Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I Want To Invite You!



Scripture:


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.

Observation:


Here we reach the closing chapter of Revelation and of the word of God and it concludes with a beautiful invitation.  The Spirit reaches out to all of humanity with an invitation to “come” and be a part of the fellowship found in God and his people.  The invitation is not only extended by the Spirit, but by the bride as well.   The church is to be actively engaged in reaching out to invite those who aren’t walking in this fellowship so that they can hear the invitation to “come.”  Those who are thirsty for this relationship will be satisfied as they drink of the water of life, providing satisfaction for all of eternity. 

Application:

The final chapter of the Bible is written with this beautiful invitation and the final post of this year comes to you as an invitation as well. 

It’s the end of 2013 and as we head into 2014 we have no idea what is in store, and yet there is the one constant, God.  It seems that every year brings with it different challenges and obstacles and yet, through all that life throws our way we can learn to either depend more on God, or on ourselves.  I choose to depend on God, and as a result I pray that he is able to mold me and transform me.  There is still so much more that I need to learn and I know there’s much more transformation that needs to happen in my life but I have to say that I have been enjoying the journey and I have been amazed by the faithfulness of God to carry us through the rocky days in his incredible arms of love. 

I have a lot of friends who have grown up in the church and have been disappointed by what they have experienced.  As a part of the church I would like to extend my hand and apologize for the things that we have sometimes done or said in the name of Christianity.  Unfortunately there have been times when the church has done a poor job of extending the invitation to “come” but has instead established some ugly barriers to knowing Christ in a deeply personal way.  I just want you to know that even though the bride — the church — may have some ugly warts there is an invitation to come, for the invitation is not to the bride, but to the bridegroom.  He will not let you down but will instead be your strength, your joy, your companion who will walk this journey of life with you.  He knows that you are thirsty for something that will satisfy the deep thirst or ache in your heart and he is the only one who can bring true and eternal satisfaction. 

For some of my dear friends through the years you have never known church, nor have you ever experienced the bridegroom.  I have kept you in my heart and prayed for you throughout the years and today the invitation to “come” is extended to you and will continue to be extended to you. 

As you make your New Years resolutions I want you to consider where you may be in your spiritual walk.  There is a beautiful invitation placed before you to enter into a new or renewed journey.  Will you come?

Prayer:


Lord, please continue to lead me on the journey.  Amen.

Monday, December 30, 2013

What Happened to the Wedding?



Scripture:


Rev. 18:23     and the light of a lamp
        will shine in you no more;
    and the voice of bridegroom and bride
        will be heard in you no more;

    for your merchants were the magnates of the earth,
        and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

Observation:


In the end Babylon the great was to see her destruction.  All the activities of that city were to suddenly be silenced and couched within the list we discover that the “voice of the bridegroom and the bride will be heard in you no more.”  This signifies the spiritual state of the people of Babylon.  From the opening of the Scriptures until the marriage supper of the lamb the Bible is filled with wedding imagery.  God’s people are invited into a such a deeply intimate relationship with him that we are called the Bride and he is the Bridegroom.  When the voice of the Bride and the Bridegroom can no longer be heard then the community has fallen into complete apostasy.  This is the fate of Babylon and I think it begs the question, have the voices of the Bride and Bridegroom fallen silent because of the unfaithfulness of her people, or has the unfaithfulness of her people led to the silence? 

Application:


There is incredible joy in hearing and/or reading the testimony of those who have recently given their lives to Jesus Christ.  These are the ones who are just learning what it means to fall in love with the Bridegroom.  Their voices bring joy to our own hearts as their words resonate with us and again bring back that joy of first knowing him.  Check out this article regarding Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers who calls herself a “Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower.”    In her story and others like it we hear again the love story that is being written between the bridegroom and the bride.

Sadly, many of us aren’t hearing these voices these days and in some churches it has become rare to ever hear the joy of the bride and bridegroom.  We think of vile cities like Babylon and her secular flirtations;  surely she has to suffer at her own fate!  And it may be true that in the Babylons of this world there are no more weddings.  There are no more followers of Jesus Christ and so the joy of the wedding has been silenced.  But could it be that this same silence has crept into the church as she has flirted with Babylon?  Throughout history there have been periods of times when the voice of the Bride and Bridegroom have been heard loud and clear.  The joy of salvation has been experienced within the community of faith and all have joined into the wedding celebration.  Sadly, far too many churches these days have grown silent and it’s been a long time since the joy of the wedding has been celebrated. 

What has happened to us?  We read the book of Revelation and we try to imagine where Babylon may be located today — which nation does it refer to — and is the Antichrist leading her?  What if Babylon is a slow creep into our lives, one that leads to a love affair with the world, excluding the true Bridegroom?  When was the last time you shared your love of the Bridegroom with someone?  Is the joy of the wedding heard in your midst?  What has happened to the wedding?

Earlier in Revelation we read the condemnation of Ephesus.  She had lost her first love.  Just as we live in a world that seems to be willing to dispose of earthly marriage and relationships rather easily, I’m afraid that the Church may be willing to do the same.  When we don’t like what we’re experiencing, we simply choose to walk away.  The commitment to the wedding and to the marriage is fading.  The book of Revelation was to serve as a warning to the churches of her day, but to us as well.  We must be recommitted to the Bridegroom and share him to those in need.  Then again the wedding will return to our midst and with it the joy of our salvation.

Prayer:

Lord, may we hear the voices of the bridegroom and the bride in our midst.  Amen.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What Begins with His Birth



Scripture:


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.”

Observation:

We continue to celebrate the birth of the Messiah and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.  However, not until we reach the book of Revelation do we see the completion of this Kingdom.  What begins with his birth is a new Kingdom, one which functions and rules from the basis of a God of holy love.  All of this is in complete opposition to the kingdoms of this world.  We are privileged to live in the “already” of that Kingdom.  The Kingdom has come, the Prince of Peace has arrived and yet the battle continues to rage until this final moment when the seventh angel will blow the trumpet and there will be excited shouts in heaven that the earthly kingdoms have come to an end, or have become a part of the Kingdom of our Lord!  This is the trajectory toward which all of life is headed and the Messiah’s reign — Christ’s reign — will be “forever and ever.” 

Application:

What begins with the birth of the Messiah is something more exciting than all of humanity could have ever imagined!  The new Kingdom!  God’s Kingdom was brought to earth and this new kingdom rule was begun.  We are not supposed to be bystanders to this kingdom, but we are to become citizens, participants, and children of that kingdom.  God’s intention is that we already move from the kingdoms of the world into his Kingdom.

We have had a great time celebrating the birth, the arrival of the Messiah this week and yet, have we been willing to accept all that came with him, or have we simply stood on the sidelines cheering on his birth?  There is more to Christmas than simply celebrating the Messiah by giving gifts to one another.  Jesus arrived but what began with his birth was a whole new world, a new way of living and seeing and being.  Not only are we called to accept Jesus as the Messiah, we are called to step into the new kingdom and become active participants in that kingdom in the here and now. 

Earthly kingdoms have their appeal and if we were honest we might say that we are drawn to them.  They have money and power and wield control over many issues of life.  When things seem out of control we may be seeking for ways to bring order to the chaos and we may compromise with the kingdoms of the world for this to happen.  Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t necessarily make everything in life neat and easy.  No, as the expansion of God’s Kingdom continues to do battle with the world’s kingdoms there will be tensions and struggles and there may be times when we feel as if we are caught in the very middle of it all.  The promise of the kingdom was not an easy life, just take a look at the beatitudes:

Matt. 5:3 ¶ “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 5:4 ¶ “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matt. 5:5 ¶ “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Matt. 5:6 ¶ “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Matt. 5:7 ¶ “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Matt. 5:8 ¶ “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Matt. 5:9 ¶ “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matt. 5:10 ¶ “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 5:11 ¶ “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Matt. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This was to be life in the kingdom and this is what began with the birth of Christ.  We are somewhere between his birth and the seventh trumpet.  Yes, there is great tension and as Kingdom citizens we will be persecuted, and reviled but great is our reward in heaven.  The Kingdom has begun and will continue until it comes to completion and the world’s kingdoms will fade away and all that will be left is the Kingdom that was ushered in on that first Christmas morning.  Where are you going to live — in the world’s kingdoms, or in His?

