Saturday, August 31, 2013

Who Among Us Could Save Us?



Scripture:

Ezek. 14:12 ¶ The word of the LORD came to me:
Ezek. 14:13 Mortal, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it, and break its staff of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it human beings and animals,
Ezek. 14:14 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job, these three, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, says the Lord GOD.

Observation:

The people of God had, as a whole, rejected the Lord.  No longer were they willing to serve him, but they had given themselves over to the idols of other lands.  Now, they were facing utter destruction and a life in exile.  Maybe they had thought that there would be those around them who would save them!  Maybe it didn't matter that the collective whole had turned aside from God, but a few good people sprinkled among them would bring about the salvation of all.  Sadly, this was not to be the case.  Not even Noah, Daniel or Job could save them now. 

Noah had been a faithful man of God but only his family was saved.  The rest of the world suffered the hand of destruction because of their sinfulness.  Job had pleaded and interceded with God and yet he was the one who was ultimately saved through his righteousness.  Now, Daniel, a contemporary of Ezekiel was known as a great intercessor.  He had already been carried off into exile and yet he was faithful in praying for his people.  But God said this would not be enough.  These men were saved because of their righteousness but the Israelites were no longer a righteous people.  No one else could save them -- they had to take personal responsibility for their relationship with God.

Application:

Does this sound all too familiar?  Have we become a people who will no longer take responsibility for our own actions and instead seek for others to take care of us?  Do we make excuses for our behaviors and then expect everything to simply be "okay?"  Do we somehow believe that if there are some good folk around us who are praying and interceding that all of our problems will disappear? 

It's time to step up and realize that we must be responsible for our own actions and our personal walk with God.  I think about some of the young people with whom I've spoken who have grown up in the faith.  They have chosen to walk away from God and from church in an effort to "find themselves."  However, they know that Grandpa and Grandma are faithfully praying for them and somewhere in their hearts they are hopeful that Grandpa and Grandma will be covering them, even in the midst of their poor decisions.  Surely that is good enough.

Abraham had pleaded with God for the life of his nephew Lot when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, but God was letting the people of Jerusalem know that this would not happen again.  God's patience had run out with the people of Israel.  He had pleaded with them and he had given them every chance that they had to repent and turn toward him but they refused time and again -- continuing in their lives of infidelity.  Enough was enough.  Only those who were righteous would be able to survive. 

What did it mean to be righteous?  It meant to be "right" before God.  These three men had a face to face relationship with God.  They were all three known as men of prayer and intercessors.  Not only did they "talk the talk" but they "walked the walked."  They were genuine -- righteous -- through and through.  This was God's intention for all of humanity but it seems that there were very few who were willing to be faithful to God. 

God is calling us to fidelity today.  Each and every single one of us must be responsible for our personal walk with the him.  We must be faithful to him.  There is no other human among us that can save us.  It won't be our grandparents, or our parents, or our good friends, or the pastor of the church.  They may be righteous before God and they will be saved -- but they will not save us.  They may spend years in intercession for those who are lost, but unless the lost respond and repent, they will not be saved.

In our years of ministry we have been privileged to hold many funerals.  It's an amazing experience as the entire extended family comes to join in for the celebration of the life of the individual who has passed away.  Many of the funerals we have experienced are for those who have had an extended journey with the Lord.  Sadly, when the second, third and even fourth generations arrive there are many who no longer walk with the Lord.  Honestly, you can even tell those who do and those who don't by the way they look and act.  Sin takes a toll on the lives of those who do not walk faithfully with the Lord.  And yet, in that moment of time when the loved one is celebrated, there are those who look longingly into the casket and somehow realize their connection with God is slipping away.  I know that the plea from the one who has passed on would be that those who are left would turn and walk with the Lord. 

Noah, Daniel and Job can't save us.  Grandpa and Grandma can't save us.  It's time to step up and walk in faith with our Holy God who loves us and simply wants us to be in a personal relationship with him.  He can save us!

Prayer:


Lord, please, help me to faithfully walk with you and trust in you every day.  Amen.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Delight of a Sanctified Ear



Scripture:


Rev. 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
    “Holy, holy, holy,
    the Lord God the Almighty,
        who was and is and is to come.”

Isaiah. 6:3 And one called to another and said:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Observation:


The Apostle has been describing for us the visions that he has seen in heaven.  These visions provide for us such joy and excitement because they produce for us delight for the sanctified eye, as they give us a glimpse of what is to come.  But now we move from simply a vision to a song of heaven, a song which brings delight to the sanctified ear.  We are privileged to listen in when the hymn of heaven is sung.  The four living creatures worship God day and night by singing praises, revealing the very nature of God.  God is on the throne and just as royalty may be addressed as "your majesty" they are also addressed as "your holiness."  Isn't this the case with our great and holy God -- "his holiness" should be addressed as "Holy, Holy, Holy!"  This is a reaffirmation of the praise we hear from Isaiah where we first encounter this triple "holy" praise to God.  Now we can see it as an affirmation of the Triune God -- the Holy Trinity -- an affirmation of his character and the creatures in heaven never stop singing his praises.  Our sanctified ears are pricked as we enjoy the heavenly chorus singing out to our Holy God.

God is worthy of all of this praise and worship for he is "Almighty!"  The word in Greek means so much more than our simply minds can comprehend.  God is the pantokrator.  Divide this word up into to parts, panto -- meaning all or everything.  That's the "all" of the word "almighty."  It means he is more mighty than anything or anyone.  Krator means great, power, dominion, mighty or strength.  That means that God is the absolute and universal sovereign; he has more power, more dominion, more might, more strength -- He is Almighty and he is Omnipotent!  May we be in awe of God. 

The final line of the song helps us to understand his infinite nature -- God who always has been, God who is and God who always will be into the future.  Our English speaking minds have a little bit of trouble with "and is to come" because for us that sounds like a future event.  Instead this is an active verb meaning more like he is in the act of coming.  Therefore our Holy God always has been and always will be.  And the Apostle listening in on this beautiful chorus of praise is overjoyed with what he hears -- the message of holiness poured out in harmonies beyond our imagination, the delight of a sanctified ear.

Application:

We are invited into this worship; into this sanctified song of praise for our Holy God.  I have to confess that one of my favorite hymns is "Holy, Holy, Holy."  To this day I love to sing that song for something wells up inside of me as I sing praise to "God in three persons, blessed Trinity."  Yes, I get to sing praise to our incredible God but now let's just step back a moment and think about the fact that it is this God -- the Holy God -- the Omnipotent God -- the Infinite God -- who invites us into a holy relationship with him.  God -- the Three in One -- invites us into this holy relationship.  He is telling us to pull up a chair and become a part of what is happening there in the throne-room of heaven.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- wrapping us in a holy hug draws us into this pure relationship of holy love.  And his very nature sanctifies us as we are made holy in his presence.

As we continue to worship in his presence, the power of the Almighty God purifies us from all that is unclean.  Too often we worry about our own personal ability to make things right in our own lives.  We think that we have to somehow make ourselves "right" before we can come before God.  Too many people say that they have to get themselves right before they can live for the Lord.  Why in the world would we want to try to use our own personal meager abilities to "get things right" when God Almighty is willing to do this for us?  We are invited into the presence of Almighty God who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is ready, willing and able to transform our lives. 

Finally, there is such peace in understanding the infinite nature of God.  He always has been, he is now and forever will be.  We are invited into relationship with this infinite God.  We are invited to grow with God forever!  And here we understand holiness -- "his holiness" which stretches out to infinity.  This means that God is inviting us on a spiritual journey that stretches out before us and will never end.  We are to experience God today in a way that we did not experience God yesterday.  We will experience God tomorrow in a way that we could not today and therefore, just as Moses continued in his ascent up the mountain, so we are invited into a spiritual life in which there is a continual climb as we are continuously transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. 

The song from heaven resonates with us today.  We are called to be God's holy people -- each and every single one of us.  That is his desire for us -- to be holy, to be sanctified.  And the heavenly hymn touches the ears of our Holy God -- and resonates with his children who have already been drawn into this holy life of faith with him.  He is our Holy God and the hymn reaches sanctified ears and creates much delight as we simply rejoice in all that it means to celebrate God.

Prayer:

Lord, it is with overwhelming joy that I praise you and worship you today.  Amen.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Do You Think You Have it All?



