible.  With God this is possible as we continually seek his face and may his body be bound together in holy and loving diversity.  

Prayer:

Lord, may there be unity within your body.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Just Thankful



Scripture:

Psa. 44:8     In God we have boasted continually,
        and we will give thanks to your name forever.

Observation:

David was a man who fought many battles here on this earth.  He had learned that there was no boasting in his personal successes or victories for it was God who led him day in and day out.  He wanted the world to know that it was God who was with him and bringing all the victory.  His praise and thanks to God became a part of his very being.  He realized that there was nothing apart from God.

Application:

It's easy to become wrapped up in the affairs of our daily lives and be so busy that we have no idea whether we are coming or going.  I know -- I've been there!  And then there are moments when we simply stop and slow down long enough to experience the warm and loving presence of God.  It's in those times that we realize that there is nothing greater in our lives than knowing him. 

Today I am simply thankful for the presence of God in my life.  I would be lost without him.  The journey of this life has been beyond my imagination as I have experienced serving, ministering, loving, laughing and enjoying life at the hand of God almighty. 

I want to live a life in which I boast of God and God alone -- and in which I continually give thanks to him.  Life is a special gift from a  loving God who invites us daily into a deeper relationship with him.

Yes, I am just incredibly grateful and thankful today.  Really -- no words.  Just thankful.

Prayer:

Thank you, Lord for your incredible love and peace.  Amen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Doing With Others in Mind



Scripture:

1Cor. 10:31 ¶ So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
1Cor. 10:32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,
1Cor. 10:33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.

Observation:

Paul felt he had great freedoms in Christ, however, he also realized that he had to take responsibility for the people around him.  That burden became so great that he evaluated his actions through the lens of helping others.  Personal rights were given up for the glory of God.  The potential existed that his context could change on a daily basis.  One day he may have been ministering among the Jews, the next to the Greeks, and the next he may have been in the church.  In each location he may have responded differently.  Why?  Because his goal was not to please himself, but to help others come to know Jesus Christ.  He wanted God to be glorified in his life through the salvation of those around him.  Therefore he never pushed his own personal "rights" and instead was willing to adjust his lifestyle on a daily basis because he had others in mind.


Application:

This attitude of doing with others in mind is not very popular these days.  Instead it seems that many are pushing the issue of their personal rights -- especially those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ.  Possibly it's push-back against what may have been viewed as constraints of the past.  In a desire to push out of boundaries that we may have felt were crushing, we have gone to the opposite extreme and have taken complete liberty, and this, at times, to the detriment of others.  There is no thought of others in mind, instead there is simply the focus on self and at times the statement, "I deserve to do this." 

I'm really afraid that there aren't very many these days that have the kind of focus that we find here in Paul.  His desire was that others around him would come to know Christ.  His daily activities bore in mind the fact that he wanted to bring others to him.  What would happen if that neighbor of yours wanted to know more about Christ and wanted to come to church with you, but you had planned to go to the lake over the weekend to relax with your family?  What kind of a choice would you make? That may not sound fair but regular church attendance in the US is dropping to an all-time low.  It's not just about this weekend at the lake, it's about every weekend somewhere!  Would our neighbors be able to monitor our activities and determine that we are followers of Jesus Christ?  Would our life-style help to draw them to following him? 

Paul harps a great deal on sexual immortality in this letter to the Corinthians as well.  Why?  Because it was hurting the witness and testimony of the fledgling church.  Contemporary culture has put its seal of approval on almost every single type of sexual behavior.  Hollywood has made getting married before having children a thing of the past.  But we have to ask ourselves whether this means that we have the freedom to behave in a way in which the world would approve, or whether we are called to have a higher purpose in mind.  Paul was certainly making that point with the Corinthians.  The lifestyle to which he was calling them was completely counter-cultural.  And it was a lifestyle in which others were in mind.

What am I doing today for others? 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be a reflection of you to my world -- with others in mind.  Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making the Final Lap



Scripture:

1Cor. 9:24 ¶ Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
1Cor. 9:25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
1Cor. 9:26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
1Cor. 9:27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

Observation:


Paul was talking to the Corinthians about the need for spiritual discipline in their lives.  He spent quite a bit of time around the athletes of the day for there was a major sports arena between Athens and Corinth.  Paul, as a tent maker would have been kept busy at such events making tents or repairing the tents of different participants.  Can't you just envision the brightly colored tents surrounding the stadium where each participating athlete stored their equipment and made themselves at home during the events.  And there was Paul, in the midst of it all. 

Paul had watched as these racers had disciplined their bodies day in and day out.  They were cautious about everything that they ate, they exercised regularly and would push their bodies to run further and faster than ever before.  And all of this was to win a prize -- a wreath of olive leaves!  Multitudes of athletes participated and were willing to show this type of self-discipline and yet, only one would win the prize. 

And now Paul switches scenes and brings us to the life of the believer.  The hope of winning for the believer was much greater than that of an athlete.  Everyone can win the prize -- and if that is so -- why wouldn't we want to bring self-discipline to the spiritual life.  Therefore Paul is making an example of himself.  He knows that he must show self-discipline in his daily life so that he can continue to life in the life of faith.

Application:

Today is Palm Sunday and it is a day in which the Church celebrates Christ's entrance into Jerusalem.  The crowds were chanting and the palm branches were being waved as he entered the city to prepare for the final lap of his mission.  Jesus, the incarnate one, knew very much what it meant to be human and to live life in the flesh.  He is our ultimate example when it comes to self-discipline.  He was going to face the greatest challenge of his life and we know that later in this week he will struggle with the temptation to run from what he knows lies ahead.  And yet, he knows that he is in this for the long haul with his eyes on eternity and the salvation of all humanity.  He shows incredible self-discipline as he begins this holy week and then runs with perseverance the final lap of the race -- in incredible pain and humility. 

