Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Luke 13:6 ¶ Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
Luke 13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
Luke 13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.
Luke 13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
In this parable Jesus is referring to the Jews. They are the ones that have been planted in the vineyard, receiving spiritual food and nourishment for years. Now, for three years the Messiah has been visiting the vineyard and looking for the fruit which the tree should be bearing, and yet there is no fruit. The Messiah himself intercedes for the life of the fig tree — give it one more chance. The fig tree receives all the investment and care necessary for it to grow and is given one more year. It has been given everything necessary to bear fruit, and yet, she will put to death the one trying to give life.
Many of us who have grown up in the church find ourselves being well nurtured and fed. We have been raised in the vineyard and we have been give the best of all opportunities to grow and to bear fruit. Sadly, not many are bearing fruit these days. The fig trees are quite barren and we wonder what the problem might be! Could it be that we are a bit like the fig tree in the story — using up all the nutrients, enjoying the presence of the Messiah and yet, not producing fruit. In a strange sense it was as if the fig tree enjoyed all it could receive, but refused to give. The Jews were fed all the nutrients but somehow they didn’t get to the roots of who they were and the presence of the Messiah did not move them. They were oddly barren.
Do we find ourselves oddly barren as well? Maybe we ought to see whether we are absorbing — truly absorbing all that God has provided for us. If not, we are just enjoying the vineyard. The fig tree was not there just to be an ornament in the vineyard but to produce fruit. We are to be fruit bearers. That is why the Lord has cultivated us — and the Church.
We have been given all that we need to bear fruit. What will we do with what we have?
Lord, may my life bear fruit today and every day for your glory. Amen.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Luke 12:43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.
Luke 12:44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.
Luke 12:45 But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,
Luke 12:46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.
Luke 12:47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.
Luke 12:48 But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Around the fringes of the conversation stood the religious leaders. These were the ones who had studied the law and knew the intent. With this knowledge came great responsibility for they were to be the spiritual leaders of God’s people. As leaders they were to be God’s messengers and servants in the world and were to be caretakers. The warning was clear, those to whom much responsibly had been given, were required to act in faithfulness. If not, their punishment would be severe.
Intentional disobedience to the will of God by those who have been called into spiritual leadership has serious consequences. The problem is that we try to trick ourselves into believing that our decisions affect no one but ourselves. I remember sitting in a theology class and having one of those “aha” moments. Our professor was talking about the “Day of Judgment” and how it has to await its appointed time because the decisions we make while living here on this earth continue on with a trajectory into the future with long-lasting consequences. When we die the results of our life will live on and therefore we await the final judgment.
Think of the responsibility that we have as parents. The way in which we raise our children will affect our grandchildren and our great grandchildren into the future. Should we serve the Lord, there is a good chance that they will serve the Lord. However, if we make a decision to pull away from the Lord and the Church, we are not just making a decision for ourselves but possibly for future generations. Is that the kind of legacy that we want to leave?
Not only is this responsibility required within the family, but also in places where we may have authority. A pastor must lead with integrity. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine and she was saying that we shouldn’t expect more from our Spiritual leaders than we do from ourselves. In a sense I agree with this, but on the other hand I don’t. Jesus was saying that those to whom much has been given, much would be required. If God gives a person a place of Spiritual leadership over others — this is much! There should be a high standard placed upon the lives of these individuals for they are in positions where their very lives lead others. Either their lives will point in the direction of Christ or not. Much will be required!
We have seen too many spiritual leaders fall when they have taken their eyes off of the responsibility placed before them. What is that responsibility? To love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. This must always come first. When there is great responsibility there is even greater need to be dependent upon the Lord. And then responsibility carries us out into a needy world where we are to love neighbor as ourselves.
We must take seriously any places of influence in which God has placed us and be responsible for our actions. There is a higher standard for leadership and no way to meet the expectations without knowing the Master.
Lord, please help me to know you more and more every day. Amen.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Luke 10:25 ¶ Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Luke 10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
Luke 10:27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:29 ¶ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer had come to Jesus to ask him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus had answered him with another question regarding the law. The lawyer may have found this embarrassing because Jesus’ response was one that made the assumption that the lawyer should have known the answer — for he knew the law! Trying to justify himself and sound as if he knew what he was talking about, he decided to test Jesus for the definition of neighbor. For Jews their neighbors were fellow Jews. The lawyer was trying to get this answer from Jesus so that he could let Jesus know that he had followed this law perfectly!
More than likely Jesus’ response stunned the man. Here’s a new definition of neighbor brought in the form of a parable, for Jesus’ response is the story of the good Samaritan. The thought of a Samaritan being the good neighbor in this case would have been quite repulsive to the lawyer. He had wanted to split hairs with Jesus, walking the fine line of a definition to make himself sound good before the Savior. It didn’t work!
We may discover that we are also trying to justify just who our neighbor is supposed to be. It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us, to those who are like us and do things the way that we do them. But Jesus was saying that anyone in close proximity to us is our neighbor and other than that, we don’t get to pick the definition. We are not just supposed to be nice to them, we are to love them as God loves us. God loved us enough that he sent his own son to die for us in an effort to bring us back into a relationship with him.
Think about how we treat those who are close to us — where we live. Do we know who our neighbors are or do we simply push our garage door opener button and slide inside without ever needing to talk to anyone? Do we know who those people are that work at our local store? Do we talk to them or simply ignore them?
Many of us gather on a regular basis at church. Our neighbors are also those who attend church with us and we are to reach out to them. Unfortunately when new people come they often find it difficult to break into the family that has already built close-knit relationships. It’s hard to feel like you can really become a “neighbor” if you are not intentionally invited in to be a part of the community.
Our neighbors include those with whom we rub shoulders that may make us uncomfortable. Sadly there seems to be a growing divide in the world of those whom we perceive are like us and those who are not. For much of Christianity there is a great fear of Islam. Jesus praising the Samaritan as the “good-guy” in the story is the equivalent of the Muslim being the “good-guy” for us in the story today. That would make many “Christians” uncomfortable. Just as the Jews had made the Samaritans the bad guys in their world, sadly Christians are making Muslims the bad guys today. Instead, what would happen if we responded the way in which Jesus responded to the Samaritans. Jesus went right in the midst of them, sat down and talked to a woman who desperately needed salvation. He never avoided them, but reached out and loved them, bringing transformation to their lives.
I’m afraid that we are creating barriers just as much as the lawyer. We want to split hairs and create our own definition of “neighbor.” Christians — we cannot create, what we see as our own “safe” definitions and boundaries. We are to love our neighbor — no matter who they are or what they believe. Some of them may be putting us to shame by their response to those in need. The religious officials walked past the man who had been attacked. Only the Samaritan took the time to pick him up and care for him.
Splitting hairs may make us feel better for a short period of time, but it is our day-to-day response to a world in need that will demonstrate whether we truly love God and neighbor.
Lord, please, help me to love all those you place as my neighbors. Amen.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Psa. 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
Psa. 127:2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
God is the one who is responsible for the results of our labor. We must be wholly dependent upon him in all that we do and allow him to lead and guide us in ways we may have never even imagined. If not, we really are laboring in vain.
God is our protector and he is the one in whom we must depend. We must have common sense and place the guards on the city walls, but at the same time, trusting in him.
Working ourselves to death and not getting enough sleep will not build the house! God builds the house.