Scripture:

Rev. 3:18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

Observation:


The people in Laodicaea were wealthy -- they thought that they had it all!  These are the church-folks, the ones who believed that they were actively participating in the work of the Kingdom, and yet something was wrong.  They had gold and silver -- those things that they believed provided them with great wealth.  They had beautiful clothing -- the city of Laodicaea was famous for it's cloth and beautiful dye work.  They also had some of the best medical doctors around and were well-known for the special ointments and salves made for those who struggled with eye problems.  These are people who had it all! And yet, it is in the things that they thought they had, that they really had nothing.  Jesus offered them so much more than the things of the world.  He offered them his gold -- gold that was more pure than anything they could have ever imagined.  He offered them clothing of holiness and purity which were of more value than the finest designer outfits available in their city.  And finally he offered them a treatment for their eyes beyond anything that their physicians had to offer -- a salve which allowed them to see the truth.
 
Application:

I've been in the Kansas City area for a couple of days for meetings, staying very near to the Plaza.  This is a beautiful area of Kansas City but it is filled with designer shops -- places where I only peek through the windows and am blown away by the prices!  Nearly every  street corner has another designer label store and I wonder about who it might be that would actually shop in those places.  I'm guessing it's those who would believe that they "have it all!"  Now, we may not be able to shop in those kinds of stores and yet, we may be seeking to "have it all" by the world's standards.  The sad truth is that having it all wasn't enough for the people in Laodicaea and it's not enough for you and for me.  The things of this world have so very little to offer us in terms of satisfaction and eternal life.

My husband and I are at that age where we are working hard to be prepared for retirement.  We have to be saving for the future because we have no idea what kinds of safety nets will or will not be available for us.  But all the funds that we can stash away for retirement are nothing compared to the true gold which God has to offer you and me.  This is the security which we find in a personal relationship with him.  He is the one on whom we can depend, not the gold that we may have stacked up somewhere in a safe.  That gold will disappear when Jesus comes and at that moment, only God's gold will mean anything to us.  Therefore we have nothing if we have the earth's gold, but we have everything if we depend on him.

At the same time we are to be clothed today, not in the beautiful items available at the designer boutique, but by his white robes of holiness and righteousness.  It is in our behavior and responses -- when we begin to look like Jesus to the world -- that we are beautiful.  We are literally naked when we are only covered by the world's designer clothing.  Instead, there is intense beauty when we are clothed in him. 

Finally -- there is a whole world of truth that needs to be seen.  This is a world where we are able to clearly see good and evil -- where it is no longer hidden in the shadows.  This world and our ability to safely traverse through it is visible with the help of God's healing salve.  The world can't give us enough medicine to make our way clearly through this maze -- but God can.  We must stop trusting in human answers to the problems and trust in him. 

So, if you think you have it all - you may realize that you actually have nothing.  God is ready and willing to give us so much more than we could ever imagine, if only we will trust in him.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for providing it all for us.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Permission for what?



Scripture:


Rev. 2:6 Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Rev. 2:7 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Observation:

The words here are spoken to the church in Ephesus.  This was the city famous for the worship of the goddess Diana also called Artemis.  The tourist industry of the entire city had been threatened during the time of Paul.  Too many people were converting to Christianity and the souvenir sellers weren't able to make as much money as they had in the past.  Back in Paul's day, they rioted out of anger. 

By the time John's Revelation is written the church has been firmly established for a number of years.  He is concerned for their welfare and wants them to overcome the evil surrounding them.  What had happened was that the evil surrounding them was now much more subtle than in the time of Paul.  The evil found itself shrouded within false teachings of Christianity -- teachings which spoke to the idea of "permission."  The Nicolaitans were thought to be followers of one of the original deacons of Jerusalem, Nicolas.  He had become one of the gnostics of that first century -- believing that everything in the flesh was evil and that it was only the salvation of the soul that was important.  Therefore it didn't matter to him how people lived.  He gave them "permission" to do just about anything.  These people were known for having eaten meat offered to idols as well as engaging in sexual immorality.  It's believed that he may even have encouraged polygamy.  In other words, the permission from Nicolas was that everything was permissible so long as your "soul" was tuned in to God -- for somehow there was no connection between the body and the soul. 

This permission, however, was inconsequential when it came to eternal life.  Nicolas' permission only brought about momentary enjoyment and John knew that this was not what the church in Ephesus needed.  He was grateful that the people of Ephesus rejected this teaching (sadly, the church in Pergamum did not).  The permission that the people needed was that which would lead to eternal life.  This is why there was an admonishment to move on and to be conquerors both in the body and the soul -- because those who become victorious -- by listening and being obedient to the Lord -- they will be given the ultimate permission.  This is the "permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God."  The Garden of Eden was shut down because of the sinfulness of humanity.  Now, permission was again being granted to eat from the tree of life because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  He died on the cross making it possible that God could again open his garden up to humanity and we had the possibility of being restored in relationship with God, our Creator!  This permission led to eternal fulfillment -- not a fulfillment found in the pleasures of this world -- but a genuine satisfaction and transformation of humanity into what God had originally intended.  We have permission to eat from the tree. 
 
Application:

I'm not sure we really understand how dramatic it is to understand that we have permission to eat from the tree of life!  This was what Adam and Eve wanted to do so long ago and with great sadness they were banished from the Garden.  Unfortunately I'm afraid that there are many who call themselves Christians who might find themselves looking for permission from the Nicolaitans,

There are those who call themselves "Christians" and yet they encourage the belief that anything is permissible within life.  We have been enticed away into the activities of the world and we have said it is all okay.  One of the issues for the Nicolaitans was sexual immorality -- it was all justified.  Could it be that we find ourselves in the same place today?  Sexual immorality -- having sexual relations outside of the marriage relationship -- is being justified by Christians each and every single day.  In North America there has certainly been a huge cultural shift in the last 30-40 years and suddenly we find ourselves in a new "norm."  The new "norm" is that we test out things sexual with multiple partners until we might "settle" on one for a little while.  We then decide to "move in" together.  This seems to be replacing the marriage commitment of the past.  It's the big step for a young couple.  Once they move in together they may have a child and eventually they may decide to make a commitment to one another and choose to get married.  The wedding is rather anti-climactic.  It's more like a party thrown about half-way through the relationship just for fun. 

We are seeing a break-down of the very fiber of society because we have given up what were our cultural norms.  Single parents are the number one cause of poverty in America today.  But who cares?!  We have permission to do anything that we want.  And that is pretty much true -- society is giving us permission to do absolutely anything that we feel like doing -- and if it feels good, we ought to have the right to do it.  And right there we have pretty much defined the Nicolaitans.  We have become the Nicolaitans.  And John said that wasn't a good thing.  He actually said he hated what they did. 

Permission to do everything is not a good thing.  Permission to do everything leads to permission to self-destruct. 

But we are given permission to enter into eternal life by eating from the tree of life.  This only becomes possible when we become overcomers.  Overcomers realize, through the enlightenment of the Spirit, that walking with Christ does give us incredible freedom and permission to be a reflection of Jesus in the world.  When we focus on being in a relationship with Christ -- then our desires become for him alone.  We can be given all the permission in the world but the freedom of that leads us to only one thing -- Jesus!  I am so in love with Jesus that I want nothing else -- he is the object of all of my desires.  When I eat from the tree of life -- the sweetness and the sustenance of its fruit -- I want nothing but more of Jesus.  When I get past the things of this world that will not ever satisfy -- I want Jesus! 

Too many today are looking for permission to do the things that drive them.  That's the problem.  The things that drive us are the things that we are focusing on in our daily lives.  When we focus on Jesus, then we realize that we have great freedom and permission to be like him.  That is when we step above the things of this world and we become more than conquerors.  The Spirit sets us free and gives us the power to overcome. 

The tree of life has been reestablished and is ripe for the picking.  We have permission.  Now go -- and do the right thing.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the freedom found in you and the permission to eat from your tree.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mouths and Hands



Scripture:


Psa. 144:9      ¶ I will sing a new song to you, O God;
        upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,
Psa. 144:10     the one who gives victory to kings,
        who rescues his servant David.
Psa. 144:11     Rescue me from the cruel sword,
        and deliver me from the hand of aliens,
    whose mouths speak lies,
        and whose right hands are false.

Observation:

It is from the Psalmist that we learn much about prayer.  God is good and faithful and as we enter into our time of prayer with him we begin by singing songs of praise.  Our praises rise up from the new things that God continually is doing in our lives and in this world.  He is alive and active and engaged in every part of our being.  Therefore I want to sing my praises to him with my lips and yet that is not enough -- I want to praise him with my hands as I play an instrument to him.  Everything that I am is overwhelmed with praise and worship of my King.  My King is my rescuer from those who want to come against us use the same instruments made to praise to wield their blows.  Instead of mouths filled with praise, they are filled with lies and instead of hands used in worship of God, they are raised in making oaths or commitments which prove to be false.
 