No one ever promised that the Christian life was going to be easy.  There are the uphill runs and the flat open wide territories, but all must be run with perseverance.  As followers of Jesus Christ we must be willing, just as Paul was, to discipline ourselves.  Just as the athlete cannot survive without training his/her body, neither can the Christian survive without discipline for the spiritual life.  How much time did Jesus spend in prayer during that final lap?  He had to go to the Father again and again for the strength and power to make it through that final lap.  If Jesus needed that kind of help and support -- how much more so do we?  As we run the laps of life we need sustenance.  This will only come from the One who provides all that we need for life and that can only happen as we set-aside time to be in his presence in prayer and in Scripture reading and study.  We are not asked to run this race without the training of a skilled athlete.  However, if we take off and run without working at getting into shape we will slip and fall laying on the ground in agony.

Just as Palm Sunday was a great high in the life of Jesus, we will celebrate highs, but then came passion week, and so come our weeks of distress.  They will come and we need the grace of God to take us through.  The grace of God was with Christ because he continually disciplined himself to be with the Father.  If we are to make it through the final laps of life, we must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the one who has already run this race before us, and is cheering us on into his presence.  The grace of God will sustain us as we dwell in his holy presence.  Make time for him -- and he will bring us through.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me in the weaknesses of my flesh to bring them to your feet, to be graced by you as I run this race.  Amen.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Failure



Scripture:


Josh. 15:63 ¶ But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day.

Observation:

God had promised the children of Israel that he would drive out all of their enemies before them.  Now, as they enter the promised land we discover that they never do dislodge all of the people in the land God has promised them.  This is a significant statement, for not even all of Jerusalem is taken by the children of Israel.  The Jebusites remain in the city of Jerusalem until the time of King David.  But is this a failure on the part of God?  Why is it that God has promised them victory and now they are unable to drive out the enemy?  This is not a failure on the part of God, but this is a failure on the part of God's people.  They were unwilling to put forth the effort to displace the remainder of the people and to allow God to lead them.  The result was failure and a divided Zion.  Failure was not a part of God's plan, but it was the path the children of Israel chose.

Application:

None of us ever wants to be a failure.  That would be a rather crazy idea and yet there are times when we are like the children of Israel.  God promises us that he will go with us and that he will help us to be victorious in certain circumstances of life.  Sadly, there are times that we too are willing to put up with less than what God has for us.  Often fear becomes the culprit.  Maybe it's fear of failure that causes us to stop before going through to completion.  Fear of failure causing failure.  Maybe in this way we think we can control the failure and have a good excuse rather than seeing what happens if we trust God.  And that's the rub.  We don't always want to trust God. 

God is working and moving in this world and he's inviting us to participate in his work.  This is not about your failure or my failure, but it's about God.  When we hold back and refuse to jump in wholeheartedly we will be like the children of Israel who did not get to experience the kind of freedom and victory which God had intended for them.  The result for them was disastrous.  They struggled with fidelity to God for they allowed foreign gods to remain on the soil and they were drawn to idolatrous worship.  Lack of trust in God means that we are trusting in something else.  It could be something that seems quite good.  It could be our spouse, or our job, or our friends, or our finances -- but all of these can potentially be distractions from the full intention of our participation in the kingdom of God.  I don't want to fail therefore I must trust. 

Prayer:

Lord, may you take the doubts of this world away and may I fully rely and trust in you.  Amen.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Honoring God With Your Body



Scripture:

1Cor. 6:12  ¶     “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
1Cor. 6:13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
1Cor. 6:14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
1Cor. 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!
1Cor. 6:16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”
1Cor. 6:17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
1Cor. 6:18  ¶     Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
1Cor. 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
1Cor. 6:20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Observation:

This portion of Paul's letter to the Corinthians covers a number of different topics including meat offered to idols and sexual promiscuity.   Both of them had to do with defiling human flesh.  It was important for the Corinthian Christians to understand that living a life with Christ was not just about the saving of your soul, but for the whole individual.  Transformation as a follower of Jesus Christ was not just about a mind-set, but it was a whole new way of life. 

Paul's understanding of Christ's physical resurrection was paramount to this understanding.  Jesus Christ was raised from the dead not just in a spiritual, but also in a very physical sense.  Jesus Christ is the first of all human flesh to be resurrected in human form for all eternity.  And we are invited to participate with him -- in his divine nature.  By his incarnation and living life in the flesh he sanctified human flesh -- making it holy so that we are able to participate together with God, for the power that has resurrected Christ is also at work within us.  The power that could raise Christ will also raise us. 

If the goal is Christlikeness then that includes a goal of sanctified human flesh and this through participation in Christ.  Again, we must understand that this is not just in a spiritual sense, but we are physically participating in God.  That is where the problem lies when it comes to sexual immorality.  We have been told clearly that in sexual intercourse the "two will become one flesh."  This is God's plan for intimacy and it is an incredible mystery.  When sexual intimacy occurs within the sacred space of marriage it becomes a bond between a husband and a wife who deeply love one another and become driven by a desire to help each other become all that God intended them to be. 

The problem with prostitution is that the physical bond between the individual and prostitute occurs, just as in marriage, but now it is corrupted.  There in Corinth there were hundreds, if not thousands of temple prostitutes and it was common for people to engage in sexual activity as a part of their religious worship.  When visiting Corinth a number of years ago I was overwhelmed by a particular scene.  There in the museum were stacks of plaster casts of human genitalia.  Back in the time of Paul the people of Corinth would have plaster casts made of the body parts that needed healing and then bring those before the god they believed would heal them.  It was obvious that this was a city filled with people afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases.  It must have almost been at epidemic levels.

