Saturday, November 30, 2013
Rom. 4:7 “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
Rom. 4:8 blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”
This passage begins with Paul talking about our great father Abraham and, while he was a good man, this was not enough to save him. Instead it was his faith and trust in God that led him through life.
Next we find David - a man after God’s own heart. And yet, it wasn’t about David’s works, for we know there were times when he failed in his fidelity before God. Instead it was the grace of God that allowed David to have this deeply personal relationship with Yahweh.
At this point I think Paul gets “blessed” as he quotes from David:
Psa. 32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Psa. 32:2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
This is a week in which many people, typically, take the time to stop and “count their blessings!” Often we begin with the material things in life. These are all the tangibles that we can see, touch and smell. Those generally expand to the relationships around us.
But then there is another realm into which Paul invites us to participate. This is the realm of thanksgiving for things spiritual. Far too often I’m afraid we take these things for granted.
What if we stepped into this moment with Paul today and truly celebrated the spiritual blessings of life.
Our sins have been forgiven!
Our sins have been covered!
We are no longer considered guilty for the things that we have done.
There is a joy and lightheartedness we receive when we are saved and set free from the things of life which had tied us down. We have the indescribable joy and privilege to be in a face to face and nose to nose relationship with our Creator God — just like Abraham. We are touched by the deep love of God to the depths of our being that we want to sing with David songs of praise and thanksgiving.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians put it all in perspective when he referred to the things of the world as garbage:
Phil. 3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Phil. 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
I’m with Paul today — feeling extremely blessed. There is nothing the world has to offer that can compare with what he has done for us. Are you counting your true blessings?
Lord, I am grateful to overflowing for your blessings. Amen.
Friday, November 29, 2013
1Th. 5:23 ¶ May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th. 5:24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Paul again prays for the people in Thessalonica and affirms what Jesus’ goal is for his people — that they be entirely sanctified, or be made holy. Yes, that’s why Jesus lived and died — so that we could be made holy.
The nature of God is again revealed in this prayer, our God is a God of peace. It is this God of holy, loving, peace that draws humanity toward him so that we, too, might be made entirely or completely holy. Paul expounds on that a little — “may your spirit and soul and body” — may every single part of you be made holy and continue in holiness until Jesus comes again.
Of course this is not your own personal work, but the work of the God peace — the one who is calling you into this life of holiness. The God of peace draws you into this relationship of holy love and in doing so the Holy Spirit permeates every single part of your being. The presence of the Holy Spirit in every portion of our lives is our sanctification. He can and will do it.
This is one of those passages that I want to chew on every time I come to it. Having grown up in the “Holiness Tradition” the language of “Entire Sanctification” was used a great deal. Somehow from what I had heard I had come to think that this meant that it was something that happened to you and then you were done. Kind of like baking a cake — once it’s baked, it’s baked! Once I’m “Entirely Sanctified” I’m done. And yet, I remember hearing voices of people like Dr. Ralph Earle saying things like — let’s look at the Luther Bible where it’s translated, “heilige euch durch und durch.” Literally in English that would say, “make you (all) holy through and through.” He reiterated that idea of “through and through.” The Russian version leaves you with the idea of an on-going activity that makes you holy all the way to the very completion. It’s this idea that we are to be sanctified or made holy (an on-going activity) until we have reached the goal — to be God’s holy people.
The problem with the baked cake analogy is that life is an on-going event. The reality is that I do believe in “Entire Sanctification” — an event subsequent to salvation in which the Holy Spirit may fill me through and through. But then, my sanctification continues to be an on-going event that continues throughout the remainder of my life. Why is that? Because my spirit, soul and body are changing. Who I was yesterday is not the same person that I am today. Relationally I am not the same person. There are new people in my life that weren’t in my life yesterday. Reactionally I am not who I was yesterday because daily I am confronted with new situations and new opportunities in which to respond. Therefore Paul’s prayer is the prayer that I need — that I would be sanctified through and through — yes yesterday — but even more so today and tomorrow and the next day. And that my sanctification will continue on to completion — meaning that it will continue all the way through my life until eventually I am able to stand “sound and blameless” before our Lord.
Jesus’ desire was for his people to be made holy — to be made holy by being in a face to face relationship with him. That relationship is to be reflected in every other relationship we have. Paul knew that this was not easy and only possible through the power of the One who was calling us to be holy. It should be our prayer today as well. May we never be deceived into believing that God is finished with us. Instead of being fully baked, we may instead just be pickled — stuck in a state of unhappiness, refusing to grow and refusing to acknowledge that in growth the Holy Spirit must continue to infill. All of God’s people should join Paul in the prayer to be made holy through and through!
Lord, may your Holy Spirit work in my spirit, soul and body today. Amen.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
1Th. 3:11 ¶ Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.
1Th. 3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.
1Th. 3:13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Over and over again Paul’s own personal life is an example to all of us. Much of his time is devoted to prayer and when he articulates his prayers we are left with a beautiful template of that which motivates him in private conversation with God. Notice that he prays to God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Paul, without using Trinitarian language, reveals to us what he has experienced in God. Our prayers ought always be directed to God through Jesus Christ who intercedes for you and for me. Through this intercession the Holy Spirit leads and directs us.
This opening in prayer, the pathway to God, is followed by Paul’s actual request. His prayer for the Thessalonians (and I believe it would be for you and for me today) is that their lives would “increase and abound in love for one another.” Remember, it was Jesus who had said that the world would recognize his followers by their love for one another. Paul has recognized that this love from God is what must be present in the lives of the believers! Therefore he is praying for this love to be lavished on God’s followers, so much so that it would pour out over the entire congregation. Not only is that love to abound within the congregation but it is to spill out and reach out to the world around them. This love is to be for all to experience. And then again Paul sets himself up as the example, for he has been praying for this love to be revealed in his own life. His heart is overflowing, abounding, in love for these, his spiritual children.
Once we recognize the importance of praying to God, and we recognize that we are to pray for abounding love, the final verse helps us place this all in context. Jesus lived and died to make you and me holy. This is the goal for all of humanity — to be transformed into the very nature of Christ — which is holy love. That’s why Paul’s final pleading in prayer is that their hearts may be strengthened in holiness. It is this over abounding love that reveals the nature of Christ in you and in me. It means that we are being strengthened in holiness, and if transformation in holiness is why Jesus came for you and me, then as we grow in him, the result is that we will be blameless before God.
The entire prayer is one in which the followers are being drawn up into God’s eternal plan for all of humanity. We are to be transformed into the likeness of his image — we are to become more and more like Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life abounded in love. The manifestation that Christ is at work in you and me is that we will abound in his love toward those within the community of faith, as well as the world around us. And this is truly holiness.
Last evening I was at a church in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is a church that has at least six different congregations from varying cultures meeting within the same building or facility. The place is active from morning until night — filled with people from across the spectrum. The kitchen and gym had just been used to feed 50 teens from the community. Another room and been used all morning to teach 20 women parenting skills. Another section had been used to provide the daycare for the children whose moms were learning to better provide for them. The after-school program had been training the teens in life skills. Next came the worship team practice made up of mostly folks from the Caribbean. Downstairs a mix of the congregations had gathered for a prayer meeting — for a mighty outpouring of love among this diverse group. Sundays the place is bursting with people coming to praise and worship God.
Interestingly on the way home we were discussing what it must be like to try and organize some of this “chaos” throughout this building. My brother-in-law mentioned that when he first arrived the building was deathly silent. He said that you could hear the crickets! Today he is filled with joy at the noise and laughter that fills the halls.
Have there been challenges? Of course! The wear and tear on the building is visible. And, of course, not everyone always cleans everything up — and yet, my sister-in-law said, “but it’s in those moments that you realize that you can show the love and grace of God to others as you wash up their dishes.” That’s love abounding to one another. That’s love overflowing to all. That’s the incarnational power of holiness and isn’t that really the goal?
On this day of Thanksgiving I am grateful for the abounding love of God in Jesus Christ which is revealed within his people.