Application:


First of all we must realize that our time of prayer must begin with a new song -- a time of praise and worship to the Lord.  This must be wholehearted worship of him -- praising him with our lips, but also with our hands, and ultimately with our whole being.  It means that our daily lives ought to be a new song of praise to God.  Whether we are working or playing -- all should give glory to God.  Nothing should be held back from him and we should look and recognize the hand of God in all that we say and do.  He is the King -- the one who rescues and sustains us in all that we face in this life.

Second, we must also note that it is our mouths and our hands that can do irreparable damage.  When mouths begin to speak lies they can be more destructive than weapons hewn with human hands.  Rumors and innuendos are hard to kill.  They exist far into the future and can seldom be completely destroyed.  In today's day and age the use of social media -- the combination of the hands and the mouth -- become almost lethal when people are willing to write things without regard to the personal damage which may be inflicted upon the one about whom they are speaking. 

It is time for us to consecrate our hands and our mouths in faithful praise and service to God.  There cannot be one in submission to God without the other.  If we truly love God and are praising him on Sunday mornings in church -- then our hands must be praising him in service throughout the week.  The connection between our mouths and our hands is complete and total surrender to God that is expressed in an overflow of love, praise and service. 

Prayer:

Lord, may my life be to you a new song today.  Amen.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cracked Cisterns



Scripture:


Jer. 2:13     for my people have committed two evils:
        they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living water,
        and dug out cisterns for themselves,
    cracked cisterns
        that can hold no water.

Observation:

The prophet Jeremiah speaks to the people regarding their infidelity to God.  He declares that they have committed two evils for they have turned their backs on God and they have put their trust in foreign gods.  The true God is the fountain of living water.  He is the one who provides us with all that is needed for life on a daily basis.  The water runs directly from the source, from God himself, and refreshes on a daily basis.  This water brings life to the sinner and refreshes the saint.  It provides us with a direct connection to the source of all life and fills us to the brim with the overflowing presence of the Lord. 

But the people have turned away from God and have chosen to worship foreign gods.  They ignore the beautiful flowing river of life which they pass on a daily basis only to go and get their water from a cistern.  Sadly it took great effort to build the cistern, having dug it out by themselves.  The cistern only collects water when there is rain -- which in the Middle East is not all that frequently.  Therefore the water supply in a regular cistern is always in question -- will there be water, or will there not.  During long periods of drought the water begins to evaporate and becomes stale.  There is no freshness in this water -- but that would be the condition of the cistern were it in pristine condition.  Not only are they trying to keep their water in a cistern, but their cisterns are cracked and they hold no water.  There is nothing left to sustain them. 

This is the story of the foreign gods for they have nothing to give.  All they do is take.  The people have to put effort into building altars and giving sacrifices and yet they get nothing in return.  Israel is constantly struggling for survival because she ignores the source which runs through her.  The river of life is there and the water is available for the drinking.  But Israel has committed evil and therefore ignores all that God desires to provide and is willing to live off the stale, muddy waters which may be found at the bottom of a cracked and broken cistern.
 
Application:

The contrast between the living water and the cistern probably seen almost ridiculous.  Who in the world would want to drink water from a cracked cistern?  That doesn't even make sense -- and yet, could it be that God's children today have made the same choice?  Instead of going to the source of living water on a daily basis we want to dig cisterns.  Maybe if I spend time on Sunday with the Lord, I can fill up my cistern so that the water will last throughout the week.  The result is that we have built not only cisterns, but cracked and broken cisterns.  They fool us into believing that they are storing up the living water but in reality they hold no water at all. 

I believe that this concept of cisterns is a real problem for follower of Christ these days.  We are so busy and many things are wanting our attention.  In the meantime we are wondering how we can squeeze in time for the Lord.  The average church board member now misses at least 12 Sundays a year.  Just think what that means for the rest of the congregation!  There are those who call themselves "regular" attenders who may come once every 4-6 weeks.  And somehow I doubt that these sporadic church attenders are going to the living water on a daily basis.  If it were true and they were spending time at the stream of living water, being filled and sustained with the freshness of a deeply personal and intimate relationship with the Lord, then I don't think that Christianity would be in the current condition in which it finds itself -- especially in America. 

I believe, without realizing what we were doing, we slowly moved away from time at the stream on a daily basis.  We're too busy for that -- we'd have to set aside time to go there.  We want something quick and easy and so we begin to dig our own personal cisterns.  We've been fooling ourselves into believing that somehow we could store up the life-giving water from the Lord to be used whenever we felt like dipping into the quick and easy cistern.  It seemed like a good idea at first.  If I go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night I'll keep putting water into my cistern and then I don't have to put in so much time on a daily basis with the Lord.  But over time the cistern has been neglected.  We're just too busy!  And we are busy with good things -- but there's no time to keep the cistern patched and now I only have time to go to the living water once a week -- or maybe even just once a month.  I try to dip in that water as best I can and bring home a little to throw into my dilapidated cistern but of course, it all runs out because the cracks are too large.  And before we know it, we discover that we are drying up spiritually. 

There is only one way in which we may stay alive and vibrant spiritually and that is to go to the stream and drink from the living water every single day of our lives.  I think of the old song, "The Cleansing Stream -- I see I see, I plunge and oh it cleanseth me…"  Yes, it does, but you only stay clean by staying in that stream and allowing the life-giving, cleansing and purifying work of the stream to be on-going in our lives.  It's not good enough to go once, or twice,  -- those are great experiences, but then we have to stay in that stream, connected to it, cleansed by it and sustained daily to continue to grow and be the living followers of Jesus Christ that our world so desperately needs to see and experience.

I think we probably need to seriously evaluate where we are in our Christian journey and whether we have become satisfied with cracked cisterns.

Prayer:

Lord, may I come to you each and every day and be filled with your life-giving presence.  Amen.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Walk in Truth



Scripture:


2John 1 ¶ The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth,
2John 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
2John 3 ¶ Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
2John 4 ¶ I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father.

Observation:

If you read the commentators you will discover that there are differing views regarding this Epistle.  Most all agree that "The elder" is again John and that he is the author.  The problem lies in the one to whom it is addressed, "the elect lady and her children."  Many of the early Church leaders believed that this was a particular woman, and more than likely a noble woman.  God was working in a variety of ways to spread the good news of Jesus around the known world.  One way was that a handful of noble women were coming to know Christ.  More than likely a woman like this was a widow for it was in this way that a woman could gain control of a financial estate and become very wealthy and powerful within the Empire.  Most women married at a young age -- possible 14-16 years of age.  The men, however, were usually at least 30 years of age, having had time to complete their education and become accomplished in life.  In this way they were then prepared to take a young bride into the home so that together they could bear children.  The sad truth was that often the men didn't live to a ripe old age and because the woman was already considerably younger, it was not uncommon to have wealthy widows with a household of full of young people.  Let's consider this scenario for this Epistle for it does fit historically.  Even John Wesley agrees that this is the most probable explanation for this letter.

A woman with this kind of resource was a boon to the church for the church could meet in her home and her children would be a great draw to the faith.  Children such as these would have been extremely well educated and could have had influence at high levels within the government.  No wonder the author, the elder, encourages the abiding in truth.  Jesus is truth.  Sadly there were false preachers traveling the countryside spreading some false versions of the gospel.  This elder wanted to make certain that the truth about Jesus be taught correctly among the people.  Imagine his joy at knowing that this woman of noble character was holding firm to the faith she knew was the truth and that this truth, the walking in Christ, was continuing on in the lives of her children. 
 
Application:

The story is for all -- for we are all challenged to walk in the truth.  It doesn't matter if we are a man or a woman, or even an entire church congregation.  The temptation exists for us to wander away from the truth and to be enticed by the teachings of those whom we might find more appealing.  The problem is that anytime we turn away from Christ being in the center of our teaching, then we turn away from truth.  Anything that does not point to Christ is not truth. 

Now, imagine our noble matron as an example to us.  What would happen if there were those of us, male or female, who were wholly devoted in service to God  with everything that we own.  For this woman it probably included her home.  Her home literally became a place of worship -- she gave up her personal space to be used in service to God.  Beyond that, she gave up her children in service to God.  What would happen if godly mothers purposely raised children with the best education possible so that they could, in a sense, infiltrate the very highest places in government and in places of power to purposely be an influence for Christ.  You know it had to happen because just about 200 years later the entire Empire converted to Christianity. 