Prayer:

Lord, may you continually lead me to live in your kingdom.  Amen.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Every Era Has Its Sins



Scripture:

Rev. 9:20 ¶ The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.
Rev. 9:21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.

Observation:

It seems that we are always trying to “figure out” what we are being told in the book of Revelation.  What is the story pointing to, and certainly it must be about us — today!

The reality is that every commentator throughout history has placed this Revelation within their context and their understanding.  Most older commentators place these incidents within the period of the early church and the loss of the Eastern Church to Islam.  Therefore these Scriptures are interpreted in this light.  The plagues overran what is modern-day Turkey and yet the people did not repent. 

In the midst of incredible suffering regarding their faith there were those who still held diligently onto their idols.  Pagan worship included idols and trinkets made of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood.  These “things” made of natural substances could not see, hear or walk and yet, humans desired a relationship with them.  Instead of turning toward Christ who wanted a personal relationship with them, them wasted their time with things made by human hands.

Self-centeredness ruled the day and a way to accomplish personal goals was to destroy your enemy.  Murders can become common fare when human life is no longer valued.  It’s easier to “kill” our problem than to deal with it!  This happened in Turkey — not in the early centuries, but just in the last century.  The “Armenian problem” continued to be an issue in Eastern Turkey — where the Armenian people had lived surrounding Mount Ararat since the time of Noah.  In a final effort to deal with their “problem” the Armenian genocide was begun and systematically night after night they were taken and murdered or made to march down through the Syrian desert with only a small handful surviving and making their way to Lebanon.  But when we are sure of ourselves we do not repent.

Nor did they repent of their “sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.”  The “sorceries” were the things that they did with magic and drugs.  The actual Greek word is farmakeia  — the act of using drugs to produce a desired effect on individuals.  They loved doing drugs and not having to deal with reality.  They did not want to give these things up to serve God.  And how do you get more and more drugs — by stealing.  One sin led to another and the total effect was fornication against God.  They loved all the things of the world so much more than they loved God that they were willing to die for them.

Application:


The things written in Revelation have been speculated about since the time the book was written.  Everyone wants to know exactly what it reveals and when these things are going to happen.  How many people do we hear currently who believe that Revelation points to what is happening in the world today?  We hear this time and again.  However, every era has believed that Revelation was pointing to them.

The early church saw within the pages of Revelation Roman Rule and destruction of Jerusalem.  They saw the wicked Emperor Nero and the martyrdom of the early Christians. 

A little later Christianity saw the era of the loss of Christianity to Islam — and then the response of the Crusades. 

During the period of the Reformation the Protestants saw within the pages the corruption and evil of Rome and the Papacy.  They interpreted every one of these sins as actions occurring within the Roman Catholic Church.

Today we look for these signs within the political structures and systems of the day. 

Now, let’s step back a minute and realize the timelessness of the word of God.  Isn’t it amazing that truths could be found in every era that related to these Scriptures?  So, instead of trying to discern what the “signs” mean, why not look at what the word may be saying about who we are and how we act.  Today’s Scripture leads us to believe that there are people in every era who will refuse to repent and turn to Christ because of their personal self-indulgence.  I believe it is also a warning to you and to me that there is always the temptation to fornication — to giving ourselves away to the things of the world, rather than to God, and this leads to impurity.  We are called to be God’s holy people.  This description of sins is the antithesis of his holiness. 

The world tempts us with stuff!  Just look at how overrun our mall parking lots are these days.  What in the world are people buying????  Do we really need all this stuff?  We are murdering people in other countries (working them as slave laborers) so that we can have more stuff.  Really?  Could it be that subtly we have lost sight of the fact that our consumerism has replaced our relationship with Jesus Christ and that we are worshiping the demons of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood.  All that stuff you got for Christmas — it cannot see, hear or walk.  It’s just stuff. 

And we don’t repent of our murders because we have cleverly hidden them far away beyond the seas in the workrooms that we cannot see.  Out of sight, out of mind and surely I must not be responsible. 

We make ourselves more comfortable when we spend our time trying to look into the future to interpret the book of Revelation.  In this way we don’t have to take responsibility for our own actions.  However, the word of God has been true for the martyrs of the first and second centuries all the way through to us today.  We must take a personal look at ourselves and see whether we find our own behavior reflected in the words of the Revelator.  Every era will have her sins.  We must repent and be clothed in his white robe of righteousness — living in his holiness today, in this corrupt and evil world.

Prayer:

Lord, may we have wisdom to see the sins of the world for what they really are.  Amen.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Are You Wearing His White?



Scripture:

Rev. 3:4 Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
Rev. 3:5 If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.
Rev. 3:6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Observation:


The church in Sardis had once been very vibrant, filled with the Spirit and ministering to their surrounding community.  They had a great reputation and had probably been known for exciting worship services, great doctrine and unity among their people.  The problem was that the church “was not really what it reputed to be.” (Henry)  They had a great reputation and people respected their name but they were no longer living up to that reputation.  There was no power — nothing was happening and little by little people were drifting away from their true faith.  They thought they knew how to look good on the outside but the church was dying. 

Their practice of faith had become extremely shallow.  Jesus came to make us his holy people.  The white robes represent the holiness of Christ which clothes his genuine followers.  Many of the people in the church were no longer clothed with the holiness of Christ but were wearing their own garb.  Somehow they probably thought it was a bit more colorful but we are reminded in Hebrews 12:14 “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.“  Without the white garments of holiness our names will be blotted from the book of life.  An imitation of godliness — where we just show up occasionally for a worship service — will never cut it.  Listen to what the Spirit is saying!

Application:

When we moved to Moscow in the 1990’s my entire wardrobe changed and the predominant color became black.  You see, it didn’t take me long to figure out that living in a big city with lots of dirt, mud, rain and snow is not conducive to wearing light colored clothing.  Instead, it was best to wear black so that all the dirt didn’t show.  One day in light colored clothing and it could be ruined!  You didn’t dare to wear white!

Recently I saw a You-tube video of a new substance called NeverWet Superhydrophobic Spray.  Okay — sounds kind of goofy, but it’s a brand new substance that you can spray on fabric and absolutely nothing will soil it.  You can pour chocolate syrup on white tennis shoes and it will simply flow right off.  Somehow this gave me an image of what Jesus’ white garments of holiness must be like.  You see, they aren’t like our normal clothing that becomes soiled by whatever may be around us, instead I believe that the white of Jesus’ holiness can’t be soiled!  Why?  Because it’s not about our own personal white garments that we try to make on our own which can be colored and stained by the world, instead these are made from Jesus’ holiness.  Remember the woman who had the issue of blood for 12 years?  When she touched Jesus she did not make him unclean, but rather his purity reached out to her and healed her. 

I’m afraid that we are selling ourselves short, much like the people of Sardis.  We have tried to create our own white garments and the result is that they have become sullied and dirty.  No longer are we recognizable to the world as God’s children.  In the midst stand just a few who have continued to be clothed in Jesus’ holiness.  They stand as a reminder of God’s intention for all of humanity.  This letter served as a warning;  a reminder that it doesn’t matter how good the church looks, if we don’t put on his white garments, we have nothing. 

Whose garment are we wearing today?  Are we wearing his white?

Prayer:

Lord, may I be clothed in you.  Amen.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stop Texting, Facebooking, and Messaging!



Scripture:


2John 12 ¶ Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

3John 13 ¶ I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink;
3John 14 instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.

Observation:

Interestingly here in 2nd and 3rd John we find the same sentiment — instead of using pen and ink, it would be much more pleasant to see these dear people face to face and have a conversation.  There’s too much to be said by simply writing it down and instead there is great joy to be known in being face to face and sharing the things of our hearts with one another.

Application:


Technology has brought with it some great joys, but also some great challenges.  My son-in-law was telling me how quiet the lunch room is at the High School where he teaches.  Quiet?  Yes, they are all busy on their electronic devices.  No one is talking to anyone, they are all texting someone else.  Or, how often have you sat down for dinner at a restaurant lately and nearly everyone gets out their cell phones and begins to check what’s happening in different places.  Personally, I like the idea of stacking the phones on the table and the first one to reach has to pay the bill!