Lord, may your love abound in my life. Amen.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Psa. 125:1 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
Psa. 125:2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people,
from this time on and forevermore.
There are those in life who will trust in the LORD and those who will not. For those who trust in the LORD there is a promise. Think about the safety of Mount Zion — and just as the mountain cannot be moved but remains forever, so does the LORD. Not only does he remain forever but he also surrounds us in the safety of his loving care and embrace. This is his promise for his people!
There are many things in life in which we may be tempted to put our trust.
The athlete puts their trust in their physical abilities.
The scientists puts their trust in their knowledge.
The actor puts their trust in their talent.
But there will come a time when our own personal skills and abilities will begin to fade. So will the abilities and faculties of those around you. When all of these begin to disappear, what will we have left? Not much!
Mostly the things in which we put our trust are temporal and they can become distractions in our relationship with the Lord. That’s where this promise comes in to play.
When our trust is in him we begin to see everything through a new and different lens. The things that life throws our way are simply temporal and mean nothing in light of the eternal. Mostly they are distractions and are meant to keep us from seeing that God, the mighty mountain of strength is waiting to wrap us in his strong arms. There is an eternal view to life and when we seek the face of God we begin to understand things from his perspective. It makes the things of life seem so very fragile in light of his might.
In America we are heading into a long weekend of celebrating a season of thankfulness and gratitude. I choose to put my trust in the LORD and I am grateful for his promise of eternal and abiding strength now and forevermore.
Lord, thank you for your promises. Amen.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Matt. 24:12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.
Jesus had been preaching and speaking hard truths to those listening. Now he began to have a prophetic voice, speaking into the future of the church. The days would come when there would be an increase of lawlessness. He was not talking about people outside of the faith, but of those inside the faith. These are those who have professed to be children of God, they are the ones who will become lawless, turning their backs on the knowledge they had already gained regarding their relationship with God. The relationship may have been the crux of the matter, for a lack of love and lawlessness seemed to go hand in hand.
Older language for “grow cold” was “wax cold.” What it really implied was that a cooling breeze blew over something that had been extremely hot, cooling it down little by little until eventually it was room temperature. Remember what Jesus had told the expert in the law? If you had to sum up the law and the prophets it would be to love God and to love others. Somehow at the very core of everything it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ was this aspect of relationship with God and with our neighbors. If love is what grows cold, then it is the very core of Christianity that is affected by the cooling breeze. It is in loving God and loving neighbor that we are clothed in holiness for holy love is the very nature of the Trinity. The goal for all of humanity is to be transformed into the image and nature of God — to be a reflection of that love found in the Trinity for this is truly holiness.
In the last days a cooling breeze will blow and no longer will God’s people believe in the hot fiery passion of holy love found in an intensely deep relationship with him.
Lawlessness will abound because his children will be cooled by the constant breezes.
The cool breezes that say….
You’re busy doing good things.
Family has to come first.
I can have my five minute devotional before I go to bed.
My kids have to be a part of the sporting events — it will help to shape their character.
You have a lot of important things to do on weekends — attending church once a month is good
enough for you.
Listening to Christian music in your car on the way to work is a good enough prayer life.
And eventually the fervor of our Christian walk will cool down and the love we had for God and for others will have grown cold. Just like hot wax that is moldable and pliable, when the cool breeze blows over, it becomes hard. When it needs to be flexible, it can no longer bend for it has become brittle.
Jesus said it would be this way in the end.
Just this past week the former Archbishop of Canterbury predicted the extinction of Christianity. The cool breezes are blowing over much of the Christian world. Jesus gave warning and it’s time for us to heed that warning. When the gentle cool breezes come, sometimes we don’t notice them because they feel good and make us comfortable. Maybe it’s time for us to put up the warning signs — “Danger, cooling breeze blowing!” Unless we take preventive action we will find ourselves cold and brittle.
The good news is that there is a solution. God hasn’t changed and the hot fire of his love is still present to be lavished on each one of us. Maybe we just need to commit ourselves to the priority of loving God and loving others. When this happens the voices of the cooling breezes will be silenced and the overflow of the love of God will consume us and splash over onto those around us. Jesus said the “love of many will grow cold” — not the love of all. There is hope in the mighty and powerful love of Jesus. May the hot fire continue to blow over us today and always.
Lord, may the cooling breezes be powerless in my life. Amen.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Matt. 22:11 ¶ “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
Matt. 22:12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.
Matt. 22:13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Matt. 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Over and over again Jesus continued to teach about the kingdom of heaven and too often those listening didn’t want to get it. From the opening pages of the word until the final chapter we are invited to a wedding. Whether it’s God’s intention for relationship found in the first marriage of Adam and Eve, or if it’s the marriage supper of the lamb, there is an on-going invitation to be at the wedding, and this invitation is for everyone.
This invitation for everyone was a little difficult for the religious leaders to accept. Surely they were more desirable in God’s kingdom because of their own righteousness. They had been practicing this stuff their entire lives. The problem was that they were clothed in their own personal righteousness, unwilling to humble themselves and accept Jesus as Messiah — the Bridegroom.
In ancient days when you were invited to a wedding you were provided with special clothing for the celebration. Everyone was to change into the white robes provided by the bridegroom. No one wore their own clothing into a wedding celebration — no matter how nice you might think that clothing was. You changed into what the groom had for you and in this case, the Groom was providing his own holiness — a purity, cleansing and righteousness beyond anything that any human could ever achieve through their own works.
As Jesus’ parable continues the man is suddenly noticed. How had he tried to slip into the wedding celebration without the wedding robe? How arrogant might this man have been? Obviously he had been a very devout man and followed all the rules and therefore he thought he belonged — and that his own clothing would be good enough. The problem is that any work of humanity on its own will always pale in comparison to what Christ has to offer. The man was left speechless.
The beauty and brightness of the banquet was soon to be a distant reality as the man was thrown out into the darkness. Without the white robe provided by the Groom the man could not be a part of the celebration.
What had this man missed? Everyone had been invited to the wedding celebration, the rich, the poor, the slave, the free, the tax collector, the prostitute, and even the religious leader. Many were called, but only a few had responded to that invitation, coming to the celebration, taking off the old and being clothed with the new, in the holiness and righteousness of the garment provided by the Groom.
There is a TV show here in America about women who are going out and shopping for their wedding dresses. This show is known as “Say Yes To the Dress.” An invitation to find just the right dress for that bright and glorious wedding day. While America has done well at taking a very sacred moment in life and turning it into a consumeristic monster — there is still that idea of the beautiful white gown that is desired for the wedding day.
Unfortunately, during the time of Christ, too many of the religious officials were saying “no” to the dress. They didn’t want the garb provided by Jesus Christ; they thought that they could be holy on their own. And maybe that’s not just an idea from the time of Christ, maybe it’s one that we find today. I’m not so sure that we find that problem with the religious officials but with society in general. Somehow we seem to be embracing our own personal ability to be “good” people and that eventually we will evolve to a state of betterment and that Jesus is not necessary in our lives. The problem is that we don’t seem to be understanding this concept of taking off the old and putting on the new. We are like the man in the story who thinks that his duds are good enough!
Surely our own good lives will be good enough for God?! The problem is the contrast between the clothing we think is good enough and what Christ has to offer. It’s somewhat like the joke about the wealthy man who begs God to bring along one suitcase full of his earthly wealth. He fills that suitcase with bars of gold and when he reaches the pearly gates the angel looks at him stunned. “Why would anyone want to bring pavement with them to heaven?”
The robes which we might weave together in this lifetime are nothing compared to what Jesus has to offer. Too often we refuse to say “yes to the dress” and we live, what we believe is, a Christian life that is less than powerful. Jesus’ goal for you and for me is to be transformed into his likeness — his goal for us is holiness. We are not supposed to be weighed down and trudging through life trying hard on our own power to be God’s holy people. No, we are to come to the party and change clothes — being clothed in his holiness and righteousness which will completely transform our lives.
