Sunday, August 31, 2014
Ezek. 13:10 Because, in truth, because they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it.
Ezek. 13:11 Say to those who smear whitewash on it that it shall fall. There will be a deluge of rain, great hailstones will fall, and a stormy wind will break out.
Ezek. 13:12 When the wall falls, will it not be said to you, “Where is the whitewash you smeared on it?”
The Israelites were facing destruction and yet there were prophets giving them false hope. Instead of calling the people to repentance and helping them face their sins, they whitewashed over all the things the people had done. The people were given a false sense of peace, telling them that no harm would come to them. They were told that their sins were not all that bad and therefore there would not be any consequences.
The result of this kind of talk was like someone who built up a wall in a hurry, not taking the time to build it properly. Instead, throwing it all together and then painting it white just to try and make it look good. Just because it looks good on the outside doesn’t mean that it has anything of substance. When the rains come the whitewash will run off and the poorly built wall will be revealed and as soon as the winds blow, it will topple.
The lies of the prophets were a whitewash of peace that led the people to believe that they were okay and did not need to repent.
A number of folks may not even know what whitewash is anymore. It’s a very cheap form of paint used often by mixing chalk with a few other substances. For the most part it looks good for a little while but if you rub up against it, it comes off on your clothes and a good downpour may take most of it off of an outside wall. It can make something look good for a short period of time.
We just need to listen to or read the news to know that our world is filled with strife. There is no peace and for many people around the world that is a daily reality. To say that there is peace is to whitewash the wall. To say that Christians who are just serving God on a shallow level are okay spiritually is also a whitewash. Too many of us are trying to just look good spiritually but the whitewash won’t last and when the difficulties of life come, we will fail.
May we not be the ones who are whitewashing the truth. Instead may God use us to be builders of a true foundation and a wall of security built upon a daily walk with God that leads us further and further into his truths.
Lord, may I never whitewash your truth. Amen.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Ezek. 8:17 Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O mortal? Is it not bad enough that the house of Judah commits the abominations done here? Must they fill the land with violence, and provoke my anger still further? See, they are putting the branch to their nose! (NRSV)
17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose!” (NIV)
Ezekiel is being shown the disobedience of the Israelites. From the NIV translation we see the comment that the people may have seen this as a “trivial” matter. Somehow they are not concerned and have convinced themselves that this is just a little disobedience. Their little disobedience is seen as an abomination in the eyes of God.
This disobedience is directly related to the worship of other gods. They have adopted the practices of the people around them and have committed themselves to the approval of the culture and not to God. They are provoking God’s anger for he is present and has promised to provide all that they need and yet they seek the approval of others.
I’m guessing that the people had convinced themselves that this was just a little disobedience and they could worship God, but throw in a little of the world around them as well. It is presumed that “putting the branch to their nose” was just another act in idol worship which was common in those days. But this they were doing openly in the eyes of everyone, and especially before God! A little disobedience, a little pluralism in worship, took them on a trajectory that was far from God.
The Israelites were bombarded on every side with worldly culture. All the other cultures had gods that you could see and the Israelites wanted so badly to fit in with the rest of the world. God’s expectation of his people meant that other people would think they were out of touch. I mean, who ever heard of worshipping a God who could not be seen? They had convinced themselves that they could worship the unseen God and add in a little bit of the culture of the seen gods and this would just be a little bit of disobedience. Sadly, it led them to separation from a loving God who was hurt by their practices.
I’m afraid that we have also convinced ourselves that a little disobedience is not a bad thing. Being a follower of Jesus Christ does not always meet with the approval of the surrounding culture. Nor does it mean that we can just go to church on Sundays and then do whatever we want with the world the rest of the week. Much of what the secular culture is throwing our way is a deviation from the trajectory that leads us to God. At what point do we simply say “no” — I will not do everything the world does, nor will I seek the world’s approval?
There really is no “little disobedience,” for the longer we follow that path the further we will find ourselves from God. The next thing you know we’ll be putting the branch to our nose and not even thinking that it bothers God. We are to seek God every day and pray that he will protect us from even a little bit of disobedience.
Lord, draw me to you today. Amen.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Rev. 3:19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
Rev. 3:20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
Rev. 3:21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Rev. 3:22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The people of Laodicea were wealthy and had become self-sufficient and in this way were neither cold, nor hot spiritually. They were just lukewarm and this was a pitiful place in which to exist. One can imagine that they were good at looking like spiritual people from all outward appearances. They were adorning themselves in ways that would make them look spiritual and using their own local treatments for healing.
The tone of this scripture is one of rebuke, but a rebuke borne out of love. While they had an outward Christianity but they were not in fellowship with the Lord. They are invited to respond to the relationship for he is there at the door of their lives, knocking and wanting to come in and fellowship with them. The invitation to the table for the meal is significant for this is an invitation to become partakers together with him in his life. That’s why he can go on to say that he will give those who fellowship with him a place on the throne with him. The invitation is to much more than dinner, but to a place in the family. Therefore, listen up folks! Why do you care about the things of this world, when you can have so much more?
The implications for our lives are obvious. It is easy for us to become Laodiceans; people who are satisfied with looking like good followers of Jesus Christ. People who are very self-sufficient and probably give God the glory for their self-sufficiency. But this life is nothing compared to the table which is spread for us when Jesus comes and fellowships with us. He is standing at the door and when we invite him in he brings with him all the glories of the kingdom of God. The things of this world pale in comparison!
Don’t be satisfied with what life has to offer. Don’t be satisfied with a Christian life that looks good on the surface, but instead, invite Jesus in for real fellowship. By being seated with him at the table we will experience the real kingdom.
Lord, please help me to wait patiently upon you at your table. Amen.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Rev. 2:4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Rev. 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
The church in Ephesus was a good church that worked hard at serving the Lord. The problem was that they were working so hard that they were ignoring their relationship with the Lord. The admonition was to go back to the original relationship and to “do the works you did at first.” I think this is something like falling in love all over again!
When I think about falling in love I think about meeting my husband, Chuck. Now that I work in the same building where I met him it’s fun to reminisce. I like to tell students right where I met him. I can still see that place where we had our very first conversation and it still makes my heart flutter.
The Scripture reminds the church at Ephesus to do the things that they did at first. What was it like to be in love and what did we do at first? The first priority was to figure out how to see each other and all other activities took second place. We would stay up late talking on the phone every single night! We would send each other little notes and packages. The desire to be in a relationship with this person was so consuming that the rest of life took second place.
When we first fall in love with Jesus it is much the same. We want to be with him day and night. We want to soak in the word and be in fellowship with other believers as much as possible. This change in life is so overwhelming that it does literally make our heart flutter.
Throughout the years of a relationship it’s easy to take one another for granted, assuming that they are always going to be there. As I thought about this scripture today I thought about where Chuck and I find ourselves these days, living in two different cities. It’s kind of a crazy thing, but in many ways it has brought us back to “the works you did at first.” We now text each other all day long — staying in touch throughout the entire day. We have those late night phone calls and we travel long distances just to be together as much as possible. We set aside all that we can to make sure that we get to see one another and my heart flutters just knowing that he will arrive here at 4:29 tomorrow! I love my husband so much more today than I did at first, but that’s because we’ve worked to keep that first love alive.
Putting this into spiritual terms we must think about our relationship with the Lord. He wants us to put aside “things” and focus on that first love. Our passion for the Lord should be more consuming today than it was at first. But this only happens when we go out of our way to be with him and serve him; when we keep in touch with him all day long and spend those late nights or early mornings in long conversation. When we do this then love for him covers the miles and we remain in a deep and loving relationship with him and it’s like falling in love with the Lord all over again!