Are we that intentional today?  Do we purposely arrange everything about our lives to be in service to God?  That's what it means to be walking in truth.  To walk on a daily basis with Jesus Christ, for he is Truth, means that all that we have and all that we are is completely and totally given over in sacrificial service to God on high!  He wants you and he wants me to be as devoted to him as this dear elect lady.  Now is the time to walk in truth.

Prayer:

Lord, may I today, and everyday walk in the light of your truth.  Amen.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Discovering More Than You Wanted



Scripture:

1John 5:6 ¶ This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
1John 5:7 There are three that testify:
1John 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.

Observation:

Jesus' life in the flesh provided the pathway for human transformation.  Jesus experienced baptism at the hand of his cousin John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  He also shed his blood on the cross when he died for our sins.  The water represents purity and the blood, justification.  The Holy Spirit provides a testimony, or stands by as a witness to the acts of Jesus Christ.  What Jesus has done for you and for me is the very truth that the great deceiver would hope we would never come to understand.  Therefore, may we stand in the power of the testimony of the three -- the Spirit, the water and the blood.  They all lead to our transformation.
 
Application:

What an incredible promise for you and for me -- a promise of new life in Christ.  However, as I dug into these scriptures this morning, I have to confess that I discovered more than I had originally wanted.  Little did I know that verse seven has been especially controversial throughout the centuries.  It seems that somewhere along the line someone had transcribed into that verse that it is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that are the three who testify.  Now, this would have been an amazing statement to find right there in John's Epistle for the doctrine of the Trinity was not sorted out until the 4th century.  Somewhere along the line as someone transcribed these early manuscripts and added what they saw as some personal clarification.  That addition continued through the centuries until even the King James Version included it with verse seven saying:  1John 5:7 "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."  Using the Word or logos language here would make this sound even more Johannine but researchers of the last few centuries who have been able to recover more original documents have discovered that this phrase was a later addition.  Okay -- so that's more than you probably really wanted to know!  It's more than I anticipated as I was reading and being inspired by a scripture that I felt was encouraging me to understand what Christ had truly done for me.  So, now that we've completed our detour as well -- let's go back to what we do know.

God's hope and plan for each of us is to allow the work that Jesus has completed to be transformational in our own lives.  Just as the Spirit is a witness to the activities of Christ and testifies to his work, so too must we, in faith, accept this truth.  In the opening verse of this Epistle John wrote, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God," and so we step into this new life by testifying that Jesus is the Son of God!  By doing so we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed on the cross.  Our relationship with God is again made right and restored because of the work of Christ.  We are then invited into the waters of baptism -- a baptism which symbolizes the purification of humanity.  When we arise from the water we rise to a new birth -- a new life that is in Jesus Christ.  We have put off the old and are now cloaked in the new.  And the Holy Spirit is given to us, to bear personal witness to this transformational work of God within our hearts and souls. 

You see, it is these three that do agree -- the Spirit, the water and the blood -- they agree and give witness to the powerful work of Jesus Christ that is ready and able to transform you and me.  Maybe I haven't discovered more than I wanted -- for deep within the words we find the same hope we found in Paul; "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection!"  Not only do I want to know Christ, I want to put on Christ, and I want to experience Christ and I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that my life bears witness to the Truth -- to what Jesus has done for you and for me, through the water and the blood and the sending of his Holy Spirit. 

Prayer:


Jesus, I believe in you and all you have done for me.  Amen.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Antichrist Might Be Closer Than You Think



Scripture:


1John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
1John 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.
1John 4:4 Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.


Observation:

John continues this beautiful letter to the followers of Jesus Christ but now touches on a delicate subject.  There have been lengthy discussions among the people regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  There were many in the world who found it difficult to accept that God could exist in human flesh, for their view of the flesh was that it was somehow sinful.  How in the world could Jesus have lived in human form?  For John, these people were denying Jesus' very nature and his resultant work of reclaiming humanity.  Those who denied this activity of Christ were living under the influence of the spirit of the antichrist.  That is, a spirit that was completely and totally opposed to the Spirit of God and God's activity in the world. 

Again John uses the diminutive phrase "little children."  Those who have been adopted into God's family are now God's dear children and these are not opposed to Christ.  These are God's children and as such it is Christ living in the them -- and they have overcome the spirit of the antichrist.
 
Application:

I remember as a teenager there was great speculation regarding the return of Jesus Christ.  There were preachers and evangelists who even ventured to guess a date when he would return.  We read books that painted images of a person who would soon appear on this earth before Christ's return -- an antichrist -- who would do all kinds of evil.  People would theorize as to where the antichrist would arise.  Because of the birthmark on his head (and other reasons as well) there were those who assumed that Michael Gorbachev was the Antichrist and we lived in fear of what just might be behind the Iron Curtain.  I have to admit the irony of this when years later we lived in Russia and there we saw Mr. Gorbachev at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, just he and his wife, walking as ordinary citizens awaiting a flight.  This was after he had retired and he had no entourage, no security.  He was just a man. 

And therein lies the problem of our seeking out the person whom we believe is going to be The Antichrist.  I'm not so sure that John is talking about one particular individual but is instead talking about an attitude or spirit which is anti to Christ.  And let's be honest, that spirit is prevalent in our world today and is growing at a rapid pace.  In the United States we see large movements of people who are anti to Christ and to God.  But then, look around the world -- who are the people being persecuted?  If it's persecution for the sake of faith, it's Christianity that is currently on the ropes!  All across the globe we find a spirit that is anti to Christ. 

John made it clear that any spirit "that does not confess Jesus is not from God."  That's why I think we must be aware that the antichrist may just be closer than we think.  We may actually be distracted looking for "the one" when we don't realize that maybe it's the spirit of the antichrist that has moved in next door -- or maybe is even living within our own home.  I'm not so sure that The Antichrist will be one individual whom we recognize -- but instead will be, and is, a spirit anti to Christ that is infiltrating every part of our lives.  Think about it -- even good things might be anti to Christ!  Any spirit that draws our attention away from Christ truly is anti to Christ.  This could even be family gatherings, sports, school events, and time for relaxation -- because, if that thing becomes more important to us than a personal relationship with the Lord, then it could be anti to Christ. 

What is the solution for you and for me?  It's not trying to spot the next Antichrist!  The solution is to remain in a relationship with God, in a place where we are connected to him and that Christ lives in us.  That way we are ruled and controlled by the spirit which is for Christ.  Our desires and our motivations are directed by him -- and we act and react as members of God's family.  It is in this way that we conquer the spirit of the antichrist.  We don't need to be afraid of that spirit as long as we are connected to the true life-giving Spirit in Christ. Jesus, the one in us, is more powerful than the spirit lurking out there in the world.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you of the gift of your Spirit within me.  Amen.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Enjoying the Lavishing Love of Family



Scripture:


1John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
1John 3:3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Observation:


John continues this intimate appeal to those who are followers of Jesus Christ.  Not only are they followers, but they are members of the family of God, and as such, they are beloved children.  These beloved children are living in difficult days and he is encouraging them in their faith.  His desire for them, and God's desire for them, is that they grow up to be holy men and women of God, according to his plan.  At this point, however, they are awaiting the return of Jesus Christ and his physical representation of God's child here on this earth.  As reflections of Jesus Christ, a clear, earthly reflection will only be possible when Jesus returns and that his why "what we will be has not yet been revealed."  We know that for those who are seeking his face, for those who are growing in their faith on a daily basis, when he comes, we will see him clearly and face to face.  Not only will we see him clearly, but we will be like him because of our proximity to him.  But in the meantime there is responsible action on the part of the the dearly loved children -- they are to be imitators of Christ, purifying themselves, because Jesus, himself is pure.

Application:


Do you ever need to know that God dearly loves you?  Then maybe it's reading the writings of John because he seems to grasp in a very personal and intimate way what it means to be loved by our heavenly Father.  It is in these writings that we recognize that we have been adopted into an amazing family and this is the Father's intent, that we experience the love that he wants to lavish on us. 

We need to know this love, for only his love will sustain us as we await the return of Jesus Christ.  The people in the first century thought it would be any day and now, we live in the 21st century and we are still waiting.  There must be a hope that sustains humanity as we await his return.  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be here and to live among us and it is the beauty of the presence of the Holy Spirit that does sustain us.  While Jesus may not be present with us in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is present with us as a constant reminder that we are God's dearly loved children and through the presence of the Spirit our spirits can witness to knowing the love of God. 