Application:

No wonder Paul says to flee sexual immorality for it is destroying the community both spiritually and physically.  While we have spoken earlier about the communal sense in which we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, now Paul brings it down to the individual.  Our bodies are both physically and spiritually temples of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever we do in our bodies is also united to Christ through the Spirit.  Therefore we must recognize the importance of honoring God "with our bodies."  And as we head to the beginning portion of the argument, not only are we to honor God with our bodies in regard to sexual practices, but also in regard to our stomach.  And I believe that we can conclude from this that there is an expectation that transformation in the life of a believer means submitting our entire bodies, minds, souls, etc. to the will of the Father and bringing ourselves into submission before him. 

We live in a "if it feels good - do it" society.  That may be in regard to eating all we want, having sex with whomever we want, and doing whatever we want.  However, to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ we must realize that we are united with Christ -- we are a part of his body physically and spiritually and all that we do has an affect on the body.  His body.  Therefore we are challenged to practice spiritual and physical self-discipline, all within the empowering relationship of the Holy Spirit.  We can flee from practices which are harmful to us and to Christ for we must honor God with our bodies.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be disciplined today in the care of this body which you have given me.  May my life in the flesh be a form of worship.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where is Your Devotion?



Scripture:

Josh. 7:10  ¶     The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?
Josh. 7:11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.
Josh. 7:12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
Josh. 7:13  ¶     “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.

Josh. 7:19  ¶     Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give him the praise. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
Josh. 7:20  ¶     Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done:
Josh. 7:21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
Josh. 7:22  ¶     So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath.
Josh. 7:23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the LORD.
Josh. 7:24  ¶     Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor.
Josh. 7:25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.”


Observation:


The Israelites had assumed that they would sweep the land of Canaan and have no difficulties in battle.  Now, suddenly things had changed and they had lost.  Members of their own community had died at the hands of the enemy and Joshua wanted to understand what had happened.  God told Joshua that the problem was with the people themselves.  As a nation they were to be completely united and consecrated in their service to God.  Now there was a problem.  Unbeknown to Joshua the loyalties of the community had been divided.  One member, Achan, had chosen to disobey God and to take items which had been devoted to others for himself.  This act of selfishness on the part of Achan created havoc for the entire community.  He saw a robe and he coveted it.  What was the robe?  It was probably the robe of the king of Jericho and yes, it was probably more beautiful than anything that Achan had ever seen -- but what was he going to do with it?  It would have been quite obvious had he ever worn it and so now, having taken it, he could never enjoy it but had to bury it under his tent.  The sad part was that his desire for a robe and some gold and silver had overtaken his desire for God.  He had become devoted to the things of the world, rather than to the God whom he had been charged to worship and the result was disastrous for the entire community. 

Some translations use the word "sanctify" in verse 13…."Go, sanctify the people….sanctify yourselves in preparation…"  I think that the words "consecrate and sanctify" can both draw us to the same point and that is this act had brought impurity among the people of Israel.  We know that in the future they would struggle on a regular basis with fidelity to God.  Now, one person had already shown their devotion to the things not of God.  It had defiled an entire community of faith and for the community to be made clean, consecrated or sanctified, the impurity had to be removed.  The consequence of Achan's sin touched all of Israel, but was particularly disastrous for his entire household;  all because he could not remain devoted to God -- and God alone.  God's first commandment was to have no other gods before him -- and the Shema reminded the Israelites, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!"  Devotion to God was paramount and yet Achan was willing to throw it all away to take devoted items from a foreign people.  Was it worth it for a robe, some gold and some silver?

Application:

We may think that this story doesn't apply to us today and yet, I think about the things which we desire.  In my mind it seems crazy to throw away your faith and the safety of your family over a robe and some gold and silver.  This is for stuff that he could never even enjoy -- it had to be buried under his home!  And yet, the draw of the things of the world was so great that he succumbed and his act contaminated a whole community of faith.

What happens when those who are supposed to be spiritual become devoted to the things of this world?  The sad truth is that they can bring an entire community of faith to destruction.  Yesterday we were looking at the life of the Apostle Paul who said to the people of his community to follow him -- or imitate him as he did Christ.  We know that people will follow and/or imitate others -- therefore when there are those within the faith community who do not continue to live in faithfulness or fidelity to God, they can destroy entire groups of people. 

A couple of years ago I came across a video by Craig Groeschel, a pastor in Oklahoma.  This video was about drinking alcohol and his point was that not all things are beneficial to the community of faith.  This video presented a scenario in which all of the pastors from his church were together at a picnic.  He, as the lead pastor went to the cooler and discovered a can of beer.  He looked at that beer and in his mind justified -- just one little drink won't make a difference. However, that one little drink made a huge difference.  His approval turned it into a beer party and gave license to all the others to participate.  Suddenly you had an entire group of drunken people who were throwing people in the pool, arguing with one another, lying to the children present and finally getting into a fist-fight.  At the end of the day the police were called and two of the pastors led off in handcuffs.  Now, this was all acted out to make a point.  Where did things go wrong?  They went wrong the minute the leader put his seal of approval on something that could change the trajectory of the entire gathering.  The choice of that one individual affected the entire community.

How often do we try to convince ourselves that what we do doesn't really matter -- that it won't hurt anyone, and yet it will.  We will either be devoted to God or to the things of this world.  The bride of Christ needs to take a stand and be completely consecrated and sanctified by and to the bridegroom.  The things of this world must grow strangely dim!  We cannot be distracted by the shining "things" -- the robes, the gold and the silver and allow those to bring us, as well as our families and communities to destruction.  God desperately needs a people who will be wholeheartedly devoted to him. 