Lord, thank you for your incredible and overwhelming love. Amen.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Psa. 144:9 ¶ I will sing a new song to you, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,
Psa. 144:10 the one who gives victory to kings,
who rescues his servant David.
Psa. 144:11 Rescue me from the cruel sword,
and deliver me from the hand of aliens,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose right hands are false.
Psa. 144:12 ¶ May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars,
cut for the building of a palace.
Psa. 144:13 May our barns be filled,
with produce of every kind;
may our sheep increase by thousands,
by tens of thousands in our fields,
Psa. 144:14 and may our cattle be heavy with young.
May there be no breach in the walls, no exile,
and no cry of distress in our streets.
Psa. 144:15 ¶ Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall;
happy are the people whose God is the LORD.
David’s psalm takes us through a spiritual journey that leads us to a question of happiness. He sings a new song for this is a new chapter in his life and the life of God’s people. God leads them into victory against the foes that are around them. Of course David is speaking in terms of the literal battles that he has to face, but what about our spiritual battles? Can we sing a new song for God because he is leading us out of a time of difficulty and bringing about such a victory that a new song must be written? And this will be a song of happiness for those who are God's people.
The very God who brings victory to kings is the God who can bring victory into our lives. Just as he rescued David, he wants to rescue us from that which surround us.
Let’s look at this from a perspective of Christianity in the world today. It seems that the secular world and culture is constantly trying to attack Christianity and maybe not in the sense that we think. We have sisters and brothers in parts of the world who are literally facing persecution at the end of a sword. They are being asked to give up their lives in response to the faith. For them we must pray on a daily basis that the hand of God intercedes on their behalf. At the same time some of us live in cultures where Christianity is under attack in more subtle ways and there is a question as to whether Christianity can be victorious and whether the Christian can live and be happy as one who serves the LORD.
The culture presents us with a sword of animosity toward the Gospel. It is a cruel sword that is angry with Christianity for its apparent ‘exclusivity’ and if we have been exclusive when it comes to sharing the love of Christ, then maybe it is justified. At the same time, if we are living in Christ and this angers others, then there should not be compromise for we are to answer to him and not to the world. The Psalmist goes on to speak of the “hand of aliens,” or those who do not know the Lord. Those who are citizens of the kingdom will appear as aliens to the citizens of this world. If that is the case then we should not be surprised when those around us speak lies against us and carry within their right hand the ability to stab us. Being a follower of Christ is a very counter-cultural life-style that will not make the citizenry around us happy with the way we do things.
This lifestyle is not legalistic, nor is it condemning. Instead the lifestyle which we are called to follow is one of radical obedience to Christ. In this place of obedience we live in him on a daily basis and our interaction with the world comes from a desire to draw all to him. Our eyes are focused on a daily basis on our LORD who makes the cruel swords and lies powerless in light of the kingdom. Being a follower of Christ is a radically different way of living than what the world has to offer.
The world will not bring us real happiness. For those who take up their cross and follow him the problems will come, but the the blessings of God will lead to a place of happiness and joy found only by resting in him.
Lord, may I rest in you today. Amen.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
3John 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
John’s greatest joy was to hear of the faithfulness of his spiritual children. Even when life brought many challenges and difficulties, he knew what was the most important thing in life. He had been raising spiritual children for most of his life and they were what brought him joy.
This was my mother-in-law’s life verse. She became the mother of five amazing children and the mission and calling of her life was to raise them to be followers of Jesus Christ. This was evident in the intentionality with which she raised them to love the Lord. There truly was no greater joy for Thelma Sunberg than to see her children walking in truth. I think that’s why this scripture will always be special to me for, even though she’s passed on, her joy continues for the investment of her intentionality is eternal.
I think about how Thelma brought about her greatest joy. She spoke to her children frequently about spiritual matters and helped them to keep their focus on the things that were most important in life. She never did get very hung up on earthly things. They didn’t have much and she had to do all that she could to help feed and clothe all five of her children, and yet, this was never the measure of success. There were scripture verses placed in strategic locations throughout the house so that they would be memorized and carried in the hearts of her children. And, of course, there were her daily prayers for her children. She gave up of herself in so many ways for these five children, praying that they would walk in truth.
Just a few years ago the whole family was gathered together in Boston for a few days and mom Sunberg informed all of us that there was something very important that she needed to talk to all of us about and wanted to make sure that we gave her time to talk one evening. We were all rather curious what it was that she needed to talk to us about for this was a bit out of her character. She had a lot of one on one conversations but was never all that big on speaking to a group of people. Now, she had gathered all of her adult children together, and the grandchildren were all there too. Her oldest daughter was a licensed minister and her husband was pastoring a college church. Her oldest son and his wife were both ministers and pastoring at a church together. Her second daughter was leading music in her local church where she and her husband were key laypersons in the congregation. Her next son and wife had been serving as a pastor for many years in Canada and her youngest and his family were serving as missionaries in Eastern Europe. So, here was this room packed full of families that were serving the Lord and mom wanted to have a special conversation with them. Everyone wondered what it was that she wanted to talk about.
As we gathered around mom said she had something very important to share with all of us. Dad Sunberg had passed away a few years earlier and we all wondered what it might be that she wanted to share. We didn’t have to wait long when she started her little talk with a roomful of preachers. She was very concerned about our personal spiritual lives and wanted to make sure that every one of us knew the importance of spending time with the Lord on a daily basis. She didn’t care what kinds of positions we might have in the church, if we weren’t spending time with the Lord in prayer and study we weren’t on the right track. She had felt very burdened to remind us all again of what was the most important thing in life and for her, it was making sure that her children were all walking in the truth. Honestly, at the time we were all a bit tickled that this was the “big talk” because here were all these ministers, and yet, it was so indicative of the intentionality that she placed on raising her children to walk in truth.
She has now passed on but that intentionality is making a difference in the next generation. Since that talk three of those grandchildren have gotten their preacher’s licenses and I think that there are more to come. It’s not to say that walking in the truth means becoming a preacher, but for some it does. For others it means serving as faithful laypersons, wherever God has planted them and all of them are intentional about walking in the truth and making a difference in the world.
We often look back on that night when mom had “the talk” with all of us. It was her legacy to pass on and her children walking in the truth was her greatest joy. Today, as a mother of two of those grandchildren my greatest joy is to see my children walking in the truth.
My mother-in-law dedicated her entire life to this goal. It cost the Apostle John a life of persecution. Anything of great worth will cost us something.
Are we willing to invest just as much, in an intentional manner, to experience our greatest joy?
Lord, thank you for the faithfulness of Thelma Sunberg. Amen.
Monday, August 25, 2014
2John 5 But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.
2John 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.
John has already prayed for grace, mercy and peace to be upon this lady and those to whom she is ministering. He doesn’t waste any time getting right to the nitty-gritty of things, and that is, to tell her what is the very most important in life. There are many things that can distract but at the end of the day we are to “love one another.” This is the greatest command which we have received from God and it is in this command of love that we must walk.
Just this morning I was watching a TED talk with Rita Pierson called, “Every Kid Needs a Champion.” At the end of the day it sounds a bit like this letter from John. She literally commands school teachers to love their students. She even goes as far as to say that there may be some students that you don’t particularly like, but don’t let them know that! Some are even difficult to like, but the fact is, they need to be loved and accepted.
No matter how difficult people may be, we are commanded to love one another and this is how the world begins to see the difference that we can make as followers of Jesus Christ. God’s love compels us, but it can only compel us when we are spending time living in his love.
Although I work to set aside time with the Lord every day, I have to confess that it’s been some time since I’ve been able to just really stop everything and bask in his presence. Last night as I was flying I put on my ear buds and began playing my worship playlist. It’s amazing what happens when we tune out everything else around us and our hearts and minds are suddenly filled with songs of worship and praise to our God. Can we get blessed at 30,000 feet? I think so! And these moments of filling are so important to us for we cannot love others with his love, if we have not been experiencing his love.
