Monday, September 30, 2013
Zech. 8:19 Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.
The people of God had been fasting the days in which they commemorated the fateful events in the life of Israel. The "fast of the fourth month" was to remind Israel that Nebuchadnezzar had entered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The fast of the fifth month "commemorated the burning of the Temple and other buildings in 586. The seventh remembered Gedaliah’s assassination. The tenth recalled the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in 588 (2 Kings 25:1)." (Ryrie) When Israel is restored all of this will change. Fasting will become feasting in a period of time when the people love truth and peace.
When would truth come? Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) When Jesus was on this earth his disciples didn't celebrate the seasons of fasting and they were sharply criticized for this by the religious leaders. Jesus responded, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them." (Mark 2:19) The reality was that when the people of God would grasp Jesus -- the Truth -- when they would truly fall in love with him, then they would experience the peace of God in their lives, both individually and collectively.
Our own fasting is turned into joy when we embrace the truth of Jesus Christ. There is so much that life can throw at us -- so much frustration and disappointment. As long as we focus on those things, we remain in a period of fasting, or mourning. We are looking at the past and the things that have happened and we live in those. We bring them up on a regular basis and we allow them to rule over us. Instead, if we fall in love with Truth -- if we fall in love with Jesus Christ, he will bring seasons of joy and gladness to our lives. It doesn't mean that the circumstances will change, but it probably means that we will change.
Falling in love with Jesus changes everything. The things of this world suddenly don't matter as they did in the past. The bad things in life become shadows in light of the truth and peace that we find in him. I want to love Jesus -- for he is Truth and Peace. He allows me to see the truth in the situations of life and gives great peace as I fall deeply in love with him. Nothing matters beside my love for my Savior.
Lord, I love you and am grateful that you turn our fasting into feasting. Amen.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Luke 11:44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”
Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees -- those who believed they were extremely spiritual. They must have winced as they heard these words from Jesus, for to walk over and touch, even an unmarked grave, was to make one unclean. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are living such hypocritical lives that they are dragging others down spiritually -- making them unclean when they are unsuspecting.
I think the indictment here is pretty strong. There are those who are falling away, or being hurt in their faith because of the "faith" of those who see themselves as being spiritual. It should stop and give all of us pause. What is it about our lives that could be a detriment to the faith of others? Would there be anything that someone would see in my life that might drive them away from Jesus Christ?
I have to confess that there are times when I have a bad day! I get cranky when I'm overly tired and without noticing, I can be a bit of a grump. The other night I arrived in a city at 10:30pm and had been told I could call the hotel where I was staying for a shuttle and it would be just 15 minutes when they would arrive. I stood outside in the cold until 11pm and called the hotel back. I was told they had misspoken and the shuttle had just left the airport when I called -- not the hotel -- and was now running a number of errands and would be there in a while. Finally, about 11:15pm the driver showed up. For me, it was 12:15am because I had changed a time zone in my travels. I was exhausted and had to be up and ready to leave at 7:30 in the morning. I have to confess I wasn't overly pleased that the shuttle had taken so long to arrive. I was worn out and wasn't too excited to have much friendly conversation with the driver. But then -- I was asked what I do for a living? Oh my -- I'm a minister -- how do I tell him that? In that very moment I asked the Lord to help me to have a better attitude -- so that I could be a good representative of him. The Lord did answer my prayer before I embarrassed myself by being a grump with this guy. It wasn't his fault -- he was just doing his job and I just needed to be patient and wait! In that moment I realized that whatever I say or do, with anyone and anywhere will a reflection of Jesus in the world. My prayer is that I would not be an unmarked grave -- that my life would not drag others down and defile them without them even knowing it. Instead, may we, as followers of Jesus Christ so love the Lord and others that our world might be drawn toward Him and experience His transforming power and grace. May we not be an unmarked grave, but a source of new life.
Lord, please help me to be your faithful servant today with everyone I meet. Amen.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Luke 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
Luke 10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
These are the closing statements of a conversation between Jesus and an expert in the law. Jesus explained to him that we are to love God and love neighbor. Then the man asked, "and who is my neighbor?" Jesus followed up that question with the story of the Good Samaritan. We jump into that story at the very conclusion where Jesus helps him understand that the one who showed mercy was the one who was being a neighbor. Somehow showing mercy to those around us in the world is the key to loving our neighbor -- and we are to "Go and do likewise."
What we find here is an attitude of the heart, one which reflects the very nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus' nature was to go about doing good. Jesus did good for many who ultimately did not end up being his followers. Sometimes people would be excited about what he had done and might be faithful to him for a period of time, but not all. Remember the ten lepers? Jesus loved the lost of the world -- because they were his children and he loved them. Yes, he wanted them to return to a relationship with him, and hence his Father, but ultimately it was simply his nature to heal and show mercy.
Could it be that there are times that we show mercy with an ulterior motive? Often we get wrapped up in the idea that if I do good -- if I'm a good Samaritan -- then I will convert this person to Christianity. Should that be our motivation -- and was that Jesus' motivation? That's the question I have to put before us. Isn't Jesus saying that it should simply be in our nature to show mercy to a needy world around us because we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ? No strings attached?
The "Good Samaritan" simply shows mercy because it's in his nature. We are called into this behavior -- to make a difference in the world. We are to "Go and do likewise." Just imagine what would happen if the world would experience an entire army of Christians reaching out in mercy to the needy world around us? The world would be transformed - and ultimately there would be those who would come to Christ -- but the action must simply come from a love for God and love for others. This show of mercy is a revelation of the holiness of God.
We are invited onto the Jesus Way -- into a journey with Jesus Christ in which we are transformed into his holy people. We are then called to step into the world and show his mercy to all those who are our neighbors.
Lord, please help me to be merciful. Amen.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Psa. 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
Psa. 127:2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
There are several ways in which this scripture can be understood. Could it relate to the time in which the Israelites are building Solomon's temple? Solomon had wisdom and wealth and so much capacity to do things "for" God -- and yet, if he didn't simply trust in God and allow this to be God's project -- he would be laboring in vain.
Or, could it be that this song was sung when the children of Israel had returned from exile and Nehemiah had established teams to be rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem? They stayed up day and night to get the work done -- but was it a reminder that all of that labor belonged to the Lord! That at the end of the day, it was God who would protect his people?
Could it also be that God is reminding us that it is he who builds and establishes our families? Unless the LORD is the center of our families and our households -- we labor in vain. Unless it is God who guards our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren -- we are keeping watch in vain. We can work hard, make money, and try to do many things but if none of this is founded on the LORD -- then it is in vain. Instead we will have anxious nights worrying about work, our things and our children. When God is the center of the home, we are able to lay our heads down to sleep in peace -- for it is he that will take care of the daily needs.
Finally, this can relate to the building of the church in God's kingdom. Too often those who are engaged in ministry believe that it is their responsibility to personally devise a strategic plan and work from early morning until late at night to make it all successful. Again -- "it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest" -- if none of that labor is founded upon a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus wants us -- every part of us -- to live for him day in and day out. He wants us to fall deeply and desperately in love with him and in doing so he will give rest "to his beloved."