You are invited to shop for the best wedding dress ever. The racks are lined with the white garments of Christ’s creation. It’s time to take off the old and put on the new — by saying yes to the dress! And then living in the beauty of that dress and in holy relationship with the Bridegroom. It’s an invitation to an empowered life of transformation beyond our imagination.
Lord, we are grateful for your incredible love that reaches out in transformational power to each and very one of us! Amen.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Matt. 18:10 ¶ “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.
Who were the little ones? They may have been the new followers of Jesus Christ — those who didn't know much about Jesus. Or they may have been the marginalized of society, the ones who were not seated at the table with the powerful. They were the little children, the women, the slaves, the poor and the sick. Somehow they didn’t meet up to the standards of those who would appear to be “acceptable” in the eyes of the world and they were kept out of sight, and out of mind. But in Jesus’ kingdom these were his people and he loved them all.
Those in the crowd would have all understood what Jesus was saying about the angel for it was believed that each person and each nation had their own angel. This was their “guardian” angel who served as the protector of that individual or that nation. Therefore Jesus adds this statement which brings profound understanding to the state or the condition of the little ones. They are so respected in the eyes of God that the power systems of humans do not determine their place before God because their angels continually see the face of the Father. In other words, they are in the very presence of God, face to face with God continually. This statement places the little ones at the very highest place of honor and respect in the kingdom of heaven.
My aunt Shirley had a profound impact on my young life. My father’s little sister had been born with Down’s syndrome, but also a congenital heart defect. The result was that she was a “blue baby” who was starved for oxygen the first few minutes of her birth leaving her not only with Down’s but with additional brain damage. Aunt Shirley never learned how to talk or even feed herself. She was in constant need of care — 24/7 her entire life. The doctors had predicted that she would not live long for she was born out on the Nebraska Prairies, far from any type of extraordinary medical care or attention. Should it surprise us then that she lived well into her fifties?
My grandfather and grandmother did not despise this little one. Instead, they poured all of their love and attention on her, nurturing her throughout her entire life. As a small child I was privileged to watch the way in which they cared for her. It was their gentle love that did much more than modern medicine could have ever done and brought her through a long and blessed life. No, Shirley never did all the things that “normal” people may have done but she did know the love of Christ in a way that many may never have the joy of experiencing. There were no barriers to her relationship with our Creator — barriers that often we ourselves create. She never strove for a place of position or power within the structures of this world, she simply lived and loved and received love.
We may not always understand where we find ourselves in life. We may be confronted with “these little ones” or we ourselves may be the “little ones.” Times and circumstances can change quickly. May we be careful to never despise the one who is not like us and may we remember that they have front row access to the Father in heaven. Yes, it’s the upside-down kingdom and it is glorious. When you meet that special or unique person today don’t look past them, look right at them and maybe you will be privileged to catch a glimpse of the Father reflected in their eyes. Capture that special moment for “these little ones” are more precious than we can imagine.
Lord, thank you for the little ones that you place in our lives as reminders of who you are. Amen.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Matt. 14:1 ¶ At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus;
Matt. 14:2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”
Herod was supposed to have been a Sadducee, the ones who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. So, why is Herod concerned about John the Baptist being raised from the dead? Jesus and his disciples had already been ministering for nearly two years, surely Herod had heard about him, but seemingly he did not. Now, the news of Jesus’ miracles reaches him and he declares something that should not have been congruent with his beliefs. Obviously he was unable to shake the guilt that he had for beheading John. Now, he was haunted by the guilt of his decisions.
Have you ever done something wrong and you simply could not shake the memory? I certainly remember times like that as a child — guilt would grip me for sometimes disobeying my parents. I couldn’t deal with it! I would have to go and confess within10 minutes.
Herod was haunted by the guilt of what he had done — and that guilt might even be called conviction. He had respect and fear of John. John had called him out and told him the truth about his relationship with his brother’s wife. Herod didn’t want to hear those words and yet, he was afraid because he knew that John was speaking the truth.
Oh how we hate hearing the truth! Especially when it has something to do with our own personal behavior. People, especially those in positions of power and leadership, can find it easy to begin to believe that they are infallible, or invincible. Look at people like Tiger Woods. Somehow he believed that he lived above everyone else — that he could mess around and never get caught. Those who surrounded him insulated him from the real world resulting in him becoming inoculated against the consequences that eventually catch up with every person. No one is above the consequences of sin. Not Tiger Woods. Not Herod. Not you or me.
Herod’s heart was pricked because he knew that he was doing wrong. Unfortunately, as often happens, one sin led to another and Herod had given up doing the right thing for the sake of his relationship with Herodias. How did she deal with the guilt? Why not kill the man that made her feel guilty! So, when Herod asks her daughter what she wants, of course, Herodias tells her to present John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Herod is overcome — his guilt continuing to eat away at him. However, he knew that he had made this promise publicly so he succumbed and asked for John’s head.
Out of sight, out of mind. Surely the guilt would now subside! The man who had confronted his sinful behavior was now gone. But can’t you imagine that night after night Herod could barely drop off to sleep, the guilt, not only of John’s convicting words, but now of the good man’s life, was on his hands.
Herod remained insulated by his leadership team. So much so that he hadn’t even heard about Jesus for a full two years. How else could he have possibly thought that Jesus was John raised from the dead? But now, word trickles in about this man Jesus. He has great power and is performing numerous miracles. And Herod is terrified!
What happens if we find ourselves somewhere in Herod’s story?
When our hearts are pricked by conviction — confess our sins and then RUN from them! There’s a reason we have a conscience, or that there are those around us that can point out behaviors that may not seem appropriate. Listen to those voices. Do not try to convince yourself that what you are doing is okay. The longer you convince yourself that you can do this the deeper the problem becomes. Eventually you will be in so deep that the way out will seem so difficult that you may jump to crazy conclusions — possibly believing that there is no answer to your problem.
The problem for Herod was that he wasn’t willing to listen to what John the Baptist had to offer. Salvation was available for Herod. He should have repented of his sin and he should have sent Herodias back to his brother! We can’t just say “I’m sorry” and then not take action to live the holy life. We must repent and then turn and go in the direction that Jesus is calling us — into a life of Christlikness. This means that we cannot continue to live in ways that are incongruous with the life of Christ. Christ, on the cross, takes upon himself our guilt and he sets us free. If we are living with the guilt of past actions there is only one solution — and that is Christ.
Are you haunted by guilt? Turn to Jesus Christ, ask for forgiveness and then begin the journey of lifelong transformation as he works his sanctifying power in your life, setting you free from all of the past. This is the hope that Herod could have enjoyed, but refused. Let’s not turn it down today.
Lord, thank you for the peace and freedom in you. Amen.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Matt. 13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The kingdom of heaven was an entirely new concept for those listening in to the teaching of Jesus Christ. He shared parable after parable with those who were following him, just to hear more of his teaching. Of course there were those who had been trained in the Law and the Prophets who were there and listening in. Often Jesus’ parables spoke directly to them and this little sentence had a direct implication to them. The scribes had been trained in what we would understand as the Old Testament law. They knew the Torah and they knew the words very well. They had been living by these declarations now for centuries — they were God’s people.
Jesus was saying that there were scribes who were understanding what Jesus was saying about the kingdom of heaven. God’s kingdom was to be something completely different than what the people were expecting. They wanted a political leader. They wanted to overthrow the government. They wanted an earthly king for the Jews!
Jesus was preaching the kingdom of heaven. The paradigm was something radically different from anything they understood and yet, Jesus was saying that if they would take what they had learned in the past and connect it with Jesus’ preaching they would be able to connect the dots. The scribes could take their Torah learning, the words of the prophets, and recognize that Jesus was the Messiah and that he was ushering in the new kingdom. That is why a scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven was one who could bring out the old treasures and the new, for it took both to realize the beauty of the kingdom being ushered in before their very eyes.