Prayer:

Lord, my desire is to bring myself in wholehearted devotion to you on a daily basis.  Please keep my eyes from wandering to the things of this world.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Imitate?



Scripture:

1Cor. 4:14  ¶     I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children.
1Cor. 4:15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
1Cor. 4:16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
1Cor. 4:17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

Observation:

Paul was worried about the different teachers who had come and influenced the church in Corinth.  His concern came from his deep heart of love and compassion for those who had come to faith under his ministry.  These were his spiritual children and he loved them as a father.  He wanted to remind them of that father's love which runs much deeper than that of a simple instructor.  Often the instructors were more concerned about their own reputation than the spiritual lives of their students.  The students could be used by a teacher to further their own reputations and career goals and this motivation was in stark contrast with that of the Apostle Paul.  He wasn't concerned about himself, he he was concerned about them.  Why?  Because he was their spiritual father, and as a father his desire was that his spiritual children.  That is why he's willing to put himself on the line and tell them to imitate him.

Why would Paul suggest that they should imitate him?  One might think that is a rather arrogant statement, however, we must remember that at this point and time they have to Bible -- there is no New Testament.  Paul's letters are the earliest writings that we have from the New Testament period.  Therefore, the living example of Christian faith is Paul.  For many of these churches he is the first person they've ever met that had personally encountered Jesus.  Later in chapter 11 Paul declares that they are to follow him as he follows Christ.  What Paul is trying to do here is to make a connection for these people.  He doesn't want them to go to these extraneous sources to learn about Christ for he is not sure of those teachers' motivations.  Instead, he is willing to put himself out there, on the line, as their spiritual father and tell them to imitate him and his life -- because he is imitating Christ. 

Paul realizes that at the very core of the Christian life we are to become Christlike.  How does one become Christlike?  Why not become imitators of Christ, and if you can't see Christ (or don't have access to the Word), then imitate someone who has known Christ and is living a life of Christlikeness.  Stop listening to the fancy teachers who like to teach and hear themselves speak but who do nothing about living like Christ.  Paul understood that it's not just talking the talk, but walking the walk!  If I want to become like Christ, why wouldn't I practice by imitating him? 

Application:

One of the most difficult periods of my life was saying good-bye to our spiritual sons and daughters in the former Soviet Union.  The process of saying good-bye lasted for about 4 months as we traveled from country to country saying our good-byes during final meetings and assemblies.  I think I actually cried every single day of those four months.  I felt like my heart was being torn out of my chest.  I absolutely loved and adored our Russian-speaking spiritual children.  Many I had watched since the day they had given their lives to Jesus Christ.  I had seen the way they had struggled to walk spiritually, and had then grown up and become spiritual leaders themselves.  Today we feel like proud spiritual parents but leaving them was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

I can only imagine what Paul's pain must have been regarding the church in Corinth.  His spiritual children had been influenced by teachers who did not have the best interest of his spiritual children in mind.  Instead, they wanted to use his spiritual children for their own personal gain.  This did not set well with the Apostle.  Therefore he had to go back to the spiritual children and admonish them to keep their eyes on the real reason and purpose for their faith -- which was to know Christ.  And then, out of a father's heart, he asked them to imitate him.  Not to repeat back what he taught, but to live their lives just like him.

It seems that these days there are many who can talk about the Christian life.  There are those who like to debate what it means to be a follower of Christ but in the midst of all the talk, how many are taking up their cross and following Jesus on a daily basis?  Yes, teaching and education are all good things, but not if they become a distraction from Christlikeness.  The goal is to become like Christ.  Paul was saying that if they needed and example of what it meant to follow Christ -- then follow his example.  Now, that is a stunning point because it means that he is holding himself up as an example to his spiritual children.  However, I think of my husband and his relationship with our daughters.  He would do ANYTHING for them…and that means that if they were lost somewhere, he would go and find them and then he would be willing to go ahead of them, creating a path for them to get out of the wilderness.  He would tell them to follow him.  Not out of arrogance, but out of love.  Paul loves his spiritual children and he says to them -- follow me and I will lead you to Christ.

But that leads us to an interesting point.  What would happen if people imitated you and me;  would our lives lead them to Christ?  Are we imitating Christ in such a way that if others imitated us they would find him?  This is truly the purpose in imitating Christ.  I want to hit the mark -- I want to reach the goal -- I want to be like Christ.  Why not begin by imitating him here on this earth and then, not out of a works theology, but instead -- out of imitation comes participation with Christ.  The result is a moment when we no longer know whether it is imitation of Christ, or Christ in us which is revealed to the world around us.  Paul knew this and he was inviting his spiritual children into this divine relationship of knowing Christ through imitation of Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to imitate you today in my life.  Amen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Community of Faith



Scripture:


I Corinthians 3:16
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

Observation:

Paul had been talking about the community of faith found in Corinth.  This dear and somewhat troubled church was arguing again.  This time the discussion led them to human leadership and which persons they would follow.  The conversation was leading to a rather destructive attitude toward the body of Christ.  The body was being divided because loyalties were divided.  Somehow they didn't understand that this division was exactly what the enemy would desire.  There is nothing better for our enemy than to take the body of Christ, divide it up and leave it splintered in tiny ineffective pieces.  Paul understood the value of the community of faith being united together.