How privileged are we to be his beloved children and as such, the LORD wants us to rest in him. There are plenty of things in life about which we can be worried. We can be worried about our job, about our family, about the future, but the LORD says to simply rest in him. It is the final word "beloved" that gives us a clue to the depths of this relationship. It is the same language found in Song of Solomon. There we find a relationship between the lover and the beloved. God wants us to fall so deeply in love with him -- he wants us to be his beloved -- and as his beloved, he will love and care for us. We need to give everything to him, work with him, and daily rest in him for he is all we need.
Lord, may I rest in you today. Amen.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Ezra 3:10 ¶ When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the LORD with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel;
Ezra 3:11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
The children of Israel had returned from exile and now were engaging in the rebuilding of the temple. They were a people who were rebuilding their faith and with great effort they worked to lay the foundation of the temple, the place in which they would worship God -- and God alone! They followed the instructions that had been given them in the past and once the foundation was laid, they stopped and rejoiced and took time to praise the Lord. The musicians came forward with their instruments and the entire assembly began to sing one of the great Psalms of David, the one recorded for us as Psalm 136. The author here just gives us a couple of lines of the song, referencing it, but the assembly gathered would have sung all of the words contained in that Psalm, all twenty six verses! The Psalm is one of rejoicing and giving God praise for the victories that have been won and for his love which will endure forever and ever! Not only did the people sing, but they shouts for joy -- because the new foundation had been laid!
How often do we rejoice over the laying of a foundation? This portion of Scripture really makes me stop and think about how we need to praise God at every stop in the journey. Sometimes we want to see the whole finished product -- the big picture to be completed -- and God says to wait, trust in him, and praise him with each and every single victory.
The laying of the foundation was a huge victory of the children of Israel. It wasn't just a foundation, but signified so much more. It showed their desire to worship God again. It showed that they had a plan to move forward with an enormous project, but the vision of that project would not stop them. It showed that they were willing to bring together their meager resources and somehow God was able to multiply them and step by step they would be able to complete this project. It was a major step of faith, and they were rejoicing in the midst of it all.
There are times in life when we have to take the first step on a major project -- and if that first step is completed, we need to stop and take time to praise our great God. Too often fear keeps us from taking that first little step, and then the foundation is never laid and nothing more can ever be built. What foundation might God be challenging us to lay today? Or, has the foundation been laid and we aren't satisfied that the whole project hasn't been completed?
God is good and his love endures forever! Let's stop and praise him today for what he has done -- and what he will do in and through us as we serve him in complete and total obedience. Work together with God to build the foundation. Praise him for the beginning steps and then keep working with God to bring it all to completion. He is faithful….
Psa. 136:26 ¶ O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Lord, thank you for the foundation. Amen.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Psa. 85:4 ¶ Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us.
Psa. 85:5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Psa. 85:6 Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Psa. 85:7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,
and grant us your salvation.
The Psalmist is pleading for the renewal of God's people. This psalm may have been written by David, or at a later time period, when returning from exile. Whichever period it was, the people were still struggling with giving themselves wholeheartedly over to God. The Psalmist knows that God's people need to be restored so that they can be faithful witnesses of and to him. They have been unfaithful and, if this is when they returned from exile, they are concerned about how long God will be angry with them. It's time for revival to come. The prayer is for God to come and bring the spirit of revival among his people -- so that their joy would not come from the things of the world, but from God alone.
This week I am preaching "revival" at a College Church. This brings with it an interesting mix of diverse people from across the spectrum -- and yet, combined we truly are the people of God. Young and old, student and community leader, we are God's people, and as a people we are called to turn back to him. God wants his people to be united in seeking him and it is then -- as we cry out together to God -- that he comes in revival and restores us.
God's people are in desperate need of revival. We need to turn from the things that have made God indignant toward us. We must confess that we have made him angry by our infidelity. And all generations must be willing to be united together in repentance -- seeking the face of God together, crying for restoration of God's holy people. It is then that God will come and he will revive us again. His Spirit will unite with our spirits and they will soar in joy and praise with him.
In the midst of the revival the steadfast love of the Lord will be revealed and we will have the assurance of our salvation.
This is my prayer for this University and this College Church today. I include myself in this prayer. May God come in his mighty reviving power and restore us once again. We are in desperate need of him!
Lord, revive us again. Amen.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Luke 6:27 ¶ “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
Luke 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Luke 6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Luke 6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:32 ¶ “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
Luke 6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
Luke 6:34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Luke 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
The final verse of this section, verse 36 has a construct which is found over and over again in the Bible. We find it first in the Old Testament when God says to his people, "Be holy for I your God am holy." (Leviticus 20:26) We continue to find the same construct referred to -- this idea of Be holy…and then here in Luke it is changed to "be merciful." So, what is the connection between mercy and holiness? Evidently that is what Jesus is trying to show us right here in the Sermon on the Mount. He wants us to understand that to be holy, as God is holy means that we are a people filled with mercy. To be filled with mercy means that we love our enemies. This continues the concept that holiness, in a nutshell, is loving God and loving neighbor and loving God is probably easier than the loving neighbor part! That's why Jesus gives us these instructions on what it means to show love of neighbor -- even an enemy!
There is some incredible practical advice in this sermon from Jesus. So often we get hung up on the legalistic aspects of holiness when Jesus brings it right down to the nitty -gritty of every day life. We must allow ourselves to fall so in love with Jesus that we then fall in love with the world that he was willing to die for! Unfortunately we seem to want to be able to pick and choose whom we are to love. We see the beggars on the street and we wonder about their motivation -- and whether they are really in need or not! Should I give them something, or shouldn't I? What would Jesus say? He says it pretty clearly -- "Give to everyone who begs from you." Why? Because you are to do to them as you would want others to do to you. And in this you find holiness -- for you become a reflection of the love and mercy of God to a needy world.
The early Christians were known for their love. They went out into their cities and took seriously the call to holiness. They would go to the edge of town where people threw away their unwanted babies and rescue them -- taking them home and raising them as their own. They did all they could to save the lost. They felt they had no choice for they were living as God's holiness people. And that is the call to us today. If we are going to be God's holy people in this world, we must reach out and love our enemies. We must pray for them and do good to them. Holiness and mercy -- they are two sides of the same coin and it is God's call to you and to me to reach out to a needy world, being the reflection of his holiness in the world.
Lord, please help me to show your mercy today. Amen.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Luke 5:36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old.
Luke 5:37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.
Luke 5:38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
Luke 5:39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”
With the presence of Jesus Christ on earth things were different. His presence meant radical changes to the Jew's understanding of worship practices. The religious leaders couldn't understand why Jesus' disciples didn't pray and fast on the right days! But, why should they -- the one for whom they were praying and fasting was right there in their midst. And now suddenly there was what had been -- and what would be -- right in their midst and they wondered how those two would go together. Jesus shared with them this parable which I believe can help us see the need of the old and the new -- in the right proportions.
The ushering in of the kingdom was like a new garment. The new was just that -- the new, and pieces of it were not torn away or used to patch the old system. Instead if a new garment needs to be strengthened or if there is a hole, you take the old and find the best part and use it to patch up, or strengthen the new. At the same time when you made wine you had to put it into new skins so that as the wine fermented so the skins would stretch and not burst. But there was something fine about the old wine -- it was good!