And the practical note is that we need to trust God and get enough rest. Workings ourselves to death and losing our health will gain us nothing. Allowing God to move and have his way strengthens us in ways we could never have imagined. So, let’s stop trying to do it all ourselves and go to bed at a decent hour, awakening refreshed in the morning so that we can be bright and shining reflections of him in this world.
Lord, thanks for a practical reminder. Amen.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Ezra 3:10 ¶ When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the LORD with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel;
Ezra 3:11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
Ezra 3:12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy,
Ezra 3:13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
The children of Israel had returned from Exile and were now home, able to rebuild the Temple. The emotions were mixed that day as they celebrated the laying of the foundation of this, a new Temple. There were those present who remembered the glory days of old and the beauty of Solomon’s Temple. They recognized that this new Temple would be much smaller and they were disappointed. Instead of singing with great joy, they wept when they saw this new place. They were overcome with grief over what it was that they had lost.
While they were weeping over the loss of the past, the younger people present were rejoicing. They had never seen the Temple and now a new one as to be built. They were praising God for what he was doing in their midst in these days. God was good and faithful and they were singing his praises!
The new Temple would never be like the old Temple. All that they could see was the exterior plan. This one was going to be smaller. It was going to be surrounded by ruins. It wouldn’t be the entire complex of buildings that the old one had been. But what they could not see was that this Temple would be visited by Jesus and his presence would far outstrip any of the glory of the good-old-days of Solomon’s Temple. It was not the physical structure of the Temple which made a difference, it was the presence of the glory of God. Some wept at what they had lost. Others shouted with joy in anticipation of what they would have.
I’m afraid that it’s far too easy to find ourselves standing and looking at what was and weeping. So much in the world is changing and at an incredibly rapid pace. We grieve what was and wonder about what will be.
Many within Christianity are looking at the world in this way. They are disappointed that Church doesn’t look like it did in the past and they weep. Sadly their weeping doesn’t allow them to see the joy and hopefulness of what God is doing in the present, and leading us into the future. God is good and “his steadfast love endures forever.” This is an eternal truth and we can live into this truth.
When God is building something new, it may not look like the things of the past. We need to be okay with that and rejoice for God is not slighting us. He is doing something new! Little did the people know that this new and smaller Temple would be the one that the Messiah would visit. All the glory of this world would make no difference in light of the presence of the Savior.
The presence of the Lord is what matters in our midst — not the size of buildings, nor the ways in which things have been done in the past. May God keep us from weeping and instead, shout with joy over his handiwork.
Lord, thank you for your hand which we see at work today. Amen.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Psa. 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
Psa. 84:2 My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
The Psalmist has experienced worship in the presence of the Lord. We hear the cry of the heart for one who has been in the dwelling place of the LORD of hosts. The passion or desire to be with the LORD becomes overwhelming and there is a sense or feeling of drawing this one back over and over again to the courts of the LORD. The experience of being in God’s presence evokes a response in which heart and “flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
There are times in life when I have been blessed to experience the presence of the Lord in a very powerful way. Psalm 34:8 says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Once you have had that “taste” there is nothing else like it in this world and the desire to return over and over again can become overwhelming.
So much of our worship experience has to do with our own spiritual well-being. I am called into the very presence of Jesus and if I’m not attuned to him then I may not even recognize that he is there. This is when we become distracted by the elements of the worship service, instead of really experiencing the Lord.
I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry for the LORD today. My agenda is full from morning until night and yet, my hunger is to know the LORD. I need to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” If I don’t, then everything that I do is simply on my own power and I know that I have a very limited extent of resources. The Lord is my resource. The Lord is my strength. The Lord is the one who wraps his loving arms around me on a daily basis.
Yes, the dwelling place of the Lord is lovely and my desire is to be with him. No matter what comes of the day, I always want to come back to that place where I can be in gentle fellowship with him. This is the cry of the Psalmist and it is mine today as well. May his dwelling place be within me and may his presence be a constant reminder of the one my heart desires.
Lord, thank you for the sweetness of your presence and for continually drawing me back to that place. Amen.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Dan. 11:37 He shall pay no respect to the gods of his ancestors, or to the one beloved by women; he shall pay no respect to any other god, for he shall consider himself greater than all.
The prophetic vision provided in the book of Daniel has led to much speculation throughout the years. Depending on their context the commentary writer places this within their time. Calvin examines this Scripture in light of the movement of Islam and claims that it could be Mohammed about whom this is written. Calvin comments on Mohammed’s view toward women and the way in which polygamy was encouraged led women to be disrespected. In the same commentary Calvin takes on the Pope and argues that celibacy takes away the love that God had intended for women and men to experience in a marriage relationship. Another commentator places this within Church history at a time soon after Daniel and that it referred to the arrogance of the ruler who was so self-centered that he didn’t recognize the pagan god worship of women that surrounded him. But then there are those who look at this Scripture and see in it a foreshadowing of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world. That this Scripture speaks of a time in the distant future and when there will be leaders who do not respect Jesus Christ, the one beloved by women.
Could this be a vision and descriptor of Jesus? Absolutely! In a very unique fashion Jesus broke down the barriers between the genders. He lifted women up out of their poverty, he cleansed them from their impurity and he spoke to and educated them. An entire team of women disciples followed him as he traveled, helping to provide financing and support for the ministry. Jesus reached out and loved women as no other god. Yes, this could have been a foreshadowing of the God beloved by women.
Many religions do not overtly upset the cultural norms by showing love and respect toward women. Christianity may not always live up to her billing in terms of respect of women, but if we follow the story and examine the way in which Jesus Christ interacted with women, we can be inspired! There is something counter-cultural about the way in which our Messiah leads us to view women in a different light and this becomes the prophetic voice. Daniel was recording what he had viewed and in the end times leadership would have no respect for Traditions of the past. The God of Israel is our God! Our God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the one who is and was beloved by women!
Jesus has come to set the marginalized free! We worship and praise Jesus Christ today the one who is willing to break down the barriers which we as humans create and lift up women and men in the kingdom. In his kingdom there are no barriers and brothers and sisters are set free to work side by side serving him. This is the vision of the future and the hope which exists within Jesus’ kingdom. May we live into that future as we trust in him and do not allow ourselves to become distracted by leaders who have no respect for our Messiah.
Lord, thank you for your incredible love which you bestow upon those whom the world would never notice. Amen.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Luke 5:27 ¶ After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”
Luke 5:28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Luke 5:29 ¶ Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them.
Luke 5:30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Luke 5:31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;
Luke 5:32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
As a result of his work as a tax collector Levi was a wealthy man. Unfortunately the way in which tax collectors became wealthy was by taking advantage of those around them and overcharging them for their taxes. They were not viewed fondly within society. Levi chose to leave this life behind and follow Jesus. We can venture to guess that he is never wealthy again.
With gratitude in his heart Levi reached out for his friends to know about Jesus as well. He invited them all to his home so that they, too, could hear the words of Jesus. Out of a heart of overwhelming gratitude to the salvation he had found in Christ he spread a table of hospitality for Jesus and his friends. We don’t know the result of this banquet but the act itself is important enough that it is recorded here by Luke. Interestingly Matthew, in the gospel which bears his name, does not record this story. He has no desire to have attention or be praised for his behavior. More than likely he simply saw this as the normal response of one who was saved — desiring to give all that they had to Jesus.
I love the response of Levi. I wonder what a difference it might make if we all responded in just such a way. In him we see humility and gratitude for what Christ has done. He immediately acts on his experience and invites others to know Christ.