To help the Corinthians understand this better Paul began to talk about God's temple.  No longer was he discussing a temple that had existed in Jerusalem but instead it was a new temple.  This new temple was made up of living stones and each and every single member of the body of Christ was one of those stones.  Each living stone had a purpose in the temple.  When the temple was united the Holy Spirit lived right there in the midst of them.  This new temple was the church, the bride of Christ, made up of humans united in their faith and bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This new temple was so sacred to God that Paul gave a warning -- not to destroy the temple!  The temple, the community of faith, the church, she is sacred.  And that sacred community is made up of living building blocks placed upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  I echo with Paul -- "Don't you know that you …. are God's temple; and you together are that temple?"  What a beautiful picture of God's desire for community among his people.  We are to stop arguing over inconsequential issues and begin living as the organic temple, the community of faith, that God intended to be transformational in the world.


Application:

Growing up as a child in the church I was often reminded that my body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and this was the reason that we took care of our physical bodies.  We didn't smoke and we didn't drink alcoholic beverages because we were to take care of the physical bodies God had given us so that they could be temples in which he dwelled.  (Interestingly no one ever wanted to talk about eating and physical exercise as other issues related to caring for the body -- but that's another topic.)  But so often the communal aspect of this temple was completely overlooked.  The entire focus was upon me as an individual taking care of my physical body or temple. 

Instead, it seems that this scripture is talking to us about the fact that we are to live out the Christian life in community.  God in the Trinity is a community bound together by holy love.  We are to be a reflection of God to the world and if God is community, then the reflection of God should also be community.  This may be difficult to understand when we have made our Christian walk out to be something incredibly individualistic.  I think I would question whether it's possible to be a Christian without being relational.  Jesus, in a nutshell, said to "Love God" and "Love your neighbor."  Those are both very relational.  We are called to be in a personal relationship with God and then with our community around us.  It is the community of faith that unites to become the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

If it is true that the community is where the Holy Spirit dwells, then what do we do about our individualistic path to faith?  Remember Jesus also told us that where "two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst."  Isn't that interesting?  He didn't say one -- but he described a community of faith. 

It is within the community of faith that we can be shaped and molded into the people of God.  Just like the Corinthians there may be times that we want to run from the community out of frustration.  However, we must also realize that we are called to that community and even with its warts, bumps and bruises, we can learn to be God's holy people there among those people.  We are intended for community, we are intended for church if we are to be God's children. 

We live in a day and age where some are declaring the end of the church.  I would like to affirm with Beza that "the Church…is an anvil on which many a hammer has been broken." Maybe today it's the hammer of post-Christendom but the "Church is the form the Risen Christ chose for the world." (Willimon)  Therefore maybe we ought to heed the words of Paul and not look for the temple's destruction, but instead, unite ourselves together in the community of faith and be the temple which breathes the breath of the Risen Jesus into a very hurting and needy world.  That's the type of temple in which I choose to participate.  And may his Spirit dwell in our midst!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the promise of the community of faith in which your Spirit will live and breathe and move, even today.  Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Knowing Christ



Scripture:


1Cor. 2:1  ¶ When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.
1Cor. 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
1Cor. 2:3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.
1Cor. 2:4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
1Cor. 2:5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Observation:

Paul highlights the centrality of his ministry in this passage to the Corinthians.  "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  Paul had come to know Christ in a very personal and intimate way.  His faith was built upon the foundation of that relationship with Christ, nothing more, nothing less.  Therefore when he proclaimed the things that he had come to know in relation to his faith, it was Jesus Christ.  What he realized was that everything in his life revolved around that relationship.  His ministry, his preaching all flowed from the fount of that relationship. 

The result was powerful for it had nothing to do with his human and/or earthly abilities, but instead the power of God that flowed through him.  It was in the centrality of the relationship with Jesus Christ that Paul discovered power through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was working in and through him and empowering his ministry which became transformational.  All of this because his one overarching desire in life was to know Christ.

Application:

It is Sunday morning and my mind is on these Scriptures but also on the day that lies ahead.  I will be preaching in just a few hours, bringing the Word of God to a congregation.  There are plenty of times that I worry about the presentation, the structure, etc. and yet, I really want it all to be about Christ.  I want to be able to join with Paul in saying that all I want to know is "Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  Sometimes it's the good things in life that become a distraction to truly knowing him.  However, I find him waiting for me on a daily basis, beckoning me to come and simply sit with him and share my heart with him. 

There is nothing more important in life than to know Christ.  Knowing Christ must be the foundation for every single activity of life.  It doesn't matter if we are preachers, lawyers or teachers.  Our vocation does not define who we are spiritually.  Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is what defines us spiritually.  When Jesus Christ becomes the central feature of our lives, every activity, every response, every behavior will be measured in terms of Christ. 

Jesus Christ and Christlikeness was the goal for the Apostle Paul and should be the goal for each and every single one of us today and as we enter into that relationship with Christ, we also participate in him.  Paul experienced this as the power of the Spirit was experienced and revealed in and through his life.  Paul's connectedness with Christ was through the Holy Spirit and this became a channel for the unleashing of the very power of God in Paul's ministry.  The resurrection power of Jesus Christ was poured out in Paul's life as a result of his intimacy in knowing Christ. 

As I step into a pulpit today my desire is not that human wisdom is portrayed but that the power of the Spirit is unleashed through knowing Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, this is your day, your work, your ministry.  Please, help me to know you more.  Amen.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jesus is Branded on My Body



Scripture:

Gal. 6:11 ¶ See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!
Gal. 6:12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Gal. 6:13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.
Gal. 6:14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Gal. 6:15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!
Gal. 6:16 As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Gal. 6:17 ¶ From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
Gal. 6:18 ¶ May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Observation:

Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Galatians with these concluding remarks which are quite telling.  Here in this final section he makes a contrast between two types of physical or fleshly marks of being a follower of God.  The first is circumcision and here he brings criticism.  The concern over criticism is not a genuinely spiritual concern, but instead it is the concern over appearances.  There is a desire that followers of Jesus Christ follow the legalism of the law by a form of outward appearance.  Sadly, it's easy to boast about doing these types of things.  "Look what I've done for Christ!"  Even today there are those who are judging people on the outward signs of their faith.  What do they wear to church?  What kinds of piercings do they have?  What about all those tattoos?  And the list goes on as we judge on outward appearance. 