We are to be trained to see and participate in the kingdom of heaven and for you and for me, we must also be willing to connect the dots of the old and the new. Yes, this can be the connection between the Old and New Testaments, but let’s look beyond that. Maybe we are being challenged to connect the dots and understand that we are placed in a long chain of church history, and that to truly appreciate this we must bring out the treasures of the new and the old.
I’m not going to begin here with the worship wars, I’d like to take us back a bit further than that in history. Let’s start with the early church — the one birthed on the day of Pentecost! We are connected to what happened that day as the church, the bride of Christ was birthed. I hear too many Christians that only appreciate their particular denomination, or possibly their own branch of Christianity. However, Jesus is telling us that we are to bring out the treasures from the past to truly understand the kingdom. Has Christianity always done a great job of being the body of Christ? Hardly! But does that mean that we cannot look for the nuggets of treasure found in our past?
As I study church history I am blessed by the treasures that I find. Usually those treasures are people who have served faithfully in the kingdom of heaven and their lives serve as a compass giving me guide points along the journey. Just as we read in Hebrews about the great cloud of witnesses, so we join into the story and we are cheered on by those treasures who have gone before us and whose race is not brought to perfection without us. The old and the new are inextricably connected and help us to understand the kingdom of heaven.
So let’s move up that timeline into the last 50 to 60 years or so. We must appreciate and glean from our 2000 year history but at the same time we also need to appreciate our not so distance history. There are some in the kingdom who only want to bring out the new. We want to forget about the old treasure for it simply must not be relevant to today. Or, on the other side of the pendulum are those who only want the old! Please, let’s not have any contemporary music in this church!!!
No, Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven was like the one who brought out the old and the new treasure. For us to experience the kingdom here on earth we must value the old and the new and celebrate them both. The kingdom of heaven should be reflected in our worship services around the globe. The kingdom of heaven is multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-flexible :) Churches should be the place where the old and the new treasures shine as they are being transformed into reflections of Jesus Christ.
Maybe it’s time for us to evaluate our own personal prejudices against the old and the new. Maybe we’re unwilling to learning anything from church history — from those who planted the seeds and were a part of the church tradition that went before us. Or maybe we’re unwilling to change for the sake of the new because we like the way things have always been. The kingdom of heaven is the treasure of the past, the present, and the future. We all need something old, and something new.
Lord, thank you for the treasures of the past, and the treasures of today. Amen.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Matt. 10:16 ¶ “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matt. 10:17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues;
Matt. 10:18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
Matt. 10:19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time;
Matt. 10:20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Jesus is sending out his Apostles to spread the good news. His words were not only for that day but were also prophetic regarding the future ministry of those whom he had called.
Jesus knew that they would be confronted by the wolves of the world. The wolves would be lying in wait to devour these follower of Jesus Christ and therefore their survival was dependent upon their ability to be wise and yet innocent.
The serpent is cautious, constantly shifting and adjusting in defensive measures. This serpent is not to be confused with the Genesis serpent who is a deceiver and therefore Jesus places the dove into the context. Just as the dove is seen as pure and innocent, so the Apostle is to be innocent in their behaviors. Jesus places these two together so that we understand that we are heading into a pack of wolves who are ready to attack us but at the same time we are to do everything that we can to shift, and adjust, keeping ourselves safe while at the same time remaining pure and innocent in the eyes of God.
Jesus goes on to say, “when they hand you over.” He didn’t say “if” they hand you over, but he said “when” — meaning that these sent ones would be brought face to face with government, political and religious authorities because of their faith. Jesus didn’t want them to worry about this. Remember, Jesus’ disciples were a group of rough and tumble folks from around Galilee and they would have to face the officials in places like Jerusalem. It’s like someone from Podunk State having to argue their case at Harvard. Some people have taken this scripture to mean that you don’t have to work to prepare sermons because the Lord would simply give you the words at the moment. That’s NOT what Jesus was talking about. But he was saying that when you find yourselves overwhelmed and in a place where you must give a defense, the power of the Holy Spirit will speak through you and the little person from Podunk State can suddenly out-debate the highly educated from Harvard.
Today’s text can make me feel rather uncomfortable. The reality is that I’m always looking for life to sort of, level off, and not have what seem to be continual strains. However, the more I examine these words the more I wonder whether that is realistic. If I am truly a follower of Jesus Christ and am trying to reach the world for him then, more than likely, there will constantly be some kind of tension. Clarke says, “He who is called to preach the Gospel is called to embrace a state of constant labour, and frequent suffering. He who gets ease and pleasure, in consequence of embracing the ministerial office, neither preaches the Gospel, nor is sent of God. If he did the work of an evangelist, wicked men and demons would both oppose him.” Wow! Therefore it seems that obedient and faithful followers of Jesus Christ will more than likely find themselves in places of opposition.
When we feel that we are being attacked the natural reaction is to want to fight back. Here is where Jesus cautions his followers. We are not supposed to try to be tricky or clever or manipulative. Instead, we are to be wise. We are to use all the resources available to us to get the job done. That means that we don’t push or shove doors open, but we do use all opportunities available to us to continue to open the doors of opportunity for the work of the kingdom. Sometimes this means that we have a low profile and we don’t do things to draw attention to ourselves. (And sometimes that can be really hard for preachers :) But in many places, being wise means that we don’t ruffle the feathers of those in authority but we learn to fly below their radar screen so that we can continue to spread the news about Jesus Christ. (We learned a lot about this in Russia!) At the same time we never cross over the line of doing things in an unjust way — maintaining our innocence, continuing to be reflections of Jesus Christ in the midst of difficulties.
Nope, Jesus never said that being his follower was going to be easy. Serving him is hard work and there will always be those who oppose what we are doing. In the midst of it all may God give us his wisdom while at the same time we maintain our innocence in faithful service to him.
Lord, please help me serve you in wisdom and innocence. Amen.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Matt. 5:13 ¶ “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
Here we are listening in on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” His description of those who are his followers is telling. We are the salt of the earth. As such we are to be good salt — the kind that is used to season food. Good salt makes most everything better. But bad salt, after it’s gone bad can’t be made good again. Bad salt was used in the Temple on days in which the floors became too slick from the rain to provide traction so that you wouldn’t fall. Therefore good salt is sprinkled around and makes all things tasty while the bad salt is simply walked upon and eventually washed away by the rain.
I was watching a news report the other day about an incident that happened a number of years ago in Louisiana. An oil company was drilling for oil that was beneath a lake. Unfortunately they had miscalculated where to drill and drilled right into a salt dome and opened up a hole into a salt mine. The lake began to drain into the salt mine below, but not only did it drain into the mine, but the salt attracted the water and became hyper-saturated, dissolving into the water and making the water and the salt unusable. Actually the situation became much worse. Within a few hours the entire lake drained into the salt mine, along with barges and an entire island. Then a geyser began to blow out of the salt mine shaft and the entire thing became a major ecological disaster — one which could not be repaired or corrected. Once the salt was ruined, it was ruined and the trickle down effect was devastating.
We are salt. As followers of Jesus Christ we are to be pristine salt that is providing a savory difference in the lives of those around us on a daily basis. We are to be genuine salt, salt which when sprinkled around makes the world a better place. But Jesus was talking to those who were his followers and I believe it was a gentle but understandable warning. Just because you have been a follower of Jesus Christ there is the possibility that you can go from being good salt to bad salt. And this can happen in one big hurry if we are not careful. When our focus shifts from the love of God and others to ourselves our salt becomes quickly contaminated and a domino effect of consequences can occur. This can happen when we make decisions based on what we want, or based on our own fears, instead of trusting God for the results. It’s like the oil company drilling in the wrong place, we can trigger something that can become utterly devastating not just for ourselves but for all of those standing around and watching in horror.
We must take care of our salty state. We must make sure that we do not become diluted by temptations around us and this is only possible when we allow God to take care of us. He knows the best way to keep salt savory and that is when we are in relationship with him on a daily basis. Every day when we face the challenges that come our way God can keep us safe and salty!