We may laugh at these trends but is there something that we can learn from John?  Jesus came and reminded us that the Law could be summed up by loving God and loving neighbor!  Are we trying to love our neighbor electronically, rather than face to face, in person, and making a difference!  There is something about the protective distance of electronic communication.  We don’t have to become personally engaged in the lives of these individuals.  Instead, we can communicate from a safe distance. 

Maybe John was onto something and we ought to stop texting, fbing, and messaging and go be with one another.  Maybe we ought to put on the tea pot and sit around the table, look one another in the eye, and enjoy real conversation.  This is how we share ourselves with others, and we learn the hearts of others.  God wants us to love him and love our neighbors.  Let’s intentionally put down the electronic devices and go, visit with our friends, family and neighbors, face to face! 

Over and over again in the word we are urged to seek the face of God.  There is something powerful about looking into the face of God and becoming a reflection of Him.  It is only in those face to face relationships with one another that we can help to bring about His transformation in the world.  Let’s not be lulled into a kind of security that comes from behind a computer screen.  Instead, let’s get our hands dirty and engage in a world that desperately needs to see a face to face reflection of Jesus Christ!

Prayer:

Thank you for the privilege of a face to face and nose to nose relationship with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Child Has Come So that We May Be Children Too!



Scripture:

1John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
1John 3:2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Observation:


God sent his only son to be born here on this earth as a fragile baby.  As we look upon the baby in the manger we are reminded of the innocence of childhood.  Can you imagine the love of our heavenly Father who would be willing to send his son in this form so that we too can be invited into the innocence of childhood and stand before him as his adopted children.  His love has been lavished on us through his Son — and we are now children too. 

Application:


I walked through Walmart yesterday and there was a man delivering bread who looked so much like my brother Jerry.  It seems that I see the face of my brother Jerry reflected in the faces of others from time to time and I realize how much I miss him.  He’s been gone for a number of years now - gone to be with Jesus — but it still just doesn’t seem right.  He should be around when the family gathers.  He should be receiving a call or a card on Christmas.  He should be writing out his plans for the next year on a napkin in a restaurant.  He should be laughing with dad and mom in their living room.  He should be complaining about technology and how awful it is to be using a computer!  I miss Jerry, for he was my brother.

Biologically Jerry was not my brother.  My parents adopted Jerry when he was just a few days old but he was and will always be my parents’ son.  So, while biologically Jerry was not my brother, in reality he was and is my big brother.  There was no difference in our family as to how one family member was loved or accepted.  We were all, equally, my parents’ children.  Their love reached out to every single one of us and they prayed passionately for all four us. 

Why do I miss Jerry?  Because he was my brother.  I loved him.  He was a part of our family. 

The love that our family had for my big brother, Jerry, is nothing compared to the love that God has for you and me.  He sent his Son on that first Christmas day so that we could all be adopted into the family.  As we celebrate today let’s be grateful for the baby who came so that we could be children too.  And let’s relax, and be childlike in our faith and have fun today in the innocence of childhood.  We are all children today — His children. 

Merry Christmas.

Prayer:

Thank you for your Son, and that I can be your daughter, too!  Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Celebrating the One on the Throne



Scripture:

John 19:13 ¶ When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.

Observation:

The irony of the scene played out in John’s gospel is that Pilate places himself up on the elevated throne to proclaim judgement against Jesus — the Messiah.  If Pilate had realized what he was really doing he would have been appalled.  How could he place himself on the throne above the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  This Jesus who had come into the world to usher in a new kingdom was standing before him.  The real king was there in his very midst and yet he did not recognize him, and instead of elevating the King, he elevated himself.  The word gabbatha means “elevation” — the high place.  The high place was to be reserved for those in power and being the illegitimate leader in this situation, Pilate took the throne — the high seat.  Little did he know how the tables would soon be turned. 

Application:

This is Christmas Eve and today we celebrate with great anticipation the arrival of the new King — the true King who began his reign that day so long ago and continues onward reaching out in time to you and to me.  For us to truly celebrate we must recognize his rightful place, on the throne! 

Sadly, some of us, if we were honest, might discover that we are a bit like Pilate.  Instead of celebrating the one who is on the throne, we put ourselves on the throne.  Sometimes this is intentional, but at other times it may simply happen because of time and circumstances.  Life becomes difficult and busy.  Instead of trusting entirely in the Lord, we begin to take control and micro-manage the situations.  We are afraid of where things might go if we allow God to take over and all of a sudden we discover that we are on the throne instead of him.  We find ourselves looking down on the one who should be on the throne and wondering why things have gotten so messed up. 

May we take a little time today to re-evaluate whether we have allowed the true King to be on the throne.  May Christmas be about the one whom we elevate — Jesus!  Take stock and don’t let anything be placed higher than the Savior who was born that night to bring peace and to set the world free!  Celebrate the rightful One who is on the throne.

Prayer:

Jesus, today we celebrate you and lift you up!  Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

My New BFF



Scripture:

John 15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
John 15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Observation:

These days we throw around (or text) terms like BFF — Best Friends Forever.  When we think about the arrival of Baby Jesus — we don’t often think about the birth of our new best friend.  And yet, that was the relationship that this Messiah was offering to those who would be faithful followers of God.  In this passage in John we find Jesus preparing for the final chapter of his life and in this we see revealed the fulfillment of the incarnation, the righting of humanity’s relationship to God.  While Jesus was the disciples’ Master — they were no longer to imagine themselves in a Servant - Master relationship, instead as they lived in fidelity to his passions, they became, and we become his friends. 

The motivation for behavior in a friendship relationship is completely different from that of Servant - Master relationship.  Jesus had invited the disciples into an intimate relationship with him, one in which they did not just receive orders from him, but one in which he shared with them his very heart and mind.  His passions were now their passions.  The relationship now had a much more horizontal, rather than vertical nature about it — and they had become his friends. 

Friends laugh together, cry together, and overall, share life together.  Jesus’ arrival on earth declared that we could become a friend of God.  Let that soak in just a little — and then be amazed at that simple truth.

Application:

So, who is your BFF?  Wikipedia tells us that this is a term generally used by pre-teens and teens about their relationships.  Unfortunately, these relationships hardly ever end up being “forever” but instead seem to be based on the emotions of the time.  The sad truth is that BFFs hardly ever remain BFFs — but at the same time, it seems to be what many are seeking.  When Jesus promises to be our BFF — he means forever!  His birth ushered in the possibility for that relationship.

The Scriptures have provided us with examples of BFFs and specifically in the Old Testament we are presented with a couple of great examples.  Abraham was considered a friend of God.  He had a deeply intimate and personal relationship with God — and was found faithful in that relationship.  God himself came down to earth and made a covenant with him — promising that his seed would be like the sands of the sea.  And God, his friend, fulfilled the promise through the miraculous birth of his son Isaac.  And just like friends, they laughed!

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David.  David and his dear friend Jonathan paint a picture of enduring friendship for us.  They were BFFs!  Jonathan was willing to give up his throne and lay down his life for his friend David.  Their hearts and their passions had become so intermingled that each desired the best for the other.  David should have technically been Jonathan’s servant, but instead, because of their friendship, Jonathan laid down his life for his friend.

Jesus was trying to help the disciples understand that he was a friend; one who was willing to lay down his life for each of them.  That’s not what Masters do — that’s what friends do.

This past hear a friend in Canton was diagnosed with leukemia.  It was during this time that I observed the community of friendship that surrounded her and be BFFs.  Hours were spent in the hospital at her bedside, willing to simply be present and endure together with her the prolonged treatment and resultant side-effects.  Food was brought to the family.  Adjustments were made to peoples’ own schedules to be there — and to be a friend.  I was overwhelmed by what I witnessed in this circle of friendship and I thought — this is what it truly means to be BFFs.

Everyone is hungry for a BFF.  Jesus wants to be our best BFF ever!  Why is it that we push him away?  Or why is it that we keep ourselves in a Master - Servant relationship, rather than allowing it to become all that it could be?  Is it because we experienced the Junior High type of BFF relationship — the one that left us hurt and wondering if this “forever” thing could ever be for real?  It can be for real.  Jesus has invited us in this Christmas season into a relationship with him — where he shares his heart with us — and we can be called a friend of God forever! 

Don’t be afraid;  let him be your BFF!