I think about this shift that we are currently facing in Christianity and it is a period of stretching. There is this constant tug and pull between how we have done things and how we will do things in the future. If we listen to what Jesus is saying, there is a place for both but the emphasis is on the pull into the future which comes to us from God, and not a harkening back to the "good old days." The new may need to be firmed up and patched up from time to time with the things from the past -- but we can't tear up the new and use it to patch the past -- and I'm afraid that's what too many of us are trying to do. Instead of embracing where we are going with Jesus, we are holding onto the clothing of the past and we think it looks good if we cut up some of the new and patch it into our old duds. The problem is that old fabric begins to weaken and deteriorate and eventually will fall apart into a pile of patches. While it may be painful we need to embrace where Jesus is taking us and move forward with him.
As we move forward with Jesus we must remember to bring the best of the past with us. New wine -- I've heard -- is not very good, and often new and young believers are simply not very mature. They need the space of new wineskins so that they can stretch and grow but they are not yet ready to be poured out and used because they are simply too immature. But those who have been soaking in the presence of Jesus for years and years -- they have something to offer everyone that is beautiful and satisfying. Use the wine in the old wineskins -- for they have a wisdom and depth of relationship with Jesus that is beyond anything that the younger ones would understand.
We really do need both! We need the new and we must embrace what Jesus has in store for us and not be afraid of the future into which he is drawing us -- while at the same time we must appreciate the best of the past and build upon it. We are all better and stronger when we are together. We can't allow our differences to tear us apart, because that's the desire of the enemy. Jesus understood that and so must we.
Might I encourage us today to reach out a hand across the generations and lift our hearts together in praise to the Jesus we love! We are better together.
Lord, thank you for the joy of being together with your people. Amen.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Dan. 8:27 ¶ So I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I arose and went about the king’s business. But I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it.
Daniel had just experienced an overwhelming vision from God. He saw future destruction and he felt the weight of what he had seen. God had opened his eyes to have a vision of the future and yet it was one which he was not allowed to share publicly. He was going to have to bear the burden of this knowledge himself and the burden made him sick. But while the burden made him sick, he also knew that God had called him to public service to the king. He had a very high and prominent government position, and even as a prophet of God, he needed to go back to work. During the day in and day out of life, his witness to God was seen in his outstanding service to the kingdom and the King. He was not only God's messenger, but he remained faithful in the workplace, which allowed him to have influence within the government of his day. The burden of his vision, that he would have to carry with him, trusting in God.
I'm afraid that most of the time when I think about Daniel I envision him as a spiritual leader, but I don't really think about his secular work. Daniel was really good at what he did and held one of the highest, if not the highest position in the government, besides the king. His influence was immense and he saw that it was important to be faithful to God in all things -- including his employment. It appears that he actually lived out his calling through excellent service to the king and his kingdom. This is what he did day in and day out. The story about the Lion's Den, or the interpretation of dreams and visions -- those were the extraordinary events of his life. The rest of the time, he went to work.
Could it be that we, as God's children, have a responsibility to be the best secular employees that we possibly can? What would happen if God's children who are graced with gifts and talents would consecrate those before the Lord and then use them in day in an day out service here in the world? Daniel had a profound impact on the society in which he lived because he worked hard and tried to make a difference. Remember Joseph? Here was another man who used all of his abilities to make a difference for the people of the land in which he lived. His skill set allowed him to set aside enough food and organize distribution systems to not only save the Egyptians, but also people from the surrounding nations -- including his own family.
God has gifted each one of us with abilities -- abilities which need to be consecrated before Jesus Christ and then used at 100% of capacity for his glory. That may be as an accountant, a doctor, a teacher, a factory worker, or even in government service or political office -- but just as Daniel, we are called to be faithful with what God has given us -- even in the workplace. Maybe not "even" but "certainly" in at work. May we be good stewards of all that God has given us and be willing to be faithful in the workplace.
Lord, please help me to use all you have given me for you. Amen.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Matt. 20:20 ¶ Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him.
Matt. 20:21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
Matt. 20:22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
Matt. 20:23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Matt. 20:24 ¶ When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers.
Matt. 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
Matt. 20:26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,
Matt. 20:27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;
Matt. 20:28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Do you think that James and John were embarrassed at their mother's intervention -- or had they possibly put her up to it? We don't know for sure but it is thought that she may have been the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus and therefore would have been Jesus' aunt. Maybe, because of this close family tie, she felt that it was appropriate to use this influence for the good of her sons. I'm guessing they were in on the plan because when Jesus questioned them -- the boys responded. They all wanted this to work out so that when Jesus took over the country politically, they would have their positions. They still didn't understand what was about to happen.
We don't get very far into Acts (12:2) when we read of the death of James, "put to death with the sword" by Herod. Yes, he certainly drank from the cup of suffering. John goes on to live longer than any other of the Apostles but it is a life filled with suffering and persecution. The brothers had no idea what they were setting themselves up for when they committed to serving in the kingdom. This was to be a new and different kingdom, one in which things were turned upside down and those who were to be leaders, were to be servant leaders. The disciples may live lives of service to many and they may have to suffer at the hands of the world, but the promise was not earthly position, but nearness to Jesus. And this, they came to learn, was enough.
There are times in life when even the most sincere Christians may struggle with their egos a bit. Let's be honest, it feels good to get affirmation from others and to find ourselves with positions within the kingdom, but is that truly what God wants from us? Ultimately what both James and John learned was that nearness to Jesus was more important than anything the world and its systems had to offer. It was nearness to Jesus that brought James hope during his imprisonment and ultimately his death at the hand of the sword. In John's years of exile his writings have nothing to do with human position, but everything to do with the depth of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that empowers him to be of humble service day in and day out.
We are promised an intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He will never leave us or forsake us. Everything else becomes a shadow in the light of Jesus! The closer we are to him -- the more that we fall in love with him -- the more that we spend time in fellowship with him -- the more we realize that the things of the world's kingdoms simply don't matter. It was when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit that things began to radically change! We read that soon after this Peter and John went to the temple where a man was begging. Peter and John had no money -- their earthly kingdom was rather poor. But how did Peter respond? “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” They had nearness to Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They didn't need anything that the kingdoms of the world had to offer - they had all the power of Jesus Christ available to them because of their connection to him!
Are you worried today about where you fit in the worldly kingdom? Don't worry -- it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is nearness to Jesus Christ. Draw near to him today and give over every part of your being to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and then step out of the door and into the world as a servant leader in Jesus' kingdom! And in the midst of it all, remember that he will never leave us or forsake us. The promise is not one of position or power, but of the presence of Jesus with us in every moment of life.
Lord, thank you for the promise of your presence. Amen.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Ezek. 47:6 He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?” ¶ Then he led me back along the bank of the river.
Ezek. 47:7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other.
Ezek. 47:8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh.
Ezek. 47:9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.
Ezek. 47:10 People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.
Ezek. 47:11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt.
Ezek. 47:12 On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Here in Ezekiel we have the picture of the water flowing from the Temple -- it is a vision of the future where God comes and dwells among his people. We actually find this in the opening scenes of the Bible where Adam and Eve are in Paradise. There are rivers that flow and nourish everything in the garden. There is no need for any type of an irrigation system, for all is cared for -- including the tree of life. Sadly, Adam and Eve sin before they are able to partake of the fruit of this tree and humanity is on a journey of restoration throughout the entire history of the Book. Here in the middle of the book we have a reminder of God's promise for his people. Again they will find themselves in a place where the waters will flow, bringing life to everything that they touch, and along the banks of this river will be found trees.