We walk in his command, for we are charged to go and love one another — even when we, or others may be acting rather unlovable. It is God’s love that can change the world.
Lord, please help me to walk in your love today. Amen.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
1John 5:5 Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Jesus’ life has proved to be victorious over the world. He has conquered it all in his life, death and resurrection. This is all possible because he is the Divine God-Man. He truly is God, and he truly is fully human. This is one of those mysteries about which humanity struggled for many years but accepts it as a mystery. Jesus truly was human and lived as God incarnate here on this earth.
Therefore it’s more than just believing that he was a good man, but we are challenged to accept and to believe that “Jesus is the Son of God.” All of humanity and divinity can be found in him. It is this unique combination of the two natures dwelling within the one man that was able to conquer the world and we are invited to become partakers of the victory by believing in him.
What is your stumbling block to heaven? Could it be the things that this world has to offer? Far too often, even good people, are distracted by the things of this world. Good things can become a distraction to the relationship that is provided for us in Christ.
The world will constantly reach out to us with its temptations, desiring to draw us in a direction away from the pathway provided for us through Jesus. John the Baptist had declared that it was time to prepare the way for the one who would be coming. Jesus came and with him was revealed the highway of holiness. It is the pathway on which his people are to travel. It is the road that leads us to the destination of eternal life. This is the road of victory over the world.
This morning I was driving to a church in South Central Ohio and was using my phone to give me directions. Siri was constantly talking to me, and I needed to pay attention. The problem is that there are a lot of back roads through some of the hills leading to the Ohio River and you have to listen very carefully. It’s easy to get on the wrong road. Just a missed turn can mean that you have headed into the wrong valley and it will take quite some time to find a correction. If no correction is made, you end up at the wrong destination.
Sometimes we are distracted and we make a wrong turn spiritually. The things of this world catch our attention and they are bright and shiny and we head off in their direction. The next thing we know we are far from the destination and we may even be lost. If we are to be partakers in Christ’s victory over the world, we have to remained tuned into him. This means that we have to pray and ask him to help us keep our focus on him and away from the world’s attractions. But more than anything, we have to believe that he is the divine Son of God!
Another distraction of the world is to tell us that this faith in Jesus is irrational. I’ve had folks tell me that lately — that it’s crazy to think that Jesus is the way to God. And yet, that’s what the word of God tells us, and quite clearly here John reminds us that if we are to be partakers in Christ’s victory over this world that we must believe in the true nature of Jesus Christ. There is no salvation in simply choosing to think of him as a good man. He was a good man, but he also happened to be the Son of God. That makes a huge difference! Have you stopped and thought of the implications of this?
At first glance some may think that this sounds arrogant, partaking in Christ’s victory. It’s not arrogant and it’s not any kind of victory to lord over someone else. Instead this is a great victory over evil, sin, and death! That is amazing and when sin has you in his grasp it’s great to know that there is a Christ who has already been victorious and who wants to share his victory with all of us. Simply believe and then live into that belief, partaking of his victory day by day. In this way we, too, will be victorious over the things that try to get us down. Jesus has already conquered them all.
Lord, please help me to live into your victory on a daily basis. Amen.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
1 John 4:16b ¶ God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
1John 4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. (NRSV)
17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. (NIV)
John brings deep truths to us in simple words. “God is love.” We bring God’s nature down to what seems to be a very simplistic idea, that God is love. However, the idea may seem simple, but it is not simplistic. God is love in the fact that the very nature of God is holy love. Everything about God oozes with holy love and this nature is revealed through the mutual indwelling and love in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are invited to abide in fellowship with God, and hence to be constrained by love. God in us and we in God, held there by the holy love that draws us ever closer to the One we love.
The goal for humanity is to become like Christ, to be filled to the full with his nature. Love comes to completion or perfection in us when we fulfill the purpose for which we have been created. That purpose is to be like Christ; we are to be the likeness of Christ in the world. As the NRSV charges us, “as he is, so are we in this world.” We are transformed into living likenesses of Christ — this is the goal. This is why we may come to understand that on the day of judgement we need not worry, if “in this world we are like Jesus.”
An earthly parent has no trouble identifying their own children. I can be in a crowd and I can tell you which two are my daughters. I don’t even have to see their faces, I can tell by the way they carry themselves, the way they stand, the way they move their hands, the way they laugh and talk. These are my children!
God knows who his children are as well because they bear the family resemblance — holy love.
What would it truly mean if “in this world we [were] like Jesus?” The Church of the Nazarene’s mission statement is, “Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations.” This is what John is telling us in this Epistle. The goal is to be like Christ in the world. We are supposed to look like Jesus. This is a high bar or standard and this is the standard to which we are being called in discipleship.
This week I’ve had the privilege of teaching at class on the NTS campus. In discussion with the students yesterday we were talking about the role of the church in discipleship. While we may have a particular mission statement, the concern is how we are putting this into action. All across the Nazarene denomination we have had signs in our churches that say, “Called Unto Holiness.” In a nutshell this is placing before us the challenge to become filled with God’s holy love — to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ in this world.
I’m afraid that we may have been trying to find short-cuts along the way, easy ways of discipleship. There is no easy way of discipleship — it requires taking up our cross on a daily basis and following Jesus. It requires time in his holy presence. It requires submission to the will of the Father and empowerment from the Holy Spirit. It requires going into the world to be Jesus in the world.
The challenge is great and the bar has been set high. “As he is, so are we in this world.” May we go and be Jesus to our world.
Lord, what a challenge. Please abide in me so that I can be like you. Amen.
Friday, August 22, 2014
1John 3:18 ¶ Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
As spiritual children on a journey with our Lord and Savior, we are constantly drawing closer to him. In doing so we are transformed by his love. The result is that as we are filled with his love and it oozes out onto the world around us resulting in others experiencing his love. This is not something that is experienced by words or great speeches or preaching, but it is something that is seen in living out truth and taking action. This is love.
Loved is revealed in truth and action. That seems simple enough, but is it really?
Walking in truth means being willing to be transparent about your life. Is there any type of behavior that we would like to keep hidden from others? Then we are not walking or living in truth! Even those who would consider themselves “faithful” followers of Jesus Christ are tempted to hide certain behaviors from others. We may be embarrassed about some of the things that we do in our free time, or things that we read or watch. If we feel that we have to hide these from others, we probably shouldn’t be doing them! We are probably not living in truth.
Social media seems like a horrible intrusion into our lives at times. At the same time, however, there seems to be something there that holds people accountable for their behaviors. If I do something stupid, chances are that it will end up being put up there for all the world to see! No, that’s not always a good thing, but at the same time, it’s living in the reality that I need to live in truth. Living in truth means Christ is living in me and there should be a consistency about the way in which I live. I should be the same with my family as I am with my neighbor, as I am at work, as I am at the grocery store. Everywhere I go Christ is in me and should be revealed to those around me. My behavior does make a difference because what I do is a reflection on the Christ I proclaim and whose name I carry as a Christian. This is love as truth.
Love must also be lived out in action. The way I treat those around me on a daily basis should reveal the love of Christ to them. Not only are we showing the love of Christ to the needy, but by ministering to the needy we are showing love back to Christ. Remember the question of Matthew 25:44, “"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’” Every day and every moment that we reach out to those with needs we are ministering to the Lord himself. So, next time you want to just drive past that hungry person or drop in a coin without saying a word, think about the fact that you are acting as if you are ignoring the Lord, himself. Instead, stop, look someone in the eye, shake a hand and ask, “what can I do for you?” For this is the way in which we begin to show genuine love for God and for others.