I’m afraid that far too many of us might find ourselves with the Pharisees and their scribes who complained that Jesus was hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. He was spending time fellowshipping right in their midst. I’m sure they saw this as a terrible impurity, that Jesus would be contaminated by those around him. This is not the case, for Jesus brings with him his holiness and there is nothing in the world that can make him unclean. He goes into the midst of darkness and brings light. This is what he was doing at Levi’s home.
If we are to be a reflection of Jesus in the world, then why would we find ourselves on the outside with the Pharisees and their scribes? Instead, it seems to me, that we would find ourselves inside, bringing Jesus to those who are in need.
Levi is an example to us of gratitude, but Jesus becomes an example as well. Both of them lead us into fellowship with those who are in desperate need. It is with a heart of gratitude that we prepare the place for Jesus, but also that we follow him and minister in his name.
Lord, may I serve you in gratitude on a daily basis! Amen.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Psa. 137:2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
Psa. 137:3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
The children of Israel were living in exile and as they journeyed their captors asked them to sing their songs of Zion. There was no joy in their hearts and they had no desire to perform for those who had taken them into captivity. In public protest they took their harps and hung them on the willow trees. The harps were not hidden away under bushes but hung up for all to see. The had lost their songs. Their joy was gone. But sadly, as they refused to sing for their captors, so they refused to sing to God.
I believe that there are times that we feel like this in life. Everything that we have been going through is simply enough and we are sick and tired. No longer do we want to praise the Lord, sing, or go to church. We want to hang up our harps and sit in silence. We hang up our harps in protest — hoping that someone notices that we’re not using them.
There are some who refuse to go to church because they have been offended.They simply stop going and don’t tell anyone and are hoping that someone notices that they’ve hung up their harp. They actually want the attention that comes from hanging up the harp in public view and are hoping that someone comes and begs and pleads with them to pick up the harp again and play.
Part of the problem was that the Israelites saw this as performing for their captors. However, their music should never have become a performance for anyone, but should have always been a way of worship before God. In hanging up their harps they are really demonstrating what is happening in their hearts. They made the captivity and despair all about them and not about God. They were sad to no longer be in Zion. They were sad to be held by the captives. They were miserable!
But this had all been of their own doing.
Had they always been playing their harps and singing to worship God, they would have remained faithful to him. This exile was really to save them as a people. It actually ended up being a wake-up call to their infidelity. The best thing they could have done was to keep on praising and worshipping God.
The Israelites were to have been an evangelistic people. By hanging up their harps they gave in to their despair. Had they sung, they may have led some of their captors into worshipping God. Their act of hanging up their harps, while done in despair, actually was selfish. It reflected their personal frustration and also withheld the beauty of the worship of God from those whom it may have transformed.
The church will hurt us and disappoint us for she is made up of broken people. At the same time we must consider that we are not there to judge one another but to praise our God. When our focus remains on him then we will not be tempted to hang up our harps but will instead continue strumming the strings while looking to our Father in heaven, and giving him praise.
Lord, please help me to sing out my song for you! Amen.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Luke 3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
John the Baptist had begun his public ministry and masses of people were coming to visit him. All kinds of officials were a part of that crowd and many were convicted of their way of life including tax collectors, and now, soldiers. John’s ministry was to call people to repentance in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. A soldier stands before him and asks what he is to do. In this instance we understand that there is a connection between repentance and justice. For this man to repent of the direction he has been going in his life means that he must also change the way in which he lives his life. The soldiers were not living within their financial means with what had been provided for them. Instead they were extorting additional funds from the vulnerable people surrounding them. This was a way of life, threatening others and making up stories against them. Extortion and using the weak had become a way of life. To prepare for the coming Messiah meant repenting of the past and living into a new future of justice — being honest and treating the people around them fairly.
God’s intent has always been for his people to live as his holy people. They are not to take advantage of the poor and needy around them. Living as God’s holy people means to live a life of fairness and justice in the world.
Being treated unfairly can be extremely frustrating and it was one of the things that created the greatest stresses while living in the former Soviet Union. You never knew when an official might be suggesting some kind of bribe from you, or might be falsely accusing you of breaking some kind of a traffic law. All of this was extremely unpleasant and made life stressful on a day to day basis. However, it was something that you learned to live with.
As God’s holy people we are not to be the ones to inflict this kind of stress on the lives of others. We are to live a holy life that is pleasing to God and this includes caring for and nurturing those around us. We are never to take advantage of those around us and this is justice. We are to be fair! It’s the golden rule that my mom taught me as a little girl — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This, in its simplest form is justice and it comes from God’s call to love him and love neighbor.
Somehow I believe this story remains in the Scripture to be a lesson to us. Repentance requires a change in behavior and that is moving into the direction of a life of justice.
Lord, may I treat the world around me today justly because of You. Amen.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Ezek. 48:35 The circumference of the city shall be eighteen thousand cubits. And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The LORD is There.
The book of Ezekiel opens with a vision of the Israelites who have forgotten their God. Now, the book ends with the vision of the New Jerusalem and the city to be called Jehovah- Shammah (The LORD is Here (or There). The shekinah glory, the presence of God will be eternally in the city for the LORD is There!
This vision of the presence of the LORD does not need to be something that we are awaiting and/or anticipating in some future time. The Israelites were to return from exile as a people with whom God resided.
We are invited back from our personal exiles to be a people who are living in the presence of the Lord. May it be written of us Jehovah-Shammah!
This is the God’s plan in the already of his kingdom — a kingdom which is living and alive in and through each and every one of us! This is God’s desire — for the world to be able to look on his people and say, “The LORD is There!”
Lord, may your glory and presence be visible in me today. Amen.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Ezek. 45:9 ¶ Thus says the Lord GOD: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right. Cease your evictions of my people, says the Lord GOD.
Ezek. 45:10 ¶ You shall have honest balances, an honest ephah, and an honest bath.
Ezek. 45:11 The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing one-tenth of a homer, and the ephah one-tenth of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure.
Ezek. 45:12 The shekel shall be twenty gerahs. Twenty shekels, twenty-five shekels, and fifteen shekels shall make a mina for you.
Ezekiel is writing about the vision he has received from God regarding the new Jerusalem. This is a new kingdom where the old practices have been put away. In the new kingdom there is a sense of justice that is practiced at a level never seen before among the Israelites. No longer do the princes or rulers oppress their their people. Instead, their hearts are filled with a desire to rule justly in the kingdom. There will be no evictions and the princes will deal honestly in all business matters. The princes, or rulers, are reflections of God’s leadership here on earth and therefore their character must reflect God’s character and God is honest and just!
This last summer I traveled through Germany and England on a trip as we studied the Reformation and the life of John Wesley. In one of the old German towns we had a guide taking us through the city square. There on one of the buildings was a measuring rod built into the foundation. This was the official measure of length for this city and all measuring was to be done to this scale. The rod existed in this public place so that if you bought something you could bring it over to the wall and measure to see whether the person who sold it to you was honest or not. On the wall, next to the measuring rod was an iron ring that was attached to the wall. This was used to punish the cheating salespersons for they were tied up to the ring and left connected to the wall, next to the measuring rod where the people of the community came and pummeled them with rotten vegetables as their punishment. The use and abuse of dishonest scales and measuring devices was considered a huge crime against the entire society.
