Sunday, June 30, 2013

How Do You Measure Up?



Scripture:


Amos 7:7  ¶ This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.
Amos 7:8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
    “See, I am setting a plumb line
        in the midst of my people Israel;
        I will never again pass them by;
Amos 7:9     the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
        and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
        and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Observation:

The Israelites were the wall that God had built.  They were to be the strong and powerful wall that would protect his sanctuary but they continually chose to follow other gods.  God was loving and patient and continually awaited their humility and return to him, but somehow they simply would not repent.  Now the time was coming when they would have to face judgment.  The plumb line would be used.  This was a device used to measure whether a wall was straight or not.  They would drop it from the top of the wall and this string with a weight on the bottom would hang straight and the wall could be compared to it.  Anything that was leaning or bowed would be removed and a new section of wall would need to be built as its replacement.  For the Israelites this meant judgment was coming.  They were going to be measured by the plumb line -- and if they didn't line up they were going to be destroyed.  If the wall no longer served the purpose for which it was created, it would be torn down!

Application:

The purpose for which we have been created is to be a true reflection of Jesus Christ in this world and the way in which we will be measured is against Jesus Christ himself.  That is a rather sobering thought.  If Jesus were the plumb line placed beside me, how would I measure up? 

It's so easy, even as a Christian, to get caught up in all the flurry of life which surrounds us that at times we forget the true purpose of who we are we can stray away from the plumb line.  This can all be done with good intentions and yet we can suddenly discover that we are no longer as close to Christ as we ought to be.  Maybe we haven't been spending the time in prayer or in the word that we ought.  This is the way that we learn more and more what it means to be like Christ.  How would Jesus act in this situation?  What would be Jesus' reactions to these events? 

Those of us who call ourselves Christians are to be the wall that is the sanctuary.  Together we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and it is our responsibility to be like Christ, but also to be his holy temple.  What if God were to send his plumb line to earth today and pass among his people, what would he discover?  Are we united in our desire to be measured up against Jesus Christ?  Are we standing strong and firm in the face of the pressures of this world?  Or has the time come when he says that he will send the plumb line in the midst of his people and if you don't measure up, he will not come through again.  I'm afraid we've taken the plumb line too lightly.  We've thought it's okay to be bend a little this way and that when finally the temple is no longer strong and may not be entirely filled with the Holy Spirit.  The standard for being a Christian is truly to be a high one, for the standard is Christ himself.  If the plumb line were to arrive today how would you measure up?

Prayer:

Lord, help me to seek your face and may you continually mold me into a reflection of you.  Amen.

Friday, June 28, 2013

No One Ever Said It's Going to be Easy



Scripture:


2Tim. 4:1 ¶ In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you:
2Tim. 4:2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
2Tim. 4:5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Observation:


The call to ministry was never expected to be an easy one;  instead it was one that had to be carried with all the grace and strength that only Jesus Christ could provide.  The message of Jesus needed to be, and continues to need to be, spread throughout the world.  Sometimes that will be easy and people will respond, but at other times it will be extremely difficult and people will not be willing to listen.  That doesn't mean that we give up.  Instead we are to work to convince others, to rebuke when necessary, but to encourage and finally to never give up -- but to continue forging ahead with great patience.  People may not always understand but we must be teachers who are willing to put the time and effort into peoples' lives.  On a personal note -- the minister has to be willing to forge ahead, put up with all that happens around and just keep fulfilling the ministry!

Application:


The world, and even certain "preachers" would like to tell us that life is supposed to be fun and easy.  We are constantly blitzed with advertisements for the "good life."  But if we choose to take on the mantle of service to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we must be willing to take up our cross daily and follow him to the very end of the world and endure whatever may be thrown our direction.  Why would we assume that things would be easy?  Life wasn't easy for Jesus.  Life wasn't easy for his Apostles -- they were all martyred, except for John (who had to live in exile).  Paul was eventually martyred.  The first centuries of the Church are littered with the bodies of those who were willing to stand up and be "witnesses" to the new life they had experienced in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This week it has been a privilege to visit with those from remote corners of the world who are willing to put their lives on the line to serve Jesus Christ.  My brother from XXX nation is on a hit-list because of his leadership in the kingdom of God.  That is mind-boggling!  And yet thousands are coming to Jesus on a regular basis.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  We are called to be working every single day for our Lord and Savior and to be willing to put up with and endure whatever is thrown at us.  No one ever said that following Jesus was going to be easy -- but we must push ahead and continue with the ministry to which we have been called.  All of this must be done in faithfulness to the one with whom we have fallen in love.  He will never, ever, leave us nor forsake us.  To God be the glory!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the reminder that we must continually forge ahead with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Help Comes From the Lord



Scripture:

Psa. 121:0 ¶ A Song of Ascents.
Psa. 121:1     I lift up my eyes to the hills—
        from where will my help come?
Psa. 121:2     My help comes from the LORD,
        who made heaven and earth.
 
Psa. 121:3      ¶ He will not let your foot be moved;
        he who keeps you will not slumber.
Psa. 121:4     He who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.
 
Psa. 121:5      ¶ The LORD is your keeper;
        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
Psa. 121:6     The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.
 
Psa. 121:7      ¶ The LORD will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.
Psa. 121:8     The LORD will keep
        your going out and your coming in
        from this time on and forevermore.

Observation:

The pagans had placed idols across the tops of the hills and it was in those places that they worshiped their gods.  The Psalmist knew that this was not where his help was to come from, but instead his help was to come from the one and only true God.  It is the God of all creation that has promised to walk with us day in and day out.  It is the God of all creation who will keep us on the right path for our lives.  It is the God of all creation who never sleeps and watches over you when you are weary and exhausted.  It is the Lord who is your protector both today, tomorrow and forever.

Application:

I can still hear the voice of my grandfather quoting this Psalm.  It was one of his favorite Scriptures and when he quoted it -- it wasn't just something that he had from memory.   This was something that he genuinely felt from the very depth of his being.  Grandpa's life wasn't easy.  He was always poor, pastoring very tiny little churches across the state of Nebraska.  Many of the churches he built with his own two hands.  My grandparents had a daughter with Downs-syndrome who was also additionally brain damaged at birth.  She never learned to speak and had to have care for her entire life.  Grandpa, together with Grandma, lovingly cared for her day in and day out and she lived far longer than anyone had ever predicted.  Daily Grandpa's help came from the Lord whom he had come to know and to love.  There was nothing more that he needed.

Jesus must be in first place in our lives.  He must be the very center, the focus of our very being.  Everything else becomes secondary in light of loving our Lord.  Don't look at the hills -- the familiar places where people look for affirmation -- look to Jesus.  Our eyes must ever be focused on him and when that happens he takes care of all the things we cannot see.  My help comes from the Lord!

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your great love.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Holy Spirit and Human Need



Scripture:

Joel 3:1 ¶ For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
Joel 3:2 I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations. They have divided my land,
Joel 3:3 and cast lots for my people, and traded boys for prostitutes, and sold girls for wine, and drunk it down.

Observation:

These verses come right near the end of Joel's prophecy regarding the last days and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Then we get a glimpse of the last days here on this earth and what that looks like for the people of the earth will have disregarded the leading of the Lord and will have moved into depravity.  The nations will be divided and God's holy people will be divided.  They will not be serving him in the way in which he desired.  God's holy people will have been bought and sold as if they were commodities.  Little boys will be traded to prostitutes and girls will be sold for something to drink.