The trees found along the river, according to one commentator, represent the ministers of the Gospel. Take this entire scene and place it in a New Testament context and we see that the river begins to flow again. John the Baptist comes and there is but a trickle. Jesus comes and the water begins to flow at a faster pace, and finally with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we may become caught up in the waist deep waters that will sweep us away -- and nourish us as well. Those who are planted along side these waters -- those who are called to the ministry will grow up along-side this new fresh water. In the deserts there will spring up new life because of those who are fed by the sweet water of life. Every month they will bring forth new fruit -- the fruit of new believers who are growing on the trees and are using their giftedness to minister to the world. These followers of Jesus Christ will be used as food for the hungry and healing for the sick. And everywhere that they grow -- the world will be radically transformed by the already presence of the Kingdom of God.
This vision of Ezekiel is one of transformation -- one in which the entire world is changed because of the presence of the life-giving water made available to you and to me by way of the Holy Spirit. The question for us is whether we are connected to this source or not! If we are not connected to this source then we will become as the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea doesn't have a good history. It was around back in the day of Sodom and Gomorrah -- and to this day it is a place where nothing grows. It is a quite amazing place -- I have never experienced anything like it in my life. One day when I visited the temperature was 114 F. Just the heat alone pretty much made the place feel like a dead zone! The density of the water is so great because of the presence of salt and other minerals that it literally holds you up. You cannot sink in the Dead Sea. It takes a little bit of time to get your bearings to be able to "bob" in the right direction without toppling over. But while all of this is interesting and fun -- there is nothing living in or around the Dead Sea…for it is just that…it is dead.
Without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we too, are dead. We might be fun for a little while, but there is nothing here to sustain us for the long haul. If we hang out too long in this place, we will shrivel up and die. But too many, even those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, are not spending enough time being fed by the living waters which flow from the throne of God. This story which we read in Ezekiel is picked up again in Revelation. When the story of God is brought to its conclusion, we find that the water flows from the throne of God and brings life to everything in the New Jerusalem.
This water is the only water that can bring eternal life. It is the only water that can reclaim all that has become dead. It is the water which God is making available to you and to me today -- if only we will get close to the water and drink deeply from the source. That is our responsibility. And once we are connected to him, we will grow and flourish, and God will be able to use us to be the healing balm to the nations. How incredible is that?
Let's plant ourselves beside the living stream. Let's dig in and be fed by God, and God alone -- through the presence of the Holy Spirit -- and allow God to transform us, giving us the life that he had intended for each.
Are you bobbing in the Dead Sea today -- or are you a flourishing tree, providing food and nourishment for all those around you, reclaiming the kingdom for him!
Lord, may you feed me today. Amen.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Luke 1:19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
Luke 1:20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
"I am Gabriel." Simply by stating his name this Angel was expressing that what God had intended was possible for his name meant, "the might of the strong God." In his personal visit to Zechariah he represented the power of the God of all creation and the realization that "with God all things are possible." This angel was one who would "stand in the presence of God;" the very concept of a Prime Minister who would have access to the King or the President as no other. Here was one who had been sent from the very presence of God to bring the good news to Zechariah, and yet, Zechariah doubted. Because of his unbelief he would have to suffer the consequences of being unable to hear or to speak until the child was born. He doubted the messenger whose very name revealed the "might of the strong God."
We don't need Gabriel to visit us these days because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live here among us -- to allow us to experience "the might of the strong God" on a daily basis. Sadly, I'm afraid that we are much like Zechariah. God is trying to reach out to us and speak to us on a daily basis, letting us know that "with God all things are possible" and yet, we too struggle with our faith. It is Jesus, himself, who sits at the right hand of the Father who is constantly interceding for us and yet, we wonder about God's activity in our lives.
Just as Zechariah struggled with his faith -- when God sent an angel to communicate directly with him -- so we may have times when we struggle in our faith, even when the Holy Spirit is present. Do we struggle with believing the words of God? If we were honest we would probably have to admit that there are times when we do and we try to take back control over what may be happening in our lives. It's in those times that we need to remember that "the might of the strong God" is here with us and in our presence. God wants to intercede in our lives, but he wants us to participate with him by bringing our faith into his activity. We must reach out to him, trusting that he will lead us through the myriad of decisions and activities of life, bringing us to a place that we may never have thought possible.
Zechariah and Hannah never thought they would have children. We may never believe that God could reach in and help us to rise above the current circumstances of our lives but in that moment of deepest despair and frustration we must focus our minds and our attention on the might of the strong God. He is able to do abundantly more than anything we could ever imagine. It's time for us to sit back, relax and put our trust in him. The one who stands in the presence of God is interceding today for you and for me. He knows what we need more than we do ourselves. We don't need to second guess our prayers, instead we can come honestly before him and know that Jesus will intercede for us and that the might of the strong God will be at work for us. Trust his good news and live in faith that "with God all things are possible."
Lord, thank you for your incredible love. Amen.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Rev. 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
We come to the close of the Revelation of Jesus Christ and here we find a great invitation. Each and every one is invited to come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The days in which John was living were extremely difficult and yet, for those who may have been in doubt, it was time to come! The Holy Spirit was moving in and among those who would listen to the Word through the ministry of the new and fledgling church -- the bride. The church was proclaiming the Word and through these the Spirit was drawing all men to the Lord. For all of those who heard the Word, the invitation was to come. For all of those who were in need of the water of eternal life -- the invitation was to come. For those hungry and thirsty spiritually, it was time to respond to the gracious invitation of our victorious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ -- now is the time to come!
This invitation to come found in the very closing words of the New Testament are the open embrace of a loving heavenly Father. God, through his Word, is constantly reaching out to humanity, not wanting any to miss out on heaven. From the beginning to the end we find God doing everything that he can to draw us into a personal relationship with him. God's desire is for us to be his holy people for he knows that this is the path to eternal life for us -- it is out of his deep love for us that he wants us to be united with him.
What would happen if you received an invitation to meet with the leader of your country? I don't think it matters whether you are aligned to that personal politically or not, you would probably be quite excited about the invite! You would tell your friends about it and you would begin to plan for that day when you would have the opportunity to meet. I know I'd probably be thinking about what I was going to wear :) -- but probably also what to say! But at the end of the day, I doubt very many of us would decline the invitation. This is exciting stuff!
Now, just imagine that the God of all creation has invited us into a personal relationship with him. What in the world are we doing dragging our feet and thinking about whether to respond or not. It's time to come!
Even if we have been followers of Jesus Christ for a long period of time we may be struggling in our walk today. There may be things that we are hanging onto that are keeping us thirsty. The invitation is for us today to let go of the things that are keeping us from being fully satisfied with all that God has to offer us. The invitation is to come! It's time to stop making excuses and thinking that you're going to have a better time hanging out with the world. There may be people within the church who have been a disappointment but that's a shameful excuse not to respond to the King's invitation! The invitation is still open for all of those who are willing to respond. For those who are hungry and thirsty -- let everyone come and partake of the gift. Come.