Jesus is the Son of God, and yet, we have the promise of becoming like him.  This whole adoption idea just continues to grow and blossom.  As I sit and think about this -- I realize that I really have no words to express what this means for you and for me.  The God of all creation not only reaches out to us and loves us, but is wanting to include us in his family with all the rights and privileges that go along with being his child.  For those of engaged in a relationship with him he is transforming us even now into the image of Jesus -- so that we already have the family resemblance.  When Jesus returns, we will together with him face to face and the resemblance will be even more clear, the transformation will be complete.  There will be no doubt in anyone's mind -- we will look like we belong to the family! 

Where do you want to be on that day?  Do you want to be on the outside looking in at those who are a part of the family?  If not, then we must begin even now preparing for that day.  The people of the first century were preparing and they will be there.  We, in the 21st century must be preparing so that we can join them on that day.  If there is one thing that defines the family it is holy love.  This is where our action becomes a part of the entire process.  If we are living each day in preparation for that day when we get to see the Lord face to face, then we ought to be participating already as members of the family.  We ought to dress like the family, study the family and act like the family.  If the family exudes holy love, then our prayer ought to be that we exude holy love.  If Jesus, our big brother is pure and lived a life of purity, then we ought to be pure, living a life of purity.  No, not because of a works faith, but because we want to be like him! 

Everything that we do in this life must be based upon the foundation of understanding our place in the family of God.  Once I am established within the family, a family defined by holy love, then that holy love becomes my very motivation for life.  My desire for purity comes out of a relationship with Jesus -- simply because he is pure.  If our relationship in the family is not the foundation of our lives then we will become frustrated trying to be "good" people, but eventually giving up because we will never measure up.  It's true.  On our own we can never measure up.  You can never be a member of the Smith family if you live next door with the Jones'.  You can try to have all the things the Smiths have and yet, if you're not adopted by the Smiths -- you won't be a Smith.  God says to quit trying to live next door and simply look like the family by "doing" all the right things.  Instead -- give up the junk next door and allow the love of the family to overwhelm you and simply accept all that it means to be adopted and to be a child.  God wants to give it all to you! 

Where are we in the journey today?  Are we next door - looking in -- and just trying to do our best on our own to sort of look like the family, or are we willing to jump in and allow the love of a Father to be lavished on us -- and for us to really look like we belong.  The choice really is up to us. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for loving us as your dear little children.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Holiness & Happiness Are Inseparable



Scripture:

1John 2:1 ¶ My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

Observation:


The language of this verse opens up to us the beauty of a personal relationship with a holy God who can transform our lives.  First, the use of the phrase, my "little children" is only found here and in John's Gospel where Jesus spoke with great affection regarding his followers, "Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’" (John 13:33)  This is not a phrase simply referring to a group of small children, but instead it is a phrase of affection for those who had become dear.  Jesus is speaking with great love and affection for those who had become his followers and now John is passing on the depth of that love relationship to those whom he had been discipling.  It is in the very use of these words that we begin to understand the depths of the transformation of God's children into his holy loving children -- and all of us are invited into that relationship.  Once we have entered into that great line of children we can understand why John would now use this term personally for he had become a reflection of Jesus Christ to those whom he had been discipling. 

In the midst of his expression of love for those whom he had discipled was also a cry for their state or condition in life.  He was writing them so that they would not sin.  His use of language here is also very important because he's not asking them to become "professional perfectionists" but is instead inviting them into a lifestyle in which one no longer sins.  This is a complete and total transformation of an individual who will no longer have a desire or bent toward sinning and in this is great joy.  When one lives the holy life, the lifestyle that follows is one which brings peace, joy and happiness to the individual for there is such freedom in Christ.  No longer are we tied to the things of this world but are set free to soar above the things which would compel us to sin.  Truly, holiness and happiness are inseparable! 

But there is the possibility that one might sin -- but take heart, Jesus has already taken care of this.  Here we find the word "advocate," or "Paraklete" which John also uses in his Gospel.  Jesus had told his followers that the Paraklete would come -- the Advocate -- who would come and be among them.  While Jesus was with his followers he was the Paraklete -- when he went to be with the Father, the Holy Spirit became the Father's Advocate -- the Paraklete among humanity.  Now, Jesus is humanity's advocate with the Father -- he is the Paraklete at the right hand of the throne of God, interceding for you and for me.  The one who is righteousness is on our side, doing all he can to draw us into this life of holiness.

Application:

It's hard to imagine uniting the two words, "holiness" and "happiness" when for too long we have associated "holiness" with people who have no fun!  Somehow we came to believe that if we lived a life that was angry and critical of the world, in which we were sober pietists in drab clothing, we were God's holy people.  Sorry -- but that somehow puts us in the "professional perfectionist" category.  We don't want to be there, because that's where we find the Scribes and the Pharisees.  They spent their lives trying to live by a list of rules and they were miserable and worked pretty hard and making everyone around them miserable as well.  This was not Jesus' desire for his dear "little children." 

Out of his intense love for us Jesus desired that we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, a relationship that would connect us with God and his holiness.  While the "professional perfectionists" wasted their time trying to live within a bunch of rules, the "little children" flocked to a personal relationship with God.  They weren't hung up on doing things right or wrong because they just wanted to hang out with the one who loved them dearly.  Just like our own little children, they love to curl up on our laps, lay their head on our chest and have us read them a good book.  They laugh and giggle and and live in the moment -- and they are without sin.  Not because they're worried about not sinning, but because they're not even thinking about it -- they are living in a state of joy and love and are enjoying life to its fullest every moment of every day.  However, as they play and grow there may be moments when they do something wrong and then a gentle parent reminds them that "no" this is not a good thing.  Why?  Not because we don't want them to enjoy life, but because we know that they thing they want to do will be harmful to them. 

We are invited as little children into this type of a relationship with our heavenly Father.  It is a state or condition of holiness and it is in this place that we will find true happiness.  It's not a place where we worry about whether we're doing everything right or wrong, but instead it's about living in peace with God and with man.  It's understanding that if we do sin, Jesus is right there to correct us and bring us back to the right path and direction -- if we respond immediately to his correction. 

It's time to throw off the notion of a miserable life for those who are seeking holiness and instead embrace the relationship with God that he intended for us as his little children.  In this we will find a joy and happiness that is beyond our expectation as we learn to relax in our personal relationship with him.  Put the "professional perfectionist" behind and step into real joy and happiness with our holy God.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for loving us as your dear little children.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From the Personal to the Prophetic



Scripture:


Psa. 67:1     May God be gracious to us and bless us
        and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
Psa. 67:2     that your way may be known upon earth,
        your saving power among all nations.
Psa. 67:3     Let the peoples praise you, O God;
        let all the peoples praise you.

Observation:


This beautiful Psalm begins by expressing the beauty of the personal relationship with God.  The Psalmist cries out for God's personal grace to reach out to each and every single individual -- that God's face would shine upon us.  From there it moves to the prophetic, for in this Psalm we see a glimpse of the Great Commission.  It is in the personal relationship with God that he is to be glorified, and in this, the world will see God.  The power of God is revealed in his saving grace.  Therefore, all the people of the earth are called to praise the Lord!

Application:

The very first verse of this Psalm brings us to an understanding of God's grace.  It is humanity that has turned their backs on God.  Even in the midst of our sin God continues to turn toward us and reach out toward those who are lost.  The prayer of the Psalmist is for God's face to shine upon us -- a representation of God's presence emanating from him, continually reaching out toward his beloved humanity. 

Now, let's turn the question around.  Are we turned toward him?  The only way that we can be a reflection of his face is for us to be facing him.  In sin we turned away, but we must take responsibility to respond to his grace, to turn around in repentance, lifting our faces to God, our Father, the creator of all things and allow his face to shine upon us.  What happens in that moment is a restoration of the relationship that God intended for all of humanity -- one in which we are face to face and nose to nose with our God.  His face shines on us and the reflection seen within us is the glory of his majestic presence. 

Sometimes, however, the glory of that presence makes others uncomfortable, including others who may call themselves followers of God.  Moses grew so close to God and spent so much time face to face with God that he literally glowed.  The people of Israel asked him to cover his face because they couldn't stand to see it.  There is some truth in the fact that the closer we draw to God the more that our relationship with him grows from the personal to the prophetic.  My personal walk with the Lord becomes a reflection of God's grace and glory that shines light into the dark corners of other peoples' lives and this may make them feel uncomfortable -- especially people who call themselves followers of God -- but don't want to go deeper in their walk with the Lord.  Instead, they would prefer that we would cover ourselves up and that they would not see God reflected in our behaviors.  It would certainly make them more comfortable.