Application:

This past week we have had the opportunity to meet and talk with many others within the Christian world who are working and engaging in the issue of human sex trafficking.  Isn't it amazing that this prophecy from Joel so accurately describes the things that we would be seeing in our world today?  We began the "Bottle Aid" campaign just a few months ago -- a campaign to raise awareness to the fact that little girls are being sold for a bottle of Pepsi or Fanta.  How prophetic!  But in the center of the mix we find God's holy people who are called to step into the world and to make a difference.  We can no longer stand by and watch what is happening but instead we have to get involved and engaged in the issues. 

We are blessed to have the opportunity to be filled with God's Holy Spirit.  The question is what will we do with that blessing?  We are filled with the Holy Spirit so that we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  What would Jesus do if he saw little boys being sold into prostitution and little girls being sold for a bottle of pop?  I'm guessing he'd be even more angry than he was the day he found the men selling at the temple in Jerusalem.  Shouldn't that be our response as well?  Shouldn't we be appalled at what we see happening in our world and then pray that we respond the way in which God would want us to respond?

We do not have the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep it to ourselves.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is to flow through us to a very needy world and so that they can experience the touch of Jesus in a way they never have before.  Joel prophesied about these days -- we are living in them now -- will we respond as God's holy Spirit-filled children?

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to engage in this world in the way you would desire.  Amen.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Daily Training



Scripture:

1Tim. 4:6 ¶ If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed.
1Tim. 4:7 Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness,
1Tim. 4:8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Observation:

Here we find great instruction for our personal daily walk with Jesus Christ, if we truly desire to be a good servant.  We are to be nourished on a regular basis.  How long can we go without physical food?  Not for too long and therefore we should not go too long without spiritual food.  Just as the physical body needs to be regularly fed, so our spiritual lives must also be fed.  But there is also spiritual discipline involved.  Just as we must eat right, we must also exercise to keep our physical bodies fit.  Spiritual exercise is just as necessary and must be just as intentional. 

Application:

I really hate exercising!  I'm good at finding excuses not to exercise in the morning and yet, if I don't it can have a rather ruinous effect on the entire day.  If I skip my spiritual exercises the result can be the same.  There is something about starting out my day in conversation with the Lord and spending time learning from the word that helps to prepare me for the day.  The more difficult the day ahead, the more time I probably need to spend in preparation with him. 

Today's scripture tells us that physical training is good and it is of some value.  As wholistic beings we must recognize that our physical health is directly tied to our spiritual health.  There has been a tendency to somehow divide the two and believe that as long as we care for ourselves spiritually we don't have to care for ourselves physically.  This concept is catching up with Christianity -- when the rest of the world looks on and wonders why we don't maintain discipline when it comes to caring for the bodies God has given us.  Physical training has some value for when we are healthy physically we are able to focus spiritually.  St. Basil the Great went through a lengthy period of fasting and study out in the wilderness.  At the end of that time he had physically damaged his body to the extent that he eventually died sooner than he should have. He and his brother went on to preach moderation throughout the remainder of their ministry, reminding their followers that they had to be healthy followers of Jesus Christ.  Even extreme fasting was not encouraged.

But finally we are to live godly lives.  This means we are to be imitators of Christ in all that we do for in imitating Christ we step into the continuum of this life which leads into the next for Christlikeness is the goal.  So therefore, we are called upon to practice spiritual disciplines, feeding our minds, bodies and souls so that we can be the very best reflections of Jesus Christ in this world.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to practice the discipline necessary to become a reflection of you.  Amen.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Are you sharing the good news?



Scripture:

2Kings 7:8 When these leprous men had come to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent, ate and drank, carried off silver, gold, and clothing, and went and hid them. Then they came back, entered another tent, carried off things from it, and went and hid them.
2Kings 7:9 ¶ Then they said to one another, “What we are doing is wrong. This is a day of good news; if we are silent and wait until the morning light, we will be found guilty; therefore let us go and tell the king’s household.”

Observation:

Elisha had promised that the siege was going to be lifted but it was hard for anyone to believe.  The people within the walls of the city were starving to death but there were two men with leprosy who had been forced to live outside the walls of the city.  Finally they realized that death was near so why not scope out the enemy camp and see if they might be able to get a morsel of food.  They were not allowed inside the city for they were unclean so they really had no hope.  They made their way out to the camp only to discover it had been abandoned.  God had created a miracle of sound and the Aramean army had fled in fear and confusion, leaving their tents, food and clothing behind.  The two lepers made themselves at home, sitting down and eating a meal in one tent and then making off with some of the goods.  However, they in the midst of their joy they stopped when they realized that this was unfair for them to enjoy all of this themselves.  They knew they had to share the good news of what they had with everyone else.  They left it all and ran back to the city, shouting the good news to those who were guarding the walls and the entire city was saved and enjoyed the bounty of the Aramean camp. 

Application:

As God's children we are blessed to sit at the Lord's table where we have access to everything that the Lord has for us.  Unfortunately, at times it seems that we are greedily holding on to all of this for ourselves instead of running out to our world and letting them know about the bounty we are enjoying.  These goods are not just to be for us personally, but they are to be for our sharing, but if we don't bother to tell anyone, they will never know.  The two lepers realized that they would have to go back to the city which had put them outside the walls and share with them what they had found.  They didn't have to do this but they knew that it was wrong to enjoy all of these goods while the people within the walls were dying.  The unlikely carriers of the good news were those that had been forced to live outside the company of the citizens. 

We are blessed to have the good news that will provide sustenance and salvation for the world around us.  We cannot sit in our churches and simply enjoy what we have.  We ought to feel guilty and we ought to take to the streets sharing with all those we can the good news of Jesus Christ.  We have a world that is dying and needs to know where to find eternal sustenance.  Are we willing to share, or are we too comfortable enjoying the food and the riches from within a tent which is not ours?  What the two lepers said is true, "What we are doing is wrong."  If we are not taking the news out to the people who need it, then what we are doing is wrong.  Every one of us must pray for God's leading as we share the good news with all of those who are hungry and are in need.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me share with someone today.  Amen.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Saving Children From Slavery



Scripture:

2Kings 4:1 ¶ Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.”
2Kings 4:2 Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.”
2Kings 4:3 He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few.
2Kings 4:4 Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.”
2Kings 4:5 So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring.
2Kings 4:6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
2Kings 4:7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”

Observation:

This is the story of a woman, a good woman, whose husband had been one of God's servants, prophesying for the Lord.  The prophet died and now she is so poor that she cannot pay her debts.  Instead of paying off her debts the creditors plan to take her sons as slaves.  Elisha, through the power of God, is able to work a miracle in her home.  She believes Elisha and follows through on the task her assigns to her.  When all is finished she is able to not only pay the debts, but live her life with her children.

Application:


Today I will have the privilege of sharing in a workshop about Gender Based Violence around the world.  The story is (obviously) not a new one.  The weak and the vulnerable often suffer at the hands of the powerful.  Children, both boys and girls, around the world are being sold into slavery.  The story above is repeated day after day -- today -- in this world.  I just read this week about parents who sold their daughter for 2 kg of flour -- because the rest of the family was so hungry!  Can we even imagine what that is like?

The problems continue through the ages, but so do the solutions.  The solution was that a man of God stepped into the situation and knew that God could provide an answer.  The solution also included the act of faith on the part of the woman.  She was willing to actively participate in what God wanted to accomplish.  She went out and on faith, borrowed jars and vessels from all the neighbors -- Not a few!  She was believing for a BIG miracle.  And a big miracle it was.  God provided for the past debts but also enough to give her a new life with her children.  They were saved from slavery, but not just to be poor, but to have provision for the remainder of their lives.