The picture is pretty clear for us, when our salt is ruined we no longer become useful in the kingdom. This grips my heart. How terrible it would be to go from serving God in the kingdom and allow carelessness to bring us to a place where we are no longer of any good to God and we are simply used to provide traction on a slippery day, finally to be washed away into the drain and never seen again.
If it is our desire to be good salt, then we must ask God by his grace to keep us in that place of saltiness. If we give in to the temptation to control and manipulate our circumstances we may find ourselves like the men on the oil rig, drilling in the wrong place and creating a mess. The world desperately needs to be seasoned by the saltiness of Jesus’ disciples today. May God gives us his grace to remain good salt.
Lord, I want to be good salt for you today. Please, help me to be faithful. Amen.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Matt. 4:16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
Jesus’ life was the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah. This text in Matthew is a quotation from Isaiah but with a significant change:
Is. 9:2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
In Isaiah the people are walking in darkness and they are living in the land, but by the time Matthew brings us this word, the people are sitting in darkness and sitting in the region. No longer have they sought the face of God, but instead they have chosen to sit and to wallow in their ignorance.
What a huge difference between sitting and walking. Walking certainly brings about the imagery of those who are seeking God and actively engaged in the process. The ones who are sitting? They seem to have given up and are content to simply stop trying, sit down and live with exactly that which has been handed to them.
Do you ever just feel like giving up? Things have gotten too difficult and too out of hand to try and make anything different. This scripture also suggests that the Israelites had become satisfied in their ignorance. Why bother with trying to get to know God, we’ll just sit here and live with what has been handed to us.
I’m afraid that too many of us are living in ignorance these days. Maybe it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a moving of God’s Holy Spirit in and among the lives of people, bringing about a real spiritual transformation. Could it be possible that is happening because we are sitting? I would like to suggest that God’s people must become active in his work, walking and moving and constantly seeking his face.
Looking closely at the text, the ones in Isaiah who we’re walking and living had light shining on them. The uncreated light of God was able to transform their lives, and while they had lived in darkness, now life was illuminated. This was the promise of God.
As Jesus appeared so the light would appear. To those who had given up all hope and had simply sat down in the darkness, those with no hope, the light had dawned. You see, God in his mercy has never given up on his people. He continues to seek out those who may be sitting in darkness without hope and his light dawns on them. The light is going into the dark corners of the world.
Now we can understand how we become active participants in God’s work in the world. When the light of Jesus shines on us, then we become reflections of his image. The way that the light of God can shine on those sitting in darkness is for us to take that light to them. The light will dawn on them in the dark places of this world when we unite with Christ in his work, reflecting the light of his image on those sitting in darkness.
What is our posture today? Are we among those who are sitting, or those who are standing? If you have chosen to sit in the darkness and the pain is more than you can bear, cry out to God for the light to dawn on you leading you out of your darkness and into his light. This is his promise, to bring us out to safety. If you are walking today, then be a great reflection of the light, allowing his light to shine into the place where there are those who are hurt and are sitting in the darkness. Either way, it’s time to move, it’s time to take action, moving closer to the One who came to show us the way back home and to the safety of his loving arms.
Lord, may I be actively engaged in reflecting you today. Amen.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Psa. 124:6 ¶ Blessed be the LORD,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
Psa. 124:7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Psa. 124:8 ¶ Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
This Psalm may have been written by Mordecai after the tumultuous time in which Haman had devised a plan to rid the land of all Jews. God used his servant Esther to bring about the salvation of his people. It was God who had a plan to save his people, if only those who were listening would be faithful and obedient.
The enemy had planned to capture the Jews and Haman wanted to hang Mordecai from the gallows. Isn’t it amazing that in the midst of this period of time the King would have someone read to him from his books and discover that Mordecai had never been honored for his faithfulness? Is it just a coincidence that the bird escapes from the snare that has been prepared — and that the enemy himself is hanged from his own gallows!
Hope doesn’t come from other people or from taking a situation into our own hands, but our salvation comes from the Lord. We are to call on the name of Yahweh — the Creator of heaven and earth. He has power to bring about victory!
Difficulties can be experienced on many levels. In this case it was an entire people group that was under attack. God’s intervention through his obedient servants brought about the salvation of an entire nation.
While Jesus walked on the face of this earth he found that he was opposed by those in positions of power. While it may have looked, for a few fleeting hours, that Jesus had been given over to become prey for the teeth of the enemy, ultimately the Creator was victorious. Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father brought about not only his victory but the salvation of all of God’s people.
In light of these challenges the ones that we face on a daily basis may seem quite small, however, I believe that these words have been written down as an encouragement for God’s people through the centuries.
"In the year 1582, this psalm was sung on a remarkable occasion in Edinburgh. An imprisoned minister, John Durie, had been set free, and was met and welcomed on entering the town by two hundred of his friends. The number increased till he found himself in the midst of a company of two thousand, who began to sing as they moved up the long High Street, “Now Israel may say, “etc. They sang in four parts with deep solemnity, all joining in the well known tune and psalm. They were much moved themselves, and so were all who heard; and one of the chief persecutors is said to have been more alarmed at this sight and song than at anything he had seen in Scotland."—Andrew A. Bonar, in Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, 1859.
Why should this persecutor have been afraid? For in the name of the Lord we find power beyond anything we can humanly imagine. Around the time of the French Revolution the Protestants would “always begin their public worship with the last verse of this Psalm, and there is no thought more encouraging and comfortable.”—Job Orton, 1717–1783.
Even today we can find great comfort in these words. Our help comes from the One who created the heaven and the earth. Our help comes from the One who defeated sin and death. Our help comes from the One who has sustained his bride, the church, for centuries. Our help comes from the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Spurgeon says, “It implies that none can harm us till the Lord permits: we cannot be their prey unless the Lord gives us up to them, and that our loving Lord will never do. Hitherto he has refused permission to any foe to destroy us, blessed be his name.”
We all need help in this life and all too often we are looking in the wrong places. Let’s allow this Psalm to soak into our very being, proclaiming that “Our help is in the name of the LORD.”
Lord, thank you for your help, day in and day out! Amen.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
2Cor. 10:13 We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you.
2Cor. 10:14 For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ.
2Cor. 10:15 We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged,
2Cor. 10:16 so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action.
2Cor. 10:17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Paul was very careful when it came to boasting about his work or success. He understood that each person was simply accountable to God for the work they were called to do. He also knew that he was to be responsible before God for his places of ministry and therefore he did not try to take credit for any one else’s work. He knew the places of his responsibility and where he was to cultivate the faith of new believers, but then also understood that the growth that occurred was because of God’s activity in the hearts and lives of those new believers. He didn’t need to go and spread the Gospel in parts of the world where others were already doing that work. He could rejoice in the fact that as a team they were spreading the good news about Jesus. There was no need to boast over work done in a particular territory because none of this was done in the power or strategic thinking of a particular individual. Instead, if anyone was going to boast or be proud of the work that they had done, they were only to boast in the Lord.
Our world is driven by models of success, but the problem is that the worlds’ business models of success should not be what drives our faithfulness to God. Instead the only question we need to concern ourselves about is, “How does my life measure up to what God wants?”
God wanted Paul to travel the known world and tell people about Jesus Christ. While Paul may have appeared to be “successful” — he knew that his life had to measure up to what God wanted for him and it seemed crazy to boast about what he viewed as simple obedience. For Paul, this was a daily journey, serving God in faithfulness and boasting only of the Lord.
God is the one who is leading us and working in and through us. This is what we need to remember. Therefore, if we are going to boast about anything, may it be the fact that God has taken unqualified human beings and used them to make a difference in his kingdom. Who in the world was Paul? Who was Peter? Who was Mary Magdalene? Who were Mary, Martha and Lazarus? And the list goes on and on and on. Often those whom God chose to make a difference were the ordinary people who lived at the margins and through them God was glorified.