Prayer:

Friend - thanks!  Amen.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Peace I Leave With You



Scripture:

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Observation:


Jesus came to bring Peace on Earth — or so the heavenly host declared:

Luke 2:14     “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
        and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

From beginning to end, Jesus was about peace!  But it was a peace that the world would simply not understand.  This was not a political peace among troubled nations — instead it was about a deep abiding peace that would fill the very depths of the hearts of God’s people. 

The peace of the world is a temporary sense of getting along with one another.  Jesus’ peace is a deep peace that touches the very heart of the person, a peace that rules even when the nations of the world can not get along with one another.  This is a peace that allows his children to live within the chaos of a lost, crazy and corrupt world and yet sense a peace beyond anything that can be imagined. 

This was the gift that he had brought with him at his birth and the gift that would be left through the presence of the Holy Spirit after his departure.

Application:

Somehow when I think about “Peace on Earth,” I think about the beauty pageants where they young ladies are asked what kind of difference they’d like to make in the world.  Of course we all have this stereotypical image in our minds of the blonde who says, “world peace.”  The irony is that she is really in no position to bring that about — and yet it seems to be the popular answer.  The problem is that the peace that the world is seeking is only temporary.  It’s a type of cease-fire along borders but is not a personal sense of calming the troubled heart.

I’ve ended up in some pretty crazy situations in life, especially during the early years of our lives in the former Soviet Union.  The world before us was chaos as the Soviet Union broke apart into separate independent countries.  Never did we know from one day to the next what to expect.  The stress of living in a new nation with new rules and everything constantly shifting was sometimes beyond comprehension.  The borders were always a time of concern as one never knew whether the laws had been changed or what the attitude of the officials might be that night.  I have quietly laid on my bunk in a train on the border between Russia and Ukraine — listening to the officials in the hallway shout out their orders to us.  We have had our bunks and our luggage searched — and held our breaths as our passports were taken away for what seemed endless minutes.  What would be our fate that night?  Would we be asked to leave the train at a border town with no documents and no way to get home?  It had happened to others, it could happen to us.

Countless times the flashlights have been shone on our faces as the men with the AK-47’s asked the questions.  And in the midst of it all — peace! 

This is the peace that Jesus came to give us.  Not a peace that solves border control issues and the attitudes of power hungry officials, but a heart peace that says, “do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  A peace that encourages us to take a deep breath and depend on God Almighty to take us through the difficult circumstances of life.  A stream of peace that endures from today through the end of time.  A peace that reminds us that there are problems too big for us to fix, but that we can trust in God on high! 

Glory to God!

Peace on Earth!


Jesus' birth announced peace on earth and with his departure the promised Holy Spirit began and continues the work of bring peace to the troubled hearts to his children.   

Prayer:


Lord, may I live in your peace.  Amen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Waiting On God



Scripture:


John 11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
John 11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,
John 11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Observation:

Jesus had gotten word that Lazarus was very ill and he loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus very much.  Instead of rushing to their side and curing Lazarus before he died, Jesus waits two more days before going to see them.  When Jesus does finally arrive the family is grief-stricken.  They had faith to believe that Jesus could have done something about Lazarus’ illness but, in their minds, he didn’t come in time.  Jesus is touched by their grief and being overcome, weeps with them.

But Jesus had said that this illness was not to lead to death, but rather was to glorify God.  Everything that Jesus did pointed toward the Father and to him being glorified through every single miracle.  This raising of Lazarus from the dead is a foreshadowing of what was to come — Jesus’ resurrection.  The message here is much larger than simply raising one man from the dead, it is new life for all of humanity!

Application:

Do you ever feel like God is taking a long time answering prayer?  Does the extended time waiting for him seem to stretch out like an eternity — and one that leads to times of tears and weeping?  There is so much that we really don’t understand about the ways of God.  Jesus knew that everything he did was to glorify God.  Our lives are also ones in which God is to be glorified.

Jesus trusted his relationship with Mary and Martha enough that he knew that they could be a part of this miracle of God.  Notice, they are disappointed when he arrives, but they have not discarded him or their personal relationship.  He is still their friend and they still trust him.  Martha  and Mary openly allow him to share in their grief — he is their friend.  But they had also had a preconceived notion about how God would and/or should have answered that prayer.  Jesus should have come sooner!  Lazarus wouldn’t have died, if only Jesus had come.

How often do we argue with God, letting him know that he got the plan wrong!  If only he had responded sooner, and if only he had answered my prayer the way I wanted him to.  And honestly, there are times when disappointment comes — and we weep.  The answer, or seemingly, lack there of, breaks our heart.

The disappointments of life will come and because we live in a fallen world, not everything will turn out the way we may like.  At the same time, there may simply be occasions when we need to wait on God.  His plans to be glorified may be greater than anything we can even begin to imagine.  Lazarus’ resurrection is recorded for all history.  Would the story of his healing from an illness have even made the record books?  Jesus’ victory over death was to become a reality for all of humanity and we were to begin to see this in Lazarus’ resurrection.  What might God want to be revealing through his activity in our lives?

I’m afraid that too often we are not patient with God — not wanting or allowing him to have the time to work out his plan.  His ways are far beyond our comprehension.  Mary and Martha did not anticipate Lazarus being raised from the dead.  Maybe we need to trust God — and wait on him to do what he needs to do so that he will be glorified in all things.

Prayer:

Lord, may you be glorified this day.  Amen.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Glory to God in the Highest



Scripture:

John 7:18 Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

Observation:


From the time that the angels declared the arrival of the Christ-child and throughout his life, Jesus was constantly giving glory to God.  Although he himself was God, he wanted the Father to get all the glory — literally the light, or the spotlight, to be on the one who sent him. 

Jesus declared that this was the responsibility of those who were teachers.  Unfortunately there were those who enjoyed the spotlight for themselves.  Jesus wanted no part in those kinds of teacher, but instead wanted the glory, the light, to shine on his Father.  Whatever Christ did, it was to glorify the Father.  Therefore from the moment of his birth until his ascension into heaven, Jesus was constantly pointing the way to God. 

Application:

I’m afraid that modern culture has taught us that getting the spotlight on ourselves is what life is all about.  That fifteen minutes of fame!  We have people these days who are not famous for anything that they have actually accomplished, but simply because they are able to garner attention.  It’s creating a society in which getting attention — by any means — is seen as a good thing!

The cultural shift in terms of what we value is quite fascinating.  When I was a child the heroes included astronauts, powerful political leaders, strong spiritual leaders, people who spoke up for the rights of others, etc.  If you think about it, many of our heroes of the past really did turn our focus and our attention to God.  The astronauts who saw the earth from sky for the first time were overwhelmed with her beauty and couldn’t imagine her creation without a Creator-God. 

Some of the powerful political leaders tried to get all the attention for themselves and in doing so were the exact opposite of the image of God.  In them we saw reflected the evil which can overwhelm an individual caught up in their own power and self-centeredness.  Evil dictators who are overcome with their own sense of power are led to places of corruption and destruction of their own people because they refuse to give glory to God, but for those who choose to be a reflection of Christ, the result is quite the opposite.  And most of those who spoke for the rights of others have spoken the very words of God found for us in the Bible.  

But these days — we want the spotlight because any attention is considered good attention.  There are those who desire to have the world talk about them and they will do just about anything for that to happen — good or bad.  It is this overexposure of the spotlight that is creating a very self-glorifying society and Christians find themselves right in the middle of it all.  The temptation as a follower of Christ is to gain attention for yourself! 

What happens if preachers give-in to the culture of the day?  Jesus had to consciously fight against it.  Even in his day there were those who would surround certain teachers, following them and declaring them to be the ones they wanted to mimic.  Jesus had to keep pointing the people toward his Father — and Jesus had to keep escaping from the crowds, recharging his batteries by spending time alone with God.  This was the only way he could keep from the temptation to seek the spotlight for himself.  He had to keep pointing the spotlight to the Father.  Glory was to go toward God in the highest!!!!  The same must be true of Christ-followers today — we must seek to intentionally turn the focus and spotlight, the glory on God in the highest. 

This Christmas season let’s do everything that we can to put all the attention on God in the highest.  He is the one who is worthy of glory and honor and praise.  We must be intentional about being counter-cultural and reflecting his image (not ours) to a world that so desperately needs to experience God in the highest!  Jesus is the Savior — not us!