Lord, thank you that for your invitation. Amen.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Rev. 21:1 ¶ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
Rev. 21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev. 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
Rev. 21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
We are coming to the climax of the story of God. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. On this new earth there will no longer be any sea -- whether physically or metaphorically speaking. Could it be that the majority of the earth will no longer need to be covered by water? Or could it be that the sea had perpetually represented distress on the earth? In John's vision the sea had been the source of those who were the enemies of God and mankind. Will the source now be gone with the resultant peace among humanity? It would make sense, for God's plan is to come and to dwell among his people, and when he is present in the midst of his people, there is no place for a sea of tumult between God and his people. Instead, they are in a face to face, nose to nose relationship on a daily basis and all the things that the sea had done -- bring death, mourning, pain and tears -- will have evaporated. God will be on his throne among his people.
As a child we crossed the Atlantic ocean twice on ocean-liners. (Yes, I really am that old!) It was a great experience as we traveled from New York City to LeHarve, France, returning home to Europe after months of furlough in the United States. I remember those ships and for the most part, I have pleasant thoughts. On the other hand, I remember a day when we hit stormy seas -- rough water! All day the big ship rocked back and forth as the huge waves pounded us. The swimming pool was closed because as we bobbled in the ocean, the water of the pool would angrily shift back and forth, pouring over its boundaries and across the ship. It was a day in which you held on for dear life and wondered when it would all end.
There are seasons in life when we feel that we are adrift on the stormy seas of life. The wind whips up and the waves begin to rise and we feel battered on every side. Sometimes we wonder if we can ever make it! And then the "already" of the kingdom of God breaks in on us. We are able to catch a glimpse of what will be in the future, and begin to participate in this new heaven and new earth in a small way, even today. The Holy Spirit is here among us and unites us in a holy relationship with God now -- today. This means that in the seas of life, when we are being beaten by the storms, God can come into that space and remove the sea. Already, now, God wants to come and wipe the tears from our eyes.
Until Christ comes again the seas will exist and there will be the unrest of life, but we have the promise and the foretaste of the destruction of that sea when God breaks into the here and now. Hang on, for God is already with us. Yesterday in the church where I worshiped we concluded with this song -- a great reminder for you and for me as we make our way through life and the sea.
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.
The day will come when the sea will be no more, but until that day, we can already begin to experience the in-breaking of the new kingdom.
Lord, thank you that you ride the storms with us, and that you are victorious. Amen.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Rev. 20:44 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
John continues to share with us what he sees in this revelation. During this period of time there were many who were being martyred for their faith and now, in his vision, he sees them - those who have died for their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been willing to stand up for what they believe and were unwilling to compromise with the things of the world. And now they are resurrected and are reigning together with Jesus Christ.
Just the other day a friend of mine was sharing about his recent trip into a very volatile part of the world. Religious extremists are trying to wrestle control of every facet of life from the people there but in the midst of it all there are those who refuse to compromise. This includes those who have accepted Jesus Christ. The extremists see these Christ-followers as their enemies and so, my friend met and talked to the young widow of a pastor. He had just been beheaded a month ago -- and now she is alone with her small children. This just happened, this summer, the summer of 2013! There are believers who are losing their lives over their faith and love of Jesus Christ.
In another country -- another place -- things have also become extremely difficult and many people are fleeing for their lives. And there in the midst of it all the young pastor refuses to leave. "Why won't you go?" he was asked. His response, "If I can't be with them when they suffer, how can I be with them when they celebrate?"
When we read scriptures like today's we imagine the martyrs of long ago -- the ones in John's day, but there are true martyrs today -- those who are being beheaded for their faith. This brings us to a very sobering question. "How committed are you?" 'How committed am I?" My faith in Jesus Christ can't just be something I take lightly and it can't be something I simply do on an occasional Sunday. No, my commitment to him must be deep -- to the very core of my being. I must be filled through and through with his Holy Spirit until all that I am is given over to him.
Am I willing to be a modern-day martyr? Do I love Jesus enough that I would not give him up for anything? Then may that be visible in me each and every single day of my life. May I be as committed as our young leader who just lost his head for Jesus -- and may I be committed to praying for and supporting his young wife!
May God help us to be the faithful people he has called us to be in this world -- and may we be committed, even to death!
Lord, please help me to love and serve you faithfully in the little and big things of life. Amen.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Ezek. 36:1 ¶ And you, mortal, prophesy to the mountains of Israel, and say: O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD.
Ezek. 36:2 Thus says the Lord GOD: Because the enemy said of you, “Aha!” and, “The ancient heights have become our possession,”
Ezek. 36:3 therefore prophesy, and say: Thus says the Lord GOD: Because they made you desolate indeed, and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became an object of gossip and slander among the people;
Ezek. 36:4 therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD: Thus says the Lord GOD to the mountains and the hills, the watercourses and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted towns, which have become a source of plunder and an object of derision to the rest of the nations all around;
Ezek. 36:5 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: I am speaking in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, who, with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, took my land as their possession, because of its pasture, to plunder it.
Ezek. 36:6 Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the watercourses and valleys, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am speaking in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the insults of the nations;
Ezek. 36:7 therefore thus says the Lord GOD: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer insults.
Ezek. 36:8 ¶ But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home.
The people of God had turned over their hills to the worship of other gods. Instead of looking around them and seeing God's hand in all that he had created, they saw mountain tops filled with idol worship. As they would look to the heavens, their eyes would stumble over the idols they had created and where they chose to offer their sacrifices. God's heart was broken.
But now the prophet declares the word of the Lord GOD -- "The ancient heights have become our possession." God is again reclaiming his place among his people. Even these hills which had been given over in immoral worship of other gods are able to be reclaimed to the glory of God. And not only to the glory of God, but they are renewed and will again be able to fulfill the purpose for which God had created them. They will be fresh and new and will again yield fruit -- for God's people will come home!
Just as God was able to renew the hills of Israel, so this prophetic voice is a reminder that God can renew you and me. Your hills may be captivated by the world. You may be practicing abominable things on the mountaintops but God is still able to come down and redeem his people. The promise is for all who have wandered as far away from God as possible. There wasn't much worse than to set up false idols and offer your own babies as sacrifices to them! And yet God was willing to come in his redemptive powers and restore the mountains.
The restoration of God is so complete that he makes us new. The past can be transformed into the present and today can be the first day of the rest of your life, as you put your trust in him. The old idols can be torn down and new life will begin to grow again in their place. And the new day and the new life will bear good fruit for the kingdom.
We don't need to live in discouragement of the past. We don't need to live in bondage to the gods of our hills. We need to turn our hills over to the God of all redemption who is waiting to recapture them and restore them. God gives new life in the midst of everything that might be broken down. But you must give him the hills.
Lord, may you rule and reign over every hill of my life. Amen.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
Luke 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus goes home to Nazareth and on the Sabbath goes to the synagogue worship. He stands up to read from the scroll and he reads this portion of scripture written by the prophet Isaiah. When he finishes reading he tells the people that this scripture has been fulfilled in their presence.
This is about Jesus, himself, and he is the one who is anointed to take the good news to the poor. He is speaking about his mission and where his father is sending him. It is a sign of what the people are to see in the months and years ahead from Jesus and his ministry.
The people of his hometown are not pleased -- and they try to throw him off a cliff. Here was this young man who had grown up among them and now, how dare he suggest that the had a divine responsibility! They were angry and not willing to accept this calling on his life, and rather than contemplate what he had said, it was easier to get rid of him.