Love must take us to the place of action and truth. Without these, there is no genuine love and we are only fooling ourselves.
Lord, please help me to walk in your love today. Amen.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
1John 2:28 ¶ And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.
As disciples we are challenged to grow up spiritually. We begin as little children and we come with childlike faith but there is so much more in store for us as we grow in him and this is the challenge, to “abide in him.” This is the very act of living our lives every single day in the Lord. The result of living in him is that when we meet him face to face there will be no fear, for we have been united with him in the journey.
John has been informing us about the importance of discipleship in the lives of those who are following Christ. The relationship with the Lord must be one of constant and on-going growth. The whole idea of disciple-making is an active and continual on-going activity without end. This is what God wants from us, his followers, who are not just following, but also learning for at the root of the word disciple we also find a student, one who follows and learns from the teacher.
In a practical sense, then, we need to think about what it means to “abide in him.” While I’ve mentioned the idea of growth and movement in discipleship there is also something rather static sounding about “abiding.” I believe the “static” part of abiding is that it is constant and continual. This is not a journey where you hop on and hop off.
I travel an awful lot these days and as I make my way through airports there are many moving walkways. If I choose to use one of these, I commit myself to getting on. I must abide on the moving walkway or else I’m going to hurt myself trying to get off somewhere in the middle. Therefore there is a sense of trusting in the system and abiding there. However, at the same time I can choose to simply stand there and let the walkway move me along, or I can join in the activity and walk on the walkway that is moving and end up travelling at some pretty fast speeds.
First of all I have to commit myself to the journey. I have to get on with it! Am I willing to be on the journey with our Lord, and if so, I need to stay there and journey with him throughout life. The results of jumping off the journey are just as harmful as it would be for me to decide to jump off the moving walkway half-way through where there is no exit. Abide — jump in and stay there. It’s worth the trip.
Once I am abiding I have a choice to make regarding the speed at which I’m willing to travel. You may step to the right and stand for the journey. The result is that you travel at a smooth slow pace, pulled along by the grace of God. You will reach your destination but you won’t get everything out of the trip that you could have, had you put a little of your own energy into it.
For those who are abiding in him, on the journey, who really want to know him at a deeper level, we are challenged to participate in the spiritual disciplines. Just like I can participate in the journey on the moving walkway, so we can participate in the journey with our Lord. By abiding in the word, abiding in study, abiding in prayer, and abiding in living like Jesus in the world we move even faster and draw closer to him, looking more and more like him.
Our world desperately needs to see the real Jesus at work. They will only see him through committed followers who are abiding in him, willing to put in the effort to look more and more like him so that Jesus is clearly seen on a daily basis. This is abiding. This is how we live our lives in him.
Lord, please help me to continually abide, live and grow in you. Amen.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
1John 1:1 ¶ We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
The opening line of this letter is one in which we are invited to read the testimony of the author. The author is declaring the things he has seen, heard and touched. This Jesus whom he is proclaiming is not dead, but instead is the living word, the life-giving word and a man whom he knew personally. There was nothing to be made up about the Savior, for he had experienced more with Jesus than he could even recount and Jesus’ teaching had brought truth that revealed the mysteries from the beginning of time. John had seen it all!
This Scripture really is a challenge for all of God’s children for we wonder whether we could possibly have a testimony like this. What would it mean for us to declare all that we have experienced with the Lord.
I find it fascinating that John utilizes all of his senses in relation to Christ. Christ is not an immaterial spiritual being, but is instead the very incarnate presence of God on earth. Jesus has walked and talked with his disciples for years and has revealed to them what it means for God’s people to be his holy people. It’s not just a state of mind, nor is it exclusion from the world, it’s being holy in the world. It’s Jesus walking and talking with sinners. It’s Jesus being intentional about teaching and discipling others. It’s Jesus using every moment and opportunity to call sinners to him. It’s Jesus going to the needy and reaching out and touching them at the point of their deepest need.
John had heard the teaching of Jesus.
John had seen the miracles of Jesus.
John had rubbed elbows with Jesus.
We don’t often think about the very personal way in which the disciples knew Jesus. Think about hours together on hot boats out on the sea of Galilee with the sweaty and smelly bodies of fishermen. This was the Jesus that John had experienced — a very earthy human and yet divine being who led him into knowing all Truth.
And all this begs the question — what could you declare about Jesus? Have we given him enough space in our lives that we would be able to report on all that we have experienced? If not, we need to allow him into every part of our lives and this can be a bit tricky. Somehow it may seem comfortable to allow him into our minds and into our worship but somehow we compartmentalize him there and don’t let him into the earthiness of our own lives. However, this is where he wants to dwell with us in all that we do — including the nitty gritty of every day life.
He wants to be with us in the classroom.
He wants to be with us in the grocery store.
He wants to be with us in the church softball game.
He wants to be with us on that date.
He wants to be in our marriages.
He wants to be in the midst of our outings with our friends.
He wants us to be able to explain what it is that we have heard, and touched and seen. We are to testify to the work of Jesus Christ just as John has. This is only possible when we are experiencing him in every aspect of our lives.
Lord, may I be able to share today and everyday what it is that I have seen. Amen.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Psa. 105:1 ¶ O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Psa. 105:2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wonderful works.
Psa. 105:3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Psa. 105:4 Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually.
The Psalmist had a deeply intimate relationship with the LORD. He knew what it meant to spend time in the LORD’s presence and to seek his face. In this Psalm he provides us with a model from what he has learned in his personal relationship to the LORD.
He begins his prayer by giving thanks to the LORD. It’s time for God’s people to give him thanks for all that he has done and to call on his name. There is a suggestion of intimacy here that one would call upon the name of the LORD — because by knowing the name of the LORD, one has become close to God. We are invited into this friendship with God and are to call him by name. We are also to brag on our God and let those around us know of our thanksgiving to God for he has been engaged in our lives and has been working. Therefore as we enter into the sanctuary of prayer we give thanks, calling out to God and letting others know what it is that he has done!
This is just the preamble to this time in the LORD’s presence. Next it is important to sing to him, to sing and praise God for all of his wonderful works. Some may not be able to carry a tune at all but that doesn’t matter to God. It is the motivation that we find at the center of it all — the motivation of a heart turned toward the God whom we love. The Psalmist was a musician and so this was a powerful way for him to express his deep and abiding love for God.
Either through music or by simply sitting in God’s presence it’s possible to “glory in his holy name.” Just imagine the difference between the living God and the gods that other people serve. Whenever we see the word “glory” we should think of God’s holy presence. It is possible to experience the living God’s holy presence in the here and now. Therefore when we call upon his name, he comes to us and we are able to participate and fellowship with the God of all creation. No wonder we are encouraged to “let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!” Rejoicing is the automatic response to being blessed by his holy presence.
Finally in our model for prayer we are encouraged to continually seek the Lord. Day in and day out we desire to be in his holy presence and we seek him out. After we have tasted and seen how sweet the LORD is we will desire to be with him at all times. His strength will fill us day after day to accomplish what he desires as we walk and talk and dwell in his presence.
The Psalmist was onto something in his prayer life. We are in need of this same intimacy with the LORD. May we follow his example and be led into a deeper and continual walk in God’s presence today and everyday.
Lord, thank you for the sweetness of your presence which gives strength every day. Amen.
Monday, August 18, 2014
John 20:19 ¶ When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
John 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
John 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
John 20:26 ¶ A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus came to this earth as the “Prince of Peace.” On the night he was born those who announced his birth declared, “peace on earth.” Now, at the closing chapter of his life, recorded for us in the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus visits his disciples to bring them final words. Again they are words of peace. Three times in these few verses he appears and tells them,”Peace be with you.”