Prayer:


Lord, we give you praise and glory today.  Thank you for all you’ve done to save us and place before us a highway of holiness.  Amen.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Not a Political Revolutionary



Scripture:

John 6:15 ¶ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Observation:

Jesus had just fed the 5000 and they were overcome with gratitude for what he had done, but they also saw the potential for personal benefit.  They wanted a political Messiah, one who would bring about solutions to their problems within the human structures of the day.  The fact that he was able to feed the people was just one more confirmation that he could bring about the political change they believed that they wanted and needed.  Often occupation or dominance by a foreign ruler had led to famine.  Jesus’ ability to feed people with his own power would mean less reliance upon foreign authorities.  Surely Jesus as their king would mean that their temporal personal needs would be met.

For Jesus to be a political revolutionary would have been to succumb to the temptation brought to him after he had fasted in the desert.  Jesus, realizing his kingdom was not of this world would not give in, but instead quoted the scriptures to the Enemy and left, not wanting the power that the world had to give him. 

Jesus did not come to be a political revolutionary, he came to usher in the kingdom of God.  For this to happen he could not listen to the voices of those around him, but he had to withdraw and go to the mountain by himself.  Mark tells us that Jesus went away to pray.  He had to hear the gentle leading voice of his Father, a voice that would essentially drown out the praise and admonition of the crowds. 

Jesus had come to bring peace on earth and this would never be accomplished through human politics.  His peace could only come through the transformation of humanity, one person at a time.

Application:


Could it be that, like the folks in the Galilee, we have expectations of Jesus Christ?  Too often, I’m afraid, we have thoughts about what Jesus ought to be accomplishing within this world, and those things may be of a physical or political nature.  The problem with that is that we are simply not understanding the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God involves radical transformation in our own personal lives and Jesus is our example.

The baby who was born in Bethlehem came to usher in a new kingdom, but it would never be one that would accomplish change through political systems, but through communities of people who were continually being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.  In the early centuries of Christianity the followers of Christ had a profound impact because of their behavior.  They were the ones who went and collected the unwanted babies who had been left to die at the edge of town.  No, these Christians didn’t have the money to be raising extra children in their homes, but somehow this didn’t seem to stop them.  They served the Jesus who had fed the 5000, not for political gain, but for kingdom service.  They, too, were engaged in kingdom service and believed that Jesus could feed the extra mouths now in their homes. 

The early Christians were willing to be martyrs as they were put to death for their faith.  Their faithfulness to God became a witness to the surrounding communities.  They would not give in to the political forces of their day but would rather die for a new and unseen kingdom.  How did they have the strength to face death?  They had followed the example of Christ and they had retreated to the mountain by themselves to pray.  Those were people with a deep personal relationship with Christ and were being transformed into his image — reflecting him to the surrounding community.  No, they did not wrestle to bring about political change, but instead a shining kingdom of Christ-reflectors in the midst of a corrupt politic.

Eventually Christianity did become co-opted by the political system of the day and Christianity celebrated this fact and bought into the human systems of power.  By the fourth century Christianity became the approved religion of the government and then the Christians began persecuting those who would not join them.  It became Christianity by coercion in many places.  As the Church became increasingly enmeshed in the political structures of the day the Spirit seemed to be more and more constrained.  Why spend time in prayer when you can spend time with the Emperor and get things accomplished!  And so the Church leaders found themselves continually drawn to the centers of political power.  Have you ever noticed the robes worn by the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, or by the Pope?  Do you know where they got those outfits?  They were replicas of those worn by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. 

But Jesus refused to give in.  He went away and prayed.  Human power and position are nothing in the kingdom of God.  Do not be enticed to be a political revolutionary — but be enticed by the glory of the simple babe who came to bring peace on earth.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your kingdom.  Please, keep us from temptation.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Do You See the Kingdom?



Scripture:

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Observation:

Nicodemus iss coming to visit Jesus by night — in private.  He’s trying to wrap his head around the things that this man has been saying but for him, a leader of the Jews, it is difficult.  Nicodemus, like others, was awaiting a political kingdom that would overthrow the government.  Was Jesus the Messiah?  If so, when was this new kingdom going to overthrow the current kingdom? 

Jesus has a very firm response for Nicodemus which begins with “very truly” or, in the Greek “Amen, Amen.”  In other words — listen up!  His problem was that he didn’t have eyes to see the kingdom which was already expanding around him.  The kingdom of God was already present on the earth and Jesus, the Messiah, was already ruling.  Nicodemus had been concerned that those who were born of Abraham’s seed would be those in this kingdom, but Jesus provides a new way for one to be a part of the kingdom.  No longer was it because of a physical heritage, instead it was because one was born by way of the Spirit — or “from above.” 

For many years the term “from above” has been translated “born again.”  This is a bit of a word play for this could have meant one or the other.  Jesus meant “from above” and Nicodemus heard, “born again.”  That’s why later he asks how he’s supposed to crawl back into his mother’s womb to be born again.  The point is — he doesn’t get the point.  The new kingdom is not a physical kingdom, not in its inception, nor in our participation.  Unless we are born from above, by way of the Spirit, we will not be able to see the real kingdom of God.

Application:


While we may not want to admit it, many of us are like Nicodemus.  We want to see the kingdom of God here on earth and we want to see it in the physical realm.  Could this be why there are so many grand Cathedrals that have been built through the centuries?  They give us comfort for they allow us to see the grandeur of the kingdom — or do they?  Unfortunately many of the mighty Cathedrals are in a bit of disarray these days.  There is not enough funding to keep them up and within their shadows lie poor communities and the homeless who sleep on her steps. 

Could it be that Nicodemus was not the only one who was blind to the kingdom, but that we have also been blind through the years?  The kingdom of God was never about a physical kingdom but about the transformation of people — people who became the building blocks of the new temple.  As a community of faith, we, the people become the temple in which God is worshiped.  As women and men transformed into the image of God we become the living presence of Jesus — or of the kingdom that currently resides here on earth.  It is what we do to expand the presence of Jesus in the world that reveals the working of the kingdom.  Can you see it?

If we can’t see the kingdom for what it truly is, then maybe we need to ask ourselves whether we have been “born from above.”  We must be given new life through the indwelling of the Spirit and then remain in the Spirit on a daily basis — or we won’t see the real kingdom. 

Open your eyes today as you walk up and down the streets, or up and down the aisles of a store — and genuinely look for the presence of the kingdom.  Then, jump in and participate in his kingdom that brings such hope for peace and transformation to our world.

Prayer:

Lord, may I participate in your kingdom today.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holy Living and Godliness



Scripture:


2Pet. 3:11 ¶ Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,

Observation:

No one knows when Christ will return again but as his followers we are encouraged to be living life on the highway of holiness.  Jesus was born to prepare the way for us to be on that way, following him in all that we do.  Since he came in the form of a little baby to sanctify humanity, we are called to follow him.  He is our example.  Through the power of grace and the Holy Spirit we are to live lives of holiness and godliness.  When the time comes and the things that we have come depend on upon here on this earth dissolve away, what will remain will be the way paved by him.  Will you be standing on solid ground?  Or will your pathway dissolve under your feet? 

The way is the way of holiness and therefore we are challenged to be living “lives of holiness and godliness.” 

Application:


The “Life Application Bible” asks a very challenging question in regard to this verse of scripture, “Do you spend more of your time piling up possessions or striving to develop Christlike character?”  Wow — what a question.  There are so many ways in which we may be spending our time that this makes us stop and look back at our personal motivations.  Why do we do the things that we do? 

When we think of the life of holiness we must always see Christ as our example.  The way in which he lived his life in the flesh is the example for you and for me.  We are called to be imitators of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is not something that you and I have the power to do on our own, but the grace of God reaches out to us and the Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to be imitators of Christ.  The more that we imitate Christ, simultaneously we are being drawn toward Christ on the way of holiness by the Holy Spirit.  Eventually there comes a moment in time when we don’t know whether it imitation of Christ being seen in us, or Christ himself reflected in us because we have been transformed into powerful reflections of his image. 

Jesus’ sacrifice of coming in the flesh means that he has provided the way for us to live holy and godly lives.  To show our appreciation for that gift may we enter into the path he has prepared for us and practice holy living and godliness.  Anything less is wasting the gift he has provided for us. 