Today we may not be bothered by the fact that Jesus is our home town boy -- but we might seriously be bothered by the message. How often do we really contemplate the fact that Jesus was anointed to "bring good news to the poor?" If we look at most of Christianity these days -- would we be a reflection of the anointed ministry of Jesus Christ? Does Christianity truly see ministering to the poor as a primary task? If not, what would Jesus have to say about it?
I come from the tradition known as the holiness movement. Within this tradition, we began with a ministry to the poor and needy. We were intentional in how we did ministry so that we could reach out to the poor. Only what was absolutely necessary was spent on church buildings so that more money could be spent on the poor. It's why you find many little, simple buildings tucked away in poor neighborhoods -- not out on the main streets of towns. This was a purposeful move to be there in the midst of those who needed the church.
It was in those early years in the United States, there among the poor, that the church flourished. The poor and needy were being ministered to and they were finding not only salvation, but a complete life-change as a result of the transformation found in sanctification. It was incredible! But as the years went by and we got cleaned up -- we moved up out of our poverty and wanted to become more respectable. We wanted nicer and bigger buildings in better locations and so, little by little we moved up and away from the communities in which we began. Or, if we stayed -- when our kids grew up and went off to college -- they never wanted to come back to those humble beginnings.
Could it be that we are needing to hear that prophetic voice again calling us to join Christ in his ministry to the poor? Maybe we need to again articulate our calling and embrace what it was that we were doing in the first place. Maybe we need to re-engage in the work of the poor and needy communities of this world, and I believe if we did, we would be fulfilling the mission and calling of Jesus Christ. There need not be any embarrassment of the location of our church buildings -- instead, there ought to be an embracing of the calling and the work that we are to do, where we are.
To whom are we taking the good news?
Lord, please help me to follow you into the world. Amen.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Rev. 16:15 (“See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame.”)
Matt. 24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
Luke 12:39 ¶ “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
1Th. 5:2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1Th. 5:4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief;
2Pet. 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
Mark 13:35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
1Pet. 5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
The scripture reference in Revelation is a reminder to all of God's followers that they are to be prepared for his return. Jesus WILL come again! The question for you and for me is whether we will be ready!
Just as no one knows when someone might try to break into a home -- no one knows when Jesus Christ will return. But that means that each and every single one of us should be on guard every day -- as if this might be the very day of his return. We are to remain awake spiritually and spiritually clothed. The scripture in 1 Peter is a great reminder -- that we are to be disciplined. A follower who is prepared for that day is one who is faithfully following Christ every single day -- clothing themselves in the spiritual disciplines. In this way, we will be prepared.
Today is the twelfth anniversary of September 11. It's a day in which 12 years ago thousands of people went off to their jobs, not knowing that for them life would be changed forever. Just as a thief in the night, there were those coming to steal their very lives.
None of us knows when the end may come. We may be alive to see the return of Jesus Christ, or we may have already passed on, but if we think that we are going to wait around until some later date to make things right with the Lord, we may be sadly mistaken. There is an old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes." When it comes down to facing life and death, even those who have said they don't believe cry out to God!
The importance here is understanding that we simply need to be prepared every single day of our lives. "Be prepared." It's that motto of the Boy Scouts -- for them to recognize that they needed to be prepared with all the skills that they had garnered and learned -- to go out and face the world.
For Christ-followers, we must be prepared spiritually every day. What does it mean for us to be disciplined spiritually? The Revelation scripture says we are to be clothed. One commentator says that we are to be clothed in justification and sanctification! We are to be in a right relationship with Jesus Christ -- we must repent and be saved! When we are saved we receive the Holy Spirit and God begins his sanctifying work in you and me. God's plan for us is that we be sanctified -- his holy people in this world.
Daily we are to work together with God -- following him into the moment by moment call of being a disciple. There is no time to let down our guard. We are to be dressed and ready to go at a moment's notice. Jesus is here -- Jesus is coming -- are we prepared?
Lord, please help me be prepared for you today. Amen.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Lam. 3:22 ¶ The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
Lam. 3:23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lam. 3:24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The prophet had just been lamenting all the difficulties he had faced when suddenly he changed the tone of his voice. In the midst of the difficulties we find these words of praise. Even when things are extremely difficult God's love continues to be poured out on his people. God is eternal, his nature, his love is eternal and will never, ever cease. Every morning, in the face of the horrific circumstances God sends out his mercy to his children. Again, the mercies of God will never come to an end, for he is infinite! Every day when life throws us another curveball, he will extend to us the mercies necessary to deal with those difficulties. Why? Because the LORD is the one in whom we have put our trust and we will never give up hoping in him.
There are times in life when things simply do not make sense from a human standpoint. We want to work everything out, we want to understand all the details and we want to make sure that we have input in all that is going on, but that, unfortunately, is not reality. There is too much of life that is far beyond our control. There will always be others who will be making decisions for us that will affect us and our lives and sometimes these will be good decisions and other times they may not feel like such good decisions.
Our hope is not in people -- our hope is in the LORD. We can't wait around for people to meet our needs for ultimately they will let us down. Instead, we need to learn that our hope can only be in the LORD for he loves us with an unceasing love. Isn't that comforting? God's love will never end -- and his compassion and mercies for all of us will be there for us each and ever morning. Even when we wake up wondering why in the world we're being slammed by things around us, we are reminded of the never-ending love and faithfulness of God.
So, today, I join with hymn writer in praise to my Lord:
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!“ Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided— “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Today, and every day, I am renewed by the hope that I find in my personal walk with the Lord. May we all live in the beauty of trusting in him -- the one who will today, tomorrow and forever show us his love and mercy.
Lord, thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Rev. 14:1 ¶ Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
Rev. 14:2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps,
Rev. 14:3 and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth.
Rev. 14:4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb,
Rev. 14:5 and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.
In contrast to the previous chapter, we now have a glimpse of the true Lamb -- and his victorious Church. The Lamb is Jesus, the Savior of the world and his is standing on Mount Zion -- or the Church. What we see in this opening paragraph to chapter 14 is a future vision of the Church who has survived existence in the world. It is also a vision for those who remain faithful followers of Jesus Christ. The 144,000 is a representative large number of those who will be faithful throughout the generations. Instead of showing loyalty to the enemy, they are loyal to Christ. They are not afraid to publicly testify to the fact that they are his and in doing so there is harmony between heaven and earth, a type of synergy as the music of heaven is joined with the voices of those who follow Christ. The result is that they are able to worship the Lord in a way that seems almost incomprehensible to those around them. Only those who know Christ as their personal savior can join in and sing the new song.
And, symbolically, these who follow Christ have not defiled themselves with women. Israel was constantly defiling herself with the gods of other nations -- giving herself over to them. The true follower of Jesus Christ, the Lamb, will not worship other gods. They will worship the Lamb alone, being willing to "follow the Lamb wherever he goes." These first fruits only represent the many who will be a part of Christ's Church -- true followers who have been redeemed.
Sometimes we may wonder what a true believer looks like, and right here in John's Revelation we find a very real sketch. The false believers have been outlined for us and now we have to move on to the scene played out before us. It is a vision for true followers of Jesus Christ and a lesson for those who want to follow him.
1) We must be willing to publicly confess our faith in Jesus Christ. If we are to be his children, it is not to be something to be hidden, but instead is to e a part of who we are. There are those around the world who are, even today, suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ and are modern-day martyrs. Are we willing to be faithful to Jesus, even to the very end!