We are created to be reflections of the Image. If that is so, then it is Christ who is to be seen in us and through us. We are not to boast in the things we have done, but we are to point a people to Jesus. If you want to boast — boast in what Jesus is doing and then ask yourself whether you are measuring up to what God wants in your life.
Lord, may you be glorified in my life today. Amen.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
2Cor. 4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
God is the creator of all light. In the beginning of the creation story God says, “let there be light.” And it is this God of all creation who is in a personal relationship with you and with me. The creator of all light shines the light of knowledge into our hearts. It is the light of God’s understand that when shone into our lives reveals Truth; and Jesus is the Truth! Therefore the light will always lead us to the One who reveals the glory of God, and that is Jesus Christ, the incarnate One. Jesus, God in human flesh, is the one from whom the light emanates day in and day out — and this light is the glory of God. It is only in turning toward Christ, only in being in personal relationship with him, when we seek his face that the light of the glory of God shines down upon us. Our mirrors, turned toward him will then reflect the glory of God, the light of Jesus, to a sin darkened world.
I moved to America between my 2nd and 3rd grade year of schooling and became mesmerized by American television. We had a very small black and white t.v. set and yet, when I came home from school in the afternoons I wanted to watch and see and learn all that I could. One of my favorite shows was the old Batman. Looking at those shows now they are pretty lame, but I thought they were highly exciting. The leaders of Gotham City had devised a way to call Batman when they needed his help — and when there was a problem they would shine a bright light into the sky in the shape of a bat — it was the batsignal. A shining light that signaled a call for help.
In the case of batman the light was only a cry for help. Batman would need to come and save the day. When it comes to God, it is in the light itself that we find our way to God. The very glory of God is revealed in the light. Remember when Moses went up on the mountain and spent time with God and when he returned home his face shone. The people couldn’t look at him for the light was too bright and he had to wear a veil over his face. The light wasn’t a call for help, in they light they truly would have found their help — but in their case, they were afraid, and so they made him cover it up.
Most of the inhabitants of the world are living in darkness and they desperately need the light of the glory of God. We, as followers of Christ, have a responsibility to seek the face Jesus and in doing so his light will be reflected in and through us. We are the ones who are to take the light of the Creator into the world. If we do not go, how will they experience God? Therefore our task is two-fold; seek the face of Jesus so that his glory will shine down upon us, and then go and take that light into every dark nook and cranny of the world that so desperately needs to know him.
There is no need to shine the batsignal, instead we are to be the signal of healing. May the world be stunned and exclaim, “What’s that light?”
Lord, please help me to be your light today. Amen.
Friday, November 15, 2013
2Cor. 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;
2Cor. 2:16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
When the Roman conquerors returned home after having been at war they would be greeted with a great parade. These parades included the burning of incense; the aroma of victory which would arise up and out of the city. For the citizens of the Empire this scent was a smell of comfort and of peace, a reminder of the victory! At the same time the soldiers would be returning home with the spoils of war, including the conquered enemy. As they approached the city the smells would waft up into the air, but for the captured prisoners the scent did not mean victory, but the very same smell meant death, for they would be killed just outside the walls of the city, never to enter inside the gates.
This is the imagery that Paul is evoking in this scripture. The victor is Jesus Christ and those who preach the good news about Jesus, those who are his followers are carrying with them the very scent of life and of victory. Every where we go there is the life-giving aroma of Jesus Christ.
However, for those who reject Christ, the aroma or fragrance is not one of life, but becomes one of death for when the great day comes, they will not be able to enter into the city gates. The Lord will look at them and say, “I never knew you.”
Finally Paul asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Wesley would tell us that no human is sufficient for such things — that we do not produce this aroma on our own, but that it is the working presence of the Holy Spirit.
I talk a lot about “reflecting the Image;” being a reflection of Jesus Christ in the world today. However, let’s consider what it might be like to be the scent of Jesus in the world.
Scents evoke very strong memories and feelings. I love the smell of baking cinnamon rolls. It reminds me of my growing up years and Saturday evenings at home when mom would bake bread in preparation for Sunday. Just walking by a Cinnabon store brings up all kinds of wonderful thoughts and memories.
Just as these earthly smells can evoke strong and powerful memories, so can the aroma associated with Jesus Christ. When we are a reflection of Christ we are seen, but when we are the aroma of Christ we can seep through the air and down the block and into the nook and crannies of peoples’ lives. There is something incredibly far-reaching about being the aroma of Christ.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit our lives are to be that sweet aroma of Christ, one that draws people to Jesus. Only by prayer and abiding in him can we get to know him in such a way that the sweet smell of Jesus lingers on our very beings. That way, as we walk through life the smell of Jesus flows from us and reaches a very needy world, drawing others to him. This sweet aroma is God’s prevenient grace reaching out to a world that so desperately needs him.
Sadly there will be those who will experience the sweet smell of Jesus over and over again in their lives, but will continually reject him. In doing so they will some day find themselves outside the gate and instead of the aroma being one of life and victory, it will signal their death. We have the opportunity to respond to the aroma of Christ. Our response will determine whether it is a sweet smell of victory or the bittersweet reminder of rejection.
If we live our Christian lives in such a way that we can be the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ we will be a reminder that will draw people to Christ. As parents we are the sweet aroma of Christ in the home, a that scent will continually be a reminder to children of the way back to Christ. As professionals working in the world colleagues should be touched daily by the sweet smell of Jesus and throughout life be drawn to the Christ. My prayer for us today is that Jesus will so permeate who we are that we will leave a lasting impression on those around us with them wondering, “What’s that smell?”
Lord, please help me to be the fragrance of Jesus today. Amen.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
1Cor. 16:8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost,
1Cor. 16:9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
Growing up often my parents would talk about walking through that “open door.” For them this was often a sign from God that it was the direction in which we were to go. Paul uses this very language when speaking about his own life, travels and ministry. He is writing to the church in Corinth, and he would like to get back to them, to visit them again, but he is in Ephesus. He believes that he should stay in Ephesus until the day of Pentecost. Why should he stay? Because a door has been opened to him.
The language of door that Paul uses here lets us know that it is a very large and broad opening resulting in effective work. The Greek word for effective has at its root the word for energy. It is an “energized” work and that must have been quite exciting. However, at the very same time that there is a huge opening and there is energized work, there are many adversaries.
Just imagine what Circus Maximus might have been like back in the days of the Roman Empire and you can possibly envision the scene that Paul is laying out before us. The entrances to the circus were large and broad — large enough to allow in the circus acts and the competitors. While the door was open to enter, at the same time your competitors would meet you in the center ring. Before there could be great victory there would have to be a contentious battle.
So Paul found himself welcomed into the center ring, to be a great warrior for the sake of Christ. The victories were great as there were huge amounts of converts to Christianity in Ephesus, but as more people came to Christ, the greater the opposition. Now, he is joined in the center ring by stronger and stronger adversaries until finally we read in Acts about the riots that had broken out in Ephesus. Too many people had come to know Christ! The economy of the entire city was shifting because no longer were enough people buying the trinkets and idols made in honor of the goddess Diana.
Paul may have entered through a very broad door and the people of Ephesus were energized through the power of the Holy Spirit but the enemy was angry. Paul, however, focused on the energized open door and continued to walk through it, accepting the adversaries as part and parcel of serving God.
That open door of opportunity! Have you ever prayed that way? That God would open the door and you would know for certain what it is that you were to be doing? I know that there have been times in my life when I have prayed in this way, seeking God’s leading and direction. There come times of transition and we begin to pray and wonder about the direction that we should go. This was the case for Paul. He had a tugging in his heart toward Corinth and yet, he believed that he was to stay in Ephesus. Why? Because the door there had remained open.
How did Paul know that the door was still open to him? Because he continued to see the hand of God at work in the place where he was.