Elisha had prayed for a double portion of the spirit from Elijah.  God answered his prayer and he was able to do "abundantly more than all he could ask or imagine."  I don't think that God is finished with these kinds of miracles today.  We have more resources available than we sometimes imagine.  God is good and faithful and he is asking his children to become engaged in the issues of this world and to save more children from slavery.  Some of us have enough oil to fill many vessels.  We must save them from slavery, but also help set them on a path so that they can live.  Do we know how to solve all of this?  No -- but God does.  We must jump in as his servants and be willing to pray and act in obedience.  Then we allow God to do his miraculous work as we continue to save children from slavery.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be used by you to save those in captivity.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Do You Want?


Scripture:

2Kings 2:9 ¶ When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

Observation:

Elisha had accepted the calling of God to be a prophet like Elijah but now Elijah would be leaving him.  Elisha could have asked for just about anything, including power and position but that's not what was important to him.  He wanted to be a great prophet of God, serving God just like his "father" Elijah.  He didn't ask for something for himself, but instead asked for a double share of the spirit -- something that would glorify God. 

Application:

As a child I always loved those shows where the Genie would offer someone three wishes.  You were left in suspense wondering what it was that they would wish for!  I thought it would make sense to wish for a thousand more wishes :)  But there was often a moral to the story -- shouldn't you be wishing for something that would help others? 

Elisha could have asked for just about anything, and it could have been something personal or selfish.  Instead, he wished that he could do something that would glorify God.  He wanted the power of God to shine through his life in a very powerful way. 

Some of us have had the opportunity to have great mentors or people of influence in our lives.  What would it mean if we were to ask to have a double share of their spirit for God to use to make a difference in this world?  Elisha not only asked, but was willing to accept the double share of the spirit.  I think that is important.  He not only wanted it, but he was willing to take it and be responsible with it.  This brings us to the question of the day, "What do you want?"  And when faced with this question, just as Elisha was, we must do some soul-searching and checking of our motivations.  What is it that I really want?  And then may God help us to have the attitude and heart of Elisha to be willing to ask for that double portion of the spirit -- and then use it for God's glory.

Prayer:

Lord, please help to make my heart like your heart, and my desires your desires.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Devoted To Prayer


Scripture:


Col. 4:2 ¶ Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.
Col. 4:3 At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison,
Col. 4:4 so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Observation:

In these final words of instructions to the church in Colossae we discover what is really important for a Christ follower.  They are to be devoted to a life of prayer but not a prayer life that dulls the senses, but instead a prayer life that makes one alert.  Prayer is to be filled with thanksgiving and prayer for others, and while praying for others we must pray for doors to be opened to spreading the word and that the message may be clearly understood.

Application:


Do we really understand what prayer is all about?  So often our prayer lists are filled with concerns for those who are sick.  It's not wrong to pray for those who are sick but if that becomes the extent of our prayer lives we are missing out on the big the picture!  Prayer is supposed to be about us as people -- we are to be a people of prayer.  Our churches are to be houses of prayer.  Prayer is about spending intimate time in the presence of Jesus and it is through this intimacy in prayer that we are transformed.  That's why Paul thought it was so important for the people in Colossae.  They needed to be a people of prayer! 

We need to be a people of prayer so that we can experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  This transformation will help us to be alert to what is happening around us.  This includes being attentive to the possibility of temptations which may come at us at breakneck speed, or it may help us to see the open doors of opportunity to spread the mystery of Christ.  Being engaged as a faithful follower of Christ requires us to be alert!

At the same time we are to have a spirit, or an attitude of thanksgiving.  This means that we should come before the Lord with our praises and words of thanks.  How often do we do that?  I'm afraid not very often -- we jump right into the bunion prayer requests!!!  What would happen if we turned our prayers around and spent most of our time in thanksgiving before him?  I believe that would be transformational!  It's meant to be transformational -- because God is to be praised and worshipped and thanked in our prayers.

Finally it seems that many people tell me that they have never led anyone to the Lord, nor would they know how.  The secret is right here in what Paul has to say.  Paul says to make this a matter of prayer.  I'm guessing that one reason we don't make it a matter of prayer is that we are afraid that God might answer the prayer and then we'd have to speak up!  But if we would make sharing Christ a matter of prayer we would be surprised by the open doors and then the right words that God would give us to speak.  Usually it takes very little speaking for the Holy Spirit does the speaking and the prodding in the heart of the individual. 

As Christ followers we are to be devoted to prayer.  We must make prayer a priority in our lives for without it we will die spiritually.  If the word of God is our spiritual food, then prayer is our very breath.  We might be able to go without food for a short period of time, but if we do not pray, we will be suffocated by the things of this world.  This wasn't meant to be a harsh command, but rather being devoted to prayer is the solution for life.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to be a woman of prayer, devoted to you.  Amen.

Monday, June 17, 2013

God of the Hills and the Valleys



Scripture:

1Kings 20:28 A man of God approached and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD: Because the Arameans have said, ‘The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

Observation:

The Arameans mistakenly thought that God was like their gods who were placed up on the hills, therefore they thought he could only fight battles for the Israelites on the hills.  Instead, God promised his people victory because he is the God of the hills, but also the God of the valleys!

Application:

How often are we also mistaken that God is only in the hill-top experiences of life?  It seems that when we are on the mountain top we experience the joy of the Lord in powerful ways.  Those are good and great days but we all know that the valleys will come as well.  The valleys will come in different ways for each one of us.  Today I know that there are friends who are spending their final hours with their loved ones who will be leaving this earth far too early in life.  In those times it's good to know that God isn't just up on the mountains, but that he is willing to come to us in the valley and sit with us, listening and mourning together with us.  The God of all comfort is in the valleys of life.

Disappointment over life experiences can also take us down into the valley where we may be tempted to think that we are alone and that we have been abandoned by God.  God does not abandon us in the valleys of disappointment, instead he is already there waiting for us with open arms ready to hug us with his great love.  We just have to allow him to do so!  Too often it is we who keep looking up to the mountains, wishing we were there and refusing to see God with us in the valley for somehow we have bought into the lie that he is only on the hills. 

For us to be victorious in our spiritual lives we must recognize that God is the God of the hills and of the valleys -- that he desires to journey with us in all of life.  We are the ones who create the barriers when we fail to see that he is the God of all and is in all. 


Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your presence in all of life.  Please, help me to see and to trust in you.  Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Would You Leave it All to Follow the Lord?



Scripture:

1Kings 19:19 ¶ So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him.
1Kings 19:20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?”
1Kings 19:21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Observation:


Elijah had been told by God who his successor would be and so he went out to find Elisha.  He didn't find Elisha in some prophet school, or even doing what we might consider "prophet" work.  He was a man out working in his fields.  Interestingly if he had 12 yoke of oxen, then Elisha was a wealthy man.  This was a successful farm but it was not one that he simply left to his servants, it was one in which he too was willing to work and do manual labor for he was working the twelfth.  So here we find a successful man who is willing to work hard with his hands and suddenly, out of nowhere arrives Elijah the man of God.  As Elijah comes by he throws his mantle over him and Elisha knew immediately what this meant.  He was to follow Elijah and thereby the Lord.  Elijah, I'm guessing, was a little embarrassed and so it appears that he did kind of a hit and run -- throw the cloak and run.  Elisha had to run after him and told Elijah that he simply wanted to go and tell his family good-bye and then he would follow the man of God.  At this Elijah was quite overwhelmed and wondered what in the world he had asked this man to do!  Could he really ask Elisha to live the kind of life that he had been living?  Not too long ago Elijah had been hiding in caves, hoping to stay alive! 

What's amazing is that Elisha goes back home and takes all of those things which would signify his wealthy and he slaughters them.  Why would he do that?  So that he couldn't go back!  He gave up everything that he had and left so that he could follow Elijah and be his servant.  He did this in obedience to the Lord.