Paul says that none of these things are signs of a person's spirituality.  Looking the "look" as a Christian doesn't make you spiritual, taking up the cross of Jesus Christ is what leads you to the spiritual life.  There is nothing pleasant nor attractive about the cross of Jesus.  However, the cross is the entrance into new kingdom where Jesus invites us to come and participate with him in his activity in the world.

Finally Paul makes just a slight reference to the marks of Jesus which are branded on his body.  These are the physical marks of the new kingdom and they have nothing to do with circumcision.  They are the scars which he bears for taking the message of the new kingdom into all the world.  They are the result of kingdom living and they are not always outward signs, but they are signs in the flesh non-the-less of faithfulness to Jesus Christ.  Instead of purposeful personal adornment of the flesh, his body has become a physical testimony and literally he is branded as belonging to Jesus Christ.

Application:

This begs the question about our willingness to serve Jesus in the kingdom.  Are we seeking the approval of the world around us?  If so then we will adopt the outward appearance of Christianity.  What does that look like?  It would certainly depend on our cultural context for each culture probably has a particular way in which they view Christians.  However, there is a tendency to gravitate toward what we may see as being "acceptable" as a Christian.  What Paul suggests here is not all that pleasant.  Being a follower of Jesus Christ means that we are not always liked; people are not always comfortable with the things that we say and do.  Paul was beaten, stoned, spit upon and thrown in prison -- just to name a few.  And these were the marks of Christ that he bore in his flesh.  His scars were not because he wanted people to think he was holy, they were a result of his holiness.  And that's the whole point.  If we are going to be branded with Jesus Christ it ought to be the result of our lives, not because we think it looks cool!  A disciple who takes up their cross is committing themselves to the long-haul; a life-long commitment to following Jesus and an understanding that their body may take on the brand of Christ as a result of pain and suffering.  It's not near as cute as the WWJD bracelets of the past, or wearing a Christian T-shirt but those require no sacrifice.  The true brand of a Christian is found in a life of sacrifice, commitment and identification with the Jesus of the cross.  Is that the kind of brand we are willing to carry with us on a daily basis? 

Prayer:

Jesus, this kind of commitment is scary, but my desire is to serve you in faithfulness in all things.  Please, lead me today.  Amen.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Who is Guiding You?



Scripture:

Gal. 5:22 ¶ By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
Gal. 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
Gal. 5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Gal. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Gal. 5:26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Observation:

Paul had been writing to the Galatians about the freedoms they enjoyed in Christ.  The Gentiles were not bound by the earlier law and the Jewish Christians had affirmed the freedoms which came from being in Christ.  They were not required to follow the Jewish laws of circumcision and this was a huge issue for them.  In contrast to this Paul wanted to make sure that these people understood that the freedoms that had come to them out of their relationship with Christ in the Spirit.  This was not a license to live a life in the flesh, instead it was a free invitation to live a life in the Spirit.  Their lives were to be guided by the Holy Spirit who would lead them into a life with God. 

Their lives would reveal the fruit of the Spirit including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  That is quite an amazing list!  These followers of Christ were to live their lives on a daily basis guided by the Spirit.  The result would be a life driven by the passions and desires of God, Himself and earthly or fleshly responses like competition and envy would simply evaporate.  Instead, the life guided by the Spirit is one in which the desires of the heart become the desires of God and the individual reflects the very nature of God to the world.

Application:

This morning I am thinking about my own life and this fruit of the Spirit.  How much of this is revealed in my life?  The life of an individual who is steeped in the presence of the Spirit is one in which the very nature of Jesus Christ will be revealed in their daily actions and reactions.  I have to confess that there are times when my reactions are less than Spirit-filled.  There are days when the flesh takes over and that tends to be in the tiredness of life.  It is in those days that short-cuts are taken and that I make excuses for not having my time alone with the Lord.  Unfortunately there is a consequence.  Instead of allowing the day to be led and directed by the Spirit, I take over control.  That's not a good thing, because who knows where I may end up by the end of the day.  I want every day of my life to be directed and led by the Spirit.  I want him to be my guide and my desire is that my life will reflect the fruit of His Spirit in all that I do. 

There are so many good things wanting our attention today that if we are to really know Christ we must make a conscious effort to be with him and allow him to work in and through us.  It won't just happen by accident.  Paul knew this.  He knew that the followers of Christ would have to show self-discipline and self-control to get to know Christ.  This would be through a life that was given in complete submission to the work of the Holy Spirit.  Who is guiding you today?

Prayer:

Lord, the cry of my heart today is that your Holy Spirit would be revealed in my life.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Daddy!



Scripture:

Gal. 4:1 ¶ My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property;
Gal. 4:2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.
Gal. 4:3 So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.
Gal. 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
Gal. 4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.
Gal. 4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Gal. 4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Observation:

When Jesus was born in the flesh the potential for our relationship with God was changed.  We could be adopted as children.  This changed everything.  The relationship of a worker to their boss is simply a work relationship.  The employee is not a member of the employer's family.  The employee is simply that, an employee who works for the employer.  But when the relationship is changed, when someone is adopted, they become a full-fledged member of the family.  They have legally become a part of that family and they have all the rights and privileges of one who was born into the family.  Jesus is the biological son and we are all the adopted children, making us all part of the same family.  God is our father, a father who loves us dearly and we are now officials heirs of the kingdom of God.