Just as he came to usher in a kingdom of peace, so Jesus was breathing his peace upon his followers. The new kingdom was now gaining ground, day in and day out, in the lives of his followers. For this foothold to really take shape he would need to ascend to heaven and send them the Holy Spirit. The breath of peace would be upon them all as the Spirit filled them. The Prince of Peace had come to bring an everlasting peace that would forever change the lives of his followers and begin to sweep across the known world in ways that they never would have imagined. Kingdom of God peace had come and continues to be available to all today.
Our world is anything but peaceful these days. Unfortunately this is not anything new. As we read through human history we will discover that it is sketched out, and the story told, by one conflict after another. From the second generation of humans we discover Cain killing his brother Abel. Peace didn’t last very long in the very beginning and as humanity has leaned into the “bent toward sinning,” conflict and war has continued. Unfortunately it is a part of our corrupted nature.
Jesus came in human flesh to bring healing to the corruption in our nature, providing a pathway for the corruption to be healed. No longer do we have to have this “bent toward sinning,” nor this inclination to war, fighting or conflict. Instead, as God’s children we can live in his kingdom of peace. Unfortunately we cannot make that choice for others who live around us but it does challenge us and our response when provoked.
Jesus breathed peace to his disciples. History records that nearly all of them suffered unpleasant deaths at the hands of those who saw them as a threat. At the same time they seem to have left this world with an incredible peace that could only have come from the “Prince of Peace,” the one who has overcome worldly kingdoms. His peace remains available for us today as we are challenged to step into and live out our lives in his kingdom, transforming us, his citizens, in every aspect of our lives from a people of conflict, to a people of peace.
Lord, may I lean into your kingdom of peace today. Amen.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
John 19:10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
John 19:11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
John 19:12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
Pilate had tested the winds and become well aware of what it was that the Jewish religious leaders and the people wanted from him. He had convinced himself that he was in control and that he had power over the situation. He reported this to Jesus. What Jesus was saying to him was that he really did not have any power and whether or not Jesus would speak in his own defense had little to do with the outcome of the upcoming events. The reality was that Pilate didn’t have the power. God knew what the responses of the people would be and he recognized that Pilate was a man who would become complicit in the affairs of the people because he would do everything that he could to maintain his appearance of power. The Jews even used Pilate’s own fear of power from the emperor to manipulate his response. So, while Pilate had said that he had the power to release or to crucify Christ, in reality he only had his own personal submission to human power.
Wouldn’t we all like to believe that we would not respond in the same way as Pilate? Of course we would like to believe that, but putting ourselves in the same position, would we? This is where the question of submission really becomes important in our lives. As Jesus followers we are to submit to his leading and authority in our lives in all things! The result is that there will be times that those around us will not like us and may stand up against us. What do we do in those kinds of situations and how can we guard against submitting to human power?
First of all I think we need to be realistic about the temptations that we face. Pilate had allowed himself to believe that he was still in control and was not being manipulated by the people around him. However, while Pilate had declared that he could find nothing wrong with this man, he ended up sending him to be executed. So, how did that happen? The temptations of Pilate were many for he was an insecure man.
Pilate was a Roman leader in a Jewish land and he wanted to make both the emperor and the people happy. This meant trying to keep the peace and his temptation was to keep the peace at all costs because he was worried about his own career. The temptation was to place his career above doing the right thing. In this way he was always ready to submit to the power of the Empire. But at the same time he faced the temptation of not being liked by the local citizenry. While he didn’t seem to totally understand the religious systems and structures of the Jews he wanted to keep their leadership happy. Now they were asking him to do something that made no sense but he was tempted by their human power of persuasion and their ability to manipulate the masses. Finally he steps out to poll the masses and realizes that they really do want to crucify this man. The people have spoken and they have now manipulated the leader who is afraid to disappoint them. He masks this fear in language of power but the reality is that he has none in this situation and simply capitulates to the power of the crowds.
This is exactly why God was able to use him in this circumstance. Sure, God’s power could have saved Jesus but it was God’s intent that Jesus would die for the sins of the people and Pilate was an instrument in the plan simply because God knew his character. Pilate had fooled himself into believing that he had power and yet God knew that he would succumb to the manipulation of the crowds. God really was in control!
All around there are those rising up against Christianity and telling us what to do. We are being pushed into submitting to human power and control and yet, what is it that God wants from you and from me? How do we keep ourselves from testing the winds of the loud and angry crowds before determining our response?
If we are not “in Christ” we will not understand real power. Real power comes from God above and sometimes looks radically different from anything that you would experience here on this earth. What we must ask ourselves is whether we are willing to trust in the power of God in our lives, even in the midst of temptations.
God, himself, is the source of all power and we are called to put our trust in him. This means that we are not to test the winds of this world in regard to our response but we are to stand firm on the foundation of God’s word and our relationship with him. As the pressures and the temptations increase to conform or submit to human power we must all the more seek the face of God. He is the source of all true strength and may God help us from giving into the temptation of submitting to the false notion of human power.
Lord, please help me stay connected to you and your power every day. Amen.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
John 18:37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18:38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
Jesus was bold when it came to talking about the kingdom of God and when he is captured and turned over to the government authorities he does not try to hide his purpose. His life is one that that testifies to the truth and that points people away from the kingdoms of this world and to the “kingdom of our Lord and of our Christ.” The deception is really the world that we see around us on a daily basis because it blinds us to the truth of the kingdom of God. Jesus was trying to help Pilate see this truth but he could not. For him the question “what is truth?” remained and he continued stumbling in the darkness, trying to satisfy the deceptive world around him.
Part of the deception of worldly kingdoms has to do with power. As much as we may not want to talk about it, much of life is about power. Who has it and who doesn’t! What we we do with it and what we don’t!
There are many different types of power in this world including ethnicity, race, gender, physical attractiveness, voice, ability to speak, athletic prowess, etc. Humanity seems to endow certain people who have particular physical characteristics with power. Then there is positional power. This is the power that we have by way of the position that we hold. This is why we are, at times, almost smitten by charismatic and physically attractive leadership — but it should also be a warning to those who have these characteristics. Beware of where your power comes from and how you use it! All earthly power should exist in submission to Kingdom power which is true power. All of human power — that which comes from human characteristics or circumstances is temporal and is, actually, deceptive. For what happens to the deposed leader? Once their positional power is gone the fall is great. Often they are left with nothing for all of this is a deception, a facade where we engage in games of manipulation for the sake of personal gain. This is not truth!
What happens to power when it is submitted to the authority of the kingdom of God, the one in whom we find Truth? This would be the plan of God for humanity, to become participants in God’s kingdom. We are challenged to put aside human models and systems of power because in these we are easily manipulated by the desires of humanity. What did Pilate do that day? He did not submit to the Truth of the kingdom but he went outside and took a poll to see what would make him more popular among the people. He was seeking human power, he wanted to be liked by those whom he “thought” he was leading. He floated the idea of setting Jesus free and this probably assuaged his conscience, but at the end of the day the polling numbers showed that the people wanted Jesus crucified and Barrabas set free. Pilate wanted power — not Truth — and so he had the “King of the Jews” crucified.
What is truth? Jesus is Truth! To know Jesus is to be given the opportunity to see into the real kingdom — God’s kingdom. In that moment Truth is revealed for the deceptiveness of humanity’s power struggles give way to the Father’s kingdom in which the pettiness of our earthly shenanigans look ridiculous. Pilate had Jesus standing right in front of him and declaring the kingdom of God and he couldn’t see it. Jesus is revealing himself and the kingdom to us on a daily basis. May we not be deceived by the things of this world and may they not distract us from the Truth.