Application:

This story of Elisha's call shows us that the Lord wants to use any and everyone who will be open to listening to the call of God on their heart.  I can't believe that this was Elisha's first time to be obedient to the Lord.  While he was a farmer, I am guessing that his entire life had been one in which he was schooled in obedience.  That's why the Lord knew that this was the man that Elijah should call!  Therefore it doesn't matter the occupation or vocation, we are all called to obedience on a daily basis when it comes to serving God. 

Serving God on a daily basis for Elisha meant that when the call came to leave everything, he was willing to go.  All of God's children have a call to go;  Jesus told us to "God into all the world…" and we are all being covered by the mantle of Christ in the Holy Spirit.  The question is whether we are as willing to be obedient to that call as Elisha was.  Whether it is a material giving up of things, or an emotional giving up of things, we must be willing to journey into that deeper walk with the Lord.  If Elisha had hung onto the things at home -- his dad and mom, his farm, his oxen -- he never would have become the world changing prophet that God had prepared for him to be.  He knew that at the moment of this call from Elijah he would have to leave everything behind. 

God is calling all of his children into a deeper walk with him.  He is asking us to live a life of radical obedience to him on a daily basis so that we will hear the call to a deeper walk.  This isn't just about people being called into full-time ministry, this is about every single one of God's children.  God's desire is that we be his holy people and we are made holy by living a life of obedience to him in all things.  This means emptying of one's self and allowing ourselves to be completely and entirely filled with God's holy love.  This changes who we are from the inside out and the passion of God within us calls us to let go of the things of the world and cling only to him.  Everyone of us is being asked to leave it all and follow him! 

Therefore we must ask ourselves what it is that we are holding onto -- which oxen mean so much to us that we can't give them up?  Are any of them worth it in light of being wholeheartedly sold out go God? 

Prayer:

Lord, help me examine my own life and heart, making sure there aren't any left-over oxen that I'm holding onto.  Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What Is Working in You?



Scripture:

Colossians 1:28
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.


Observation:

We are constantly presented with the concept of synergism in the Christian life.  There is an expectation on the part of God that his people will actively participate in God's work in the world.  This work is to go and make disciples of all nations.  Paul was concerned about this work and ministry every day of his life.  Not only was he helping to bring new people to Christ, but he was leading them to a life of full maturity in Christ.  While engaged in this work Paul did put forth effort, but this was combined with Christ's energy.  When the two combine we discover this synergism and Christ's energy explodes and becomes something dynamic in the life of the Apostle.  The proclamation and admonition are not just Paul's words, but are instead empowered by Christ working in him. 

Application:

Have you ever felt like everything you try to do just doesn't work out?  Have you tried setting out good plans and then they just seem to fall through?  Could it be that everything we are trying to accomplish is being done in our own strength and therefore we are not experiencing this supernatural power that Paul was talking about!

I am a preacher and I think about what Paul is saying here in regard to my own personal experiences.  There are times when you preach and it feels like nothing happens.  You wonder whether anyone is even listening.  When that happens I have to go back and examine myself for I have learned that if I am not in the right place in my relationship with God, more than likely not much is going to happen.  However, if I have spent time in prayer and seeking the face of God before I preach, then the synergy begins to work.  There is a literal sense of the power of God's presence and a sense that Christ is empowering and working.  The words can be exactly the same but the results can be radically different.  I have learned that preaching is not about me;  I simply need to prepare what God asks me to prepare, but then I must spend time connecting to the source of energy  (Christ) so that the words become powerful, because of him. 

But this power is not just about preaching; it's about everything that happens in our lives.  There are two options for what is working in us;  one is the power of Christ and the second is the power of ourselves.  We are to depend on Christ in all things in our lives, in every action, reaction and decision.  When that happens then the power of Christ is working and energizing life in all matters.  I have a farmer friend who tells about how he and the Lord determine what crops are going to be planted in which fields.  He spends a great deal of time talking with the Lord and asking Christ to energize his farming!  Can that really happen?  Well, the miracle stories of his farm would certainly lead you to believe this!  Planting certain crops on certain fields has yielded synergistic type results -- far more than they could have ever imagined. 

So, what is working in you?  Is there the energy of Christ that is powerful, or is there simply human endurance?  I think we fail to realize what is at our disposal when we are in Christ.  I know there are times that I take this for granted, and yet I am excited to learn what lies ahead as I ask God to help me contend with all my strength -- so that I can unite with the power of Christ to make a difference in this world.  What about you?

Prayer:

Lord, I have so much more to learn, but please, help me today to know you more.  Amen.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What Happens When Good People Disagree?



Scripture:


Phil. 4:2 ¶ I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
Phil. 4:3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.


Observation:

These two little verses shed a little light on the church situation in Philippi, which was located in Macedonia.  The church in Philippi may have been a bit unique in regard to the strong female influence.  The laws of Macedonia vs. the laws of Greece were quite different in regard to women.  Women were allowed to have positions of leadership in Macedonia, whereas they weren't in Greece.  The first person to become a believer in Philippi was Lydia and she hosted the church in her home.  There are many differing theories on who Euodia and Syntyche were but most agree that they were both women and more than likely leaders within the church in Philippi.  It is even suggested that one may have been the leader a Jewish-Christian congregation and the other of a Gentile-Christian congregation.  For whatever reason, the two of them, leaders in the church were having a disagreement and it must have been quite significant for this news had reached Paul. 

Paul then urges his "loyal companion," also referred to has his "yoke-fellow," or some have even suggested his "wife" to be the one to intercede and work with these two women, helping to bring them to a point of reconciliation.  What we do know is that Paul believes there is a need for someone to intercede to help bring about reconciliation in the relationship of these two women.  We are led to believe that they are good women who have worked hard with Paul and who are followers of Jesus Christ, their names being written "in the book of life."

Application:

There are times in life when good people will have disagreements and sometimes they will move in different directions.  We learn from this situation in Philippi that these were all good people who were still doing work and ministry for the Lord.  Unfortunately the rift in their relationship was well known and this was disruptive to the entire Christian community. 

Paul urges the two women to be of the same mind -- leading us to believe that they were NOT of the same mind.  In light of everything that Paul has already talked about in this epistle, that same mind would be the mind of Christ.  When we discover that we are at odds with another believer, maybe we ought to check ourselves and see if we are truly leaning into the mind of Christ.  As we grow in the Lord our focus ought to be on becoming like Christ.  This means that we are to become more and more like him in all things -- which would mean that we would want to think and react like him.  This only happens when we are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit and are so connected with Christ that we are in him -- and have the mind of Christ.  These two women were not of the same mind in the Lord!  And this means that while they were good women, and serving God, they were not focusing on the most important thing, which was to be united with Christ.  Therefore Paul was urging them to examine what it was that was important to them. 

When we have disagreements with others we must begin with self examination.  Do we have our eyes on Christ?  Are we desiring to be transformed into his image?  If our goal is to be like him, then we will stop the petty arguments and will focus on becoming more like him.  If Euodia and Syntche had been focusing together on being more like Christ, they would have been united in him, instead of being divided in their own separate ministries.  Division usually begins in our own hearts. 

Realizing that it might be difficult for these two women to work out their differences on their own, Paul asks a dear friend to intervene.  Jesus had said that the world would know Christians by their love for one another!  This is a relationship that the enemy wants to destroy.  He does not want Christians to be united and he does not want them to love one another.  Instead he wants them to be biting and chewing each other up so that the world looks at us and thinks we're all crazy.  Someone in Philippi was concerned enough about the appearance of this division that they made sure that Paul heard about it.  I'm guessing that the non-believers in Philippi knew about it too because these types of issues do not stay hidden.  If the women couldn't work it out themselves, Paul was going to have to ask someone to try and bring about reconciliation.