God is telling the people of Israel that they are to rule justly for this is the vision of the coming kingdom. Very specifically it is mentioned that they are to have honest balances, and honest ephath, and an honest bath. The princes were to feed their flocks — not fleece them — which was so often the case. To have an honest balance meant that you had to have an honest weight to balance those scales. If someone wanted to buy a pound of meat, a pound weight would be placed on side of the scale and when the meat balanced the weight, you knew you had a pound. However, if you wanted to cheat the people your balance weight could be just a little less than what it should be. So people learned how to cheat and get more from people all because they intentionally had weights of the wrong amount.
The ephah was a place to measure dry substances like grains. Something like a bushel. The bath was a liquid measure. Again, this entire system worked when the leaders were honest and were not trying to make extra money off of their people — but this had not been the case. The leaders were not acting justly, but instead were stealing from their very own people by unjust means. This was never to happen again in the new kingdom.
Today we are invited to live in the new kingdom — in the already of the kingdom which is with us now. If we are to be a reflection of God’s character and nature to the world then we are to be a people who act justly. Our behavior is a reflection of God. This means that we are honest in all of our business dealings — completely transparent and we never take advantage of anyone, nor of our position. God was speaking to the princes because, obviously, they had taken advantage of the people before, becoming rich while their people were poor. They lived in bigger houses while their people lost their jobs and homes.
Today we are God’s reflection to the world. We are to be a reflection of this vision of justice in the kingdom. May we never succumb to the temptation of adjusting the scales just a little bit in our own direction, or of changing the size of the measuring stick to our advantage. If we do we may find the image of Christ tarnished when she is tied to the wall and the surrounding villagers pummel us with rotten vegetables. May God help us to be his reflection of honesty and transparency in all that we do for this is the vision of a people living in the kingdom.
Lord, please help me to live before you and your people honestly and justly. Amen.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Rev. 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
We all need air to breathe and water to drink to sustain us in our lives. Here in the very closing chapter of the word of God we here this invitation. The Spirit and the bride are welcoming us to come — to respond to the invitation. The invitation is for us to come and to drink. Jesus had told the woman at the well that he had water that would sustain her eternally. This is the gift, the eternally sustaining water which may be found in Christ alone. Here, at the end of the story we really find the beginning where we are welcomed into the eternally sustaining embrace of God.
A number of years ago my husband went on a weekend prayer retreat in Russia. He was going to pray and fast throughout his time but forgot to take any drinking water with him. When he arrived at his retreat location he realized there was no drinkable water anywhere to be had. He spent the weekend fasting, not just from food, but from water as well. He didn’t realize how soon this would become a problem and as the weekend wore on he became more and more thirsty, his boding desperately needing water. The weekend came to a close and he rode a bus back into the city which delivered him at a Metro station where there were kiosks selling water. He immediately went and bought a two liter bottle and stood there drinking the entire thing. Hunger meant nothing to him because his thirst had overwhelmed him. His system desperately needed the life-giving water.
We all need water to sustain us physically, but we need spiritual water to sustain us eternally. I’d like to consider for a few moments this idea of being thirsty for there is in that word a sense of desire. I’m afraid that I don’t sense a great deal of people in the world today who seem thirsty to know Christ and I wonder why that might be. This makes me ponder what it is that makes people thirsty which brings me to the idea of salt. We all know that we can’t drink salt water because the salt content would kill us. We know that if we eat salty foods we become very thirsty. Salt is hydrophilic — water loving! The chemical nature of water and salt means that water is attracted to salt and sticks to it, meaning that we also want and/or need more water when we have consumed salt.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared that his disciples were to be salt. Could it be that the relative thirstiness of the world around us is related to our saltiness? If we are not very salty — others won’t be very thirsty!
I hear many people lament the current condition of Christianity and that people don’t seem to be flocking to the Church or to Christ like they used to. Maybe it’s time to get our eyes off of others and consider where we are in our personal walk with the Lord. We are to be salt and only then will there be those who are thirsty. May the Lord help us to be salty reflections of Christ in this world, pointing them in the direction of the one who had can satisfy their thirst for what they see.
Lord, may I seek to be salt, pointing in the direction of the water, everyday. Amen.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Psa. 128:1 Happy is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways.
Psa. 128:2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Psa. 128:3 ¶ Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Psa. 128:4 Thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.
Psa. 128:5 ¶ The LORD bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
Psa. 128:6 May you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!
This is a Psalm which declares the results of a life lived in humble reverence before God. Henry tells us, “Only those who are truly holy, are truly happy.” God’s desire is to set women and men free from the things of the world which entangle them in such a way that it makes it nearly impossible to be truly happy. Being set free from the bondage of this world means that we can enjoy the freedoms and happiness brought to us from the Lord.
It’s a bit dangerous to tread in this direction as I recognize that there are many dear Christian friends these days who are suffering. I know those who are battling cancer and others who are struggling with the loss of their child and somehow this Psalm may seem inadequate in all circumstances. At the same time I think of the friend with whom I spoke last evening who has experienced the transformational power of the Holy Spirit in her life and she is living a new life.
For those who are entrapped by the things of this world, the snare becomes so tight that often one becomes unaware of the place into which they have been drawn. Alcoholism and drug abuse can eat away at a life and yet the person can be deceived into believing that they are okay and can manage all the things happening around them. They fail to see the loss of work and the destruction of personal relationships. This is what sin does — it drags one down and yet fools one into believing that this is the good life!
The fear of the LORD brings about something completely different. A clear mind focused on God also brings with it a good work ethic. One can get up in the morning and produce a day of labor, one which can bring satisfaction to the heart and soul. It feels good to earn that paycheck and not waste it!
Your spouse will flourish because they will be able to trust you. You will actually work at your marriage, choosing to love your spouse! You won’t spend money behind your spouse’s back on things that only feel the greedy place in your own soul. Your spouse will love and trust you and simply do things because they love you — not expecting anything in return.
Having a clear mind means that you see and respond to the needs of your children. They are not ignored in favor of your nasty habits. Your desire is for them to do well and flourish — and they do because their parents are together engaged in their lives. It is in this way that those who have chosen to be married will be blessed.
Let’s return a moment to Henry’s comment, “Only those who are truly holy, are truly happy.” God’s desire is not for us to live sad and boring lives. God’s desire is for us to enjoy the true joy and happiness that comes as a result of putting God first in our lives. It will save us from much heartache and the ugly baggage that are the result of living life in the world. Being happy is not being on a drunk binge with your friends in which you wake up the next morning in your own vomit, having lost your spouse and children. This leaves a deep and enduring pain in your soul which may be numbed by the activities in which you engage, but will never replace the true joy and happiness which may be experienced by living in relationship to the one true God. Happiness and holiness truly are related.
Lord, may I seek to live in the center of your will and presence today in all things. Amen.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Psa. 145:4 ¶ One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
Psa. 145:5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
Psa. 145:6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
Psa. 145:7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
This Psalm is attributed to David and it’s another one of his acrostic poems that takes us through the Hebrew alphabet. We don’t know if it was written for any certain occasion and the reality is that it doesn’t need to be! There are times when our hearts simply explode with love and gratitude for the God whom we love and serve. This seems to have been one of those occasions in the life of David. In the midst of the acrostic he focuses on the importance of praising God and sharing God’s good deeds from one generation to the next. This is a part of David’s praise.
