Thursday, July 31, 2014
Psa. 107:1 ¶ O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psa. 107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
Psa. 107:3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
Over and again we discover the Psalmist being overcome with praise and thanksgiving to God. Remembering the attributes of God, he praises the LORD for his nature and his love which endures forever. This is the underlying theme and the foundation onto which we may all hold. God is good — and his love endures forever.
Once this is established it’s time to tell the story. Let those whom the Lord has redeemed tell their story! He has saved his people and brought them out from trouble. He has gathered them from the places where they were alone and at the hands of the enemy. With trouble surrounding us, God has become our refuge and our rescuer. Tell the story!
There was a time when we would have old-fashioned “testimony” services. This is when people would stand up and tell the story of what God had done in their lives — how he had redeemed them — so that God would get the praise and the glory. Somehow those events have become fewer and far between, and I’m afraid it may be because we don’t have a story to tell, or because we don’t feel comfortable telling our story.
But why not join the Psalmist and “give thanks to the LORD?!”
Having been raised in a Christian home, I never did live a life of “wicked” sinfulness. I was a good girl and tried to be obedient. Church was a regular part of my life. However, the older I got the more I came to the realization that this faith of my parents had to be more than just my parents’ faith. I would have to seriously contemplate whether I believed these things that I had heard from my childhood and whether I would follow the LORD.
I will never forget the day that I was at a teen camp and was having a wrestling match inside of me. I have no idea what was talked about that night but I now know that God, in his grace, was reaching out to me in a powerful way. I fought because I had my own ideas of how I wanted to live my life. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to follow in the same path as my parents. I walked out of that service and ran into one of my friends outside. I told her how I was feeling. She said she was feeling the same way, struggling deeply inside. Finally I told her that I was going to go back in and pray, that I needed to settle this thing and I was ready to walk with the Redeemer! I did and that night, at the age of thirteen, my life began a trajectory that kept me close to him. He gathered me in, even though I had not wandered away too far — yet. Along the way I’ve learned much about his love, falling in love with him over and over and over again.
The Lord is good — and his love endures forever!
Join me in telling your story. Our world needs to hear the way in which God is working these days.
“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.”
Lord, thank you for calling me back into a tabernacle that night so long ago. Amen.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Is. 62:4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
Is. 62:5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (NRSV)
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married. (NIV)
This prophecy regarding the transformation of Zion should be a blessing to us all. As the children of Israel had wandered about in exile they were about to discover what it meant to return home. No longer were they going to feel as if they were forsaken or deserted. Their homeland was to be transformed, no longer desolate. God’s covenant relationship with his people was to be seen again just as a husband and wife standing at the altar on the day of their nuptials. The people of God were to be called “Hephzibah,” which means “My Delight Is in Her.” This is the way that God is talking about his beloved people — he loves them with a passion of a bridegroom awaiting his bride. The Israelite’s land was to be called “Beulah” which means married. The people of God, delighting God, and her land belonging to God as a wife to a husband. The imagery is of a husband who would lay down his life for his wife and do everything that he could to protect her. God will do the same for this, his people, the people of Israel.
Just imagine this imagery when it comes to the arrival of the Messiah. A new picture of a people who are living in desolation, a people without hope. Now the incarnate God comes to this earth to call out all people to him, to be united with him in a most holy matrimony. No longer will we be forsaken but we are invited to the altar where we are united with our Savior, the one who calls us Hephzibah. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, delights in us and loves us more than we can ever imagine and the kingdom of God is already here, Beulah has arrived as we live in the already of his kingdom.
Our creator, our builder, wants to be united with us because he is deeply and madly in love with us. He wants us to be his Hephzibah and to be called Beulah.
Thirty one years ago today I walked down the aisle and married my wonderful husband, Chuck. I thought I loved him then, but today I love him more than I could have ever imagined. The more that I get to know him and the more time I spend with him the more I fall in love with him. There is something amazing about getting to know someone through this journey of life, through the good times and the tough times, that draws you closer. I love being with him and just hanging around him as much as possible. Our jobs take us in different directions but we are always connected. All day long we stay in touch sending a little text here and there and waiting for that time in the evening when we get to hear the other’s voice. I absolutely delight in my husband and I am thrilled to be his Hephzibah and to be called Beulah.
As much as I adore my husband and my heart is filled with thanksgiving today for thirty one years of marriage to him, I am all the more grateful for my relationship with Jesus Christ. I am so grateful for my earthly marriage and it’s hard to believe that my Savior calls me Hephzibah and delights in me, even more than my dear Chuck. That is overwhelming.
God wants to us to join into this intimate relationship with him. Christianity was never meant to be a casual relationship between a people and their God, it was meant to be Beulah land. It is into this deeper relationship, into this lifelong commitment that God is calling us. May we relax and allow the love of our Savior to consume us as his Hephzibah and journey with him into Beulah land.
Lord, thank you for your overwhelming love. Amen.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Psa. 103:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Psa. 103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
Psa. 103:3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
Psa. 103:4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
Psa. 103:5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
There are times when when praise comes bubbling out of the Psalmist. He wants to bless the Lord for all the good things that he has done — and all that is within him is bursting with praise.
This praise for the Lord is in the form of blessing. Notice he is singing a blessing to the Lord. May the Lord be the one who is blessed and may all that is within him bless the Lord!
Did you know that “saying the blessing” before eating used to be a prayer of blessing to the Lord? This was a moment to stop and bless the Lord, praising him for all that he has done for us and all that he has provided for us.
But something has happened to that prayer of blessing. When did we start asking God to bless the food? Something has turned around and the recipient of the blessing has shifted from God to us. Instead of us pouring out our blessing upon the Lord, the one whose benefits we are not to forget — we ask him to bless the food and the hands that prepared it! While this sounds good, the shift in focus is quite radical.
The Psalmist blesses the Lord and wants to remember all the Lord has provided and done for us.
He forgives our sins.
He provides healing.
He brings about transformation.
He fills us with his love to overflowing.
He satisfies our needs.
And yet all of this can be forgotten when the focus of blessing is not on the One who provides, but upon us.
I’m sure that the change in prayer was not something overtly intentional but the shift from blessing the Lord to asking him to bless us really does change the way in which we look at God and prayer. This is the Psalmist’s prayer of blessing and the entire focus is on God. What would happen if we intentionally reversed the way in which we “pray the blessing” and blessed God?
Lord, I bless you for who you are and all that you provide. Amen.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Isaiah 53:8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
We interpret Isaiah 53 in light of our understanding of a prophetic word about the coming Messiah. The graphic depiction of his life and death are quite astounding. The word “oppression” may also mean “arrest,” allowing us to visualize the night he was arrested and judgment was made in regard to him. This is the way that it happened that night in the garden. Jesus was there to pray when the one betraying him appeared with the officials who had planned his demise. Just a few days earlier he had arrived in the city of Jerusalem to great pomp and yet now on this fateful night and the upcoming day, who would protest? Who would speak up in defense of this man, the one they had come to believe was their Messiah?
The silence was just as deafening as the cheers had been previously. He was led to the executioner’s cross where he hung until he finally succumbed to death. “He was cut off from the land of the living,” because he suffered the punishment for all of humanity. And who protested?