Our purpose in life is not to make other Christians comfortable.  Our purpose is to clearly reflect the image of God to a needy world.  That means that you and I must, personally, be in a right relationship with God so that we can reflect his glory to others.  Then his way will be "known upon earth" and his "saving power among all nations."  We become the living testimonies to the transformational grace and power of God and the result is not that we are praised, but that God is glorified in all the earth. 

Where are we in the journey from the personal to the prophetic?  There can be no reluctance on our part for we cannot have one without the other.  Do not be afraid to be a shining reflection of God's glory today -- do not cover up what he wants to do in your life.  Be a blinding reflection of God and in doing so you will be a living testimony to the world.

Prayer:


Lord, may you be gracious and shine upon me today.  Amen.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Come and Have Breakfast



Scripture:

John 21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
John 21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Observation:

Jesus had been resurrected but he was not consistently with the disciples.  He appeared to them but then he would be gone.  Not sure what to do they went back to what they knew best -- fishing.  Here we discover that they had fished all night but had not caught anything.  It is this morning when Jesus tells them to put their net on the other side and they catch a literal boat-load of fish.  They were exhausted from the work and when they came ashore Jesus prepared breakfast for them. 

Application:

There is something comforting in Jesus engaging in the ordinary.  Actually, he began with the extraordinary by telling the disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and there they found numerous fish to catch.  But now -- in the morning hours of the day, when they are tired and worn out from a night of fishing, Jesus takes care of their very basic human need;  he makes them breakfast.  And somehow this comforts me today -- when I realize that much of what I do is very ordinary.  There is the ordinary business of life which takes time and energy.  We clean house, grocery shop, do laundry, and go to work.  And yet, maybe it's in that routine that Jesus wants to step in and make us some breakfast. 

Jesus engaged in the very normal daily task of preparing breakfast for the disciples.  I believe that Jesus would like us to find him at the breakfast table, or the lunch or dinner table for that matter.  I also believe that he would be pleased for us to find him in the car, or in the office, or in the grocery store. The reality is that Jesus IS in the ordinary things of life but too often that's not where we think he ought to be -- or we simply fail to notice him there. 

As we go through the routine of this day, maybe we ought to slow down enough to notice that Jesus might just be inviting us to come and have breakfast!

Prayer:

Lord, thanks for being in the ordinary moments of life.  Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

He Calls Our Name



Scripture:


John 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  

Observation:

Mary was distraught over the loss of Jesus.  She had gone early that Sunday morning to his tomb to mourn his death.  What she discovered was an empty tomb with two angels who told her that Jesus was no longer dead.  Staggered by the news she could not comprehend she wandered out and ran into a man she presumed to be the gardener.  There in the midst of her utter pain and desolation she heard the voice of one who loved her.  He didn't need to say anything more than simply call her by name, "Mary."  In that instant she knew that it was Jesus and she turned and responded with "Rabbouni!"  In that instant her life changed and for the remainder of her life here on earth she was a leader in the movement of the "The Way" -- having been the evangelist -- the one to carry the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Application:

Isn't it just like Jesus to love someone in a warm embrace by gently calling them by name?  Maybe we can't imagine ourselves in Mary's place on that Sunday morning so long ago, but there may be times when we suddenly find ourselves in a place where it seems that we are all alone.  Let's admit it -- life isn't always headed in the right direction.  Whether by our own action, or simply the results of life lived, we can find ourselves in a rather lonely place.  I imagine that Mary staggered out of that tomb, weeping, and not fully understanding.  There are times that we are slammed by the circumstances of life and we too may find ourselves staggering and weeping; but in those moments we need to listen carefully for the Lord knows our names too.  He knows each and every single one of us in a deeply personal way.  He calls our name in the morning mist of life and we are beckoned to respond -- "Rabbouni!" 

Mary could respond to Jesus because she knew him;  she recognized his voice.  This was someone who had been a follower of Jesus for a lengthy period of time and yet found herself distraught.  We may too have been following Jesus for years and may too be distraught.  Maybe we are overwhelmed with sickness, or loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or the waywardness of a child -- if we have been walking with Jesus, he will step up to us in the midst of our tears and gently call out to us. 

In the midst of my struggles, when Jesus calls my name, I am invited to respond.  Mary immediately realized who he was and left to declare that Jesus had risen from the dead.  We are invited to hear his voice, but then to also take action.  The God who loves us enough to reach out to us in the midst of our pain and call us by name then sends us into the world to share the good news of his love and compassion with a world that is still wandering in the morning mist. 

He's calling out to you and to me right now.  Will we hear him?  Will we recognize his voice?  Will we respond? 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for knowing me and calling me by name.  Amen.




Saturday, August 17, 2013

"I am Thirsty"



Scripture:

John 19:28 ¶ After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”

Psa. 22:15     my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
        and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
        you lay me in the dust of death.

Psa. 69:21     They gave me poison for food,
        and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
 

Observation:

Jesus had over and over again spoken about the living water that was available to his followers.  The woman at the well wanted to know about the water so that she would never have to come out and draw again in the middle of the day.  Jesus had spent his ministry pointing people in the direction of the living and eternal water that would quench the thirst of their souls.  The significance of this moment for Jesus on the cross is that now Jesus is the one who is thirsty.  The one who is the source of eternal waters of satisfaction, is thirsty!  Could it be that at this very moment, as he takes upon himself the sin of the world that we truly understand his statement, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me" in this comment about thirst!  The sin of the world separates the Father from the Son and in that moment the source of life-giving water can no longer flow -- and Jesus, the one who never thirsts -- is thirsty. 

Application:


In this moment on the cross Jesus reveals to us the utter lostness of separation from God.  It is a not-too-subtle reminder to each and every single one of us of what can happen when we step away from God -- there is a separation that leads to an incredible thirst that cannot be quenched by the world. 

I live in Ohio where we have not had much of a summer.  It's been moderately warm but not really all too hot and I've not experienced being very thirsty.  But then, last week I traveled to Idaho where every day the desert earth was baked by the hot summer sun.  Little did I realize how much more I needed to be drinking in that environment.  At the end of the day I found myself light-headed and my mouth dry -- for I had not taken the time to drink all the fluids necessary to do well in that environment. 

Some of us are walking in a desert spiritually -- and we are dry and lightheaded.  We can no longer make good decisions and, at times we are headed in the wrong direction.  If Jesus himself was thirsty on that cross -- why do we think that we can survive without being connected to the source on a daily basis?  The Holy Spirit is the source provided for you and for me, and we are invited to regularly drink deep and long from that well so that we are sustained in the midst of the difficulties of life. 

Jesus experienced separation from the Father and in that moment he was thirsty.  The human solutions for Jesus on the cross did not satisfy -- and neither will human solutions provide for our satisfaction.  If we are truly thirsty there is only one place to go -- sit and soak in God's holy presence!  May God quench our thirst today.

Prayer:

Lord, I am thirsty for more of you.  Amen.

Friday, August 16, 2013

We Have No Right To Execute Anyone



Scripture:

John 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.

Observation:

The bald declaration here on the part of the religious leaders here is almost shocking!  Here they were -- religious leaders who supposedly fought to keep every ounce of their religious laws!  This is why they were angry with Jesus, they thought that he stretched the rules a bit.  Now, they are stretching them to the extreme.  They have already decided, in advance, that they want Jesus to be put to death.  However, they are not allowed to put him to death, therefore they are willing to go to the government authorities and try to manipulate them into taking this action.  Pilate doesn't want to do anything to Jesus, he doesn't even understand the crime that is he is supposed to have committed.  The religious leaders openly declare, "But we have no right to execute anyone."

Application:


Isn't that the point - they didn't have the right to execute anyone -- and yet, they wanted this evil deed accomplished.  On another level, have we ever executed someone by our behavior?  Maybe not physically, but have we ever gone out of our way to execute someone emotionally, or to destroy their reputation?  We may be executing people by our verbal attacks and we may be manipulating the system just so we can get our revenge. 

One of the greatest ways that people are attacking one another these days is by way of the internet.  Here is a tool which has the potential for being used for much good, while at the same time, can be manipulated to be destructive.  Listening to the radio I heard an advertisement for something like reputation builders.com.  They are selling a service that helps to monitor what is being said about you on the internet.  Why?  Because, the advertisement tells us, just one negative review for you or your business can destroy years of positive reviews.  In other words -- just one person's bad comments can "execute" someone, or completely sabotage their business.  The problem has become so bad that there these new business' are being developed to help "scrub" what happens in social media. 