2) Are we willing to spend time in prayer and worship, getting to know the heart and mind of God? If so, then do we enter into his activity here on this earth? He is calling us into an intimate relationship in which we partner with him in ministry -- and in doing so the voices of heaven and earth combine. On Friday evening I was checking us in for a flight home from Seattle. When I had booked our tickets I could only get us two seats back in row 20. When I checked us in, suddenly there were three seats available up in row 9. I decided to try and get seats A and C so that we could have some space to stretch out on the trip home. Throughout this four hour flight Chuck and I were both working on sermons. He had his Bible out on his tray table when the lady in seat D caught his attention from across the aisle. She asked him if he was a believer and he responded that he was. Then she told him that she was flying home to be with her father who is dying. As a matter of fact, she assumed that when the plane landed she would be given the bad news. Her pastor had prayed with her that on the way she would be surrounded by believers who would pray for her. She had just bought her ticket on Friday night and this was the empty seat into which she was placed. It was Friday night when we found the empty seats that would be beside her. Then the woman in seat E spoke up -- she was a believer as well. And then the people in row 8 spoke up -- they were believers too -- and before the woman left the plane there was a prayer meeting in rows 8 and 9. Somehow we had joined together with heaven and God was doing his business. As she got off the place she said that she felt at peace about what she was to face.
3) When we spend time with the Lord we will learn a new song -- one which the world would never understand. This is a song of life that is foreign to the things of this world. The believer does live differently -- because they are living in the heavenly kingdom and not the earthly one. The world might think we are crazy, at times, but we are not -- because we can hear and sing and hum a different tune.
4) True believers become singular in purpose -- in following Jesus Christ. The Lamb is the head and there is nothing to distract them from following him. No longer do we turn to the gods of this world for satisfaction, but we live solely and completely for him.
We are invited into this scene from Revelation 14 today -- into the sketch of the true believer. May we not be deceived!
Lord, please help me to live out the life of a true believer. Amen.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Psa. 48:1 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain,
Psa. 48:2 beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Psa. 48:3 Within its citadels God
has shown himself a sure defense.
Praise and worship of God are the theme of this Psalm. There on the holy mountain, his sanctuary, we find a place of worship. There in Jerusalem the temple has been built and in this place the people can come and worship God. When the foreign kings come to visit the city they are overcome with what they see and experience. In fear and reverence they return home and God remains the protector of his people, as long as they continued to praise and to worship him.
The holy mountain which we will enter today is our place of worship -- the church. We, too, must remember that praise and worship of God are to be the theme of all that we do when we enter into his holy place. Too often we become concerned about whether we are going to enjoy the worship experience or not and we must remember that this isn't about what you or I like -- it's about focusing on God and our worship of him.
When we truly praise and worship God in our churches we will experience his presence among us. Within our walls, our citadels, God will show himself to be our sure defense. But this is only if we are truly sincere in our worship of him. God was the defense of the Israelites as long as they turned toward him an worshiped him. When they stopped, decay began to come in and destroy. Little by little their cities and their nation were destroyed. Eventually the very temple of God was destroyed and the people carried off into exile.
If we are not sincere in our worship of God the same will happen to us. We will go to church and we may go through the motions, but God won't be there. Little by little the decay will come in and destroy. People will argue with one another over trivial matters because God won't be there. Little by little people will leave and a small and tiny remnant will remain. Eventually the doors will have to close and the church will be gone, carried off into exile.
We must heed the warning from the Psalmist and keep our focus of worship on God. If we do so, he will come and fill the temple -- his presence will be with us in worship -- and he will continue to be our defense. This was his promise to the Israelites and it is his promise to us today.
Let's go into the house of the Lord on this day of worship -- and give him all the focus, the praise and the attention! "Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised!"
Lord, thank you for the privilege of worshiping you today. Amen.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Rev. 12:6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.
Rev. 12:7 ¶ And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back,
Rev. 12:8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The Church is the Bride of Christ and in the first century she was facing incredible persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. Christians had two choices when it came to responding to the secular powers against them. Either they would become martyrs and be killed for their faith, or they would have to flee into the wildernesses. It was during this period of time that the eremitic (hermits) types of monasticism developed. These are the monks who went and lived out in the deserts to learn more from God. Not only were they learning more from God, but they were surviving. It was not uncommon for entire communities of believers to have to live in remote deserted areas of the world. But the war of good and evil waged on during this time. The Bride was not left without her protectors and Michael who has, throughout the Scriptures, represented the Angel who protected God's people continues to protect the Church. Wesley reminds us that the name Michael means, "Who is like God?" And it is this angel who goes to battle against Satan who had challenged God and wanted to believe that he was like God. But Michael, who knows his place, who recognizes that there is none who can be like God, fights to protect the very people of God. The battle rages on with Michael and his angels battling the dragon and his angels. The Church is the prey which the dragon wants to devour and the battle is waged even in the heavenly realms. We know that the persecutions of Christians eventually ended. Those who had abandoned all to live in the wilderness were able to return home. The Roman Empire succumbed to Christianity and even the mighty rulers were brought low by a humble and rather disorganized Church. What a difference a few years can make. Some of the worst persecutions came in the early 4th century, but by 318 the first council meeting was held -- sponsored by the Emperor, Constantine. How did a rag-tag group of spiritual people bring about the turn-around of the Holy Roman Empire? By trusting in God and remembering that the battle belonged to him who fought for them in the spiritual realms.
The root of Satan's problem was his jealousy. He wanted to be like God and as a result he would do everything in his power to try to be like God. But there is only one true God and no matter how powerful and witty, no one, can be like God. This included the powerful Emperors of Rome! This is very important to understand for the major religion of Rome was Emperor worship with the people believing in the deification of their Emperors. They believed that the Emperors actually became gods. They built temples to the Emperors and worshiped them in outlandish ceremonies. If one thinks that Satan had an ego -- put that in perspective with the Roman Emperors! Here we have a human who has come to believe that they are a god. All the more then we understand the presence of Michael within John's Revelation.
The reminder is that there is no one who is like God. Not Satan and all of his army of fallen angels, nor the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and all of his minions of soldiers. While the nations of the world might be subdued by them, those who were a part of God's kingdom were not. The Church, advancing as the kingdom of God in the world, could not be stopped by those who thought they were like God. Not Satan and all of his forces, nor the mightiest nation in the world had any authority over the Kingdom of God.
Now, let us fast-forward to today. We are invited into the Church and the kingdom that has overthrown the mightiest kingdoms in this world. In my own lifetime I have been witness to this happening with the end of the Cold War. How many Christians had prayed fervently that the Iron Curtain would come down -- and when it did we were all stunned. There was no war. And yet hundreds of thousands were gathered in churches praying.
Now my concern is that we have slipped into complacency. For a number of years, at least in the West, we have not had to deal with much persecution of those who call themselves Christians. That may be changing as Christianity seems to be on the outs with many of the worlds' governments these days. But is that really such a bad thing? It has always been during the darkest days of Christianity that we have been able to experience the hand of God moving and protecting his Church.
There is none like God but God himself. It is this God, not the ones who want to be like him, who will continue to protect his Bride, the Church until the day of Christ's return. May we avoid the temptation to believe that we can be like God. Instead, we must humble ourselves in service to God, living out a life of faith in his Church, and allow him to fight the battles for us. We are called to a life of trust in the midst of struggles.