As believers we must be about the business of reconciliation.  Sometimes we are the one who is to go to the two individuals who are struggling with one another and be the bridge that can bring them back together.  This is not an easy task and sometimes we get shot down in the process, but if God can use us to bring about healing in a relationship, then we must go with obedience.  The "loyal companion" probably had nothing to do with the disagreement and yet worked to bring them back together for the sake of the Church. 

Unfortunately we find this story repeated over and over again in the Christian world.  The world is looking on Christianity and seeing her divisions and not the unity.  May God help us to focus on Christ; on having the mind of Christ; and on being instruments of God's healing and reconciliation within the Church, because sometimes good people DO have a hard time getting along with one another.

Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

 (Prayer of St. Francis)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pressing On



Scripture:

Phil. 3:12 ¶ Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Phil. 3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
Phil. 3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Observation:

Paul, the one who has been living faithfully in Christ for many years now recognizes that there is still always more ahead in the Christian walk.  There is never time to simply sit down and think that we have arrived, instead there is the constant realization that there is more.  The goal is to be united with Christ through the resurrection, therefore, as long as we live in the flesh, we must continue to press on.  Jesus was the ultimate example, he pressed on through death becoming victorious through his resurrection.  Jesus has broken through all the barriers and has created a pathway for us to follow so that we too can attain resurrection.  So, as long as we are living, we ought to continue to press on toward what lies ahead, not living in the past.  I should be closer to the goal this year than I was a year ago.  That means that I ought to be growing and pressing on in my Christian walk to the extent that I know Christ better now than last year, or even than last week.  We are running a spiritual race and no one sits down in the middle of the race and takes a break.  Instead the runners press on, pushing themselves harder and harder just so that they can continue. 

Paul was coming around that last lap and he could see the finish line ahead.  The finish line was seared firmly in his mind and instead of slowing down he pressed on even harder to reach toward that goal.  He knew that it would be worth it for crossing the finish line meant he would get to experience resurrection power through "the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."

Application:

We are called to a Christian life in which we will be continually pressing on.  There should never be a moment of time in which we think that we have "arrived" spiritually.  The entire Christian life is one of growth in grace and of pressing on in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Along this journey of life there is ever-increasing participation in Christ with Christlikeness as the ultimate goal.  This is the life of holiness -- the entire journey.  Paul loved to use the sports metaphors and so he saw it as a race where we would continue to work toward the goal. 

I'm afraid that too many Christians come to a point where they think that they have "made it" spiritually.  They are ready to sit down, or slow down and be satisfied with what they have.  Paul never considered the idea that he was ever done.  For some people this may seem quite radical and we might make the excuse, "well, I'm not Paul."  But then in v. 17 Paul says that we are to imitate him.  In other words, this isn't optional for the Christian life, this is the example of the Christian life.  This is a life in which Christ is our goal and everything we do leads us toward that goal.  We do not slow down, instead we continue to press on, getting to know him on deeper levels on a daily basis.  Everything in life becomes about Christ and knowing him.  The things that we do are simply a consequence of knowing him and responding in obedience to our relationship to him. 

My parents are the most incredible example to me when it comes to this kind of life. I know I shared recently about them but I continue to be in awe.  Even in their 80's they are constantly learning and pressing on to be all that Christ would want them to be.  They spend time in the word every day.  Not only do they read the Bible together (Dad has macular degeneration so mom reads to him or they listen to CDs), but they pray together every day, and then they read additional books together.  They also minister constantly to those who live their retirement community with them.  They meet with people, pray with people and invite people to church.  They believe they have a special calling to minister to all of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  They make the effort to spend time with friends whom they believe might need a little bit of encouragement.  What an incredible example they are of those who are pressing on to the very end! 

I want to press on, getting to know Christ in a more intimate way every single day of my life.  It is so easy for life to become a distraction  from the real goal of life.  May God help us all to simply press on!

Prayer:


Lord, may I be closer to you today than ever in my life.  Please, help me to press on.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Leadership Paradigms


Leadership Paradigms

Scripture:

2Chronicles 10:16 When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:

“What share do we have in David,
    what part in Jesse’s son?
To your tents, Israel!
    Look after your own house, David!”
So all the Israelites went home. 17 But as for the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah, Rehoboam still ruled over them.

18 King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram,[a] who was in charge of forced labor, but the Israelites stoned him to death. King Rehoboam, however, managed to get into his chariot and escape to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

Phil. 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Observation:

What an incredible contrast between Rehoboam and Jesus.  Both of them were from the line of David.  Rehoboam was only two generations removed from  his grandfather King David and yet in character and action he may as well have been from a pagan land.  

Rehoboam became the leader and could have held the kingdom together if only he had listened to the advice of the wise elders.  Sadly, it does not appear that he had the best interest of the kingdom in mind but instead, was concerned about his own control and power.  The focus of his leadership was on himself and not the people for whom he was to care.  He wanted to know how much he could get out of those people.  The elders told him to love and care for his people, lighten the load and they would gladly serve him.  Instead he determined to take the advice of his young friends who said to punish and control the people, treat them harshly and punish them.  This method of leadership backfired.  A riot ensued and the kingdom was divided.  The people felt that they were not truly a part of the kingdom and so they packed up their tents and went home.  

Fast forward to Jesus, the servant leader.  He wasn't concerned about having power for himself.  He knew that all power and authority could be at his fingertips, but he was willing to give it all up for the subjects in his kingdom.  Jesus' leadership was completely focused on his people.  He was willing to empty himself and do what was necessary for others.  He didn't seek power, instead he humbled himself for the sake of others.  The result was an eternal kingdom where we are all invited to come and be partakers...where the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

Application:

We all have opportunities to be leaders and we all have choices to make about how we will act and react.  We may not be in a formal leadership position but we all have opportunities to exhibit leadership from time to time.  This maybe in the home, at church, at play or in the work environment. 

 I remember as a child I would boss around my dog.  She was the one who was on a lower rung than I, the little sister of three big brothers.  Even as a child and dealing with my dog I realized that there were different ways to get a response.  If I truly loved and took care of my dog's needs she would stick by me, day and night.  If I tried to be bossy with her, she pretty much ignored me.  It was an ineffective way to lead and even my dog knew it.  

As Christians were are admonished to be servant leaders in the form of Christ.  Is this a leadership style that allows one to be walked on?  Hardly.  Jesus stood up to the bullies of his day.  It's why they finally crucified him.  But his motivation was to care for his people and was willing to stand up for those who had need.  Not only that, he was willing to die for his people.  It was not done for himself, but all for others.  

This is what it means to be a servant leader, it has to do with motivation.  Therefore it is our motivations which need to be checked on a regular basis.  Holiness should bring us to regular and periodic self examination of the heart and our motivations.  Why do we do what we do?  If we are heading off on a wrong trajectory, then we need to allow God to check our compass and redirect us in the right path.  We must listen to the advice of God and godly mentors and disregard the voices of the world.  Only in is way can we adopt the leadership paradigm which God intended.  His paradigm is a holy paradigm completely and totally filled with him, reflecting his love, care and nurture for his people.

Prayer:

Lord, may today and every day be a time of self examination and reflection.  Please help me to be willing to listen to your correctives.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Exalting Christ in Your Body



Scripture:


Phil. 1:20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.
Phil. 1:21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.


Observation:

Paul is writing from his own personal experience and now he is reflecting on his life and work.  He knows that he is facing the prospect of death, but in it all he wants Christ to be exalted.  The goal is to be like Christ, and that means living like Christ in the flesh.  So, to live is to be like Christ, to die is to be with Christ.  For Paul, either is a win!