Stop making excuses for living mediocre Christian lives and embrace the gift of Jesus this Christmas!  Then, live with the gift throughout the year as he challenges us onto holy living and godliness.  We will never have to be worried about his return, for we will be ready every day, excited to be on the highway of holiness, the only path built by him.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me today and every day to live a life of holiness and godliness.  Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Thoughts on Christmas Carols

Not my typical devotional today but some thoughts brought on by this weekend of singing Christmas Carols here in the UK.  Just when you think that you know what you are doing, or you know the words to the songs, you stumble upon a few verses you’ve never heard before, and a few carols you never knew existed.

From the “I didn’t know they existed” category, “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.”  Good thing I was handed the words to this song, and it does tell an interesting story:

1. The tree of life my soul hath seen,

Laden with fruit and always green:

The trees of nature fruitless be

Compared with Christ the apple tree.
2. His beauty doth all things excel: 

By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
.
The glory which I now can see

In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
3. For happiness I long have sought,

And pleasure dearly I have bought:

I missed of all; but now I see

'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
4. I'm weary with my former toil,

Here I will sit and rest awhile:

Under the shadow I will be,

Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,

It keeps my dying faith alive;

Which makes my soul in haste to be

With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

From Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs,
compiled by Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784


While I’d never heard of it before it does tell a wonderful story about what Jesus brings to humanity.  While we don’t know what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden, there are many who have depicted them eating an apple.  Could it be that this song is trying to tell us that Jesus has come to redeem the Apple Tree — becoming the new Apple Tree, the one from whom we are able to receive everything that was lost by eating the fruit of the original tree?

At this time of year we are privileged to celebrate the coming of Jesus who came in human flesh to set everything right again.  We are invited to come and partake of his fruit which will feed and sustain us, providing us with eternal life.

While I had never heard of that carol before, there is another I have sung for years, “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”  Little did I know that in the US we have omitted the second verse.  Therefore I was a bit surprised when I came upon this verse:

God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God, begotten, not created:
O come, let us adore Him, (3x)
Christ the Lord.

Now, for Church History fans you ought to recognize that these lines come to us straight from the Nicene Creed.  The message of this carol that is often lost is one that ties us to an historical creed which has helped to define Christianity for over 1600 years.  We are invited to join in a celebration which has been ongoing for centuries.  This is who we are; this is our tradition!  We are not only celebrating this year, but we are celebrating with all Christians who have gone before us and those who will come after.  I think that’s why it leads us to the next verse:

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of Heaven above!
Glory to God, glory in the highest:
O come, let us adore Him, (3x)
Christ the Lord.

It’s all of heaven and earth that joins in this celebration.  We are all called to come and give glory to God as we worship the Son.  All the voices of heaven and earth combine in a timeless praise of our Lord.

This brings me to the final carol from my weekend and It’s one I have heard before but have barely sung, “Once in Royal David’s City.”  The third verse is really powerful when we look at what it means for Christ to have come and sanctified human flesh.  He shows us what it means to be a sanctified baby, child and adult.

For He is our childhood's pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

Because of all that Christ has done, because of the life he lived, he provides a pathway for our transformation into his image.  This is the incredible story of Christmas and the realization of everything that Christ’s incarnation has provided for us.

Sometimes it’s good to run into the un-ordinary for it makes us stop and listen.  Maybe too much of Christmas has become ordinary to us and we run through the tunes without ever thinking about what we are singing.  The message of Christmas is one that should never grow old, but one that should stun us year after year.  God incarnate came in the form of a little baby to save you and me.  It’s an incredible message of love and of our Creator God reaching out to lost humanity providing a way home for each and every single one of us.

So, pick up a song sheet -- enjoy the carols, but spend a few moments soaking in the words of what you are singing. 


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hearers and Doers



Scripture:


James 1:22 ¶ But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James 1:23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;
James 1:24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
James 1:25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Observation:

There is a distinct connection between hearing the word of God and engaging in the word, becoming “doers.”  The problem with those who only “hear” is that they tend to go to worship services on Sundays and listen to a fine sermon — maybe even compliment the pastor on the message — but then they just go home and live the same way they always have lived.  They forget what they have heard, or it simply goes in one ear and out the other. 

We are called to look into the perfect law of liberty.  What is that, or perhaps we ought to ask, who is that?  Jesus is the ultimate and perfect law of liberty and so we are to look into him, the incarnate Word and partake together with him.  Yes, Jesus preached, but he also went about doing good!  Therefore we must be imitators of Christ who are called to action, not just to hearing.  We must participate together in Christ, living out the Word in the world today.  An active participator with Christ is continually compelled to be a doer of the word for they are continually compelled to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Application:

We stood in the entryway to the Asda (Walmart) store and sang a series of Christmas carols to all those who were entering and exiting the store.  On this Saturday afternoon there were great throngs of people in a continual flow that walked by our little crew of singers.  There were Muslims and Hindus and Christians and probably those with no faith at all that stumbled into our path that day.  We were just singing songs and through the lyrics sharing the Christmas story.  Members of the team were standing around with buckets collecting donations for St. Anne’s Hospice.  Amazingly people from all spectrums of faith listened and participated.  The women in the head coverings smiled as they heard the Christmas carols and plunked in a donation.  Others were humming the tune under their breath as they heard familiar songs being sung.  Somehow a small band of Christians was touching a little corner of Asda.

I met the man who had invited us to come and sing at the store.  He’s a “doer” of the word, having been called out into the world to make a difference.  Intentionally he’s gotten a job at the store so that he can be a reflection of Jesus Christ in the midst of the world.  This is his goal.  Having touched so many lives there at the store the management recently asked him to officially become the Chaplain of the store!  Can you imagine, chaplain to Walmart!!!  He wasn’t satisfied with being a hearer of the word, he had to go and do — and so on a cool December afternoon because of the genuineness of his faith, he could invite friends to come and sing Christmas carols in the store.

What is not lost on me is the respect that each of the faiths in that community has for the faith of another.  We were singing Christmas carols in a store where about 50% of the population is Muslim.  And yet, the people listened, smiled and some donated.  Didn’t the incarnate Christ come as “The Prince of Peace?”  Therefore we are called to also be peacemakers by our doing.  It should not matter what religion our neighbor might be — we are to share the peace of Christ and sometimes this part of this nature seems to be forgotten in the push and shove of our lives. 

What would happen this Christmas season if all of God’s children would reach out in peace to their neighbors?  Yes, even that neighbor who has been unkind to you — or the neighbor who doesn’t believe the same way that you do!  It may not even have to do with religions beliefs, but with political beliefs.  Reach your hand across the fence and be friends!  Be a DOER of the word and not just a hearer. 

Unfortunately there’s lots of talk we can listen to these days and very little of it brings us to a place of action that leads to peace.  Let’s embrace these words and allow the peace of Christ — “the perfect law of liberty” to set us free to be doers of the word, taking the living word out into the world.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to always be a doer and not just a hearer.  Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

But I Don’t Like to be Disciplined!



Scripture:


Heb. 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness.

Observation:

Parents discipline their children so that they can learn to live in a healthy way in this world.  As most parents know there is only a window of opportunity while raising our children that they can be disciplined.  Eventually they will reach an age where they are independent and they choose to live or not live within the parameters that they have received from their parents.  However, as a follower of Jesus Christ we continue to be disciplined by God throughout our entire lives.  Just as our earthly parents discipline us to teach us the direction of life, so our heavenly Father disciplines us for our good, so that we may be partakers of his holiness. 

Application:

I’m guessing that none of us is particularly fond of being disciplined.  Most of the time discipline implies the fact that we have gotten a bit off track and we need some correction.  The older I get, more than likely the way off the path is not necessarily a big blatant sin, but it certainly can be an offense in my attitude or reaction.  It becomes easier and easier to become set in our ways and critical of others around us.  Is this truly a Christ-like attitude? 

This brings us to the question of holiness!  The call for all of God’s people is to be his holy people, to remain on the highway of holiness.  Because of this we are invited to share in God’s holiness, becoming partakers of the divine nature.  Every day of our journey we are to become more and more like him so that we reveal his nature and become a reflection of his image the closer that we draw to him. 