I’m afraid that we may be facing a breakdown in passing our faith from one generation to the next. We are seeing an increasing number of “nones” when it comes to those who are expressing their faith. These are the ones who don’t affiliate with anything. They are not non-denominational, they are simply not religious. At the same time they may be spiritual, but not in a religious way. There are numerous factors which are influencing this trend but could it be that Christianity needs to take an honest look at herself and see whether we have been so self-critical that we have left no place for praise! And when this is the case, the only thing that our younger generation hears is what we don’t like about the Church or about this or that preacher. Why wouldn’t they turn away?!
What would happen if we made a conscious effort to declare God’s mighty acts from one generation to the next? God is alive and working in our world today and yes, he continues to work through the Church. Instead of picking the Church apart, we need to celebrate the glorious and wonderful works of God seen in and through the Church. With all of her blemishes, the Church is still the Bride of Christ. She might be a more beautiful bride if we would quit slinging mud in her direction. We desperately need to stop picking on the Bride and focus on the beauty and glory found in and through her.
We must intentionally laud the works of God to the next generation. I have been blessed to see the hand of God work in mighty and powerful ways. God’s daily provision became especially evident to me while living in Russia and this created a type of dependence that has been healthy in my own life. I praise the Lord for this. I have also learned that some of the most difficult times in life are the ones in which I am blessed to see God provide. My children have gotten to see God provide at just the right moment. I want the world to know that I serve a living and powerful God who has cared for us in the past and cares for us today. Share the stories and pass on the faith from one generation to the next for they need to know that they are a part of the continuation of God’s story.
Just a little challenge for today. Try telling at least three people something that God has done and for which you can give praise!
Lord, I thank you for answers to prayer. Amen.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Rev. 19:6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Rev. 19:7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready;
Rev. 19:8 to her it has been granted to be clothed
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Rev. 19:9 ¶ And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
The invitation is being prepared for the marriage supper of the Lamb. The bride is readied for the wedding, being clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure.” And this linen consists of “the righteous deeds of the saints.” The bridal gown has been made pure and white by the blood of the lamb. It is Christ’s holiness which has cleansed the clothing of the bride so that she is draped in the glory of his holiness. Now she is prepared to respond to the invitation and is ready to participate in the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Here we discover an understanding that we need to be dressed and prepared for the wedding! It’s amazing to me these days at the incredible variety that we discover at weddings. The bride might be arrayed in many colors and/or styles. However, here in Revelation we find that the bride is to be dressed in “fine linen, bright and pure,” and this is then described as “the righteous deeds of the saints.” It seems that throughout our Christian journey, as we participate with Christ, we take on the very behaviors and attitudes of Christ. In doing so we begin to act more and more like him. At some point we no longer know whether we are imitating Christ or whether it is Christ seen in us. Therefore these righteous deeds are those which we do as we clothe ourselves with Christ’s holiness. These are his holy and sanctified followers, those who make up the Church.
For us to participate in the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” we must be prepared. This preparation includes saying “yes to the dress!” While the television program with this name is about brides out looking for just the right dress for a wedding, the right dress has already been prepared for you and me. The problem lies in the fact that we may be saying yes to the wrong dress! In fact, we may be so attracted to the things of the world that we may be saying yes to the dresses that we think look good on us while they are missing the fine linen — “pure and bright” which comes to us only from and through Jesus Christ. God, however, will not accept any imitations. The only acceptable wedding garb is that which comes from the one who has been made clean in the blood of the Lamb and then has continued to live within the “righteous deeds of the saints.” In other words, the dress reflects the very nature of Jesus Christ. This is what happens when we live as God’s holy people.
Saying yes to the dress may involve a deeper commitment to the faith than you have been willing to accept at this stage in your life. Unfortunately other dresses, no matter how attractive, will not be acceptable at the wedding feast. Why not wholly commit ourselves to Jesus — say “yes to the dress” and be clothed in his beauty! The day is coming when the invitations will be sent out and you will want to be prepared. Say yes to the dress!
Lord, thank you for your salvation and for the way in which you are working in our lives. Amen.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Ezek. 33:31 They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their hearts is set on their gain.
Ezek. 33:32 To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it.
The people of Ezekiel’s day seemed to recognize his role as a prophet. They would gather to hear him speak the words of God. They would listen to what he had to say but they did not change their ways and the moment they left him, their minds were back on the things of the world. Just like attending a wonderful musical concert the people were moved with great emotion but their emotion never gave way to obedience.
The people love to come and sit in the worship services. They shop around for the one that is the best “fit” for them. Because we get to see and hear so many preachers on television and on the internet we know what we like and what we want and we have high expectations for the quality of the preaching they should produce. We want to be able to hear the very best. Sometimes we realize our pastor can’t perform in that way week after week but as we go out the back door of the church we do try to give him/her a word of encouragement. We thank the Pastor for the good words and say, “Preacher, that was a good sermon today!” But the reality is that we are more concerned with how the message was presented than we were with the content. There is nothing about what the preacher preached that would make us change the way in which we are living our lives.
We have to hurry and get out the door because it’s Sunday and everyone knows what happens on Sundays! Football!!!! It’s especially frustrating if the preacher goes too long and if there’s a response at the altar at the end of the message because it could all begin to interfere with the afternoon plans. We have to get to the restaurant in time to get home and watch the games for the remainder of the day.
At the restaurant there may be discussions of the morning service but they are more than likely to center on how well everyone “performed” that day. The music was a great performance — I mean, at some churches it is accompanied by a laser light show and smoke! We love to go to the show and we come away greatly entertained by what we have seen on the “stage.” The words of the preacher have been good and the message was challenging, but nothing about our lives will change. We were hearing but not obeying.
Oh, but this was just what was happening way back there in Ezekiel’s day.
Lord, may we hear your word and may we be moved to action. Amen.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Psa. 81:10 I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
This Psalm brings us to the Festival of Booths celebrating the Israelites' release from Egypt. It was a reminder of God’s provision for his people. God had provided for freedom in the past and would provide for his people in the present and into the future. Just as young birds open their mouths wide for their parents to feed them, so the children of Israel were to open their mouths and allow God to fill them with all that they needed. The result was a mouthful of God’s provision.
We are also challenged to remember that God has saved us. We have served our own time in slavery to sin, but Jesus has set us free. The Israelites celebrated this freedom from Egypt in an annual celebration of booths — or living out in tents or simple “booths” made of twigs and foliage. It was a time of camping out as families and remembering the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness.
When I think what God has done for me I am overwhelmed. I was never one who lived in horrible sin, but I was headed in my own direction. The Lord intervened in my life and led me in a direction that I never would have imagined. It’s important for me to take time to remember that it is God who has led me on this journey of life and thank him for his direction.
While we remember and praise God for the past, we must always live in the present. We are challenged on a daily basis to open our mouths wide and allow God to fill us. Notice the human response here. God does not pry our mouths open to feed us. Instead, we are to open our mouths — not just a little bit, but wide open and allow God to fill it until our mouths are full. He will fill us to the point of complete and total satisfaction, if only we will allow him.
Parent birds fill the mouths of their young with the things that are good for them. Food for nourishment is provided — the biggest and the juiciest worms! Our heavenly Father only wants to provide the very best for us when it comes to spiritual food. Today we are being challenged to open our mouths wide and allow God to fill us with everything that he has for us. However, I’m afraid that far too often we become distracted and we either forget to open our mouths, or maybe just open them a little, putting ourselves on a spiritual diet. Those little birds who are being fed by their parents open their mouths and fight for their parents’ attention — “feed me, feed me, feed me!”