My neighbor Larissa wanted to tell me a little bit more about her parents. Her mother was a medical doctor and her father was a lawyer who worked for Joseph Stalin. A new apartment building was being erected for all of Stalin’s faithful assistants where they would be able to live in luxury beyond the norm. However, living in that kind of luxury meant compromising with a leader that, at times, would do the unthinkable. One day the unthinkable happened when Larissa’s father was gathered up by Stalin’s henchmen and dragged into the courtyard where he was shot in front of all the neighbors. Evidently he had done something that had made the man unhappy and was now suffering the consequences. Larissa’s mom was now a widow and the two little girls would never experience life with their father. And yet, no on protested.
Even after executing Larissa’s father, the family was invited to move into the new building. Her mother refused. She would not accept anything from the man who had killed her husband and as a result she was sent to the front to work as a physician throughout the second world war. The children were farmed off to relatives in Ukraine where they lived most of the war suffering under enemy control.
The neighbors who never protested were moved into the beautiful new building, expecting their lives to go on without any difficulty. One by one they offended their leader, Stalin. Eventually every adult that moved into that building was either executed or sent to the gulag because they found themselves on the wrong side of the leader. But no one protested.
Jesus was an innocent man who had come to set humanity free. He had done good to the lives of so many who had witnessed his miracles of healing and transformation and yet, no one protested his arrest.
Today there are Christians around the world who are suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. “Yet who of [this] generation has protested?”
Lord, I pray for my sisters and brothers around the world who are facing persecution today. Amen.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
2Pet. 1:5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge,
2Pet. 1:6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness,
2Pet. 1:7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
2Pet. 1:8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Pet. 1:9 For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.
The Christian life can never be static. There must be on-going and continual spiritual growth in the life of a Christ-follower. There is faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love. All these are to increase among us as we grow in our faith. The result is a Christ-follower who is effective and bears fruit for the kingdom, growing in the knowledge of our Lord. However, for those who call themselves Christ-followers and yet do not continue to grow in their faith they will discover that there are difficulties. They become nearsighted, or shall we say self-centered. The vision becomes singularly of the things around them, and the way in which they want to serve God. They are blind to the needy of the world around them and simply forget what Christ has done for them. If we do not grow as Christ-followers, we will become sickly and ultimately die.
There can be no escaping the fact that Christ-followers are called into a life of growth in the Lord. This growth is both a crisis and a process. We require both in our lives, and without both we become stagnant in our faith. The problem is that too often people come to the conclusion that they have “arrived” spiritually and then never continue to grow in him. Could it be that the busyness of our lives is keeping us from this kind of growth spiritually?
I am concerned about the condition of many of our churches these days. Many denominations are suffering from decline with small and aging churches, many of which are closing across the country. We note shifting demographics as the cause for much of what is happening while at the same time could it be that there has been a shift spiritually? What can keep us from being “ineffective and unfruitful?” It sounds like Peter is telling the folks that this is the result of a lack of spiritual growth among the Christ-followers. It’s easy to blame it all on society, but have we looked in the mirror?
There have been periods of “Great Awakenings” here in the United States and around the world — times when there have been great revivals. These have resulted in church growth and the planting of new works. These have nearly always been the result of spiritual growth among God’s people.
The language of “nearsighted and blind,” is very sad but is also true. If we are not growing spiritually, we will not be able to see beyond ourselves and our own needs. We get into “survival” mode, blind to the needs of those around us.
What is the answer? To get in touch with where we are, and where we need to go spiritually. May the Lord search our hearts today so that as his Christ-followers we may continue to grow in him, reflecting him more and more each day so that the world sees his love in us. May the world be attracted to his love and desire to know him by stepping into a transformational relationship with him. And may we unite together as Christ-followers who desire to grow in him.
Lord, lead me today into more of you. Amen.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
1Pet. 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
While admonishing the followers of Jesus Christ to stand firm in their faith, Peter reminds them to cast all their anxiety on the Lord. They lived in an anxious time, one in which these Christ-followers were experiencing persecution for their faith. Anxiety would exist on many levels, from personal safety to provision for the family. Christianity was and is, counter-cultural and one possible result of living a counter-cultural life is anxiety. It’s easy to begin worrying about how all of this will play out in the world. Peter puts an end to worry and anxiety by placing the focus on Christ. Christ, the one who has been from the very beginning, the one who was engaged in creation, “cares for you.” This puts anxiety into balance. The consuming power of anxiety is to be replaced by the consuming love of Christ.
Life is filled with challenges that can easily cause fear and anxiety. Some days simply stepping out that front door means that we are going to experience potentially anxiety inducing encounters. On a spiritual level, Peter understood the power of this anxiety. Why else would he have taken the time to mention it? Fear and anxiety have always been present and have had the ability to hinder the Christ-follower from fulling their Holy Spirit empowered potential. Doesn’t this sound like a ploy of the enemy? Of course, because to unleash the bottled-up potential of transformed followers of Christ would have a powerful impact on the world.
Therefore it’s important to our relationship to Christ into focus. The primary focus of engagement with the world must be Christ. Our relationship to him must be in balance and we may need to live in the daily reminder that he really does care for us. This is the power of Christ’s care as compared to life’s anxiety producing moments, this is where we must live. The focus must always be on Christ. Paul said to “pray continually.” Why? So that our hearts and minds would be consumed with our love and passion for our Savior and that our love for him would leave no room for anything else.
The consuming power of anxiety can be replaced by our consuming love for the one who cares for us.
Lord, please help me place all my trust in you this day. Thank you for your consuming love. Amen.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Is. 43:18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
Is. 43:19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
God is speaking to his people who are being held in captivity. They are going to be set free, released from the power of those who are oppressing them. Of course the people recall the freedom brought about by their release from Egypt. This was to have been remembered year after year as they celebrated the passover. But now, God was wanting to do something new for his people. The freedom that they would experience in release from this exile would be even greater than what had been experienced when they were led out of Egypt. Something new was springing forth that would lead to a deliverance for God’s people, one which would be transformational in the lives of each and every person. Therefore it was time to move on and not to dwell on what had happened in the past. God was moving.
This scripture was about the present circumstance of the Israelites but it was also a foreshadowing of the arrival of the Messiah. God would make a way for the Israelites to go home. He would provide for them on the journey, leading through wilderness, providing in the desert. At the same time we see that the Lord is going to provide these resources for his people through his Son. His Son provides the river of living water that will provide for our needs as we travel through the wilderness and deserts of life. As he provides for our needs we are to move on and not dwell on the things of the past. Open our eyes, perceive what it is that he is doing and live in the abundance and overflow of his living stream.
How often to we spend time living in the doom and gloom of the past? We love to remember the things of the past and dig them up from time to time. My husband accuses me (and probably rightfully so) that I’m really good at remember little picky things from the past. It seems in the heat of the moment, when we may be a bit frustrated with one another, it’s easy to remind him about something he forgot to do twenty or thirty years ago. That really is ridiculous and the longer we’ve been married, the more the Lord has helped me with this. The fun of being married this long is that those little things that had once bothered you become a distant memory and instead fade into the patchwork quilt of life and become one of the pieces that create a beautiful picture. It’s a part of who we are and how our lives have been woven together. There is no need to focus on the former things because it’s too much fun participating in what God is doing in our relationship now.
The same is true in every facet of life. Why waste the time and energy digging up the past, instead we are to live in the anticipation of God’s new springing forth. For the Israelites they were going to experience freedom from exile. We have had the privilege as Christ followers to experience freedom from sin! And once we experience this freedom from sin we continue to press on, to move forward. John Wesley encouraged his followers to continually press on in their faith in anticipation of the next work that God wanted to do in their lives.