Application:

Four years ago last week my oldest brother, Jerry, went home to be with the Lord.  I will never forget the day of his funeral as I walked my mother and father into that little chapel so that they could say their final good-byes.  I held their hands as they stood and looked into that casket, fighting back the tears.  My father said, "This just isn't right.  A parent should never have to bury their child.  We are supposed to go first."  Then he reached out and touched my brother and told him good-bye.  It was a tough moment watching my parents go through that pain.  The love for my brother Jerry oozed out of every pour of their bodies. 

At that moment something struck me about the love of God.  My brother was adopted by my parents when he was just a few days old.  For my entire life he was my big brother and for his whole life he was my parents' son.  It didn't matter whether he was biological or adopted, the love of parents and family was the same.  The relationship and love was complete.  Mom and Dad were Jerry's real mom and dad.  They loved him and stuck with him through the good and the bad, through health and through illness.  They never, ever gave up on him.

Our heavenly father never ever gives up on us.  We have been made his children completely and totally through adoption.  We have all the rights and privileges of the Son.  We can curl up on his lap and we can call him "Daddy!" 

The enemy would not want us to believe in a Father that loves us with such love that he will never turn his back on us, but that is the case.  No matter what we've done in life, no matter where we've gone, our Daddy will always be looking out for us.  Maybe we've run away from home and need to come back, or maybe we've just been ignoring our Father.  Today we are being called by the Father.  He is asking us to slow down and spend some time with him.  Our Daddy wants to care for us, if only we will allow him.  We need to stop acting like orphans and join in the family celebration as a true heir of all that he has provided for us.

Our oldest daughter is nearly six feet tall and yet I can recall one of those weekends when she came home from college and needed to have a good cry with her dad.  She climbed up in his lap and said began the conversation with "Daddy."  Our two girls simply have to utter the word "Daddy" and Chuck melts.  He would pretty much do anything for them.  If our earthly fathers can love this much, how much more our heavenly Father.  Let's climb up in his lap today and spend time with our Daddy.

Prayer:

Daddy!  Thank you for the privilege of being your child.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cursed Is Everyone Who Hangs on a Tree



Scripture:


Deut. 21:22 ¶ When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree,
Deut. 21:23 his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the LORD your God is giving you for possession.

Gal. 3:10 ¶ For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
Gal. 3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Gal. 3:12 But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.”
Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—
Gal. 3:14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Observation:

The Galatians struggled with their new-found faith for they believed that they would be saved through following the law.  However, they were unable to follow the law and they found themselves struggling to be victorious in their Christian walk.  Paul was trying to help them understand what it was that Jesus truly did for them.  This small portion of Scripture in Galatians helps us to understand Jesus' work on the cross. 

Jesus Christ redeems us from the curse.  The word here is not the word for "ransom" but rather the same term used for a transaction, such as the purchase of a slave.  It is not so much that sin is holding us ransom, but that we have sold ourselves into the slavery of sin and he is willing to buy us back.  The difference here is that it has been of our own volition that we have become cursed.

Back in Deuteronomy Moses' law had specified that one who hung on a tree was under God's curse.  Therefore the fact that Jesus dies on a tree is significant.  It is this issue of the curse which Paul tries to tackle.  The people have been cursed, both Jews and Gentiles for neither is able to follow the law.  There have been attempts but Paul reminds them that "no one is justified before God by the law."  It simply hasn't happened for human nature constantly takes over.  The problem is that  the people need to live by faith.  There must be faith in what Jesus Christ has done for them and here we find a description of the work of Christ.  Let's be clear here, Jesus Christ is not cursed by the Father for Jesus has done no wrong.  It is we humans who have been cursed because we have been unable to be made righteous through the law.  The curse is on humanity and it is Jesus who becomes "a curse for us."  In essence he steps between us and the curse and allows the curse to fall on him instead of on us.  It is our curse and pain which he bears, not his own. 

Jesus bears our punishment so that all of humanity may be justified, both Jew and Gentile.  Now, all may receive the promise of the Spirit if they will believe in him, through faith.  The curse is gone for those who have been justified by faith.

Application:

On a daily basis we may choose whether we are slaves to sin, or whether we walk in the freedom of the Spirit.  It is amazing to think that many continue to choose the chains and bondage of sin.  I'm afraid that our world has become so accustomed to the curse of sin that we choose to live in this manner.  We choose to follow the ways of the world without realizing the baggage that this creates.  God wants to set us completely free from the curse which is on us, if only we would be willing to accept Jesus Christ by faith.  He has already stepped into the gap;  he has already died on that tree;  he has already taken our curse upon himself, if only we would receive him by faith. 

The punishments that we face in life are a result of the curse which we choose to carry.  What kinds of punishments exist?  What about extramarital sex with multiple partners?  The possibility of STDs and unwanted pregnancy are certainly foremost.  These are the natural consequences of life.  What about the "joy" of drug use?  What joy is there in playing with drugs until your mind no longer sees life clearly and in a moment of stupor one takes their own life?  What about alcohol abuse?  I think of the commercials on the radio about "buzzed driving is drunk driving."  A man is in the hospital with his fiancĂ© and she is now on life support, just because they wanted to drink a little alcohol and then get behind the wheel.  There are consequences of not having a clear mind. 

These were the punishments of sin, or the consequences or curses of sin.  Jesus was not cursed, but he stood in the gap and took our punishment for us.  Why do we refuse to accept him and the punishment which he has taken in our stead?  Do we enjoy the consequences of our behaviors?  Many in the world call these behaviors freedom;  the freedom to do anything that I want!  Jesus provides us with true freedom; freedom found from a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus took our punishment and curse so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit.  Life in the Spirit is full of freedom -- freedom from the things of this world.  No longer are we attracted to the things that the world has to offer but instead the Spirit transcends the things of this world and the joy we have comes from following Jesus Christ.  Our focus changes completely.  We no longer look longingly at the world, but lovingly at our Savior and our all consuming desire is for him.  We want to look like him, we want to walk like him, we want to talk like him.  He becomes our everything and the things of the world become a faded and distant memory.  In this there is great joy and freedom;  the freedom to soar with our Creator. 