When we are serving God in the place where he desires for us to be, we will see the imprint of his hand on our lives and work. Paul knew that the open and energized doors of opportunity in Ephesus were not because of him. He was not an incredibly good-looking charismatic leader that people showed up just to see him. Physical descriptions of Paul include the fact that he was short, bald with a big nose and one eye-brow. As for charisma in speaking, while I believe he was a powerful and persuasive preacher, I am also drawn to the night that he droned on and on and the young man fell asleep and fell from the window and died! No, what was happening in Ephesus was from God and Paul knew it.
We must be prepared, however, that when we walk through the open doors provided by God we may be met in the center ring by the adversary. The more successful the work of God, the more powerful the adversaries and for this we must be prepared.
(1.) that such a work of grace, such a setting open of a great and effectual door, is often the occasion of increased opposition to the gospel. It is no uncommon thing that the adversaries of Christ should be excited at such times; and we are not to be surprised if the same thing should occur now which occurred in the time of Paul.
(2.) This was regarded by Paul as no reason why he should leave Ephesus, but rather as a reason why he should remain there. It was regarded by him as an evidence that the Holy Spirit was there. It was proof that the enemies of God were alarmed, and that the kingdom of Christ was advancing. His presence also would be needed there, to encourage and strengthen the young converts who would be attacked and opposed; and he deemed it his duty to remain.
(3.) A minister should regard it as his duty in a special manner to be among his people when there is such opposition excited. His presence is needed to comfort and encourage the church; and when the minds of men are excited, it is often the best time to present truth, and to defend successfully the great doctrines of the Bible.
(4.) Ministers should not be discouraged because there is opposition to the gospel. It is one ground of encouragement. It is an indication of the presence of God in awakening the conscience. And it is far more favourable as a season to do good than a dead calm, and when there is universal stagnation and unconcern.
Good stuff! And a great reminder that open doors may lead to opposition, but the Spirit of God is in the midst of it all.
Henry says, “Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only enkindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage. Indeed, to labour in vain is heartless and discouraging. This damps the spirits, and breaks the heart. But success will give life and vigour to a minister, though enemies rage, and blaspheme, and persecute.”
If the door has been opened to you, enter, and keep moving forward. Pray for the energizing of God’s Holy Spirit to work in and through the open door but be prepared for the enemy who will meet you and want to go toe to toe with you in the center ring. But in the center ring, turn your eyes to God above who will give you the strength and perseverance to continue through the open door, and remember, the battle belongs to the Lord.
Lord, please help me to continue to walk through your open doors in life. Amen.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
1Cor. 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Paul understood the limitations of our spiritual journey while here in the flesh. Our desire is to look upon the Image of God face to face — and nose to nose! Unfortunately, as Moses learned, to see God face to face meant that you would die. Therefore we are limited while in the flesh and can only see Jesus in a mirror, dimly. The mirrors in the time of Paul were made of polished metal, probably bronze. Therefore they were not as clear as our mirrors that we have these days. The image is not distorted, but the image is somewhat dim. This is the way in which we are able to see our Lord now — and therefore we can only known “in part.” But there will be a day when we will see him face to face and our knowledge of him will be total and complete.
I’d like us to consider another direction or perspective on this scripture for a few moments. The theme, if you want to call it that, of this devotional blog is “Reflecting the Image.” Over and over again in the word we see this concept of reflecting the Image (and remember THE Image is Jesus Christ) — and so I’m wondering if we might actually be seeing something about reflecting the Image in this word from Paul, and not just about seeing the Image. Let’s step back a moment.
Paul is calling the people of Corinth into a deeper walk and relationship with Jesus Christ. The people in the church have become hung up on spiritual gifts and fighting over who is better, more powerful, or more significant. This is a HUGE problem because when the world looks upon the church they are not supposed to see a group of individuals trying to show off their own spiritual gifts, they are supposed to see Jesus.
How does the world see Jesus in the midst of church folk? By those people being a reflection of Jesus Christ in the world. We are called to reflect the Image. Could it be that Paul is actually referring to the spiritual state of the Corinthians in this verse — the fact that he himself and the world around them were only seeing a dim reflection of the Image because they themselves were not the best reflection of him?! Could it be that they themselves were the dim mirrors?!
Until Jesus comes again, the only reflection of Jesus that the world will see is the one in you and me. If the world is only seeing a very dim reflection of Jesus, it’s not his fault, it’s yours and mine.
When people say that there doesn’t seem to be much activity of the Holy Spirit in our world or in our churches these days, it means that there isn’t much reflection of Jesus happening in our midst. Paul knew that it would take time in prayer and in seeking the face of God for our reflection to become more and more clear. Our intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ would grow as we drew closer and closer to him. And the closer we are to him the more clear the reflection of Jesus will be in our lives. And the clearer the reflection of Jesus in you and in me, the more the world will be blessed by the reflection of Jesus in their midst.
Are you blaming your dim relationship with Jesus Christ on the current state of your mirror? Maybe it’s time to ask God to help you clean up your mirror and then draw up closer and closer to Jesus so that you can reflect him.
What’s your mirror like?
Lord, may my mirror be clean and shiny, reflecting you to the world. Amen.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
1Cor. 12:22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
1Cor. 12:23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;
1Cor. 12:24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,
1Cor. 12:25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, this congregation that seemed to have on-going difficulties and dissension. The people in this community of faith had come from all walks of life. Some of them were rich, others were poor, some were men, some were women, some had respectable jobs, others had been temple prostitutes, and yet they were all now a part of the same church — the body of Christ.
This community was like nothing the world had experienced. These members had been brought together by their baptism into belief in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit bound them together in a new body, one in which every single member was necessary and had their place. And yet the attitudes of the world were contaminating this new body of Christ. Paul was gravely concerned for the way in which each member of the body was treated was a direct indication as to the spiritual condition of the body as a whole.
This church was to be a new organism in which all were invited to the table. No longer were cultural power structures to divide the community, but the presence of the Holy Spirit was the uniting factor. This counter-cultural community of faith was to be so radically different from anything in the world that those on the outside should have been able to look at them and say, “see how they love one another.”
Years ago there was an old Wendy’s commercial that talked about chicken parts. As a matter of fact, you can remind yourself by watching it here.
In that commercial parts of chickens were cut up and then formed back together to make a chicken breast — and they joked about “parts is parts.” The problem with the chicken made up of parts was that it was unnatural. Chopped up parts formed back together to make it look like it was some kind of other part.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to be in the body of Christ. We are not supposed to take our different and unique parts and chop them up and reconstitute them into something unnatural. No — what we hear from Paul is that every single part of the body of Christ is important — in its current shape and form. And in the natural shape and form the entire body is united together to be something beautiful.
Sadly, even in the body of Christ there is a temptation to allow the attitudes of the world to infect us so that we begin to believe that some parts are more valuable than others. All of this depends on our own perspective regarding the parts. There may be those who believe that persons in particular positions are more important than other parts of the body of Christ. But remember the more visible parts can only function well because of those that function behind the scenes. The heart beating within the chest is not visible, but without it, the entire organism would die!
The body of Christ is more beautiful and much healthier when every part is allowed to function at its full capacity. This happens when the body is well nourished and care is given to every member of the body. Every member of the body is encouraged to grow and develop to their fullest potential, becoming the best part of the body they can be and enjoying the encouragement of the other members as we cheer one another on. For you see, we are not a community of chopped up parts, trying to create a homogeneous whole because “parts is parts” doesn’t work when it comes to the body of Christ. Every part of the body of Christ is a part of his creation with an intention to be a reflection of the glory of God. No part is too great nor too small within the body. Instead, each part is special and unique and brings special glory to the Father.
May we never suppress the working of a member of the body of Christ, and may we continually rejoice in the blessings of the unique giftings of each part. And through it all may the world look at us and say, “see how they love one another.”
Lord, thank you for the unique parts of your body. Amen.
Monday, November 11, 2013
1Cor. 10:23 ¶ “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
1Cor. 10:24 Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.