We must be willing to move on if we are to reach the way that he has prepared for us in the wilderness. We don’t find the way by sitting around, it takes a little action on our part but the way is there and it is the way out of the wilderness that life may have created. In the barrenness and desert of life he has also bought fresh water. His living water is there to sustain us and to lead us through victoriously to the new which he is preparing in advance for us all.
If we choose to live in the past and simply dwell there we will never find what he has for us. It’s time to move on. Don’t you perceive it? God is on the move, preparing the way out of our wilderness, if only we will leave the past behind and be willing to move on.
Lord, please help me to look in your direction, living and moving in you every day. Amen.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
1Pet. 3:13 ¶ Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
1Pet. 3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,
1Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
1Pet. 3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
God’s people are to do good. Does this mean everything always turns out the way that we want, or in a way that seems good to us? No, but we are to press on anyhow and even when there may be suffering as a result, we are blessed.
The world fears many things, many of which may appear to be harmful but they should not be intimidating to the Lord’s people. Instead the Lord’s people are to look to him. In our hearts we are to “sanctify Christ as Lord.” The holiness of our Lord is to consume our hearts and his very nature, his holiness becomes a part of who we are, with his holy love providing a defense against the intimidations surrounding us. This is why we can provide a defense. Our defense is Christ’s holiness, “the hope that is in you.”
The power of God’s Holy Spirit to radically transform our lives is our hope and yet we should never boast about what the work that God is doing in us. We are to live in “gentleness and reverence.” Sounds a bit like the way in which Christ lived! He was maligned and abused and we should expect the same, but we press on for Christ is in us and our human behavior and responses are a result of his presence. Christ is the hope that is in you.
Airplanes often seem to provide an opportunity for conversation. People usually begin with a little chit chat and if the conversation progresses beyond this eventually we get to the question, “what do you do for a living?” When I share what it is that I do it can either shut down the conversation or spark a great deal of interest. The reality is that there are those who don’t want to talk about religious or spiritual things at all, or there are those who, once they understand that I’m a minister want to open up and share with me where they are in their spiritual walk. (Maybe it’s the way we all share our latest physical ailments with our friends who are doctors!) However, it is in that moment that I have the opportunity to give “an accounting for the hope” that is in me.
When that opportunity arises, how do we respond? Here we are admonished to share about the sanctifying work of Christ in our hearts and lives. The whole message of the gospel is one of transformation, one in which God’s people are made holy, for this is his desire for all of us. We are not to live our lives as out of touch saints, but as Holy Spirit-filled, Jesus-exuding followers of our Lord. Therefore a response really should not be difficult, if Christ is truly in us and filling us!
If that’s the case, why do so many followers of Christ have trouble sharing about their faith? Why is it that we feel the need for someone to teach us what to say when the opportunity arises to share our faith? I’m concerned that our inability to share about Christ comes from a watered-down easy Christianity that is not vibrant and transformational. If Christ is in me, transforming me and sanctifying me, then I won’t be able to contain what he is doing in and through me. So, if we are struggling with how to share our faith, maybe we ought to bring that to the Lord. Maybe we ought to ask him to search our hearts to see if there is anything that we might be holding back in our lives. Have we truly allowed him the space to sanctify us through and through? Are we holding onto our last vestiges of self and pride? If so, then we aren’t sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts. He wants all of us so that everything can be made clean and pure and overflow with Christ. Then the hope of Christ will exude onto those around us on a daily basis.
The hope in you — is Christ.
Lord, thank you for the incredible hope which you provide every day by your holy presence. Amen.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
1Pet. 2:1 ¶ Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.
1Pet. 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—
1Pet. 2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The spiritual journey of life should take us through a cleansing and transformation. We should intentionally ask God to help us with our spiritual growth, shedding bad attitudes and behaviors and becoming more and more like him. We may begin the journey as infants who need to be nursed along but eventually we should grow to the place where we crave more, and that is the pure spiritual milk provided by the Lord. The more we taste what the Lord provides for us the more we crave him. Our desire is to want more and more of him, the very best for our lives.
It’s summertime and it’s hot! What’s the best thing on a hot summer day but great ice-cream. You can find it everywhere from the McFlurry at McDonald’s to Coldstone Creamery and Foo’s Famous Custard near the Seminary here in Kansas City. It is all amazingly good and on these hot summer days it seems like a pleasant thing to consume. Honestly, there are days I’d simply like to have ice cream (with Reese’s peanut butter cups, of course) as the only thing that I eat.
How hungry are we to know God? How much time have we spent with the Lord until we know what it’s like to crave him? This is God’s plan for humanity. God’s spiritual food is so fulfilling and satisfying that we will constantly desire more, for what he has to offer us is the very best. Sadly, too much of Christianity never gets to figure this out. They’re still eating plain vanilla grocery store ice cream because they’ve never ventured forth in their spiritual lives. All of the beauty of the depths of the flavors of a sweet relationship with the Lord lie before us and yet, somehow we never go for the taste test. Notice the words if the author, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” There is an action required on our behalf to know how good he is!
I’m afraid that too many of us are living anemic spiritual lives and missing out on all that is available to us. We must venture forth spiritually, spending time with the Lord, reading his word and in prayer and worship and simply experiencing how good he is. The more that we are with him the more that we will crave him. The Lord is good and wants to help us grow in our salvation. There is more — probably more than we can even imagine available for us spiritually. If the world can create great ice cream that we crave, just imagine how much more wonderful God is and what he can provide for us. Let’s begin the taste test and we will discover that we crave more and more of the Lord in our lives.
Lord, may you satisfy my cravings today. Amen.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
1Pet. 1:22 ¶ Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
What was the expectation of a follower of Jesus Christ? They were to be individuals who lived in obedience to the truth, to Jesus Christ himself. In doing so their lives would be purified because Jesus himself is pure. Walking and living life on the Jesus way results in a transformed life, one in which the very nature of Jesus Christ is revealed in the one who is reflecting him. Jesus’ holy love becomes all consuming and this results in a deep love for the Lord and for others. This is not a worldly kind of love, but a genuine love because it is the very nature found in the Triune God.
Unfortunately participating in the loving nature of Jesus Christ is not what Christianity has necessarily focused upon in the past. This nature of Jesus Christ is to so fill his followers that we exude him. We are to love one another deeply. Notice, this isn’t just saying that we love other believers deeply, but we are to love others deeply. This includes the sinner, or the person that is determined to do harm to us. The love of Christ compels us to take action that reaches out in love.
Within the church we are to have “genuine mutual love.” I think that sometimes we find it easier to love the “sinner” next door than to love the “saint” with whom we attend church. Maybe it’s because we have such high expectations for those within the community of faith that we struggle with their “imperfections.” However, when we experience the intimacy of Jesus Christ then his love looks beyond our imperfections and we are equipped to see past the imperfections of others as well. We are the Lord’s and his love for us overwhelms us and overflows onto those who are around us.
Too often these days we are attracted to the latest program to help transform the church. A program will never transform the church, only God’s love can transform the church. Instead of spending time and energy on the latest program, maybe we ought to get back to the foundational basics of a life of a discipleship. This is a life that requires self-discipline, time and effort, getting to know the Father. It is only in this place of intimacy that we can be filled to overflowing with his love and this will spill out onto those around us become more attractional than any program we could ever invent. This is God’s intention for the church.
When we begin to experience and share the genuine love found in God we, and our world, will be changed. This is God’s program and plan!
Lord, may your love fill me this day. Amen.