Lord, thank you for fighting the battle for us. Amen.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Rev. 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.”
Zech. 14:9 ¶ And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.
The seventh and final trumpet sounded and this brought all things to completion or perfection. What was that perfection? Satan has ruled this earth long enough and now the kingdom of the world is overthrown by the kingdom of our Lord. God in heaven, seated on the throne sent his Messiah -- his only Son to be the ruler over the kingdom of the world. Zechariah had prophesied about the coming of that day, when the LORD would reign over the earth. All divisions would come to an end and there would be complete and total unity. The Lord has sent his Messiah and the overthrow of the kingdom of the world has begun. The victory is eternal and the Messiah, Jesus,will reign forever and ever.
We often talk of living in the "already - not yet" of the kingdom of God. Jesus' kingdom has already been established here on this earth and yet -- we are awaiting his return when that will be brought to completion. That is why we live in this "already - not yet" period of time in the kingdom. As followers of Jesus Christ we have come under the rule and the authority of his kingdom. We are citizens of the heavenly kingdom, so we are a part of the already, but we have to live in the not yet. We must ask ourselves what we must be doing as active citizens and ambassadors of the already while the not yet still exists.
I'm afraid that too many of those who would call themselves followers of Christ are trying to live with a foot in both worlds. Maybe trying to be kingdom citizens on Sunday but then living as world citizens the rest of the week. This is the easy way out, trying to satisfy both worlds and yet, this simply is not possible within the Christian life. Once you have stepped into the Kingdom of our Lord -- you are his and you are his citizen. That means we participate in his kingdom every single day. We can be "in the world but not of it" -- because we do have to participate in this world, but as ambassadors, we must think about how that looks.
An embassy is actual territory of the country it is representing in a foreign land. As ambassadors, we are living within our embassy -- kingdom territory within a foreign land. The world is the foreign land but our responsibility is to be kingdom people within the foreign land. Therefore we have to ask ourselves on a daily basis how best we can represent our king. What does it look like to be an ambassador for the heavenly kingdom in a public school? Or in a law office? Or as a barrista at Starbucks? Or behind the counter at McDonald's? Or at home taking care of screaming children? Or as a minister behind the pulpit and in the home?
For us to genuinely live in the already of the kingdom of God we must be faithful to him through and through. Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? It brings us to 1 Thess. 5:23, "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Isn't that what God's talking about? Not people with feet in both kingdoms, but people who have been sanctified through and through -- kingdom people -- who are then kept blameless (serving as faithful ambassadors) until the final trumpet does sound and the kingdom of the world is forever replaced with the kingdom of our Christ.
As Christ's ambassadors we must stake our ground, open our embassy and live as his representatives in this world. Having a foot in both worlds is not an option. You must be his, through and through.
Lord, please help me to serve you faithfully in your kingdom today. Amen.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Ezek. 28:25 ¶ Thus says the Lord GOD: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall settle on their own soil that I gave to my servant Jacob.
Humanity was to be a reflection of God in this world. The children of Israel had so completely turned their back on God and given themselves over to idol-worship that the true God, Yahweh, could never been found among them. They were to be an evangelistic people, drawing the rest of the world to Yahweh. Instead, they prostituted themselves with the gods of their enemies. Now, they were going to suffer at the hands of their enemies spending years in exile. However, the exile was not simply a punishment, but it was to become a time of cleansing. It was during the exile that they would become a monotheistic people once again. In the midst of their trials and difficulties they would realize that there is none other than Yahweh! And while living as foreigners in a nation far away, they would turn to the one true God who would cleanse them and unite them as a people.
Finally, we read the promise here about the end of the exile. God's people would be gathered back home in the promised land -- and when they came home, they would be different. God's holiness would be manifested in them. They would again be a reflection of the living God and his holiness would shine from them, drawing all the peoples' of the world toward God. The people of God would once again be restored so that they could fulfill the purpose for which God had called them -- to manifest the holiness of God to a world headed toward destruction and corruption.
This is God's promise for an entire nation, but it is also a promise for us today. Since the coming of Christ we have all been grafted into God's family. We are God's holy people -- created to be a reflection of him in the world. On a personal level it is we who have rejected him by turning to other gods. No, we may not bring in the types of idols that the Israelites brought into their homes and worshipped, but I believe that we have allowed other things to become our gods. They may seem to be good things, but if we step back and look at it, anything that becomes an obstacle to God being reflected in our lives has become a god for us.
Does God need to send us into exile to rid us of these gods? It just may be that we have to go through difficult days to realize that there is none other that we need in this life but the one true God. And after we have completed our time in exile, God will welcome us back home and establish us in the place where we belong. Once again the holiness of God will be manifested in and through us, for this is the very purpose for which we have been created. Holiness is not an option. Holiness is the very nature of God reflected in you and me as we are his faithful servants in the world. So, if we find ourselves in a wilderness or exile, let's let go and allow God to use this time to refine and restore us into the people he intended for us to be.
Lord, sometimes it hurts to be in exile, but may your refining work be done! Amen.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Rev. 9:4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
To give a clear explanation of this scripture is exceedingly difficult. Nearly every commentator has a different perspective, except for their understanding for those who are "sealed." There is a distinct difference between those followers of God who are sealed in him, and those who are not. Too often there are those who call themselves Christians, and in the case of John's time -- there would have been the Israelites who believed they were "saved" because they were following the law, and these people believe they are okay spiritually without having a personal relationship with God. These people are the hypocrites and they have not been sealed -- therefore they are not immune from eternal destruction.
Interestingly the angel is told not to damage any of the green growth. Could it be that there is a connection between being "sealed" and "green growth?" Could it be that those who have been sealed in God are those who are growing spiritually and producing spiritual fruit -- or green growth -- in their own lives? Those who will survive are those who have given their lives over to Christ and who know that they have the "seal of God on their foreheads."
John Wesley was a great spiritual leader in the 18th century and yet during the early years of his faith he struggled. It was not until he met a group of Moravians that he discovered that there were those who could have assurance of their faith in Christ. He was moved by the simple faith and trust of these followers of Christ. They seemed to have a peace about them that he knew he had never experienced. Buoyed by their faith he began to seek the Lord in earnestness for his own personal experience -- for this assurance of his salvation. That assurance came on an evening on Aldersgate Street in London when suddenly his heart was "strangely warmed." It was at that moment that John realized he had been "sealed."
The religious leaders of John the Apostle's day didn't have the assurance that they were "sealed" and they would be lost on the final days of battle. The message for you and for me is that we can know that we have been sealed -- our hearts can be strangely warmed. We don't have to fear the unknown of the days ahead, whether we are simply talking about our daily lives, or whether we are talking about cataclysmic events. God wants to give us the assurance of our salvation and this is not found in following a legalistic set of rules. The seal -- or the warming comes when we are in such a personal relationship with the Lord that we know that we are his.
John Wesley tried explain what this was like but I believe for each of us it will be a personal experience. We shouldn't try to replicate the experience of others, but instead, we must walk in faith and a daily relationship with the Holy God -- creator of all things. He loves us and cares for us and wants all of us to be saved. We can be sealed in him. We can have our hearts strangely warmed.
Lord, thank you for the assurance of salvation. Amen.