Lord, please help me to live in your Truth daily. Amen.
Friday, August 15, 2014
John 17:25 ¶ “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.
John 17:26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Jesus is praying for his followers and in this prayer we can hear and sense his deep love for them all. God’s very nature is holy love and it is in these passages that this is again revealed. Jesus has been sent by the Father and by his incarnation he has revealed the nature of God to the disciples. They are able to see God in the flesh in Christ and this means an embodiment of holy love. God’s love is revealed in Christ.
The Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit make up a community of holy love, one into which you and I are invited. The invitation is extended for us to fellowship with our holy and loving God. In this way the love which exists in God, and revealed in Christ Jesus is extended to you and to me. We may be filled up to the brim with his love, and with Jesus. God’s love is revealed in Jesus and this is to be reflected in you and me as we live and walk in this world.
It’s when I meditate on Scriptures such as this one that I can become overwhelmed by the love of Christ. I can only scratch the surface of understanding what it is that Christ has done for us by coming and living in human flesh. The love of God revealed in this act may be something that we can never, ever truly understand but there are implications for us in our daily lives. Jesus came in human flesh so that God’s nature of holy love could be revealed to us. This revelation becomes an invitation for us to become “partakers of the divine nature.” By becoming “partakers of the divine nature” Christ is in us and Christ is now revealed through us. Just as God's love was revealed in Christ, now, as his followers who are living in him, Christ’s holy love is revealed on a daily basis in you and me.
This is what it means to be God’s sanctified children and it is his plan for all of those who are following him. We are his holy (sanctified) children because of our participation in him. It is his holiness (holy love) which is reflected in us. We are to seek his face on a daily basis for he is transforming us “from glory to glory” until we become the very radiance of God.
The only way this transformation can occur in your life and mine is to soak in God’s holy presence on a regular basis. It is in this place that his love is revealed to us and that we become a reflection of his love to the world around us. We must take the time to sit at the Master’s feet and learn from him. It requires time in prayer and in the Scriptures, and time is precious. But once we learn to quiet ourselves in that place we discover that we are constantly being drawn back because there is no place sweeter than in his holy presence.It is in this place God’s love is revealed and here we experience Christ and his love.
Lord, your love overwhelms me. Thank you. Amen.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
John 16:33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
This chapter opens with Jesus telling his followers that there will be those who will kill them and believe that this is worship to God. The chapter concludes with this promise of persecution or trouble. He knew what his disciples would be facing in the days ahead. All of Jesus’ disciples would face persecution and John would live long enough to be an eye witness to much of what would occur.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ was not to be something easy but it was to be a lifestyle of following in the footsteps of our crucified Lord. Jesus’ death on the cross brought about the victory over sin and death and therefore provides us with peace. The world truly has been conquered in Jesus Christ and for this we are eternally grateful. Today we pray for peace — his peace — in the midst of a world filled with trouble and persecution.
As I mull over this scripture today I am overwhelmed by all that is happening in our world. The horrible persecution of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq is filling the headlines. At the same time Israel and Gaza are a hotbed of violence, not to mention the embroiled border of Russia and Ukraine. The sad part is that in the middle of it all we find innocent people who are facing trouble of monumental proportions. It is overwhelming to even think about what some have had to face.
Jesus’ answer is no trite response to calamity and so we must explore what it is that he is trying to say to us. Notice that he doesn’t say that the he will stop persecution to bring about peace. No, instead he says that “in me you may have peace.” It is only in him that we can find real peace. This is found in a profoundly deep relationship with our Lord and Savior. It also means that as Christ’s followers we are to pray for peace through him. We pray for those who are facing terrible death and persecution in these violent parts of the world. And we pray for peace, a peace that comes from knowing and fellowshipping with Jesus Christ. He is the “Prince of Peace” and has come to bring us his peace.
I started to write this early this morning and somehow struggled with what to say. The suffering that people are facing in the world today is reprehensible. Knowing that we can have peace in Christ is incredible but at the same time we can’t use that as an excuse to not become engaged in what is happening. While we must pray that there are those who will sense the peace of Christ we must also ask whether we need to speak up or whether we must take any responsibility in what is happening in our world. We must pray that we respond in obedience as the Lord may lead us to speak up against injustice and take action. Today we pray that somehow in the midst of all the chaos that we can still listen and obey that still sweet voice that draws us to him — the one who has “conquered the world.”
May we pray for the peace of Christ and may we be nudged onward by the still sweet voice that challenges us to not always be silent.
Lord, we pray for your peace this day. Amen.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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.
The love of Christ is deeper than anything that we can imagine. As he prepared for his departure from his beloved disciples he tried to explain to them the depths of his relationship with them. He had journeyed with them for three years and throughout this time they were being discipled, getting to know him better and better. They had started out by simply following him and trying to serve him and serve with him. However, as time went on the relationship was changing and developing.
At first they had no comprehension of what it was that he was doing. They were simply following but along the way there was something significant that happened. They began to understand his heart and his mission. His desires became their desires and his mission was their mission. He shared with them all that he had heard from his Father. The result was that they were no longer servants, but friends of the Savior.
There is a contemporary worship song that is heard in churches these days, “I am a friend of God.” It’s a catchy little tune and the phrase, “I am a friend of God” is repeated numerous times. The only problem for me is that I can repeat that phrase over and over again without really stopping to think of its significance. Oh yeah, “I am a friend of God.” However, when Jesus declared this to his followers, this was monumental news and it should be to us as well.
This phrase carries with it significance regarding our relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God and he is not calling us to be servants, but he is calling us to be his friends. This is a completely different type of relationship, one which includes mutuality — a give and take on both sides.
Throughout the years the Lord has blessed me with many friends and for this I am so grateful. There are those I don’t get to see very often but when we get together we pick up just as if we had never been apart. One of those is a dear friend from our first church down in Texas. I was the pastor’s wife at that first church and it’s interesting all the advice we used to give to couples going into the ministry. This advice included the fact that the pastor’s wife was not supposed to have friends in the church. Somehow this seemed to be a bad thing (to have friends) so that she would not play favorites with anyone — however, it could leave a pastor’s wife terribly lonely. I decided early on in our ministry that this was probably not a good piece of advice and that I needed friends! The Lord was faithful and sent me a dear friend who understood my role. Whenever we were at church she would give me space. She was never demanding of me, my time or my attention. Many folks would never have known that we were great friends. She knew how to become the friend and support of someone like me. She would call in the evenings and we would chat about life and our children and how things were going. We both had two little girls under the age of three. Some evenings she would call and ask if the girls were asleep yet and if my husband was home. If so, we would sneak out and meet half-way between our homes for some nachos and chatting. It was a great thing and I needed her friendship so desperately and while we rarely see one another these days, just give us a few minutes over a pile of nachos and we’ll be right back on track. We can pick up the conversation as if it had never ended. This is what friendship is like!
We are invited to become friends of Jesus. It involves some give and take in the relationship but he loves us so much that he will help us find ways to meet together — to chat, to laugh, to cry and to listen. Our lives are barren without friends. They are most barren when they are devoid of the best friend we could ever have. We are blessed for our Savior has called us his friends.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of being your friend today. Amen.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
John 14:1 ¶ “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
We get in on little snippets of conversation between Jesus and his disciples. These are intimate conversations regarding the current state of affairs and the future which they would be facing. Jesus knew that there would be circumstances in which their hearts would be troubled. There would be times when they would worry and struggle over what lay ahead and yet, he told them not to allow their hearts to go there. Instead, they were to believe in God. God, the Father of Jesus. Therefore there was faith involved, a faith in Jesus as their personal friend, but also as the one who would bring them into fellowship with God. Putting all of this into perspective, there was no need for their hearts to be troubled, even in the midst of difficulties. In light of eternity, hearts can be at peace.