Monday, July 21, 2014
James 5:13 ¶ Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
James 5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
James 5:15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
We find in this Scripture a pattern for our spiritual growth and development. First of all, there will be suffering among those who are followers of Jesus Christ. If we are to be like him, then we will also suffer as he suffered. How did Jesus respond to suffering? He prayed! He spent time talking with the Father and we are to do the same. In the midst of the difficulties that life sends our way we are to spend time with the Father. We are to pray and to bring to him our needs and our requests. Jesus was not alone in the garden of Gethsemane, instead he brought his burdened heart and laid it before the Father from whom he received strength and power to move forward and fulfill the purpose for which he had been sent.
What about those who are cheerful? There are times in life when things are good and we are experiencing God’s joy, peace and love. Yes, things can be good and there are times that we need to simply embrace this as a gift from the Lord. In the midst of the good take time to “sing songs of praise.” Praise God and allow him to shine through in the good. Don’t think that you have simply accomplished this on your own, but rather, rejoice and embrace what God is doing in and through you. Be cheerful and let the music roll!
But what happens when someone becomes ill? They are to call together the leaders of the church who are to “pray over them” and anoint “them with oil in the name of the Lord.” This is the community of faith coming together, uniting in prayer over the needs of one who is ill. Something synergistic happens when God’s people get together to pray. Not just synergistic, but also exponential and therefore the community is called together, to be a united front in praying for the healing of the sick. The anointing oil is symbolic, but may also be a form of treatment. Ointments and balms were often used as medical techniques for healing. Could it be that here we see the community coming together to pray while applying the necessary medical treatment and God used the two to bring about healing from ailments.
Miracles would be witnessed by those who prayed. There would be those who would be healed of their sicknesses both physically and spiritually. Again this was something that was happening within the community of faith. The elders were laying hands on those who were sick and the forgiveness of sin was occurring when there were those willing to confess their sins to one another. It was accountability within the community of faith that led to a time of prayer and those leading the prayers were righteous. This is why they saw the results that they did, the powerful and effective prayers of a community of faith. They prayed, they praised, they anointed and the confessed and the result was “powerful and effective.”
This is certainly a pattern which should be emulated today. Unfortunately I’m not sure that we place enough emphasis on our need for corporate prayer. There are times that I attend a worship service and no time whatsoever is given to corporate prayer. Are we really too busy to plan to pray together?
I’m guessing that many who read this portion of Scripture would be concerned that we don’t see many of these kinds of miracles these days. Why would that be? Could it be because we are not practicing prayer, praise, anointing and confessing on a regular basis within our communities of faith? Could it be that we are not genuine “communities,” but rather, individuals who gather together on a Sunday morning to worship but are not genuinely interconnected throughout the week — or throughout life? These instructions are to be lived out within the community of believers. In this we find support and accountability which leads to a powerful and effective prayer life.
Lord, please help me to live out this life faithfully within the community you have provided for me. Amen.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
2Chr. 31:6 The people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been consecrated to the LORD their God, and laid them in heaps.
2Chr. 31:7 In the third month they began to pile up the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month.
2Chr. 31:8 When Hezekiah and the officials came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and his people Israel.
2Chr. 31:9 Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps.
2Chr. 31:10 The chief priest Azariah, who was of the house of Zadok, answered him, “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and have plenty to spare; for the LORD has blessed his people, so that we have this great supply left over.”
Hezekiah was king over Israel and as the law was read he enacted decrees that would bring the people back into alignment in their relationship with God. They had forgotten all the things that they had learned about God and had been serving and seeking foreign gods. Hezekiah placed priests back into the ministry, reopened worship at the temple and called the people to be faithful. They responded to his leadership and challenge to once again support the ministry of the Temple. This included participating in the tithe and so the people brought in a tenth of their cattle and sheep and they did not hold back. Everyone participated, so much so that eventually the tithe began to pile up in heaps. There was no shortage of supplies for the Temple, nor for the priests that served the Lord. When everyone participated in the tithe there was “plenty to spare” and a “great supply left over.”
Today I hear people questioning the concept of tithing. Some think it’s a rather old-fashioned idea and they would rather “direct” where their money is going — making sure that they see it is used in a “proper” way. The result is that many churches are suffering. In many parts of the world the church is suffering from a lack of support, financially, and in every other way. When we begin to think that we can “direct” our giving and “oversee” its use ourselves we are really becoming quite self-centered. Who are we to determine this on our own without trusting in the Lord? You may justify yourself and say that you don’t like what’s happening at your church but it may be that there can be no change at your church because your church is not resourced to change. If everyone would tithe and there were heaps of tithe around you would be able to resource the ministries and possibly the minister that your church needs. Instead, by “withholding” tithe, you are not allowing God to work in the ways in which he has intended. The tithe is not ours to manipulate, the tithe is to be brought into the storehouse and if all God’s people were faithful there would be heaps!
The problems with churches and Christianity today are not problems of the system of the church, they are systemic problems related to the spiritual condition of those who make up the church. If all God’s people were faithful and if everyone who attended a particular church would tithe there would be more than enough resources. God’s plan really does work. We can complain about the condition of our church, or we can be faithful in prayer, emotional support and tithe so that there are enough resources to make a difference.
There will always be things that we see in church that will bother us. That’s what happens when humans are involved, but God had a plan for us to be a part of a community of faith. Building community takes resources and God’s plan is for all of those who are a part of the family to help support the system. Even when the family disappoints us, we go ahead and care for her needs. We’re watching too many churches go hungry these days and some even starving to death for the members of her family refuse to feed her. Would we do this to a physical family member — allow them to go hungry when we have what they need?
We are challenged, every one of us to bring in the tithe. It’s not ours — it’s God’s! The church is not ours — she’s God’s. Faithfulness in our Christian walk involves faithfulness with our resources and submitting to God’s instructions and directions for our lives, including our contributions to the house of the LORD. I would love to see a faithful church community that brings in more than enough, with plenty to spare, so that they can reach the hurting world around them. This is what happens when all God’s people are faithful.
Lord, may we trust in you with our finances and resources. Amen.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Psa. 46:0 ¶ To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
Psa. 46:1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Psa. 46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
Psa. 46:3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
Psa. 46:4 ¶ There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
Psa. 46:5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
Psa. 46:6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
Psa. 46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Psa. 46:8 ¶ Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
Psa. 46:9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
Psa. 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
Psa. 46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
The world was in trouble and it was time to recognize that God was the only real refuge and strength in the midst of difficulties. Natural disasters and human wars and afflictions were surrounding the people of Israel and yet, they were called to a quietness before the Lord. “Be still, and know that I am God!”
In the midst of the trouble we are reminded of the river which flows — the very life-giving presence of the God’s Holy Spirit. The description of the kingdom of God in the midst of trouble is a highlight. This view of the future where the river of life flows and where God himself is eternally seated on the throne. He is the victor over anything that nature and humanity can throw our way. “The Lord of hosts is with us.”
Our world is certainly in turmoil this week and this is a timely reminder to focus on that which is eternal. The already of the kingdom of God has been ushered in. John the Baptist declared the preparation for the way of the Lord. Jesus came and ushered in the new kingdom and God is already victoriously on his eternal throne. We have a choice as to whether we want to live in the kingdom of this world which will continue to face decay and destruction or God’s kingdom which is already breaking into this world. It is the place where we discover the “river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Here we can be refreshed by his holy presence and continual filling of the Spirit.