What if we approached our spiritual lives in the very same way — with mouths wide open and asking God daily, “feed me, feed me, feed me!” Then we would receive a mouthful of spiritual food from the Lord, sustaining us day to day so that when the time comes we will celebrate his continual provision in our lives. It’s time to have a mouth full from the Lord. Turn toward him in expectation, opening our mouths wide and allowing him to fill us over and over again.
Lord, thank you for your overflowing love for us that sustains us and more. Amen.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Dan. 2:11 The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.”
Daniel and his friends have been taken into exile in Babylon. They were now in royal service to the King. One night the King has a very disturbing dream and asks for the magicians, astrologers, etc. to come and, not only interpret the dream, but tell him what his dream was! They are dumbfounded at his request and their response is today’s Scripture. This could only be revealed by gods — “whose dwelling is not with mortals.” This was because they did not understand about the one true God, but Daniel did. This statement is also a foreshadowing of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God spoke through Daniel but all the way along the story is pointing toward the coming of Jesus Christ. God does come and dwell with mortals.
This understanding regarding God living among mortals is vital for us. Our God is not like anything the world has experienced. God is not carved out of wood or chiseled out of a rock. God is not mute. God is not blind. And yet these are the things that the people of the world worshipped back in Daniel’s day and, surprisingly, continue to worship today.
The magicians of Daniel’s day were terrified at the King’s request. They were to be put to death for not responding to what the King wanted for their gods were not capable of anything that the King was asking.
Our God is capable of responding and dwelling with mortals. Not only does God dwell with mortals through the presence of the Holy Spirit, but the invitation is for us to dwell with God. The true God has made it possible for us to have this type of a relationship with him, one in which we can fellowship with God who does dwell with mortals.
Daniel had a very powerful prayer life. He was always faithful to pray, even when it meant that he could be punished. We are invited into this type of intimate relationship with God who has chosen to dwell among, in and through mortals. This is an amazing mystery and yet it is for real! May God help us to live into the reality of his presence among us.
Lord, thank you for your dwelling place here with us. Amen.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Lam. 5:4 We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.
The Israelites have been defeated and Jerusalem is in despair. Nothing belongs to them anymore. Water and fire had always been free for the inhabitants of the city. Now, they had to pay a tax to drink the water from their own cisterns. They had to pay to use their own wood. And as they were marched into exile they had to pay to drink from the rivers along the journey. That which was needed to sustain life was no longer provided but instead, had to be acquired at a very steep price.
Portions of the United States are currently suffering from a severe drought. California is now in its third year of drought and people can be fined for wasting water. What, at times, seems so normal to use and consume becomes a very precious commodity.
In the Middle East people are fighting over water and who has control over the source as well as portions of rivers. Whose water is it? Who will pay for it? It’s not free!
Water is necessary for all life and there have always been times when it has been a very precious and costly commodity. And yet, we must do whatever is necessary to have access to water.
Just as we would do anything to have access to good water, so we need to be sustained from the spring of living water. Over and over again we read of the importance of living water to sustain God’s people. The woman at the well was thrilled at the idea of never thirsting again! In Isaiah we read of God providing “streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19) and him saying, “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Isaiah 41:18)
This language of water is used throughout the Scriptures to not only talk about physical water, but also spiritual sustenance. The Israelites were suffering for their disobedience and therefore had to pay for the physical water to drink. In the spiritual realm we may find ourselves ignoring the well of water provided to us by way of the Holy Spirit. This was God’s intent, the way in which humanity could be connected to a continual infusion of spiritual water. Just as many of us have potable water that comes from our faucets and we have water to drink, so our spiritual water is available to us.
Interestingly, many of us don’t drink the water that flows freely from our faucet. Instead, we choose to buy bottled water. This is a fascinating thing since so often, say at a restaurant, tap water may be free, and yet, we pay for a bottle of water. Why is that? Is it that sometimes we just have gotten into the habit of buying water? It seems to be convenient and yet, it is expensive! I recall when we lived in Russia it cost more to buy bottled water in a kiosk than it did Coke! Why would you pay for something that could be free? Why place restrictions on the size of something that we can have to drink when it is available and flowing freely?
Have we done this to ourselves spiritually? It seems that we are wanting our spiritual lives packed in little bottles that look nice. We are even willing to pay for it. And yet, is this really good for us? Our little doses of spirituality are not enough to sustain us. We need to be drinking deeply and often directly from the well of living water. Getting our bottled spirituality second hand will not sustain us and it’s costly.
We are invited to the eternally sustaining free water that comes from the living well. Even today we are free to sit at the well and drink long and deep from the cool and sustaining water that comes from the Holy Spirit. Why limit ourselves to bottled up and expensive spirituality when all that we need is already provided for us. The water is free! There is no longer any need to pay! Jesus has paid the debt and now we are simply invited to come and to drink.
Lord, thank you for the blessing of your living water today. Amen.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Obad. 3 Your proud heart has deceived you,
you that live in the clefts of the rock,
whose dwelling is in the heights.
You say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
The Edomites were a proud people who believed that they could not be destroyed. They trusted in their own personal resources. They lived in fortresses that were cut high into the rocks. The question is mockingly rhetorical; “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
We know that the Edomites fall, for there is no place so lofty from which we cannot fall. As a matter of fact, we know that the fall is even greater when it comes from great heights.
Too often our own pride keeps us from being vulnerable before the Lord. We do all that we can from an earthly perspective to shore up our lives and yet, it is never enough. We cannot control everything around us and when we try, we fail.
We are created to be in relationship with God. This is what it means to be truly human, to be in a dependent relationship upon him. Without God in our lives we become arrogant. We’ve all heard it! There are many who would shout along with the Edomites, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” Who can bring you down — God can! Not only can God, but life can bring you down as well.
Cancer is not a respecter of persons. Natural disasters are not a respecter of persons. Medical accidents are not respecter of persons. Life happens. We can be brought down in one big hurry.
It is much better to be brought to our knees on a daily basis, humbling ourselves before our Creator than to be brought down. If we are already walking the journey of life with him, then he will be there to carry us through the times of difficulty.
Beware of the lofty places if God has not placed you there!
Lord, please help me to be in tune with you each day. Amen.
Monday, September 8, 2014
Psa. 48:12 ¶ Walk about Zion, go all around it,
count its towers,
Psa. 48:13 consider well its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
Psa. 48:14 that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will be our guide forever.
This Psalm of praise is a reminder of the faithfulness of God. Sadly God’s people have a tendency to slip into unfaithfulness and this Psalm serves as a praise and reminder to God’s people. In this case it is important to physically walk around the city of God, and as you point out the physical features of the city, remind the next generation of the faithfulness of God. It is a reinforcement of the Shema as well — hear Oh Israel this is our God! This is our one God and he is ours forever and ever. This is the God who will guide his people and it is absolutely vital that this message be passed from generation to generation.
One of the things that I love about the Jewish traditions is the fact that all the senses are used in learning about God. There is role-play involved in the Passover feast as we reenact some of the activities of the departure from Egypt. The feast of the Tabernacles is a time when everyone basically goes camping as a reminder of the people spending forty years wandering in the wilderness. There is an actual acting out of history so that it is passed from one generation to the next. Is there something that Christianity could learn from this when it comes to passing on the faith?
What are we telling the next generation about our faith in Jesus Christ? The response is more than likely determined by the culture in which you are found. In some cultures we are doing a better job of passing on the faith than we are in others. In my current culture there is a deep concern over an increasing disinterest in things religious. We are faced with an increasing number of people who would consider themselves as having no religious affiliation whatsoever — the rise of the “nones.” It appears that we are losing ground when it comes to passing on the faith to the next generation.