There are days when it certainly feels like trouble surrounds us, or maybe even is coming at us with lightening speed. It feels like we are trying to dodge the bullets coming fast and furiously in our direction. I know that the disciples must have felt that way. Things were winding down in terms of Jesus’ life and ministry here on earth. One day he was popular, the next the people wanted to kill him. Can you imagine the emotional turmoil in which the disciples found themselves?
What emotional turmoil do we find ourselves in today? Everywhere there are friends and loved ones who are hurting. At breakfast this morning I ran into Phyllis Perkins Howard. Her husband passed away in his sleep yesterday morning. And yet, life has to go on. This week she will find herself organizing and planning many details and yet, the Lord says to not let your hearts be troubled. Bless you, Phyllis! May the Lord’s peace wash over you for I know you believe in God and you believe in his Son.
Friends are posting pictures all over Facebook this week of children heading off to school. Now there’s a place where our hearts can be troubled. I think of all the complicated factors that go into sending our little ones (and big ones too) off to school. It’s not just about the education they are to receive, but the socialization that needs to occur. How will they fit in? How will they learn to react? Will they have friends? Will they be influenced by the right people? Can I really let them go to that place all day long?
There are other friends whose arms are empty this week. There should be a child in the home. There should be one to send off to school, but for a myriad of reasons the child is not there. Hearts are troubled and they literally ache at the emptiness and pain that is felt.
There are the friends fighting illness, physical, emotional and mental. Hearts are troubled when there are nights and days where no peace is found.
There are strangers who are being persecuted and whose hearts are terrified. They are looking on in horror at what one human might do to another.
And yet, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He doesn’t just make the statement but then gives the solution. Yes, the words are easier than the actual action but he challenges us in the depths of trouble to believe in God and to believe in him. It may not take away the difficulties, but it can bring peace to the troubled heart. The mysteries of God are greater than we can comprehend. What we see happening around us these days is overwhelming. Yet, I want to believe in God. I want my trust to be in him. I can’t explain away things for sometimes there are no explanations, but I can have faith. And so we press on and ask God to bring peace to our troubled hearts.
For you all, my friends, and for those I don’t know, I breathe a prayer for you that you will sense the peace of the Father through the indwelling presence of his Son by Holy Spirit in your lives today.
Lord, may you bring peace to troubled hearts today. Amen.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Jer. 7:1 ¶ The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
Jer. 7:2 Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the LORD.
Jer. 7:3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place.
Jer. 7:4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”
The Israelites were facing destruction at the hands of the Chaldeans. Somehow they thought that if they ran to the temple they would be saved. While they had not worshipped the LORD, nor cared for his temple, now, in the midst of a crisis they thought that their presence in the temple would bring about their salvation.
Jeremiah knew that this was a deceptive thought of safety. Their words would ring hollow and he seems to mock them by three times saying, “This is the temple of the LORD.” No matter how many times they wanted to declare that the building was the temple of that LORD, as long as they continued to live in sin and were unfaithful, the temple building would not save them! There is no safety in the LORD’s temple if the people do not serve the LORD himself!
Obviously when we apply this to ourselves today we can hear ourselves saying, “But, we go to church, we go to church, we go to church!” And in that moment of crisis we think that God ought to protect us from what may be coming our way.
Many years ago at a church there was a young man who was dying from leukemia. His father had not always been happy with the pastor and so he would withhold his tithe from time to time to make his point. However, when his son became ill he took the minister aside and said, I’ll pay tithe now, if only God will heal my son!
God doesn’t want us to try and find safety in the church, he wants us to be in a relationship with him. The cry from Jeremiah was for the people to amend their ways and for them to dwell together — God and his people!
Attending church once in a while is not your safety net! Paying tithe when you want something from the Lord, or when you like the Pastor is not your safety net! The only place of safety is in the presence of the Lord. We must amend our ways and be God’s people. Then he will dwell in our midst and keep us in his sheltering arms.
The cries of “we go to church, we go to church, we go to church” will not be enough to save us in the time of trouble.
Lord, please, come and dwell in our midst. Amen.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Zech. 4:14 Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
Zechariah’s vision is one of restoration for the people of God. Amidst this vision is a view of two men, “two anointed ones” probably representing Zerubbabel and Joshua. Quite literally this means “sons of fresh oil” and the two men are the high priest and the governor, descendants of Aaron and David. Both of these offices, those of Priest and King were the only Old Testament offices for whom officials were anointed. Now the two men represent the future, where they are to be anointed with grace for the people of God. It also represents the future when there will be a union between God and man, an anointing that will bring about the salvation of all people in Christ. But in Zechariah’s day, there were those who needed to stand anointed in God’s grace as intercessors for the people.
The oil of God’s anointing is poured out today in the power of the Holy Spirit. We thank God for the promises of old which are brought to fruition today. No longer do we need to look for “two oily guys” but we, ourselves must become the olive branches of God’s grace. This means that just as God called Zerubbabel and Joshua to be the faithful leaders of the people, as God’s anointed, so are all of God’s people called to be his faithful and anointed grace givers.
What does that look like on a daily basis? Do we have our eyes and ears open to point people in the direction of Christ?
What would happen if every week we began to pray for divine appointments, moments when God helps us to see that we are to be the anointed oil of grace to someone? Just this week I was with my cousin and her husband, Bob. Bob had gone into a coffee shop in the morning and met a young lady who spoke Russian. He thought that maybe this would be one of those divine appointments and that Chuck and I ought to go back to meet her. We did just that and Bob introduced us to a beautiful young lady who had just arrived in the country about 10 months ago. She was originally from Ukraine and her eyes welled up with tears as we talked to her. Finally I asked if she was okay and she responded that today had been a very difficult day. Her husband still lives in Ukraine and she had just received word this morning that he had been called up to serve in the military. She was terrified at the thought of losing him. I asked her if I could pray for her and there in that coffee shop we prayed for God’s anointing and protection in the midst of a very difficult and complicated situation. We left feeling that just maybe we were to be there that day, to be the anointing oil of grace.
Ours lives are to be anointed by the Holy Spirit and just as Zerubbabel and Joshua were to lead the people to salvation and point in the direction of the coming Messiah. We are to be grace that leads people to Christ. This is our calling, to live in the anointing of the Spirit on a daily basis.
Why on a daily basis? Because these two were “sons of fresh oil,” not sons of stale oil! They were freshly covered by God’s anointing and so we must stay fresh so that our lives can be the sweet aroma of fresh anointing. Every day we are to soak in his presence and in his anointing so that we will drip with Christ. We are all called to be sons and daughters of fresh oil.
Lord, please help me to be filled with your anointing today. Amen.
Friday, August 8, 2014
Zeph. 3:16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The prophetic voice was announcing the return of God’s people to Jerusalem. They were to experience the peace that comes when God is in control. Unfortunately they had suffered greatly under their enemies, leaving them in a constant state of fear and this fear had become paralyzing. No longer were they able to lift their hands to the work that God had prepared for them. Fear was the overwhelming factor in their lives, leading them to a place of utter despair.
There seems to be a direct correlation here between fear and an inability to use our hands for work. When fear captures our hearts and lives we are unable to lift a finger to do the work which we are called to do. The opposite is also true, when we live without fear, when we are in a state of peace, we are able to use our hands and be engaged in the labor and the work which lies before us.
The Israelites had a job to do in building and caring for the city. It was obvious what needed to be done because they could see it before their very eyes. And yet, fear gripped them in a way that left them powerless. What would the enemy need to do to overcome them? Not much when they were gripped with this type of fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “All we have to fear is fear itself,” because he understood the paralyzing power of fear.