Application:

Paul never lets us to get away with thinking that our Christian life is something that is in the distance.  Instead, Paul wants us to live and exalt Christ in our bodies.  This is really quite contrary to what the world is saying to us these days and it makes it difficult to live the Christian life within the kingdom, because it is so counter-cultural.  The world is telling us that absolutely everything is okay and is not only okay, it is acceptable and you have the freedom to do anything you want.  If someone is intolerant of that freedom, then they are not loving.  So, how do we exalt Christ in our bodies in the midst of this kind of a world?  In Romans Paul told us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.  We literally have to understand that our Christian life has to impact how we live our lives in the flesh!  Too often we have separated the body from the soul and somehow believed that the spirit or soul is the most important.  We are wholistic beings and you cannot separate the two.  The truth is, if you could, it would probably be easier to live for Christ in the spirit, than it is in the body.  But Paul doesn't let you get away with that because you can't chop us up into different sections, we are whole beings and we are meant to be reflections of Jesus Christ in the flesh!  Therefore we must exalt Christ in our bodies.

The best way to begin to exalt Christ in our bodies is by imitating him.  If I want to be like someone I don't just sit around and wait to look, talk, and act like them -- I do everything I can to become like them.  I dress like them, I try to talk like them, and I try to act like them.  We know this works in the world because of marketing.  Look at all the stuff that is sold to make you be able to look like and relate to some of the Hollywood stars!  It's crazy -- but then why don't we want to do the same thing when it comes to Christ? 

There will be times that we fail but just like riding a bike, you have to get up and wipe the dust off your hands and try again.  Eventually you will get better and better and finally there will be a time when you will be so much like Christ that people won't know if you're imitating or if they're actually seeing Christ in you.  That fine line was being erased in the life of Paul.  To live was to imitate Christ -- but to die was to be with him intimately forever.  It didn't matter for in all that he did Christ was the goal.  Christ must be the goal in our lives and we must begin by exalting him in our bodies on a daily basis.  What does it mean for us to imitate Christ today?

Prayer:

Lord, may I be a reflection of you every day.  Please help me to imitate you in all I do.   Amen.

Monday, June 10, 2013

True Strength Comes from the Lord



Scripture:

Eph. 6:10 ¶ Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
Eph. 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph. 6:12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Eph. 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Observation:

Yesterday the wisdom of Solomon reminded us that simple human strength, the use of brute force is often foolish.  Wisdom comes in knowing where and how to sharpen the tools to be used effectively.  At the same time it is important to note the true source of strength.  It is not human strength or power which will help us to succeed in this world, but instead it is the power which we find in the Lord.  This section on the armor of God begins by telling us to "be strong in the Lord."  This is THE source of our strength and our right relationship with the Lord is crucial to being strong and tapping into the strength of his power. 

There is nothing half-way about this kind of Christian life.  This is an understanding of the need to be filled entirely by the Holy Spirit -- about the need to be filled through and through because anything less will not be able to withstand all that the enemy will be throwing our direction.  The "whole armor" is to be worn!  This is important because later on there is a description about different parts of the armor, but you cannot simply wear one or two parts -- you must wear the whole thing.  We must be sold out, completely and totally to God, not just picking and choosing certain areas in which we want his coverage.  If this is the case we will leave ourselves exposed in the spiritual battle.  John Wesley says, “Perhaps the principalities and powers remain mostly in the citadel of their kingdom of darkness; but there are other spirits which range abroad, to whom the provinces of the world are committed; the darkness is chiefly spiritual darkness which prevails during the present state of things, and the wicked spirits are those which continually oppose faith, love, and holiness, either by force or fraud; and labour to infuse unbelief, pride, idolatry, malice, envy, anger, and hatred.”  Here we see the comparison which can be made regarding those who do wear the WHOLE armor -- those who are filled with faith, love, and holiness and those who leave themselves vulnerable resulting in "unbelief, pride, idolatry, malice, envy, anger, and hatred."  We must take up the whole armor so that we can experience the true strength of God and stand firm.

Application:


This is one of those Scriptures I have read or heard for most of my life.  It's one of those that is acted out during VBS as different children wear different pieces of the armor and we have those great object lessons of faith.  However, today, for the first time I was struck by the importance of the "whole armor" and a life of holiness.  To be entirely holy one must be willing to put on the full set of armor.  This means that I must be willing to cover every part of my life with God.  If I simply pick and choose certain items then I leave other items exposed and I am in trouble!  What if I choose to cover my children, but I don't choose to cover my home life?  Where will the enemy attack me?  Right in the area that I have left exposed. 

We must realize that there is a very real enemy who does not want us to succeed in being faithful followers of Jesus Christ.  He will try to attack us at our very weakest points.  He will go after our fears and throw everything at us that he can.  There is no way that I can personally take that kind of attack. When I come out from under the protection of God I can make it for a short period of time but all of a sudden I discover that I am frightened and exposed.  I want to stand firm and the only way I can do that is by putting myself under the complete and total protection of the armor of God.  When I do that, he takes the enemy blows for me -- both physically and emotionally.   And this protects me so that I can life the life of holiness, reflecting Jesus to the world around me.  He wants to protect us so that we can fulfill the purpose for which we were created, which is to be a reflection of him in the world.  He protects us so that we can live the life of holiness, free from "unbelief, pride, idolatry" etc.  I don't have to fight this fight -- I just need to be strong in the Lord.  That is where my true strength comes from.

Prayer:

Lord, may I don your full armor today and every day.  Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stronger is Not Necessarily Better



Scripture:

Eccl. 10:10     If the iron is blunt, and one does not whet the edge,
        then more strength must be exerted;
        but wisdom helps one to succeed. (NRSV)

Ecc. 10:10     If the ax is dull
        and its edge unsharpened,
    more strength is needed,
            but skill will bring success. (NIV)

Observation:

Reading through these nuggets of wisdom in Ecclesiastes you have some "duh" moments!  Of course if you're using a dull axe you have to exert more effort.  It takes a very strong person to try and chop wood with a dull axe.  Not only do you need a strong person, but it could be quite dangerous.  Think of the back and eye injuries which could ensue.  But the job doesn't have to be that difficult.  The wise person will take the time to sharpen the blade and then the process will go much more smoothly.  No longer is brute force necessary, but the skilled worker of most any size will be able to accomplish the task.

Application:

When I was a child my mom would tell us to be careful saying, "Don't be a bull in a china shop!"  In other words, pay attention and be careful with the way you throw yourself around.  There are times when we simply want to use our physical force and strength to make our point.  It's often when we don't take the time to think through a situation that we become the "bully" and we use what comes to us instinctively.  Sadly, this is often not the best course of action.  John Wesley commented on this verse, "As wisdom instructs a man in the smallest matters, so it is useful for a man’s direction in all weighty affairs." 

If we are trying to accomplish anything in life without taking the time to have the right skills and tools available then we are really just wasting our energy.  What might that mean for us within the kingdom of God?  We might need to realize that we need to take time to sharpen our "tools" before we can be effective workers in the kingdom.  Simply going out like a "bull in a china shop" may do more damage than good.  We must spend time in God's presence and get to know God's heart.  We must also spend time feasting on the word of God so that we will be nourished with the revelation of God.  But if we are going to be workers within the kingdom we need to also be diligent at learning how to be the very best.  This may involve academic study, internship, and a dedication to learning to be the very best that we can be!  Look at what happens when the tools are in the best condition they can be -- they are successful at doing the task, and not just successful but much more efficient. 