It’s not that the next generation is not spiritual, for they are seeking after spiritual things, just not in the church. As I walked through my neighborhood on Saturday I was amazed at all the signs of spirituality around me. In my community there seems to be a great attraction toward Eastern spirituality. I was amazed at how many stores sold items related to Hinduism and one store had a giant “Namaste” painted on their window.
Unless we take the next generation and walk them around and show them the hand of God at work in this world, they will not get it. We must help them to see the “towers and the ramparts” which have been built by God. They must be able to walk through the “citadels” and be in awe of the power and glory of God. This is not a tour of beautiful church buildings! This is a tour of the testimonies of God at work in the world today.
We were privileged to raise our girls in an environment where we were extremely dependent upon God and they watched as he moved and transformed the lives of people all around us. They joined together with us in prayer for God to provide — and he did. They witnessed his power and strength to blind the eyes of the corrupt officials so that God’s work could be accomplished.
If you have no such tour in which you may take the next generation, then maybe we have found the problem. What the next generation “hears” is not so much the words but what they have seen and experienced. May God help us to seek him, his face, and his intervention in the world and in our lives every day so that the next generation will pass on the truth that God is our guide forever.
Lord, may you be seen in and through me. Amen.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Rev. 12:10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
Rev. 12:11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
The vision was one of heaven which was breaking out into victorious song. The victory would come as a result of the death of Jesus Christ. His blood, shed for the world provides a way for his followers to find victory, even in death. The combination of the blood of the lamb and the word of the testimony led to eternal life, and this was the victory. Death on this earth only led to life with Christ and therefore the martyrs were ultimately victorious.
This is a song to be sung in the midst of persecution. We know that in the first century there were already numerous martyrs in Christianity. They were being burned alive in Nero’s gardens and sent to the Colosseum to be ripped apart by the lions. And yet in the face of these horrible deaths there were not clinging to life. Instead their testimony (martyrdom) was revealing to the entire world the depth of their faith and Christianity could not be stamped out.
Nearly every commentary writer puts this into their current context and so we find hope for those who have suffered under the final persecutions of Decius in the Roman Empire. They praise God for the victory brought by Constantine which has set the martyrs free. Later we find the persecutions of the Bohemian ruler over the Christians of Wesley’s day, and today we can find the martyrs today in our headlines. The reality is that what we are facing is not uncommon for Christianity has faced opposition from the very beginning. However, Christianity has remained, for the believers were willing to face death. In other words, the fear of persecution did not deter them from their faith. In many cases it made the the words of their testimony even stronger and led them to a greater understanding that this life is temporal.
This song in Revelation is a glorious song of victory to be sung in the midst of horrible persecution. Salvation is available for all of God’s children and the evil accuser has been defeated. The blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ is enough to provide us with eternal victory. But we must join the great cloud of witnesses, putting down our personal lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. Our lives must be a testimony of our commitment to him.
When the persecution comes, will we be able to join in the victorious song of the witnesses who gave word of testimony and who were willing to not cling to life? This life is not worth clinging to when it comes to eternal life. Jesus has provided the way. We are called to join in by way of our testimony, remembering that the Greek root for the word testimony is martyr.
Sing your song in the midst of persecution — for Christ is victorious!
Lord, may I be a testimony for you. Amen.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
Rev. 11:19 ¶ Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
The seventh trumpet has sounded and the apostasy of this earth is beyond human comprehension, but just when it seems that all hope is gone, there is a Covenant Sighting. Even in the midst of such calamities which are the result of human unfaithfulness God is revealed. There is a vision of God’s temple in heaven and there in the very midst is the ark of the covenant. This vision, revealed to all of humanity in numerous ways, remains until the very end. God’s covenant promise to his people will never be destroyed.
Just as the ark of Noah was an ark of covenant with God’s people, so the ark within the Temple remained as a sign of God’s promise and now with a vision of apocalyptic times the steadfastness of God’s covenant is again revealed.
Not only is the covenant revealed as an everlasting promise to God’s people, but all of creation responds with admonitions of God’s power and authority to rule. God is victorious over all evil and even creation responds to his glory and presence!
Our own lives may become increasingly difficult. We never know what the next day will bring and yet we go on from day to day in faith, trusting God for our lives and future. At the same time I believe that God wants us to have Covenant Sightings. This vision for John was to provide him with hope. Interwoven throughout Scripture we have heard and seen the ark of the covenant, but the physical covenant was lost long ago. John had never seen the ark of the covenant, and now he was living in exile on an Island. Why would this vision come to him now — this covenant sighting?
God is constantly reaching out to his beloved children, wanting them to know how much they are loved. He wants us to have covenant sightings along the way in life and they may happen at the most unusual time and places. Last evening I was coming home from a week out of town and decided to stop at the grocery store on my way from the airport. Just as I was making my way through the fruit and vegetables a voice called out, “Dr. Sunberg.” I turned and there was one of our Seminary students, Jordan. He works in this store and was just cleaning up for the night but took a few moments to stop and visit with me. He shared with me where he is on his journey into ministry and I began to realize that in his story was a revelation of covenant. In response to God’s call in his life, Jordan is a living covenant sighting.
Our own lives are to be covenant sightings for those around us. When the curtain is drawn back and God’s hand is revealed in our lives, the world will see the covenant revealed. There will be times when just a glimpse of the covenant will be enough to encourage someone going through very dark days. The glory of God is revealed when the covenant is on full display in the activity of God’s children.
Lord, may I be a carrier of your covenant today. Amen.
Friday, September 5, 2014
Rev. 10:9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.”
Rev. 10:10 So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
Just as Ezekiel had eaten the prophetic words which were sweet in his mouth but became bitter in his stomach, so the same happened now in Revelation. Being privileged to see into the future and to know what it is that God is going to do may seem sweet at the moment but it becomes bitter when it all begins to sink in. The reality of the results of peoples’ behavior turns our stomachs and we are left with a bittersweet taste in our mouths.
The bittersweet taste that is left is because of God’s love which is to flow through us. We may become frustrated with the actions of those in the world who are not seeking the face of God and wonder how they ought to be dealt with. I think about these days in which the face of evil seems to be showing itself over and over again. How often do we think that the destruction of this evil would be a good thing and that first initial thought is sweet in our mouth, but the more we think about it, the more God’s love compels us to imagine the lostness of those individuals. The eternal destruction which they face becomes bitter to us for we love them and desire for them to know the Creator.
Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for them. What would happen if all of Christianity would sense the bittersweetness of the moment and would unite together in prayer for those who are bent on our destruction? Could God’s love really transform the world?
When we are presented with the bittersweetness of the Gospel we should be moved to action. We love the word and it is sweet in our mouths. We love our Jesus and the salvation we receive through him is so sweet. But we must be sensitive to the bitter, for there are those who will be lost if they do not know him. My prayer is that we do not become insensitive to the bitter, but allow it to turn our stomachs and lead us into kingdom service.
Bittersweetness — it’s a part of God’s plan to reach the world with his love.
Lord, may I listen and respond with sensitivity to you and your kingdom’s calling. Amen.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Rev. 9:20 ¶ The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.
Rev. 9:21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.
When we come to this point in the book of Revelation we have already experienced all kinds of plagues. Humanity has not been responding to the call of God to return to him. Although many have died as a result of their unfaithfulness, still they will not repent and they continue to worship at idols made by human hands.