We can watch and listen to the news today with fear, or with a time of stillness to know that God is on the throne. “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” What better news can we have today than to be reminded that he will always be our help in a time of trouble.
Lord, thank you for your sweet presence. Amen.
Friday, July 18, 2014
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.
Isaiah presents a vision for the future, one in which a new pathway will exist for all of humanity, a highway known as “the Holy Way.” We recognize that Jesus came and provided that pathway by his incarnation. Assuming human flesh Jesus sanctifies humanity creating the way of holiness and making it possible for all of humanity to be made holy. Only those who are willing to follow him onto the pathway will be able to travel there, hence the “unclean” will not be found there. It is the place where God’s people will be following in the footsteps of Jesus and as long as our eyes are kept on him, the goal, he will lead us and keep us on the path.
As long as God’s people remain on the Holy Way, continuing their spiritual growth and formation, keeping their eyes on Jesus who is the goal, no spiritual lion or ravenous beast will be able to attack them or pull them from their spiritual destination. Those who remain on the Holy Way will be heading back to the promised land, back to Zion, to the place where we will live eternally with our God. Those traveling on the Holy Way will be filled with such joy that they will burst forth with singing before our Lord, being filled with “Joy and gladness.”
The sadness of the world becomes overshadowed by our love for him the closer we get to our precious Lord while traveling on the Holy Way.
Too often we think of the Holy Way as something optional for a follower of Jesus Christ. Think about that sentence for a minute! Jesus came and created the Holy Way — and it is the way in which we are to follow him. Holiness is not an option. There is no way to follow Jesus, if it’s not on the Holy Way, because the Holy Way IS his way! To follow Jesus means that we are willing to travel on his highway, the Holy Way and only by doing so will we be able to reach the goal, Jesus, himself.
The Christian life is to be one of a journey, one that is continuous and on-going throughout our entire lives. There will be crisis moments along the journey but there must be a realization that the journey can never end. The moment we sit down spiritually, or pull over to the side of the road, we are in danger of falling off the road and never reaching our destination. We must keep our eyes on Jesus who is waiting for us at the end of the Holy Way, inviting us into his eternal presence in Zion.
Today and every day I must intentionally remain on the Holy Way. Jesus as the goal for my life must always keep me and draw me to the pathway which he has laid before me. I’m not on the pathway because of a set of rules that I follow, but I’m on the pathway because I want to be with Jesus. Along the journey he transforms me into his image, his holy image.
We need to be inviting others onto the Holy Way, to join us in this incredible journey of Christ-likeness. Where else would we rather travel, than to travel on the highway that Jesus has prepared for us, the one that leads us to our beloved. Put aside everything that may weigh you down for the journey and continue persevering in your faith, reaching forward toward the goal of Jesus!
Lord, thank you for all you have done and continue to do for your people. Please, help us to turn toward you and trust in you daily. Amen.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Is. 31:1 ¶ Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help
and who rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD!
The Israelites were in desperate need of help and the One who had helped them time and again stood ready to intervene. Unfortunately they would not look in the direction of the LORD. The LORD had brought them out of Egypt and defeated the entire Egyptian army by swallowing them up in the sea and yet that became such a distant memory that they would again turn their glance in the direction of Egypt for help. The very place that had brought them oppression and enslaved them was the place where they wanted to go. They were looking at human strength and force and the Egyptians had the horses and the chariots that they thought they needed to fight the battle.
From a human perspective of strategic planning this probably sounded good, but the implications were grave. The Holy One of Israel had promised his help, a help which is beyond human understanding and strategic planning done at the end of a pencil. Alas, those who would expect help from Egypt and from horses would have to ultimately face destruction.
What is our Egypt? I think about people who find themselves in destructive relationships, ones in which they are abused over and over again and yet even when rescued, in a moment of weakness they return. Somehow, even when there has been a rescue, there is no faith to trust in the sustainability of that rescue. Egypt had enslaved the Israelites and used them for hundreds of years. Breaking free and becoming a people of their own was a miracle beyond human comprehension. Why go back to this source?
Could it be that now the Israelites believed that they were such a powerful nation that Egypt would respect them? Ah, the foils of the enemy! Why not fool us into believing that we have “arrived” spiritually and that the temptations of the past will no longer have any power over us. This is when we are actually believing and trusting in ourselves and our own decisions rather than trusting in God. It happens when things are going well and instead of giving God the credit we think that we, ourselves, have worked all of this out. So when the difficulties arise, we don’t look to God, but we look to our own resources or to those neighboring to make a difference.
Let me return to the question, “What is our Egypt?” It could be a person, a relationship, or it may be a way in which we have always done things. We may have broken free and God may have been moving but then we confronted difficulties. Instead of trusting God to lead us through we want to go back to that which was comfortable. Yes, it may have led us into slavery, but hey, we were comfortable there. God is wanting to set us free and he is strong and mighty ready to consult with us. Why don’t we ask him? The Israelites ignored him and there are times that we do the same.
Unfortunately we, too, may be expecting help from Egypt and their horses. The strong resource of the past and the “things” that they have which we do not. Surely that will help resolve all of our problems! In the meantime the Holy One of Israel, the LORD — the One who conquered all our enemies is standing by with more power than we could ever imagine. Are we expecting help from Egypt and her horses, or will we turn to the LORD?
Lord, thank you for all you have done and continue to do for your people. Please, help us to turn toward you and trust in you daily. Amen.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Heb. 13:7 ¶ Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
We are admonished to pray for those who are in leadership. These are the ones who have brought to us the word of God. Without them way may not even know the way to salvation.
The lives of our leaders also speak volumes to us and we are to look at the way in which they live, dedicated in service to the Lord. We are to “imitate their faith.”
Being in a position of leadership has never been an easy thing. Once someone steps into that position there will always be those who are unhappy with some of the things that they do. There is simply no way for everyone to be happy with everything and so we have a tendency to be critical. We live in a culture that seems to cultivate this idea of being critical of leadership. The same was probably true in the early church and so we find these comments that I believe are useful to us today as well.
Our religious leaders (local pastors, superintendents, etc.) have poured out their lives in service to God and the kingdom. We may not always agree with them and yet they are dedicated servants of the Lord. We need to pray for them and be grateful for them and the ways in which they have led us to know the Lord. Their passion and desire to know Christ and to make a difference in the world should be imitated. Do they always do everything right? Probably not — but that should not negate the good things that they have done.
We are challenged to imitate their faith. What would happen if that were our personal focus, rather than focusing on the negative? We are not told to pick apart our leadership and point out every one of their faults. No, we are told to pray for our leaders. Oswald Chambers reminds us that we are allowed to see the weaknesses in others not to criticize, but so that we can pray. Thank God that you can see some of their faults and then use that as an opportunity to be in prayer because God has revealed to you the area in which they need his help.
Don’t judge leadership for one single moment in which their best may not have shone through, but “consider the outcome of their way of life.” What does the whole story tell you? We are to look at the beauty of the entire portrait of one’s life and the overall impact they have had as they have faithfully served in the kingdom.
My husband and I were in an art gallery the other day and as we walked from room to room looking at the beautiful paintings we stumbled upon a large Monet from his later years. If you would look at this painting up close you wouldn’t really see much and one might interpret it as some mistakes or missteps. It looks like a bunch of blobs of paint on a huge canvas. However, if you step back and look at it from a distance it is absolutely stunning and beautiful. The big picture comes together. People have been critical of this work because they were looking at the tiny little details and missed out on the beauty of the large canvas.