Unfortunately when we refuse to respond to his correction and discipline we get side-lined or distracted from the way of holiness.  Instead of becoming more and more like him we can become rigid and inflexible, demanding our own way in life.  God desires his people to have a genuine and transparent heart that is continually willing to be formed and transformed throughout life.  No, for the most part we don’t like to be disciplined, but if refuse to be disciplined we will not be able to share in God’s holiness, and therefore we will miss the mark, not reaching the goal of Christ.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be willing to be disciplined by you.  Amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Might I Provoke You?



Scripture:


Heb. 10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

Observation:


The faithful follower of Jesus Christ must persevere.  Life will not be easy and we must continue pressing on toward the goal that is placed before us.  Jesus is the goal and transformation into his image occurs as we press in toward the goal.  Our desire should be that all followers of Christ would continue to press on, drawing closer to Christ and being transformed into his image.  Love and good deeds are reflections of the very nature of Christ being revealed in us.  This is why we should be provoking one another to become more and more like him!

Application:

Provoking someone doesn’t really sound that good, does it?  I certainly know that my husband doesn’t like the idea of being provoked into things like dieting, taking out the garbage or upgrading his technical device.  None of those sound very appealing to him and the idea of me provoking him does not always illicit a very positive response! 

The idea of provoking usually means that we are pushing or prodding to get a particular response to which there may be resistance.

So, is there resistance to the idea of love and good deeds?  Maybe there is!  Could it be that love and good deeds are contrary to fallen human nature and therefore are often met with resistance? 

Some people find the idea of original sin or the “bent toward sinning” rather implausible, however, I’d like to invite those individuals to the former Soviet Union of the early 1990’s.  Atheism had ruled the day for 70 years with the idealistic concept that people would continue to evolve into better human beings, eventually reaching a utopian-like state.  The reality is that this didn’t happen.  Why not?  The bent toward sinning!  Left to our own vices we do not get better, we get worse. 

Followers of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit are encouraged to press on toward the goal.  This pressing on is against the grain and requires a desire to persevere.  We are not to be on this journey alone, but within community.  This community of faith is to literally provoke one another on in perseverance because we know that we need this encouragement.

Is someone struggling in their spiritual life?  Don’t allow them to simply remain in that state — provoke them to keep pressing on!  I’m afraid that too often we don’t believe that we ought to be infringing on the personal lives of those around us — but maybe that’s what we’re supposed to do!  Maybe we are to help one another reach the goal and not simply be satisfied with where we are in life.  But if I do that they may be irritated with me!  Exactly — that’s why it’s called “provoking!” 

I want to be more like Christ, but there are times that I get into a comfort zone where I would like to tuck my head and stay right there.  However, staying there means I don’t get closer to Jesus — the goal.  There are times that I need a prodding — a provocation to keep me on task.  What will it take for you to engage in love and good deeds this day?  Might I provoke you?

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to live a life of love and good deeds with your help and strength.  Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Build the Big Beautiful House

Build the Big Beautiful House

Scripture:

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation:

Observation:

The Christian walk is never static.  The word "walk" implies we are going somewhere, and the author is pointing us in a direction, toward a goal.  This is not a time to be running around in circles.  Instead this is a journey, leading us ever onward toward perfection.

We are called to a journey of continual progress toward the goal, to completion in Christ.  That's why we move on from the very basic teachings which we have already learned and are encouraged into a deeper walk.  The foundation has already been laid.  Now we are to build on that foundation a beautiful holy life that looks more and more like Jesus himself.

Application:

Just as a builder has a blueprint for a building, so God has a blueprint for our lives.  The plan leads us to completion....a beautiful and perfect likeness of the image, Jesus Christ.  Sadly, too many never get to the real structure that is intended in the construction plans for they spend too much time rebuilding the foundation over and over again.

Somehow we have bought into the argument that just getting saved is enough.  We build the foundation.  As a child I used to walk past a house in Nampa, Idaho that was just a basement.  The foundation had been laid but instead of going on and finishing the entire house, the people finished the basement and added a door and that was it.  It looked rather odd in the middle of a neighborhood with finished houses all around.

Just imagine an entire neighborhood of basement only houses.  Could it be that is how we are living spiritually.  We are satisfied with what we have.  "Thanks, Jesus, I'm saved and going to heaven!"  And we live in and readjust the basement, never allowing the entire structure to be built.  Jesus didn't die for the basement.  Jesus died to make us his holy people....he died for the whole big beautiful house!

For the big house to be built we have to work together with God.  Just as a house doesn't get built on its own, neither does our spiritual life.  Paul has told us to become imitators of Christ.  If I want to be like him, why not imitate him.  Why not join with him in building the house...spend time with him, read the word, pray...and then engage in the world the same way he would engage in the world.  Allow him to transform the rough rocks into beautiful gems, continually moving on toward completion, or perfection.

The blueprints are beautiful. God's plan is tremendous!  Why are you satisfied with the ugly basement when he has promised you the beautiful house?

Prayer:

Lord, please help me never to simply be satisfied, but to continually move on with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Woman in the Middle



Scripture:

Philem. 1 ¶ Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, ¶ To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,
Philem. 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Observation:

This brief letter is written specifically to support a run-away slave by the name of Onesimus.  He had come to faith and was now serving God and Paul.  However, the time had come for him to return to the home of his master.  How would his master receive him?  Paul, living out the life in the new kingdom had accepted Onesimus as a brother in Christ.  Remember in Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Now, he was asking his master to receive him back as a brother as well. 

However, in sending the note we discover that the master Philemon is not alone, but that Apphia and Archippus are present as well.  How do they play into the return of Onesimus? 

Application:

How many times have you read Philemon and never noticed Apphia?  I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed her before today and yet, there she is, the woman in the middle — listed between Philemon and Archippus.  I glanced through a number of commentaries to see what I could find out about her and literally found her sandwiched between explanations about Philemon and Archippus.  Most of the time it was mentioned that she was probably Philemon’s wife.  Interestingly, Calvin’s commentary doesn’t even mention her — the woman in the middle.  He explains about Philemon and then Archippus and completely ignores poor Apphia.  Who was she, and why would she be included here?

Interestingly Wesley believes she is the wife of Philemon, but also his influential partner in all that he does.  This means she is influential in his business, and also in the fact that a church is meeting in their home.  She is a co-laborer with her husband in life and ministry and is included in this letter because the acceptance of Onesimus is not just dependent upon the opinion of Philemon, but Apphia as well.  She is not just the woman in the middle, she is the partner of Philemon and is recognized as such by the people of her day.

Throughout life we may encounter individuals who are overlooked within the narrative but they are persons of influence nonetheless.  Often they are the faithful individuals who work day in and day out to the glory of God without ever getting any attention and yet, if they were gone the hole they would leave would be astounding.  We run into them and sometimes over them without even noticing because we take them for granted. 

We take Apphia for granted and yet what would the household of Philemon have been like without her?  We don’t know the details but we do have imaginations!  If a wife were not in harmony with her husband’s religious faith how peaceful would it have been to have a church worshipping in their home?  I doubt there would have been much hospitality in that regard.  Or, should the wife have disliked Onesimus and wanted him punished, what would her husband have done?  Think about Abraham - Sarah - and Haggar!  Sarah had huge influence over the treatment of her slave.  Apphia wasn’t just a woman in the middle to be overlooked, she was a woman with a great deal of influence and her response to Paul’s letter was just as significant as her husband’s.

Jesus intentionally sought out the overlooked.  We are to be Jesus to our world.  Look for the woman — or the man — or the child — in the middle today.  The one who may not have the title or the famous name, but the one who, nonetheless is a powerful servant in the kingdom.  Listen to them.  Respect them.  Never overlook them.  For God is using every one of his children in this new kingdom where everything is turned upside down.

Prayer:

Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear those whom you are using for your kingdom’s sake.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Blessing of Friends



Scripture:


2Tim. 4:19 ¶ Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.
2Tim. 4:20 Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus I left ill in Miletus.
2Tim. 4:21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.

Observation:

Paul is writing some of his final greetings in life while he is under arrest in Rome.  He has made tremendous friends throughout the journey of life and especially some of those now residing in Ephesus.  Priscilla and Aquila have been compatriots, fellow team members, discipling many new believers and organizing a church without their own home.  Onesiphorus has opened his home to Paul and his ministry and it appears he also traveled to Rome and helped to care for Paul there.  Other friends are remembered as well from different stops in the journey.  Upon reflection, they have been a blessing to him and he is grateful for them, and his new friends as well.