There have been times that we have thought that we could find short-cuts to doing the job.  We have, at times, simply used brute force.  That works for a little while, but eventually we get tired and worn out.  Then we stand and look over the little pieces that we have chopped.  They are a ragged bunch of blocks and we are exhausted.  Why not spend some time sharpening the iron and then move forward in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit?  Stronger is not necessarily better.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for these nuggets of wisdom.  May I listen and apply them to my life.  Amen.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Words as a Means of Grace



Scripture:

Eph. 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Observation:

This entire chapter is about living the holy life, one that has left the old life behind.  Included in this new life is one in which the tongue is controlled.  This is a spiritual discipline for the tongue can be used as a tool for good or for evil and it is one of those instruments which we often simply "let fly."  The Ephesians (and we too) are admonished to not let any "evil talk come out of your mouths."  The root of the word "evil" here is "corrupt."  This should take us back to the fallen state of humanity when the true humanity which God created was corrupted by sin.  When sin has the power and influence over your life (and your tongue) then your language is corrupt and evil.  This is the exact opposite of what God's intention is for all of humanity so the remainder of the verse tells us what the language of a Christ -follower is to be like.  When one has left the corruption of the past behind and is living a life of holiness then there is control on the tongue and the words that come from one's mouth become a means of grace for others.  We must recognize that the language from our mouths is not just about what "we" want to say, but about how God can use us as his instrument of prevenient grace as we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ in this world.  No longer is it about "me" and what I want and what I want to say about and to others, it is about releasing that control of myself to him and then what comes from my mouth should also be an echo of Jesus.  Therefore the words from my mouth are purposeful and useful for helping others.  I don't tear down my brothers and sisters in Christ, I build them up.  In doing so my words become a means of grace to those around me.

Application:

Paul often speaks about the weaker brother or sister, the one who can't handle eating meat offered to idols and the adjustment or accommodation the stronger brother or sister must make for them.  We apply this to all kinds of behaviors but so often we leave out the tongue!  Why is that?  It seems that the tongue may be the final thing that we give up to the control of the Holy Spirit.  Is it because we want to have the right to say anything we want?  But how many times has the tongue been used to hurt or damage the weaker brother or sister!

Why is it that we worry about a young believer being elected to the church board?  I have heard people say that they are concerned because they don't want that person to be damaged by the words which will be spoken in that board setting.  How sad is that?  The persons who are more mature in their journey with the Lord should be at a point where they realize that the words coming from their mouth are to be used as a means of grace, not as an instrument which will corrupt. 

This idea of our words being a means of grace is really quite amazing, it makes me stop and think about conversations that we have in a restaurant, on an airplane, or anywhere else that someone may be able to hear what we say.  I have to confess that there have been conversations in my past for which I am embarrassed.  God has convicted me and now my prayer has been that God will constantly remind me that my conversations are to be a means of grace in this world.  Even if someone were eavesdropping on my conversation, my hope and prayer would be that it would be edifying to the person listening in.  Might the person in the seat behind me on the plane receive a touch of God's prevenient grace through the conversation I might be having with the person in the seat next to me! 

There seem to be two places in which it is difficult for us to continue to have these grace-filled conversations.  At home and in the church.  Somehow with those who are closest to us we struggle and yet, the world is supposed to be able to look at Christ-followers and know them by their love.  Shouldn't we be working the hardest to have grace-filled conversations within the walls of our homes and within the walls of our churches?  We must pray that God helps us not to spew out evil or corrupted conversation with those closest to us.  In those places and cases, it is incredibly damaging.  Instead, may we be consciously aware that our words are to be a means of God's prevenient grace reaching out and being the words of Jesus to believer and non-believer alike.

Prayer:

Lord, please season my conversations with your grace.  Amen.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Lord is My Strength



Scripture:

Psa. 18:1     I love you, O LORD, my strength.
Psa. 18:2     The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
        my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
        my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Observation:

The declaration of love found here is foundational to the relationship which we are to have with the Lord.  Love of the Lord is first and foremost and when that relationship is in the right order, then the Lord is our strength.  However, this word here means so much more than when we simply think of strength, but rather it means the source or the fountain.  The Lord is strength but he is also the source of all that we need, this is an unending fountain of strength which can supply all our needs.  The second verse takes us into a description of the the strength which is found in the Lord.  These are mostly military metaphors which would speak to David, but as we move about our daily lives we need the eternal strength and protection provided by God.  God is the rock on whom we can stand, or the rock behind whom we can hide.  He is the walled city in which we can find shelter.  The Lord is the one who will deliver us as long as we go to him and allow him to protect us.  He is the shield protecting us from the arrows which are shot our direction.  The horn of the bull in the midst of the bull-fight provides for his protection.  The Lord is the horn that fights and protects my salvation and therefore he is the stronghold in which I am kept safe. 

Application:

Wow -- what a list!  And if this is the case, why do we ever feel afraid and as if we are walking this journey of life alone?  I have had my moments, those times when I have allowed the burdens of this life, the criticisms, the difficulties to really get me down and suddenly I find myself in a place of fear.  I mentioned this to a friend one day who asked me whether I was allowing myself to get out of the secret place with God.  In other words, was I staying within the shelter of the Lord, or was I getting out beyond the bounds of safety, somehow taking things on in my own power, and as a result, living completely vulnerable and unprotected.  Yes, I was.  And as a result I realized that I needed to run to that place of safety -- and I needed to hang out there.  I needed to spend even more time in prayer and in the word before I could be engaged in the things that were surrounding me. 

I need to be grounded on the rock.  When we try to do things on our own we end up on slippery ground and when the storms come, the ground literally shifts beneath our feet and we can be swept away by what is happening.  The rock remains no matter what.  There are also days when I need to be surrounded by the fortress and by God's shield.  We have probably all been there, when the flaming arrows are being shot at us.  Sometimes they come over the walls of the fortress but in this case we have a double line of defense.  Not only are we in the fortress but the shield has been raised.  These do not stop the arrows from being fired, but they protect us from the damage which may be inflicted by the arrows.  This is an important point.  The enemy doesn't stop lobbing things our way, those things will still happen, but whether or not we will be wounded depends on our relationship to God.  When we stand in close relationship to him, then he can be our shield and our fortress.  When we are far from him, the enemies arrows can hit their target and we can be terribly wounded. 

The horn of my salvation reminds me of God's active work in defending me.  The bull with his horns does not simply stand around.  When provoked he fights back and the horns are used to protect and defend one against the enemy.  God is actively fighting the battle for my salvation.  I don't need to be in the trenches fighting the enemy, God is doing battle for me so that I have the joy of being his child and can have the assurance of my salvation. 

The Lord is my strength, the source of all that I need when in the heat of battle.  Not only does he protect me, he feeds me, and he gives me drink when I am thirsty.  But the only way that I can enjoy all that God wants to do for you and for me, is to intentionally place myself within his care, relinquishing all control to him, and then relax while he does battle on my behalf.  The Lord truly is my strength.

Prayer:

Lord, please take me to that quiet place of resting in you each and every single day.  Amen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Are We Created For?



Scripture:

Eph. 2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Observation:

In this letter to the Ephesians we find this short sentence that explains so much about who we are.  We are God's creation!  There is no doubt from whom we come -- we come from God and from God alone.  We were created in Christ Jesus -- through Jesus' creative abilities we have been made and we were made with a purpose.  We were created to be God's holy people.  This was God's intent in his creation and we, as his people are to reflect Jesus Christ, doing good works in the world.  This is interestingly placed right after the writer has made it clear that we are not saved by works.  The place of good works is simply in the life of the Christ-follower who has been transformed and now does good works because their original condition or state has been restored.  Because we are saved, we now do good works because we are becoming God's Christ-like children, as he originally intended.  This was God's plan for all of humanity.  To be God's holy people means that we are in a right relationship with Christ, reflecting his very nature and thereby engaging in the world by doing good works.  Salvation results in a radical transformation of our daily lives as we participate in God's mission here in this world.  This was God's plan for creation.