For a community of people who had a been raised with the Jewish law, the freedoms found in following Christ were a bit astounding. Now, in this new community of faith you had those from a strict religious background and pagans who had never worshiped the living God. The first council meeting in Jerusalem had laid down some basic restrictions for these believers but they were simple and gave a great amount of freedom. They were struggling in their freedom to find the right boundaries for there were those who were comfortable celebrating the pagan holidays of the past and eating meat that had been offered to idols. This did not bother them spiritually and yet there were those within the community of faith who were greatly disturbed by these behaviors.
Paul had to remind the congregation in Corinth that they were united together in a family of faith. Therefore the behavior of one had an effect on the others. The Greek word that is translated above “build up” can also be translated as edify but the root of the word comes from the word “family.” It has to do with the building up or construction of the family unit. Therefore yes, all things are lawful, but not everything that we do will be helpful to this new family of faith of which you are a part. The interconnectedness of the believers within the faith community was of vital importance to the Apostle Paul and should be to us as well.
This weekend I was a teen retreat where the young people had been encouraged to share “their story.” Large red papers had been hung throughout the chapel, papers on which they had illustrated or written highlights from “their story.” Over and over again the stories included divorce, parents missing from their lives, abuse, violence, drugs and prison. I was stunned at the number of times I saw these themes recurring. And we wonder why our young people struggle so?
Within those stories I also saw great self-centeredness. Not on the part of these children, but on the part of the adults who were supposed to be raising them. These red pages screamed out, “It’s all about me!” Parents who had no concern for the consequences of their behavior on the family unit for whom they were to have been responsible. Instead, we have children and teens who have been fending for themselves for years and don’t know what it means to be a part of a community of faith in which they can feel safe — in a community who says “it’s not about me” but it’s about building this family of faith.
And that brings us to a moment of self-examination. Do we realize that we have a responsibility within the family of faith for ALL of those who are a part of our communion? We may feel that we have the freedom to do what we want — for we have great freedom in Christ. Yes, I can go to that party and I’ll be okay. Maybe you will be okay, but what about your friend who dabbles in some drugs and finds himself addicted. Do you have any responsibility for him?
Or, we may say that it’s okay to engage in social drinking. You may rationalize that it’s not a problem for me or for my family, but what if the person at the end of the table comes from a family with a predisposition to alcoholism and you have just poured them the first glass that will lead them into a life of destructive behaviors. Do we have a responsibility for them?
Too often we have thought about our Christian walk as simply between God and me! However, there is so much more involved. We may try to convince ourselves that what we do has no effect on others, and yet it most certainly does. We cannot make decisions about what “we” want without realizing the implications for the entire family — and faith family as well.
Paul had come to realize that his relationship with Jesus Christ was not just about him personally, but about bringing others to a personal relationship with the Lord. If we are to be a part of building a family, then we have family responsibilities. We cannot shirk those responsibilities and focus only on ourselves. Instead we must come to realize that all of our actions, reactions and behaviors will have a direct effect on the family. Will we do what we do for the good of others, or are we only concerned about ourselves? We need a good daily reminder that, “It’s not about me!”
Lord, please help me to keep others first. Amen.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
1Cor. 4:5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
Christians were judging other Christians and questioning their motives. Paul said that this was to stop because it was becoming destructive to the work and ministry of the church. It was not the place of the Corinthians to judge the motives or things hidden in the hearts of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, they were to work to live at peace with one another, trying to bear with one another and allow God to be the judge. At the appointed time praise would come for the things done or not done — but that praise would come from God.
Let’s be honest, there have been times that we’ve wondered why someone has behaved a particular way, or we’ve questioned their motivations. However, if we don’t truly know the heart of the individual then we are simply speculating. The sad truth is that speculation can take us on a very destructive journey.
Have you ever had one of those conversations with someone — the one where they tell you what they think you’re thinking and why you’re acting the way you are? I’ve had one or two of those in my lifetime and usually I’m pretty stunned because my mind had never gone to those places. That’s why allowing our minds to wander and judge others is incredibly detrimental to the family of God. Remember that Jesus had told his followers, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” There was a reason for that, for he knew what it would do to the community of faith. Jesus had also declared that the world would know his followers by their love for one another — and that’s why we need to stop jumping to conclusions.
As we draw closer to Jesus Christ his light will shine upon us and reveal the areas of our lives that need to be cleaned up. When we begin cleaning up the dark corners of our own lives we will realize that we are in no condition to be condemning others. To condemn others is to think that we are somehow superior to them spiritually and this is pure and simple arrogance.
Barnes says the passage teaches us:
(1.) that we should not be guilty of harsh judgment of others.
(2.) The reason is, that we cannot know their feelings and motives.
(3.) That all secret things will be brought forth in the great day, and nothing be concealed beyond that time.
(4.) That every man shall receive justice there. He shall be treated as he ought to be. The destiny of no one will be decided by the opinions of men.
And aren’t we grateful that our destiny is not determined by others’ opinions of us!
The other day my husband shared with me this ancient Celtic reading:
To a woman who complained about her destiny the Abba said, 'It is you who make your destiny.'
The woman said, 'But surely I am not responsible for being born a woman?'
The Abba replied, 'Being a woman isn't destiny. That is fate. Destiny is how you accept your
womanhood and what you make of it.'
We should never jump to conclusions about the motivations, hearts or minds of other individuals. Also, we should never allow the opinions of others to shape our destiny. Instead, we should seek to be a reflection of Jesus Christ every single day of our lives and in the end, allow our commendation to come from God.
Lord, please help me keep my focus on you. Amen.
Friday, November 8, 2013
1Cor. 2:14 ¶ Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1Cor. 2:15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
1Cor. 2:16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
There were natural men/women, those not living in the Spirit, who believed that they had great wisdom. The problem was that no matter the depth of their knowledge and wisdom, without the Spirit they lacked discernment.
In verse 16 we find this quote from Isaiah:
Is. 40:13 Who has directed the spirit of the LORD,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
This is a a realization that those who are not walking in the Spirit actually have the audacity to believe that they can instruct God! But no matter the power nor the intellect of the natural person, they lack some of much greater value — the mind of Christ. And this is where Paul ends this comment because there is nothing greater than actually being united with Christ and therefore having his very mind as our mind. It puts all human intelligence and knowledge to shame.
Have you ever met someone that seemed to have a kind of spiritual radar? It was as if they could look right through you and see your motivations. There is something a bit unnerving about that kind of an experience and yet it helps you understand that discernment comes to those who have grown in the Spirit.
Sadly, even those who have been walking with God for many years may, at times, depend upon their own thinking. We become too busy or we actually believe our own press — that we know what we’re doing and we can make decisions without the help of God. We plow forward without realizing what we’re doing.
It’s at that moment that we ought to remember this quote from Isaiah — and realize that we just might be trying to tell Go what to do! Ouch.
So the question of the day is, “What’s in your head?”
Maybe we ought to step back and ask ourselves what it is that fills our mind day in and day out. Possibly it’s the business of the day that needs to be completed. Or, it could be a relationship with someone that’s gone wrong and you’re rehearsing that final conversation over and over again in your mind. There are many things, some good, and some not so good that can fill our heads day in and day out.
Many people have trouble sleeping at night because they can’t stop the conversations in their mind, or they continue to worry about unfinished business.
What’s in our head is what controls the rest of our lives. Ultimately either the mind of Christ or our own mind will be in our head. Those two options made a radical difference in the lives of all of God’s children.
The only way that the mind of Christ can be in us is if we spend time with Christ every single day of our lives. Our thoughts and our desires need to be consumed with him for he ought to be the ultimate recipient of our affections. Paul knew that this was the solution for depending on our natural person.
What’s in your head today? Maybe we ought to reevaluate whether we have been depending too much on our own understanding, literally, we’ve been trying to instruct God, and instead, seek to know the mind of Christ. There is no better way to live our lives than on a journey in which we are continually united with our Creator God.
Lord, may the distractions of life never keep me from truly knowing you. Amen.