So many today are being held captive by the fear of the “what ifs” of life. What if I lose my job? What if I get in a car accident? What if I do poorly on an upcoming test? What if the stock market crashes? What if ….the list can go on and on and on. The reality is that there will always be “what ifs” in our life but if we allow them to give way to fear, our hands will grow weak. We will be unable to function or to complete the tasks which we see before us. We will be consumed with our fears and spend all of our time and energy thinking about everything that can go wrong.
So, how do we, as Christ followers, live in a place without fear? God was calling to the Israelites and challenging them to trust in him. God had always said that he would take care of his people, if only they would trust him. Now, he promised to bring them back to Jerusalem and to fill them with hope and strength.
We must hope upon the Lord and our hands will be filled with strength for the day. We will be able to move through life and work with our hands, hearts, and minds, as we trust in him. He is our peace. He is our hope. He is our refuge and when we learn to trust in him, then we can get busy as the people of God. We can do the work that he places before us for he will enable us for the task.
God’s people are not to be frozen by fear, but to be energized by his peace. This is God’s plan and promise to the Israelites long ago and to us today.
Lord, thank you for your peace. Amen.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Is. 65:10 Sharon shall become a pasture for flocks,
and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down,
for my people who have sought me.
Is. 65:11 But you who forsake the LORD,
who forget my holy mountain,
who set a table for Fortune
and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny;
God has always been reaching out to his people and providing a place for them where they can pasture and rest. This is God’s provision for those who seek after him. Unfortunately there are many of God’s people who have chosen to go their own way. They do not want to know or be in relationship with their Creator. Life takes them to such places that they simply forget who he is, or where he is. Instead they look to the foreign gods.
Fortune and Destiny are the names of the gods from the neighboring countries. The people of God had been showing hospitality to the god named Fortune, and poured wine and celebrated before the god named Destiny. All of this done while forgetting the God who had promised them everything, as long as they lived for and served him.
While these were the names of foreign gods, Fortune and Destiny, I think that we may realize that these could be gods today as well. We seek after fortune and desire a personal destiny which is laced with pleasure. We have substituted the love of our Creator God for worldly destiny and fortune. The sad truth is that we have sold our souls for material gain. This was true of the Israelites who were happy to worship the gods of their neighbors because they were visible. However, these trinkets carved by human hands had no ability to sustain the people and provide them rest.
Are we looking for rest today? I think most people are searching for something that provides them with deep satisfaction. These will not be found in destiny or fortune. All of these are fleeting.
Just this last week we were driving through the northern part of Idaho. There I read about a small community on a lake where at one time a gentleman had built the most expensive home in all of Idaho. It was in the early 1920’s and he had built it on the same floor-plan of one of Kaiser Wilhelm’s palaces. It was a stunning place and there they had many parties and events. However, when the economy changed, within less than a decade, all was lost. He lost his wealth and his health. He died and left his widow penniless. In such a short period of time it was all gone.
When we show hospitality to fortune and dally with destiny we will discover a dead end. It is a place in which we will not be nourished, but instead, which will drain all that we have from us and leave us with nothing. Instead of turning to destiny and fortune we are to pasture in Sharon and lie down in Achor. Here our needs will be supplied and the deep peace of our Lord will provide for us now and forever.
Leave the trinket gods alone. Their appeal is only skin deep and their pleasure is short-lived. Destiny and fortune will soon be gone but the peace of the Lord endures forever.
Lord, please help me to relax in your pasture today. Amen.
Monday, August 4, 2014
Psa. 62:11 ¶ Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
Psa. 62:12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.
God has been and continues to speak to his people, revealing his nature to them. This is the grace of God reaching out to all mankind, calling them into a transformational relationship with him. God has spoken and his power and love have been revealed.
The futility of human power can be seen juxtaposed against the combined power and love of God. Human power can be coercive or manipulative while God’s power comes from his nature of holy love. This speaks to the motivation of our heart and therefore the motivations of our works. This is why God says that he will repay us according to our work, for our work must come from a heart filled with love for God. In this way the power and love of God are revealed in the life of his followers.
Most people have a form of power which may be used in a variety of ways. For a parent it may be the power over their small children. In a marriage it may be one spouse exercising power over another. In society there are those who have more power than others.
Some people have more power than others, not because they have earned it, but because they are simply born into situations in which they are given power by those around them. This may be determined by the family into which you are born, your ethnicity, economic status, or gender. The reality is that all of these come with certain levels of power or empowerment. The first step in a life submitted to the Lord is recognizing that the human power which we have innately received must be submitted to the authority of the Lord. All real power comes from God. As long as we live within and exercise our human power without submitting it to the source of all power we will be working under our own strength and authority. This is a dangerous place in which to find ourselves and the temptation is for those who have more “natural” power to not recognize their need for God.
Once we recognize our need for God we will discover the incredible depths of his love. It is in this place that we discover his love and power in a way which we would never would have thought possible. When our heart beats with his heart we are united with him and the power of the Holy Spirit infuses us in ways which we would never have thought possible. As our hearts contract the Holy Spirit pours out of us, reaching and loving a hurting world. This is God’s intent for his people and in this our works are revealed. The works of our life simply reveal the depths of our relationship with the Lord.
This is why James can say to us, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (James 2:14) Yes, we are saved by faith but faith without works is an empty faith because there can be no love for God and submission to his power that does not result in love for our sisters and brothers. God has spoken to us. We have heard the message more than once, just so that we get the point. Real power comes from God. Let’s take a step back and recognize what power we have in our lives and submit it to the power and authority of God. Only in this way will there be space for his Holy Spirit to so infill us that we will overflow with his nature of holy love. His power and love are to be revealed in our works, for his glory.
Lord, search my heart today and fill me with your Spirit. Amen.
Friday, August 1, 2014
John 3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
John 3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
John 3:11 ¶ “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
John 3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
John 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
John 3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
John 3:16 ¶ “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Nicodemus was a good man who had spent much of his life studying the law. He knew the scriptures from childhood and was a leader within the religious community. However, when he was confronted with the Messiah he was unsure and really did not understand. Jesus was amazed that Nicodemus had been able to see miracles and hear about what had been happening in his ministry and yet did not have faith to believe. His education, along with the witness of Jesus’ activity should have helped him to understand who he was. That’s why Jesus wondered about his ability to understand the things of heaven.
It is then that he describes what will happen to him and how Nicodemus may come to be born again.
Nicodemus would need to move from the things of earth to the things of heaven, accepting the mysteries of God.
We struggle with accepting the mysteries of God — the things of heaven. Many of us find ourselves in the very place of Nicodemus. We can know the things of this earth (or think we do) and have them point us toward God, and yet fail to see him.
This week I had the privilege of hearing Francis Chan preach and he spoke specifically to those who were engaged in ministry. He is a passionate man who is deeply in love with the Lord. He told of another passionate Christ-follower who came and visited a mega-church pastor in the United States. Afterward he commented on the ministry that the man had — that it was a nice ministry, but ended by saying, “but it’s too bad that he’s not in love with God.”
What an indictment. The things of the world can be all around us — things that ought to be pointing us to God and yet we can be like Nicodemus, or today’s religious leader, who can’t see the things of heaven. The things of heaven are far more important than anything that this world has to offer. Falling in love with the Lord ought to be our first priority in life — getting to know God on a deeply intimate level. Nothing else matters!
When our hearts are driven by our love and passion for our Savior then the things of heaven will become more visible to us. That is when we will begin to understand the mysteries of the Lord — including what it means to be born again, adopted into God’s family. The power of God transforms us into his children, filling us with his nature and we become the holy people of God. These are the things of heaven!
Lord, please move us from the things of this world to the things of heaven. Amen.