Application:

This is a week in which I am blessed to soak in the teaching of Dr. Diane Leclerc and Dr. Sam Vassel.  I literally get to have my heart and mind stretched from morning until night.  Over and over I have been reminded this week that God's intention for us as his holy people is to have our hearts so filled with his love that it excludes all else.  And this love will not allow us to remain static in our relationship with the world or those around us, but instead, it must engage the love of Christ in action.  We are created to be God's holy people who will, out of the overflow of God's love in us, do good works.  When we are filled with the love of God there is nothing that can stop us from doing good works for it will simply be our nature.

These good works of love include the righting of relationships.  We must work to be in a right relationship with God.  We cannot take our relationship with God for granted.  This is a relationship which must be fed and nurtured on a daily basis or it will shrivel up and die.  There must be spiritual discipline which takes us to the thin place where we experience communion with our creator.  It is in these moments that his heart becomes our heart and his desires become our desires and we understand how and where we are to be active in the world.

There must also be right relationships with others.  Does the world truly look at Christians and say, "see how they love one another?"  Or have we been so busy finding fault with one another that not only are there no good works among Christians, but there is no way that Christians are sharing the love of Christ with the world?  We are picking each other apart over politics, theology and practices until there is little unity.  Shouldn't there be a core which unites God's children together and allows for differences of opinions in some matters?  The enemy doesn't want God's children to be united, he wants us to be divided!  We are created for good works, not just for what we believe are the "needy" of the world around us, but we are created to be doing good works for one another, loving and building one another up until we are united in the love of God.  When that happens the enemy cannot come in and divide us. 

Those who are saved are also transformed to do good works, for this is God's original intent for his created order.  There is no way that a follower of Jesus Christ can simply come to church to worship and then go home and do nothing.  This would be a defective Christian!  And God's goal of holiness for his people is an active holiness lived out in doing good works.  It reaches out and touches the world around us in the same ways in which Jesus would be touching the world.  This is what we were created for and this is what it means to be truly human.  To be restored to be a reflection of the image of Jesus Christ, reaching out to the world as God's ambassadors within this creation.  I find the mission rather exciting and challenging.  We are not to do good works to be saved, but once we are truly saved there is nothing we desire to do but good works for we are now in Christ!  Thanks be to God.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the blessed joy we have in being in you.  Please, help me to participate well in your mission.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Only Wise God



Scripture:

Rom. 16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Observation:

This Doxology at the end of the epistle to the Romans reminds us that there is only one wise God and that he is revealed to us through Jesus Christ.  The wisdom of God is incarnate in the very person of Jesus Christ and his life is a revelation of God and God's interaction with the world for all of us.  Jesus is interceding for us and therefore our prayers through him bring praise and glory to God.  All the glory should be for God forever and ever.

Application:

The phrase "only wise God" really struck me for I'm afraid that there are a lot of people following a number of foolish gods.  Wisdom implies two facets;  on the one hand there is discernment or perception.  The one who is wise takes the time to see and to understand what is truly happening and then determines a response, and the response is appropriate for the situation.  This is truly wisdom.  As we serve the "only wise God" we discover that God is discerning.  Sometimes we wish that he would act immediately, but that is not in his nature.  God is a wise God with deep understanding, not moved by emotion, but able to calmly discern and determine the plan of action necessary in each and every situation.  This is the only wise God.

On the other hand, the non-wise god that I think we all know is ourselves.  Too often, when we act on our own, we discover that we are doing the exact opposite of God -- the wise God.  When we do not allow the wise God to act in our lives we will become our own gods, and the result is that we will act quickly without discernment and ruled by emotion.  The problem with this is that we will make rash decisions and judgments, some of which will follow us our entire lives.  The worst of these is when it comes to making a decision about a life partner.  How often do we want to ignore the only "wise God" and move ahead with our own decisions, ruled by our emotions?  The "only wise God" knows what is best for us.  Sometimes that means we need to wait -- but somehow we think that's unfair and so we push and move forward with something that may cause us a lifetime of pain.  And this is not the only thing that can happen in our lives.  There are so many choices that we can make and if we do not take those decisions to the "only wise God" we can end up making some pretty bad decisions.  And the sad part is that we have to live with the consequences.

On the other hand there is good news.  The "only wise God" is patiently waiting for us.  God wants us to come to him through Jesus Christ.  As we spend time with Jesus Christ, day in and day out, we get to know him more intimately.  If we participate in God, if we are partakers of the divine nature, then we become participants in "the only wise God."  Now we are no longer ruled by ourselves and our own personal desires, but suddenly there is self-control and restraint because the "only wise God" is living and working in and through us.  We are literally transformed and the wisdom of God is made available to us on a daily basis.  This changes the way in which we make decisions, respond and react to the world around us.  We have put on "the only wise God" and no longer does the world see us in our responses, but they see him and when this happens, God is glorified.  The transformed life in which the wisdom of God is revealed on a daily basis is the life that glorifies God forever.  The world can't argue with this kind of transformation and therefore all give praise to "the only wise God."

Prayer:

Lord, today and every day we give you all the praise, glory and honor.  Amen.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hope, Joy and Peace



Scripture:


Rom. 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Observation:

Paul expresses his desires and concerns for the people of God over and over throughout this epistle.  The Romans (and we) are to be God's holy people.  All along the way we get a little glimpse of what that means.  We are to partake in the very nature of God and here we see that God is the God of hope and it is in the hope of God that we discover peace and joy.  This peace and joy comes to the people by way of the Holy Spirit who fills us with God's hope.  When we have hope in God, then the Holy Spirit enters every crevice of who we are and there is an abiding sense of peace and joy in every aspect of our lives. 

Application:


When we first went to Russia in 1992 the situation seemed pretty hopeless.  Economically and politically everything had fallen apart --and continued to fall apart.  Lawlessness ruled for a number of years and food lines were a plenty.  Life was especially difficult for the elderly who no longer had a support system to help them survive.  I remember the sense of hopelessness that so many had.  Around that time I attended a conference on Compassionate Ministries back in the United States.  The discussion centered on the fact that we can't simply bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to people but we must be engaged in making a difference in their daily lives. (ie. feed them, clothe them, etc.)  I asked what we were to do if we couldn't make a difference in their daily lives -- couldn't knowing Jesus be enough?!  You see, things were so bad that we didn't have the resources to make much of a difference.  Things seemed pretty hopeless -- and yet, I discovered that when we had nothing material to offer people -- the good news of Jesus really was enough to bring hope into peoples' lives. 
At some point life can be so bad here on this earth that the hope of a life with Christ really is enough.  And as people entered into that relationship with Christ we saw incredible transformation.  The hopelessness of the current situation was replaced with the "hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  Their state of living was not changed, but yet they had joy and peace because of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is the hope that Paul was talking about.

I think that sometimes we have to experience hopelessness to truly understand hope.  It's too easy to put our hope and trust in ourselves and what we can personally accomplish.  This is not hope.  And trust in ourselves will not reap the benefit of the kind of peace and joy that Paul is talking about here.  There is a depth of joy and peace which can only come through learning to put all of our hope in God.  Nothing in this world can satisfy us like he can.  I want to experience his hope, his joy and his peace. 

Prayer:

Lord, may I enter into the sacred space of trust in you in all things.  Amen.