But, for followers of Jesus Christ this statement ought to ring true -- "We have no right to execute anyone," and as citizens of Jesus' kingdom we must follow that law.  Sadly, there are those who may be disappointed in our religious system because we might believe that we ought to be able to get revenge.  No, revenge is not an option!  The religious leaders went outside their own system to get revenge!  Was God pleased?  I don't think so.  If the kingdom in which we exist does not allow us to "execute" others, maybe we ought to learn to live with that and not seek revenge outside of the kingdom.  That means we have to learn to respond to what happens to us from within the kingdom.

Jesus becomes the example for us -- he went ahead and suffered at the hands of the government system because the religious leaders had manipulated it to their benefit.  Jesus, however, continues to respond from within God's kingdom.  Therefore, even as he is dying on the cross he looks out at the masses and cries out, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."  He cries out for mercy for those who have put him on the cross.  That means that we too are to cry out for mercy and for forgiveness of those who may try to "execute" us. 

We are not to live outside the kingdom or use the things of this world to manipulate our circumstances.  We are to live within the kingdom, to be kingdom people -- and that means loving God and loving others.  There is no place for revenge within the life of a believer -- there is no execution of others' reputations or character.  Just as what the religious leaders did was sinful, so are the acts of those who purposely go about using worldly tactics to execute followers of Jesus Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me, through your grace, to live as a kingdom citizen.  Amen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Hope of Holiness



Scripture:


John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
John 17:19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Observation:


Jesus' beautiful prayer found in John 17 includes his desire for his followers to be sanctified.  He uses that very word, praying that the Father would "Sanctify them in the truth."  The word "sanctify" brings with it a dual meaning here; it means that Jesus' desire is that his disciples would be made holy and this is an act of God.  But it is also a prayer that they be consecrated or set-aside for the special calling they have received from Jesus.  He knows that he is about to die for them and that they will be set-aside to be his representatives in the world until the day they die.  His prayer is for them to be a people who have consecrated themselves wholeheartedly to God, made holy by God and sent into the world, again -- by God, to do his work.  Jesus knew that none of this would be possible without his action, for the disciples could only be a reflection of him and his holiness.  Therefore he sanctified himself; he set himself aside and was consecrating himself, ready to enter the Holy of Holies as the sacrificial lamb so that the hope of holiness would be possible for all of those who would become a reflection of him.  And this was truth -- Jesus was truth, the one who shone light on all previous deception and provided a pathway to holiness for you and for me.

Application:

Too often we shy away from words like "holiness" and "sanctification" because they make us uncomfortable.  We have made these words become all about us, and we have discovered that on our own we cannot measure up.  That is true!  If we think that we can make ourselves holy by following a list of do's and don'ts then we are wrong.  But there is some action required on our parts in terms of our sanctification.  There is a purposeful desire to participate in the holiness of Jesus Christ.  That is what Jesus was putting out there for his disciples on that last night.  Jesus' prayer for them and for us is that we be sanctified.  Holiness and sanctification are not optional, part two benefits, of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is God's original plan for all of his children -- to be his holy children!  Why?  Because we are to be a reflection of Jesus -- and Jesus is holy. 

Jesus makes clear to us his sanctification.  This is the prayer he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, just a few hours before he will die on a cross.  Jesus is preparing to become the ultimate sacrifice -- and by this sacrifice he is sanctifying himself.  He will forever become the sacrificial lamb on the altar in the presence of God.  This makes possible our sanctification -- for we are to be a reflection of him.  But just as Jesus had to wrestle with his entire consecration to the task before him, could it be possible that we, too, wrestle with our entire consecration?  Jesus prayed and asked his father to take the cup from him.  He didn't want to have to go through the day ahead -- it was going to be awful!  But as he prayed and sweat drops of blood, he got to the place where he was able to give it all up in obedience to his father.  And so, it may be with great tears and sweat that we must come to an altar where we struggle with giving up all of our future to God.  But just as Jesus had to go through this moment in his own life, so we must go through this time in our lives where we must determine whether or not we move forward in the truth. 

To be a reflection of Jesus Christ we must be willing to take this step, to move forward in truth, for we are to follow the example of Jesus Christ.  We are created to be God's holy people.  Jesus has created a pathway for each of us, making it possible for us to be sanctified -- to be God's holy people -- but we must be willing to follow him to that place.  And when we submit to him, submit to his sanctifying work -- then it is his holiness which is reflected in us.  He is the sacrifice laid upon the altar, forever creating a pathway for our holiness. 

We are cutting ourselves short if we don't realize that holiness is not only available for all of us, but is God's desire for each of us.  What usually stands in the way of our sanctification is us!  We want to hold on and keep control, not selling out to all that God has for us.  Jesus wasn't just praying for the disciples who were present in the garden over 2000 years ago, he was praying for you and for me.  There is the hope of holiness for us today as well.  The question is whether we are willing to go on to that deeper walk with him, letting go of the things that tie us to this world.  Then, we allow his sanctifying grace to wash over us and make us as clean as a mirror with no streaks that can perfectly reflect his holiness.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for what you've done to make our holiness possible.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sin, Righteousness & Judgment



Scripture:

John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.
John 16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:
John 16:9 about sin, because they do not believe in me;
John 16:10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer;
John 16:11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

Observation:

Jesus knew that he had to complete the work that his father had given him and should this not be accomplished then the Advocate would not be able to come and be present among his followers.  Although the disciples did not understand, Jesus knew that this was better for them.  The Holy Spirit would be present and active and moving throughout the whole earth and would be able to "prove the world wrong about sing and righteousness and judgment." 

Jesus went on to explain those three terms, and most importantly, the realization that people would be convicted by their ignorance, and the real nature of sin, righteousness and judgement.  All three are relational terms when juxtaposed with Jesus Christ. 

What is sin?  Sin is turning our backs on God and no longer living in a relationship with him -- therefore it is the refusal of a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The world did not believe in Jesus! 

But what is righteousness?  Humanity can only be made right before God because of what Jesus -- the Messiah -- would do for them.  Jesus was from God;  God was his Father.  The One who could set all things right would be seated forever at the right hand of the Father. 

And finally, about judgment, the "ruler of this world has been condemned."  Humanity has to make a choice.  Whom will they serve?  Will they serve the ruler of this world who is already condemned, or will they return to a relationship with God?  A side must be chosen, and this is judgment.  The role of the Holy Spirit, or the Advocate, in the midst of all of of this is that he will shine a light on these truths, and humanity will be forced to respond. 

Application:


We read these words, "Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment" and we may simply tune them out.  Why?  Because we may not like the terms, or because we may not feel like we understand them, or they simply make us uncomfortable.  Too often these days we don't want to talk about the negatives of the spiritual life, instead focusing on the good.  While it's good to focus on those, what about the conviction that comes to us through the working of the Holy Spirit?  Could it be that we have become insensitive to the working of the Spirit in our lives and in the world today, for it seems that not much of our world is concerned about sin, righteousness and/or judgment.  Why would that be true? 

There were those in the first century of Christianity who also ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Yes, it was great on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out and while many believed, there were many more who did not.  Didn't all of the Apostles, except for John, end up being martyred for their faith?  The same is true today.  There are many in our world who are tuning out the working of the Holy Spirit and don't want to have anything to do with sin, righteousness and judgement.  At the same time, we cannot allow the "peer pressure" of the world to influence the actions of those who are in a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

The call and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is to a personal relationship with Jesus.  The action on our part requires faith and belief in who he is.  He is the Messiah; he is the Son of God.  As such he has come to convict of us the lives that we were living.  Humanity has turned their back on God and yet Jesus wants to draw us back into that deeply personal and intimate relationship with him.  We can be made right again before God because of the work of Jesus Christ and yes, there will ultimately be a day of judgement for you and for me.  These words are Truth -- and Jesus knew the Advocate would need to come to speak this truth. 

Are we tuning out Truth these days?  Are we allowing the voices of the world to so fill our heads that we no longer believe in sin, righteousness and judgment?  It is only through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we can seek the face of God.  In this our relationship with him is restored and we become clear in our understanding of sin, righteousness and judgment. 

It is through prayer that we participate together with God in the working of the Holy Spirit.  Can I explain this?  No -- but there is something about God's prevenient grace working in the lives of those for whom we pray.  Could it be that the world doesn't understand sin, righteousness and judgment because God's people have failed to pray for the lost of the world?  Jesus knew he would have to leave his disciples so that they could receive the Advocate.  He knew that this was best for them.  The working and the convicting of the Holy Spirit is what our world needs today.  Maybe those who are in a personal relationship with him need to be praying for the Advocate to be revealed to a world that so desperately needs to be healed of their sin! 