The chains are gone -- we have been set free!  The curse is broken and today we can walk in the freedom of the Spirit.  The one who hung on the tree took the curse.

Prayer:


Lord, my heart sings with gratitude today.  Amen. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's All About Christ!



Scripture:


Gal. 2:15 ¶ We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
Gal. 2:16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
Gal. 2:17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
Gal. 2:18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.
Gal. 2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ;
Gal. 2:20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


Observation:


There was a great struggle in the early church regarding the rules.  Whose rules were they going to follow?  Peter was preaching to the Jews but Paul was preaching to the Gentiles.  They had been raised in very different ways and their perspectives on the Christian life were different.  They had to really dig down deep and ask the question as to whether they were following Christ, or were they following customs.  Sometimes it's hard for us to distinguish between the two because we allow them to become so intertwined.  The result was that people were being caught up in the law and it was clouding their ability to truly see Christ.  At the end of the day it was faith in Jesus Christ, not in the law that would bring salvation.  This is where Paul realizes that identification with Christ and him alone is at the core of the Christian faith.  He no longer wants to live for the law, but wants to live for God and he declares, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."  It is then that we realize that we must look to the life of Christ as our example and not to the law.  Our faith is to be in Christ, and in him alone!

Application:

Stripping away the things of the world and having faith in Jesus Christ alone is pretty radical.  Imagine the pressures to live a certain way or to do certain things that the early apostles faced.  They were rejected in many Jewish synagogues for this preaching about Christ was more than most people could take.  He sounded a little unbalanced!  He wanted his followers to believe in a heavenly kingdom and to serve that kingdom.  He wanted them to get their eyes off of changes to the earthly kingdom and instead to follow him and to serve him.  He wanted them to serve the poor.  He wanted them to peacefully respond when the world was fighting around them.  He wanted them to love him and to love their neighbor above themselves.  He wanted them to imitate him.  He wanted them to be a reflection of him to the world each and every single day.

And Jesus' desire for his followers hasn't changed.  If we were to strip away everything that we have placed on top of our understanding of Christianity and get down to Christ alone, what would our faith look like?  Are we a reflection of Jesus to the world, or are we a reflection of our beliefs about Christ to the world?  There is a big difference for often we create our own level of understanding about Christ.  We think we are being a reflection of him, but we are actually reflecting a message to the world that is far different than the real Christ.  Our reflection is clouded with the layers upon layers that we have created within the earthly community of faith.  Our world is hungry for Jesus.  They want and need him desperately.  I know I need the Lord to search my heart, my life, my actions and my motives to help me be a genuine reflection of him.  May there be nothing in the way that distorts the reflection of Christ in my life!

Prayer:

Lord, search my heart and my life and please help me to put you on in my life and be a genuine reflection of you to the world.  Amen.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Slaying Giants



Scripture:

Deut. 9:1 ¶ Hear, O Israel! You are about to cross the Jordan today, to go in and dispossess nations larger and mightier than you, great cities, fortified to the heavens,
Deut. 9:2 a strong and tall people, the offspring of the Anakim, whom you know. You have heard it said of them, “Who can stand up to the Anakim?”
Deut. 9:3 Know then today that the LORD your God is the one who crosses over before you as a devouring fire; he will defeat them and subdue them before you, so that you may dispossess and destroy them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.
Deut. 9:4 ¶ When the LORD your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to occupy this land”; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you.
Deut. 9:5 It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the LORD made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Deut. 9:6 ¶ Know, then, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people.
Deut. 9:7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; you have been rebellious against the LORD from the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place.

Observation:

It was the vision of those giant people forty years previous that scared the Israelites.  They did not believe that God was able to fight those giants for them and the spies reported back that the giants would overwhelm them.  Now, as they are preparing the cross the Jordan, God reminds them of the giants.  Yes, there are giants in the land -- the Anakim are still there.  The reputation of the giants remains the same "who can stand up to the Anakim?"  But God gives a promise to the children of Israel.  He promises to cross the Jordan before they do, and he will defeat and subdue the giants. 

Why would God be willing to slay the giants?  He makes it clear that it is not because of the righteousness of the Israelites.  They have not been a faithful people and yet God dearly loves them and wants to take care of them.

Application:

Forty years earlier the Israelites had focused on the giants they had seen.  The giants created such fear that the people were frozen.  They could not move forward because the giants were larger to them than God.  But now things were different.  They were ready to face the giants and they believed that God could do it! 

Life is filled with different giants.  Sometimes those giants are fears, sometimes they are obstacles and sometimes they are opportunities.  The question is how we will deal with those giants.  We can run from them and never face them -- or we can learn to trust in God that he will help us face them, and that he will do the fighting for us.  God has promised that he will go before us and so if he's asking us to step into the land of the giants, we can be assured that he will go before us.  This is not because we have earned that right, but because it is in his nature.  The journey ahead into the land of promise may be very frightening.  The giants may be very real and yet we will never get to live in the promised land if we don't face the giants of our lives and allow him to slay them. 

The follower of Jesus Christ must always be in motion -- growing and stretching out with our infinite God.  That means that we cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear, by giants, by the unknown.  We must constantly be moving forward in our relationship with him and the giants must be given over to him.  It's time to trust him, it's time to move on, it's time to step into the promised land and let him slay the giants.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your promises and that you will take care of the giants!  Amen.