I was reading through a number of commentaries to get a perspective on what the Scripture is trying to tell us in this place. So often we try to interpret the signs about which we read and determine a timing for the events that are listed and most of the time that has to do with predicting the future. We seem more concerned about reading the “signs of the times” than about the real message that we find in this Scripture.
Nearly every commentary writer has a different perspective on this Scripture and place it at a different time in history. You can tell that every era has had their own perspective, depending on what they were dealing with at the time. Some consider this to be the time of the iconoclastic movement, the issue of which is “resolved” at the last Council of Constantinople in 787. It was at this time that Byzantium was experience on-going threats from the advance of Islam in the East and therefore this was interpreted in light of the advance of Islam on Christianity and Christianity’s continued devotion to icons. The only ones who would survive the onslaught were those in the Roman West, and hence it was the Roman Catholic Church which would be saved.
Move forward toward the Reformation and you see this in another light. Now the bad guys are the Roman Catholic Church who refuse to give up their formality in worship. Christians are suffering at the hands of others who call themselves “Christian” in the Inquisitions and in the midst of it all God is calling out to all people.
Contemporary society has been more concerned about reading these Scriptures into the future, rather than into the past. This is another perspective. However, could it be that we have been too concerned with finding a particular perspective and have not considered that in trying to place this within a particular timeframe we are missing out on the message? The message for all of us throughout time is that God is continually trying to call his people back into a faithful relationship. God has and will use all the resources found on this earth, including enemy combatants, to try and wake up his people! No matter what century humanity has been continually attracted to, and distracted by, the things of this world. We are still worshipping idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood. They may not be imagery in a Church, but they may be imagery in our driveway, homes and basements. The idols may be made of steel, leather, flat screens, plastic remote controls, etc.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so concerned about a timeline as we should about a timeless message. God’s people should be aware that God is continually calling us back to a faithful relationship with him. This is the ageless perspective. The question for us is whether we will listen and respond.
Lord, may we keep our eyes off of the idols of the world and only on you. Amen.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Psa. 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
This Psalm is an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet and declares praises to God. In this final verse we really come to a foundational concept. Wisdom commences with a fear of Jehovah.
A healthy respect and understanding for who God is must be foundational for everyone’s faith. Not only is it something that we must understand but it must inform our daily practices. A healthy respect and fear for the place of God in our lives creates boundaries for the way in which we live our lives. This leads to good understanding, not just about God, but about the way in which things in the world are designed to operate. When we live into that kind of understanding then we ourselves will show wisdom, for it will be his wisdom that is revealed in us. When his wisdom is revealed in us, then praise for him, to him, and about him flows in and through us.
We don’t hear much about the fear of the LORD these days. It’s not one of those major topics of conversation, nor is it something that is preached about with great frequency. Anything that we may take to have a negative connotation seems to be content that we avoid. However, in doing so we don’t have a full understanding of the Scripture, nor of God.
There is mystery when it comes to understanding God, and mystery brings us to a place where we cannot explain it all. When we arrive at a space where we are unable to explain away the things that we encounter, there we find God. It is in this space that we develop a healthy respect, or fear of God. It’s not a fear of the wrath of God, it’s a respect and fear of the unknowingness of God. It’s this understanding that he is great and I am very, very small in the great scheme of things. But when I begin to respect his greatness, then I can become more and more dependent upon him. He is good and great and greatly to be praised!
I become wise when I realize that I don’t know it all! My dependency upon him grows on a daily basis when I accept my own limitations. Praise the Lord! This is just where wisdom commences but can then blossom and grow.
Lord, thank you for who you are and for inviting us into your divine wisdom. Amen.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Rev. 7:1 ¶ After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree.
Most commentary writers say that the holding back of the winds refers to a time of peace, when there is no destructive wind upon the face of the earth. There are those who have interpreted this as a sign of the end times and have looked for a literal period of peace. However, I’d like to consider something a little different in looking at this Scripture and that is to imagine what the earth would be like if there were no wind.
Without the winds and the breezes we would experience an environmental disaster. The winds are necessary and healthy for this world. They bring with them the rains and they cool the desert in the midst of a blistering summer day.
Most often when we encounter the wind in Scripture it is referring to the movement of the Spirit. Let’s just imagine what the earth would be like if God held back the Spirit. The presence of evil in the world would be overwhelming. It is the Spirit of God who reaches out to us in prevenient grace, drawing humanity to him. Holding back the Spirit would have a more disastrous result on this earth than if the winds did not blow and yet, it seems that we could face just a time as this as humanity continually rejects the movement of the Spirit.
We are all in need of the movement of the Spirit in our lives and in the world and without it we will be missing that gentle breeze.
Just this past weekend my husband and I went to the Nebraska Cornhusker’s football game. It was exhilarating as we neared the stadium with thousands of others who were excited to watch their beloved football team. You could sense the excitement as we walked through the campus and heard the marching band playing in the background. It was a beautiful summer day and it looked very promising for the home team.
However, there was one major issue that everyone present would need to consider — the heat. Actually it was not nearly as hot as it could have been in the dead of summer, but once we stepped out of the shade and found our seats in the stadium we discovered a beautiful, cloudless day sitting in the blistering sunshine. As the game went on ambulances were called to carry away the fans suffering from heat stroke. Extra tables for the sale of water and Gatorade were set up out on the decking area. We were soaked from sweat and everyone was wishing for just even a slight or gentle breeze. Every now and then we would feel the hint of the wind, but for the most part, it was a very still day and we all sat and baked.
God’s people need to be living within the gentle breeze of the Spirit. When we stop seeking him, when we no longer desire to know him on a deeper level, then the angels will hold back the four winds. The result will be spiritual heat stroke as we are choked by the things of this world, unable to be nurtured by the Spirit.
If we are missing that gentle breeze, then maybe we ought to examine where we are spiritually. God’s desire is to pour out the Spirit upon all flesh and to see the transformation of humanity by way of his life-giving wind. May God help us that we will not be obstacles to the gentle breeze that we and our world need so desperately.
Lord, please, do not hold back the winds of your Spirit! Amen.
Monday, September 1, 2014
Psa. 70:4 ¶ Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, “God is great!”
Psa. 70:5 But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O LORD, do not delay!
The first half of this Psalm is a cry for deliverance but then the tone of the Psalmist changes. Yes, it is a cry for deliverance but also a deep understanding of what happens for those who do truly call upon the name of the Lord. There is a joy that comes to the heart of those who seek the Lord. This joy is found in the overwhelming love of God which consumes us on a daily basis. This love for him engulfs us and from the overflow of that love we declare for the whole world to hear, “God is great!”
Yes, we are poor and needy individuals for we are nothing without him. We cry to him and the LORD, our deliverer sustains us in our time of need.
There are a great number of circumstances in life where we can feel that we are overwhelmed beyond anything that we believe we can bear. I know friends who find themselves in that place right now. The news has been too terrible to consider, the circumstances have become unbearable and there is nothing left but to cry out to God. That is not just a simple answer, but there is great depth in that he comes and fellowships with us at the point of our very deepest need. He feels our pain at a level that we cannot even begin to understand. When we weep, he weeps. This is why God is great, because God's all consuming love does not create separation between God and humanity, but instead covers the divide in a way that unites us in fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This mystery is why we declare, “God is great!”
Lord, thank you for your great love which reaches to us at the point of our need today. Amen.