Jesus did everything for us.  Are we willing to participate with him in his salvific work in the world? 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in my life, but please, help me to be a woman of prayer for my world.  Amen. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Discipleship: The result of abiding in Christ



Scripture:

John 15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
John 15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Observation:

Jesus is paving the way for his followers to understand what it truly means to be a disciple.  The important factor in this Scripture is the concept of "abiding."  We are called upon to abide in Christ.  This unity with Christ results in our participation or fellowship with the Holy Trinity -- our very own abiding in koinonia with God.  God is glorified in this relationship for it is in this abiding relationship that we become a clearer reflection of him.  The natural result of abiding in him is that we are disciples, who bear much fruit.  We don't bear fruit to become a disciple -- there is no separation of the two.  A disciple is one who abides in Christ and as a result bears fruit -- because Jesus bears fruit! 

Application:

We could probably sit and park on the word "abide" for about a month!  Too often we jump right past it and get into what we assume is our business -- that of bearing fruit.  Or even going out to make "Christlike disciples in the nations."  But without the word "abide" as it relates to discipleship we miss the whole point and we turn it into a type of "works" for the kingdom.  The work is done by God, himself -- not by us.  Our job is to abide in him.  That means, first and foremost we have to learn how to slow down, turn off the noise, and sit in his holy presence.  Synonyms of the word "abide" include, to stay, to endure, to reside, to dwell, or to remain.  Think about that.  There is nothing about rushing through a few devotional thoughts and and saying "Grace" at the table that equates to "abiding."  To truly become a disciple of Jesus Christ we are going to have to spend time with him, and for most of us, it's going to take discipline to commit ourselves to a practice of dwelling in his holy presence through prayer. 

What happens when we abide in him through prayer?  We draw closer to the original image of God, Christ.  In doing so we become a clearer reflection of who he is, for we are students who reflect the Master from whom we are learning.  Jesus, the incarnate image of God, came to this earth to draw his children unto him.  In this way he bore fruit -- reclaiming those who were called to be the holy people of God.  When we abide in Christ, when we are transformed into his likeness, then not only do we look like him, we act like him, and we participate in his work.  Through us God's children are reclaimed and reunited with Christ.  This is bearing fruit, and if you are truly a disciple, bearing fruit is not an option, it is a result. 

Can you imagine an entire mass of people being reflections of Christ in this world?  The reclamation of God's people means that God himself is glorified.  Our actions are to be in service to the King so that he will be lifted up.  I have to confess that I am bothered somewhat by what I see in some of Christianity these days.  It seems that there are a lot of people out there enjoying the accolades of growing large ministries.  There is an issue of "branding" and the names of individuals are flashed everywhere.  Somehow we have mixed Christianity and business and have created a model that sells an individual -- instead of God.  He is to increase, and I am to decrease.  That is the plan.  The world is supposed to see Jesus, not me.  It's time for God to get the glory, not us!  And that's what it truly means to be his disciple.

Prayer:

Lord, please, help me spend that abiding time with you.  Amen. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is there no balm in Gilead?



Scripture:

Jer. 8:22      ¶ Is there no balm in Gilead?
        Is there no physician there?
    Why then has the health of my poor people
        not been restored?

Observation:

God's people were wounded -- wounded by their own behavior and sin and as a result were suffering the consequences of their infidelity.   Israel was being destroyed both by those enemies that surrounded them but also by their personal sin which was like a cancer killing them from the inside out.  Was there no way for them to be healed?  This was a rhetorical question for obviously there was a cure for what ailed them.  Gilead was within the borders of Israel -- so yes, there was a balm for healing and it could be found within their very own borders.  The God of Israel was there, waiting to provide for his own people.  Therefore, the question must be asked, "Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?"  Why indeed!  Because they refused the cure.

Application:

Often have I had people come and share with me the ills of their life.  They've lost their job; they're losing their home; they can't make the car payment; they can't pay the utility bills; they're marriage is on the rocks; their children are making poor choices -- and the list goes on and on.  The difficulty with those conversations is that often they are looking for solutions from outside sources.  There is no sense of responsibility that their own behaviors may have led them to their current state of affairs.  The children of Israel were also not willing to accept responsibility; It had to be someone else's fault.  I've heard a long list of excuses -- "my boss was out to get me;" "I only skipped four payments on my house -- and they want to take it from me! "Yeah - I bought a really expensive car, but I wanted it -- can you help me with my payment?" "I know I spend too much money on drinking -- but can you help me pay my heating bill?"  "So I mess around a little on the side a little, I don't know what my wife is so upset about!"

It was time for the Israelites to realize that the cure was to be found within their borders and the same can be said for all of us.  There is a balm in Gilead -- there is healing for many of our problems, if only we will submit ourselves to the great physician.  Sadly, the Israelites refused to go to the doctor to be healed and many of us are behaving in the same way.  We seem to be comfortable walking around wounded and refuse to go to the doctor.  We all realize how ridiculous this is on the physical level, why do we not realize the consequences on a spiritual level? 

God's healing balm is available to every one of us today because of the work of Christ.  His blood is the healing balm which is sufficient to heal every wound.  The Holy Spirit is the physician, ready and willing to apply the cure to us in each and every circumstance.  Sadly there are many who consider themselves Christ-followers who are walking around wounded.  Just like the Israelites, God's people, they are refusing to submit themselves to the cure.  For wholeness, and a life of holiness, we must submit ourselves to the hand of the great physician who wants to apply his healing balm to every wound we have ever suffered.  There is a balm in Gilead!  There is a great physician available and the health of God's people can be restored.  Maybe it's time to stop complaining about our wounds and go to the doctor so the healing can begin. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for balm of Gilead that brings us your peace.  Amen. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

God's Little Children



Scripture:
John 13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

Observation:

This is the night of Jesus' final meal with his disciples.  Jesus had already washed their feet and they had finished eating.  Judas left the room, bent on betraying his master, and the intimate group that remained didn't quite understand what was happening.  In this moment Jesus addressed his "little children."  The word used here is one of endearment, used only this one time in the Gospels.  John will reuse the term later in his Epistles -- but it is the only moment that we experience Jesus using it for these, his dearly beloved disciples.  They were no longer simply a rag-tag group of followers wanting to be fed, taught and experience miracles, they had become one with him -- they were now part of the family.  This is what pained Jesus deeply, for they could not remain together, and he would have to suffer alone in the days ahead. 

Application:

It's interesting that Jesus uses this word after Judas leaves the room.  Now, this remaining small group reflects those who had become his dear little children.  They were his and as a result, they were also the Father's.  The word used here for the disciples is also a reflection of the relationship into which we are all invited.  We may all have the privilege of becoming these "little children."  What does that mean for us?  We are to recognize that we are God's children, and as such, we belong to him and not to the world.  Later that same night Jesus would spend time in prayer where he would pour out his heart to the Father.  In that prayer he would affirm the unity of the relationship between Jesus and his Father.  However, he would push even further and speak of the fact that the disciples were now also in him, and hence, in the Father.  The children of the Father are directly united to him -- and because of Christ and what he has done for us, we are invited into fellowship with the holy Trinity.  As such, we are to be God's children here on this earth, his representatives, serving our Father day in and day out.

As dear little children we must also realize that there is much ahead for us spiritually.  We are God's children and we are to be encouraged throughout our lives to be growing up into him -- into spiritual maturity.  The disciples were not spiritually mature, even though they were united to God through Christ.  Jesus knew there was so much more for them to learn and more spiritual growth and development to be seen in them.  The same is true for us.  If any of us think that we have arrived spiritually, then we are simply fooling ourselves.  If our spiritual journey is about uniting with our Father, then to think that we have arrived spiritually means that we think that we have become equal with God.  How foolish is that!  Instead, as his dear children we are invited into a relationship with him in which we may continue to grow and develop throughout our entire lives.  This is the beauty of being united with God as his dear children.  He will always encourage us on to higher heights than we have ever experienced! 

Finally, it is in this term of endearment that we experience the tenderness of Jesus' heart.  I believe his heart was already breaking over what he knew they would experience in their lives.  They had no idea what the next few days would hold, let alone their entire lives.  Those who join their hearts to Christ will not always have an easy journey.  However, they will experience the tenderness of the Savior who has given his very blood for us.  All of this has been done so that we may spend all of eternity with our Father.  Dear children, the journey to eternal life may be strewn with troubles, and yet, we are to take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world! 

We are truly a blessed people when we realize that we are God's dear little children.  May we embrace our Father, returning the love which he has showered on us.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the blessings of being your child.  Amen.