If we do not consider the entire life of the leader, we will get hung up on some small detail and miss the beauty of their life’s portrait. Remember our leaders. Pray for them. Look at the big picture and imitate their faith so that God may use your life to be painting the next masterpiece.
Lord, I pray for my leaders today. Please be with them, lead them and guide them and especially protect them both physically and from harmful words. Amen.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Heb. 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;
Heb. 12:29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
The new kingdom which has been inaugurated with the rule of Jesus Christ is already victorious. This kingdom, the kingdom of heaven is unshakable. We are invited to not only “give thanks” but to live a life of thanksgiving, of continuous and on-going gratitude to God for what he has done. This gratitude is shown through our worship of him.
This worship is an acceptable worship to God (not to us) and includes a lifestyle of “reverence and awe” before God. Why? Because “God is a consuming fire.” This is a quote from Deut. 4:24, “For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.” A gentle reminder that the God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New Testament. His nature has not changed. John Wesley says, “For our God is a consuming fire—in the strictness of his justice, and purity of his holiness.” God’s nature remains holy love, a holy love that cannot tolerate injustice or a lack of holiness.
God has made it possible for humanity to become citizens of the kingdom, transformed into reflections of his holiness and in this a purity which may endure with him. At the same time the consuming fire of his holiness will burn away all that is impure — for “our God is a consuming fire.”
What might it mean for the fire of God to consume us? I can think of this in a couple of ways. I believe that the way that the author intends is for us to remember the very nature of God. There is a tendency to make the God of the New Testament seem different from the God of the Old Testament. Here, the author clearly wants us to understand that our God is one and the same. While he sent his son to die for us and to usher in the new kingdom, the nature of God remains the same. We are blessed to experience God’s love in a powerful way and at the same time we must remember that “our God is a consuming fire.”
There are expectations of us who are now new kingdom citizens. These expectations include transformation into the very image of God and this brings with it a life of holiness and purity. Without this holiness and purity we will not see God for we will be consumed by his holy fire. Jesus came to this earth, lived and died, so that we might be God’s holy kingdom people. This is his intent for us all. This means that holiness is not an option, it is God’s plan and while we may not like the picture of a God who is a consuming fire, because this sounds like a powerful, destructive and wrathful God, we must recognize the fire comes from power of God’s holy love. This holy love is so powerful that impurity cannot exist in his presence.
All of this comes with good news because “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” The kingdom is in and of itself a consuming fire. It is the wildfire that can never be put out. This is the love of God that consumes you and me until it fills us up with nothing but desire and love for him. Yes, our God is a consuming fire of holy love that overtakes everything about me and cleans me up and purifies me so that I can live eternally in the presence of my Lord. This is what the kingdom has opened up for us.
There are two options. We can be consumed and burned up by the fire of God because there is nothing but impurity in us, or we can be consumed by his love and passion because he has burned away all the impurities and all that is left is a heart turned toward him. God doesn’t change. God wants to transform us, if only we respond to his call and step into the “kingdom that cannot be shaken.” In this place we worship with “reverence and awe,” having a thankful spirit as we live day by day, not afraid, but grateful for the consuming fire of God that is transforming our lives.
Lord, may your fire consume me. Amen.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Heb. 11:1 ¶ Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Heb. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The great chapter on faith begins by laying out a definition for us, a definition that helps us understand that trusting in God brings with it an assurance in our hearts regarding the things hoped for and a conviction about things which we cannot see. Faith is trusting in God and putting all of our hope and trust in him, even when we cannot see him.
While we often talk about what is possible for God to accomplish in our lives, rarely do we hear mention of what is impossible. There is such a close correlation between faith and what is possible! If we believe in God, it is possible to please him. At the same time, if we do not believe, nor put our trust in God, we will not be able to please him. We must believe that he exists and the reward for those who seek him is to get to know him.
I love to talk about the things that God is doing in this world and I firmly believe, “with God all things are possible!” I’m one of those who generally tries to focus on the positives and the work that God is doing, recognizing how the impossible becomes the possible when God is in the midst of it all. But today the Scripture stopped me when I saw what becomes the impossible.
For one to be a follower of Christ, one must have faith. Sadly we live in a rationalistic world that wants to be able to see, touch, smell and explain away everything. When it comes to faith, you can’t explain it all away in human terms. John Wesley was a young man who had studied the word of God and had even served as a missionary but struggled in the area of faith. He did not have the assurance of his salvation and this led him to a less than powerful Christian life. It was one evening on Aldersgate street where all of this was changed and he received the assurance of his salvation. That assurance moved him from the impossible to the possible. God had not changed, but John Wesley had been transformed.
It is our faith in God that moves us from the impossible to the possible. By having faith and trusting in the invisible God we are able to please him and approach him. We are able to come before the God of all creation, before his throne with our prayers and petitions. This is an invitation to get to know him on a level that we could never have imagined and the rewards are beyond human comprehension. Too often we think of rewards in human terms and in regard to our list of prayers being answered. Instead, God is inviting us into an intimate relationship with him in which we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. What kind of an amazing reward is this, to become sons and daughters of the king!
But at the end of the day, none of this is possible without having faith in God. We must begin our daily walk with a prayer of faith asking God to increase our faith so that the impossible is moved to the possible in him.
Lord, may my faith increase. Amen.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Isaiah 11:12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.
Isaiah 13:2 Raise a banner on a bare hilltop, shout to them; beckon to them to enter the gates of the nobles. (NIV)
Leaders and nations have their symbols which are recognizable. The people are able to look up, see the banners, and realize who it is that is over them and protecting them. Isaiah was providing a prophetic voice for the people of Israel. The banner of the Lord would be visible, more powerful than any banner of any nation or leader on this earth. For the exiles this is exciting news for God is planning to appear and gather his people to him. The banner will not be hidden but very visible so that all of God’s people will know where they can turn and gather beneath his flag.
God’s people will gather and they will be reinstated as his children, as nobles within the kingdom. Now they will be invited to enter the gates and take their place within the kingdom of God, constantly under the banner of the King.
This has been one of those summers where we get to watch the World Cup. People of the world are passionate about their national teams. They wear the team colors, fly flags from their vehicles, wear scarves and cry when their teams lose!
Just as we align ourselves with our home teams, so we are to align ourselves with the Lord’s team. God has raised the banner and it is not hidden. He is high and lifted up for all of us to see. We know where he is and we know the way to get there, the question is whether we are going to join him.
The world has all kinds of banners which are flying high. We are great advertisers these days and could it be that we are allowing the banner of the Lord to get lost in all the rest? Could it be that we are too attracted to the things of this world that we don’t even bother to look up and discover that we have aligned ourselves under a banner which we would never have chosen?
We being beckoned to enter the gates and to live our lives under his leadership and this type of life is transformative. Living under the Lord’s banner means that we are all-in. There are no longer any divided allegiances, but we are passionately engaged with him and his kingdom work because we have entered in and been transformed and adopted into his great family. We are now considered nobles! As we grow up we look, act, and respond as one of his, reflecting his image, the image embroidered on the banner, to the world.
If we do not look like the image on his banner, then we have probably allowed ourselves to have divided loyalties. This is much like a World Cup fan trying to wear the colors of two nations. Somehow it just looks a bit crazy. It's time to decide. Where will we be aligned? Which banner is flying high over your life?
Lord, please keep me in a place of your banner continually flying over me. Amen.
Friday, July 11, 2014
Heb. 8:8 God finds fault with them when he says:
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah;
Heb. 8:9 not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors,
on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt;
for they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord.