Application:

People like me, known as Third Culture Kids, or TCKs can struggle a bit with friendships.  We have had to deal with the pain of people coming and going out of our lives from the very beginning.  There are always those visitors who came to our country and became precious to us in just a short couple of weeks, or months, or maybe even a whole year.  They were the ones who came on short missions trips or as guests and somehow you just connected with them but just as soon as you did — they were gone.  You may be blessed to see them again from time to time throughout the years but they are never around. 

Then there is the country in which you live — and the people and places with which you fall deeply in love, but knowing that some day you will have to move on.  Somehow you want to have a protective barrier over your heart for you know the pain that it will cause when the day of uprooting comes.  I can still feel my little heart pounding in my chest when, as an almost eight year old, I stood in the Frankfurt, Germany airport listening to our beloved German friends sing, “God be with you till we meet again” in German as we headed off to the plane.  I felt like something was being ripped out of me and I wondered if I’d ever be the same.

I have served a life of ministry and it has meant that there is often an uprooting and it never really becomes easier.  But should it?  Probably not, because along the way there have been and will continue to be those special people who seem to work their way into our hearts.  We fall deeply in love with the place where we are and with the people who become our friends.  It doesn’t make moving on to the next assignment easy — no, it remains painful — but that’s what happens when we become vulnerable to one another.

Paul had spent a lifetime of faithful service to God experiencing this same coming and going and yet now, looking back he realized the blessing of friends that he had.  Priscilla and Aquila worked with him on several occasions.  They were not with him physically, and yet, they would always be his dear friends.  Others, like Onesiphorus, came and visited him and helped to care for him.  Even for a man who had a calling that would take him all over the known world of his day and land in him prison, dear friends were a blessing.

Today I am reflecting on the dear friends that have been a blessing in my life along the journey.  If I start a list here, I’ll get in trouble. I do realize that I may not be living near all of those friends these days, but I have been blessed to be touched by them along the way.  Just as Paul, I can look back and be grateful for the way that so many friends have invested in me and been willing to share their hearts with me, even if it was for a short period of time.  Friends are a blessing that come from God. 

There are moments in time when we open our hearts, lives and homes to one another, becoming vulnerable with our thoughts and feelings, sharing and being accepted by those who are willing to call us friend.  Could it be that these relationships are just a little foretaste of the relationship into which we are invited in the Holy Trinity?  We are invited into a fellowship with God, one in which we are welcomed into the hospitality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Today, let’s grab a cuppa (tea), sit down with the Lord, and thank him for the blessing of friends.  

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the incredible friends you have placed in my life throughout this entire journey.  Amen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Holy Way



Scripture:

Is. 35:8      ¶ A highway shall be there,
        and it shall be called the Holy Way;
    the unclean shall not travel on it,
        but it shall be for God’s people;
        no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
Is. 35:9     No lion shall be there,
        nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
    they shall not be found there,
        but the redeemed shall walk there.
Is. 35:10     And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
        and come to Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
        they shall obtain joy and gladness,
        and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Observation:

Isaiah was speaking the word he had received from the LORD; the advent of a new season was coming to the world.  The Messiah would come and pave a new pathway to God for his people — a highway known as the Holy Way. 

The Messiah would come to provide a pathway for God’s people to be restored as his holy people.  God’s grace reaching out to all humanity is drawing us toward him and toward the path.  Genuine repentance will get you onto the way which Jesus sanctified by living in the flesh, leaving the holy way paved for you and for me.  The early Christians were known as followers of “the way.” 

As long as God’s people stay on the way and keep their eyes on the goal — Jesus, himself — they cannot go astray.  Enemies cannot find themselves on “the Holy Way” — no beasts will be waiting to attack. 

Those on the way will continue their journey, sanctified and being made holy every single step of the way as they get closer and closer to home.  There in the distance they will see Zion and with great joy they will sing and be glad, the joy mounting as they approach the goal, and in the final moment, “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Application:

I never knew my mother’s mother — Grandma Schmidt — very well.  She died when I was just three years old.  I have very faint memories of visiting her in Calgary, Alberta on my first trip to America.  I know that she was sick and that she would allow me to climb into her hospital bed with her and make it go up and down!  We stayed with my grandmother as long as we could but it eventually became time to go back home to Germany.  We would make our way to New York City and get on a boat (yes, I’m that old) and steam our way back to Europe.  About half-way across the ocean my mother received a telegram telling her of the passing of my grandmother.  It was a difficult day for my mom.

Later on my mother was able to get some details of those last hours of her mother’s life.  Annie Schmidt had been a faithful follower of Jesus Christ who had cultivated a deep prayer life.  Her oldest boys didn’t know the Lord and she spent hours and hours praying for them and for their families.  She wanted everyone to be on “The Holy Way,” the way she had grown to love.  As she neared Zion she seemed to have one foot already there and yet was still on the journey.  Throughout the last hours of her life she would awaken and ask those around her if they could hear the music?  “What music, mama?”  “The music of heaven — can’t you hear them singing?”  No one in the room could hear anything but she was approaching Zion the beautiful music and singing could already be heard in a distance and with great joy she continued on the journey until finally everlasting joy was on her head.  The cancer was gone and she had “joy and gladness” and her “sorrow and sighing” were things of the past.  She had reached the goal.  She had been united with her Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jacob & Annie Schmidt

We are all invited to be on the “Holy Way.”  It’s not an optional journey for certain believers who want to practice a life of holiness — it is THE way provided by Jesus Christ.  Jesus came to make humanity holy.  He lived in the flesh to bring life to a corrupted and dead humanity and the road to life is the holy one. 

John the Baptist came preaching repentance and calling the people to “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Jesus brought the new way, a road that provides for victorious living, a holy life, right now, as we travel this journey to Zion.  Keep your eyes on the goal and your feet on the path.  The Holy Way has come and you and I are invited travel the journey following him all the way until with great music and celebration we enter into Zion. 

Prayer:


Lord, may my feet stay on the path and my eyes on the goal.  Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Getting Off Track



Scripture:

1Tim. 1:5 But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.
1Tim. 1:6 Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk,
1Tim. 1:7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.

Observation:

When we get our eyes off of the goal, then we will deviate from God’s intention for us. There were those who were a part of the church in Ephesus who wanted to be valued as teachers of the Law.  However, the aim should never be the knowledge that we can gain, the aim should always be Jesus for it is only when we participate in him that we are filled with love.  Love is the overflow of “a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” 

The word “deviated” means that the trajectory has changed, or that someone has gotten off track.  In the beginning they were headed in the right direction, with the right goal in mind but somehow there were distractions that came into the picture.  Jesus is no longer the goal, but the distractions along the way have kept us from the goal and so we turn to “meaningless talk.”  Maybe it’s the topic of the day, or the latest internet craze, or what is tickling the ears of those in Christianity, but anything that takes ours eyes off of the goal of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ is meaningless. 

Application:


Therefore Christians (or those who call themselves Christians) who do not have a personal, transformational experience with Jesus Christ do not “understand either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.”  Head knowledge is never enough — heart knowledge will take you a long way.  Head knowledge alone can get you off track — head knowledge that is fixed on the goal with heart knowledge can be powerful in the kingdom.

It doesn’t matter how smart or intellectual we may be, all of that must be placed in submission before Jesus Christ.  This means humility before him daily as we seek to be his reflection and image in the world.  Yes, there are times that we will fail but it doesn’t mean that we give up.  Instead, we engage another day in a deeply personal relationship with the one who wants to give us a pure heart that leads to a good conscience and to true and sincere faith.  Only when these are present can one become a true teacher of the law.  When these are not present the law becomes void because Jesus’ presence made the law a relational law — one valid only in the presence of Christ. 

It’s easy to get off track.  We can study, we can argue and we can learn — but without Jesus, it’s worthless.  Jesus is coming!  Advent is upon us.  May we fix our eyes on the goal so that we do not get off track.  Then, may everything that comes out of us simply be the overflow of a deeply personal and transformational relationship with the one who came in the flesh to create the path that sets us free. 

Prayer:


Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on you today.  Amen.