Heb. 8:10 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Heb. 8:11 And they shall not teach one another
or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
Heb. 8:12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
Here in Hebrews we read of the day of a new covenant and how things were changing. When the Israelites were led out of Egypt they had to be led by the hand. God went before them, day and night showing them the way in which they were to go. He had to lead them every step of the way. This is the same imagery of a parent helping a toddler to walk, taking them by the hand and helping them to walk and leading them in the ways that are safe.
The new covenant was to bring about something different for no longer would God need to lead the people by his hand. They were to grow up spiritually and in this process God would live in the hearts of his people. Just as a human grows up and no longer need a parent to lead them by the hand, but can, instead make their own decisions and walk in their own power and ability, so we are to grow up spiritually. Just as human parents try to instill in their children the skills and discernment necessary to live life so God has placed within us his law. It is written on our minds and in our hearts.
With his law in our minds and hearts we are to “know the Lord.” No longer do we need to be led by the hand, but we are to know the Lord in such an intimate way that we know his heart and desires and simply respond as his people.
While this is God’s plan for his people I’m afraid that there are too many who may still be wanting to be led by the hand. Unless we are willing to grow up spiritually and allow him to lead from our hearts we will continue to be spiritual toddlers. This is not God’s intent for his people, and yet, when we do not nurture the relationship with God we will remain as small children, going short distances and bumping into the things around us. Instead we are to grow up spiritually, being able to have a birds-eye view of what is happening around us and making decisions based on the Lord living within us.
Why are we resistant to this kind of growth? Is it easier to be a dependent toddler, not having to take total responsibility for our actions/behaviors? We are to grow up in our faith, no longer being led by the hand but having a heart filled with the Lord, knowing him with all of our being. In this way we will be led by a heart filled with desire for our Lord.
Lord, please fill my heart with your desires today. Amen.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Mic. 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The prophet spoke out to the people of God, to a people who had forsaken the God who had loved and saved them. In God’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel he had charged them with requirements for living the holy life and yet they constantly moved away from that relationship and bound themselves to pagan idols. The Shema had been forgotten — the people were no longer listening and they had been walking a path and living a life that was leading to destruction. These requirements from God were all relational requirements.
Doing justice was and is a way of looking at the people around you and relating to them in a way that God would relate to them.
Loving kindness is a way in which we relate to the love of God. When we give ourselves over completely to God then his nature of holy love begins to fill us. The more that we love God the more we are filled with him and there is nothing we can do but to love kindness and the nature of God’s loving kindness spills out of us and onto the world around us.
Walking humbly with God is again relational. Note the verb “with.” God wants his people to journey through life with him and if we journey with God there is no way to journey but humbly. When we are in relationship with God on a daily basis we will walk humbly with God because we are in awe of who he is!
Interestingly these are not just requirements of God’s people, but God identifies these behaviors as being “good.” Not that the behaviors are “good” but that they represent what is “good.” This is not just good for God, but the requirements are about our overall good! God wants the very best for his people and he knows that he is the one who can provide the best for all. The grace of God is constantly reaching out to his people and inviting us into the good and the good is found in a personal and growing relationship with the Father.
What follows in terms of requirements simply flow from the relationship with the Father. When a person loves God they will desire the things of God. It is in the daily walk with God, in that walking and talking relationship that we begin to understand the very heart of God. It is God’s nature of holy love which compels us to do justice and to love kindness. This is simply the overflow of the love of God in our hearts and our desire to be more like him.
Jesus is the incarnate God and so he shows us in the flesh what it means to live this out. We are to become more and more like Christ in this world. Paul constantly challenged his readers to be imitators of Christ and so that challenge becomes our challenge. The blueprint is laid out before us. The requirements are listed — “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” It all begins with the relationship and so if these are not witnessed in our lives, then we must examine ourselves as to where we stand in relationship to Christ. God’s requirements are not difficult if we are in close proximity to the Lord. Therefore that may be the place in which we must begin today — careful self-examination as to where we find ourselves in our walk with God. The requirements are good.
Lord, please draw me nearer to you today and may my walk reflect you. Amen.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Heb. 6:11 And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end,
Heb. 6:12 so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (NRSV)
11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (NIV)
When speaking about spiritual growth the writer to the Hebrews encouraged the people to show discipline. Spiritual discipline is required to persevere in the faith. We are to imitate those who have gone before us, looking on the lives of those who have persevered to the end recognize the way in which faith and patience have completed their work. There is no place for laziness or sluggishness in the life of the follower of Christ.
Being diligent in living the Christian life leads me to a place of faith and patience. Those things are not inherited when we begin our walk with the Lord, but they are things that come about as a result of persevering in the life of faith.
I think of the many who have gone before me and have made such a lasting impression. The last little while I have heard many people refer to the influence of Dr. Ruben Welch. He was a devotional speaker many years ago at a Youth meeting in Colorado. He spoke every morning and led us to understanding discipleship in a way that could result in life-long perseverance in our faith. At that same gathering we were taught about the importance of daily time in the word and journaling. It was in that place that I made a commitment, as a teenager, that I wanted to have that type of discipline in my life because I wanted to be like those heroes of the faith that were there, being living examples for me. And those like Ruben Welch have persevered in the faith. They have run, and continue to run a good race and when I look at him, and others like him, I want to finish well.
To finish well takes discipline. There is no place for laziness or sluggishness in our lives. There may be those who would say that this is only pertaining to the spiritual, but I wonder how we can disconnect the spiritual with the physical world. Aren’t we wholistic human beings? There is no separation between the spiritual and the physical because we are whole humans and therefore we can’t say that we are one thing spiritually, while living something else out in the flesh. This was already tried back in the early church and it was known as gnosticism — and very much refuted! Therefore, when we are admonished to not be lazy or sluggish and to show discipline, it’s about our whole lives. My relationship with Jesus Christ should impact every part of who I am and in that regard, there should be no room for laziness in the life of the believer.
Lord, please help me to live a life of discipline, imitating those who have lived in faith and patience. Amen.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Heb. 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food;
Heb. 5:13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness.
Heb. 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.
There must be continual growth in the Christian life or we will be unable to withstand the onslaught of the world. There are basic elements of faith which must be learned and these are the mother’s milk of our faith. However, just as an infant grows and cannot be continually fed by milk, so a follower of Jesus Christ must grow. An infant is unable to take on the complex nature of the world around them and instead they simply nurse, completely dependent upon their mother. When we are born again we are to grow up into righteousness, or the very nature of God. For this to happen we must move beyond milk and onto solid food for we need to be well-fed to tackle the things of this world. When we are discipled we become strong of heart and mind and in this way we are trained “to distinguish good from evil.” This spiritual life is a continual journey and on this journey there must be growth.
While there are pockets of places where we see discipling occurring, for the most part we do not see this intentional focus on growing in the spiritual life. I’m afraid its the busy nature of our lives and the legitimate distractions that can keep us from our daily walk with the Lord. However, if that is the case, then we are not moving beyond where we should be spiritually and we are weak because we are still living on milk. But maybe we are stuck on milk because we’ve never grown beyond milk. This means that we have many around us who have come to know Christ but then never develop beyond this spiritually. I really wonder if this is even possible, or is this resulting in infanticide! Are there those who are being brought to faith but because they are not being nurtured are dying out in their spiritual infancy? What does that mean for the church.
Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. It’s an active statement that we are, in our going to be discipling. This act of making disciples and discipling others is to be an on-going, ever-present part of who we are — the very nature of our being. We are to be leading others constantly in their spiritual development. This is the responsibility of every single believer. However, for this to happen we, too, must be growing in our faith. This means that we must also be in the process of being discipled.
When we refuse to move on spiritually we become unprepared for the issues that confront us. We live in an ever more complex world and in order to engage in the issues and have meaningful conversations we must be prepared. We must move on from milk and be eating some pretty solid food to be able to have the depth to be a participant in the much-needed conversations about issues in our day. To be prepared in this way takes time and effort. It takes growth.
We cannot be satisfied with a simplistic and milk-fed spiritual life. This will not provide us with the resources we need to engage an ever-increasingly complex world with the good news of the gospel. We must move on and grow spiritually, eating of the richness of those who have already prepared the way for us in the kingdom of God.
Lord, please help me to grow in you today. Amen.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Heb. 4:14 ¶ Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.
Heb. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.
Heb. 4:16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The topic of perseverance in faith has been around since the very beginning of Christianity. The temptations of the world were constantly surrounding the followers of Christ but they were admonished to hold fast to their confession. The rationale for this is found in the incarnation of Christ. God, in human form, has come to earth and has lived this life and has been tempted and tested in every way and yet he was able to live without sin. Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father and serves as our High Priest, our intermediary, who is constantly interceding for us before the Father. Our confession of Jesus as Lord is true and while we may face opposition, we may approach the throne with boldness and in return find the grace of God that helps and inspires us to persevere.
I am amazed at the number of Christians who seem to be falling away into secularism these days. The culture of the world is a constant draw and the continual inundation with worldly morals and concepts becomes a drum beat to which many are turning. Others are simply too busy to bother with faithfulness in their religious life. The call of vacations, visits, travels, summer homes and others is simply too great and little by little we have drifted away and then we begin to question our confession.
Christianity is questioned on every front and sometimes rightfully so, but in the midst of it all, where are those who are holding fast to their confessions?
Sadly, there are also those who are holding fast to misguided confessions, ones which do not lead them in the direction of Jesus Christ. Instead, without realizing it, even the politics of the day have infiltrated the church and made us believe — on one side or the other — that this is Christianity. Politics and political action will never be Christianity! Being like Jesus is Christianity and this is to be our confession.
Our confession is that Jesus is Lord. In the first centuries of Christianity this declaration could cost you your life. Emperor worship was a normal part of the culture and the people were to declare that Caesar was Lord. For a Christian to openly confess that Jesus was Lord was to go against all cultural norms. Christianity could not exist in tandem with Roman culture for at the very root they were opposed to one another. Roman culture and lifestyle was rich but also vastly pagan. Eventually the rulers themselves believed that they were gods. Confessing that Jesus was Lord was a death sentence to Christians and yet, there were many who held fast to their confession.
Jesus came and declared that he was the Son of God. For this he was considered blasphemous. He was beaten, harassed and finally killed but never swayed from his confession. We serve a Savior who has experienced the worst of the worst and yet did not sin. He is able to sympathize with us and so, may we not turn away from the faith. Instead, may we hold fast to our confession.
Lord, please help me to hold fast to my confession today. Amen.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Heb. 3:12 Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Heb. 3:13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Heb. 3:14 For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
The temptation to turn away from our walk with the Lord has always been present. The world has continually tugged at the hearts and lives of those who have committed themselves to serving the Lord. Knowing that there were those who had unbelieving hearts, the author of Hebrews exhorted brothers and sisters in Christ to be accountable to one another. Today and every day we are to encourage one another in our walk with the Lord. The accountability to others within the community of faith was important, for it is in this walk with the Lord we have become partners of one another and partners together with Christ. In this we must hold firm in the midst of the barrage of the culture.
John Wesley set up accountability groups for those who were a part of the Methodist movement. They met on a regular basis and they asked one another some very tough questions about their spiritual walk. It was in this setting that they encouraged one another spiritually, but also held one another accountable for their behavior. They literally asked one another how they were doing in their spiritual walk.
Many churches adopted the practice of Sunday School with the intent of following the model developed by John Wesley. However, instead of being places of accountability the Sunday School has mostly become a place where we listen to the lessons prepared and presented. While this is good and we need to learn more from the word, the lack of accountability is of great concern. What happens to us when no one ever asks us, “How’s your walk with the Lord today?” Or, is it possible that we are not asking the question of others because we certainly would not want anyone to ask the same question of us! To become this open and transparent about our walk with Jesus Christ might lead us to a place in which we do not feel comfortable. And why might we be uncomfortable? Could it be because we are not in the place spiritually that we ought to be?
To be quite honest, I need people to ask me the question. My life can become consumed with the work that I do and the busyness that follows. However, at the end of the day my relationship with Jesus Christ needs to be my top priority. I want and need people to hold my feet to the fire and ask me the tough questions that may, at times, make me uncomfortable. I need to be exhorted today and every day by others within the community of faith. For this to happen we may need to intentionally seek out others who are willing to ask us the tough questions, who exhort us and pray for us daily so that we remain confident in Christ.
Whether your accountability group is one you meet with physically, or virtually, we all need to be partners together in this Christian walk. It is not meant to be something that happens on its own. Instead, we must seek out others with whom we are willing to be honest. We must answer the question today and every day, “how’s your walk with the Lord?”
Lord, thank you for those who are willing to ask me the tough questions. Please help me to be honest and transparent so my heart remains turned toward you. Amen.
Friday, July 4, 2014
Heb. 1:8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
Heb. 1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
Heb. 1:10 And,
“In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
Hebrews begins by declaring that Jesus is the final word of God. He is the living prophetic voice that God sends to humanity. From the beginning moment of creation God has been revealing himself to us. Jesus was present in creation when the earth was founded. It is in the beauty of creation that the fingerprint of Jesus can be found. However, Christ’s incarnation becomes the culmination, and ultimate revelation of creation.
When we begin reading in the book of Genesis we come across the opening scenes in God’s message of revelation. The scriptures do not exist as a proof of God, but rather as a revelation of God. It is in the beauty of creation that we are to begin to understand the very nature of God, for from his nature springs creation. This is the foundation of all things, the fact that humanity can open their eyes every morning, looking around and drinking in the creative details and revelation of God’s grace toward his sons and daughters.
As I write this morning I’m looking at a beautiful vase full of tulips. Every one of them is slightly different and the flowers are distinctively different in color from the stems and leaves. While each one is beautiful in and of its own right, the bouquet creates an entirely different effect. Looking at these flowers I think about God. How do I see God in what is before me? What I see is a God who loves beauty and cares about the intricate details of flowers. I see God who cares about the individual but understands the beauty in the corporate which becomes exponentially more beautiful. It’s what happens when we walk through a stunning rose garden and are overwhelmed at the visual and sensual beauty that surrounds us. Somehow it is all a revelation of God and it is his grace reaching out to draw us to him.
The discussion of creation should always lead us to a revelation of Christ. Anything else becomes a distraction to knowing him. Creation was and is God revealing himself to all of humanity. This is God wanting us to know that he loves us and his very nature is revealed in creation which surrounds us on a daily basis. God revealed from the moment of creation, spoken through the prophetic word and revealed in the person of Christ. All of this is a reminder that the Creator loves all that has been created and desires to anoint creation, drawing all into the kingdom. Creation’s revelation is Christ.
Lord, thank you for allowing me the joy of soaking in your beauty and presence today. Amen.