Friday, January 31, 2014

Living Oracles and the Works of our Hands



Scripture:


Acts 7:38 He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us.
Acts 7:39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt,
Acts 7:40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’
Acts 7:41 At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.

Observation:

Today’s scripture reading comes from Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.  He is sharing with them his faith just before he is put to death and in doing so he lays out the history of the Jewish people.  While speaking of Moses he makes a very significant point regarding the Law.  He equates the Law with living oracles because they are given to Moses by God through the angel.  The significance here is the “living” oracles — for they come from the living God!  This law is literally breathed out for all of humanity to give direction in life, and that direction leads them back to a relationship with the living God.  However, just as Aaron and the Israelites grew impatient, so have we and instead of being drawn toward a relationship with the living God, we become infatuated with things made by human hands.  The Israelites in the wilderness made for themselves an idol to worship; an idol with whom there was no opportunity for relationship. And this led to their own demise, a repercussion which was still being felt in Stephen’s day.

Application:
We, too, have two very clear options before us in regard to our Christian faith.  Either we can be engaged in a relationship with the living God by way of the incarnate Word, or we can become infatuated and distracted with the things of this world.  The things made by human hands may even encroach our sanctuaries and places of worship, thereby appearing to be in a place that leads us to God.  The Israelites were worshiping the idol in the very place that they should have been worshiping God. 

Our living God still wants to be in relationship with us today.  He has made this possible by sending Jesus and leaving us with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit draws us into a deeply personal relationship with the living and loving holy God.  This relationship is alive, active and on-going.  The result is that our faith is stretched in a variety of directions that becomes transformative in our personal lives.  It is not always comfortable, but it leads us in the direction of the living God.

What is the attraction to works of our own hands?  Those things don’t push us.  They are static.  They may be attractive and we may simply like them, but this becomes a perfunctory faith, one in which rituals may be practiced but in which no personal transformation occurs.  This is what attracted the Israelites.  It was much easier to get excited and dance in front of a golden calf than to imagine a life-long transformational relationship with a holy loving God. 

We have a choice as followers of Jesus Christ.  Will we follow him in a very personal manner, or will Christianity simply be a part of our culture?  When it becomes a part of our culture we attend church and “do the right things” out of an external sense of obligation.  The Israelites wanted to worship a god.  When we engage with the living God every day becomes a new adventure.  Yes, it is challenging but it is also invigorating in ways we would never have imagined.  Moses was transformed from a shy young man into a man that led a people and transformed history.

Will you follow the living oracle, or continue to be enticed by the works of human hands?
Prayer:

Lord, thank you for reaching out to us.  Amen.





Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Kind of Olive Oil?



Scripture:

Ex. 27:20 ¶ You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly.

Observation:

Instructions are being given for the building of the tabernacle.  God’s people are out in the desert and here in the midst they are to build a tabernacle for a place where they can come and worship God.  In this tabernacle there is to be a lamp that is to be continually burning.  For the lamp to burn the people are to bring in olive oil, but not just any olive oil.  This is to be the finest oil that comes from the olives.  When the olives are first bruised and beaten then the purest oil drips out of them.  This is before the olives are ever put into a mechanical press.  It is this, very best oil, which is to be used so that the lamp will burn bright and without any impurities.  Only in this way can the tabernacle be properly lit.

Application:

I often get confused with all the different types of Olive Oil we can find for sale these days.  There’s extra-virgin olive oil, and virgin olive oil, and then just plain old olive oil.  I’m assuming that there is a degradation in quality related to these names because the extra-virgin is the most expensive and the plain old olive oil is the cheapest.  This oil which was to be brought by the people to the tabernacle was to have been the most expensive oil, that of the very highest quality.  The priests were responsible to keep the lights burning, but the people were the ones who were to provide the oil.

Let’s put this into our current context.  The oil may represent the first fruits of the spiritual lives of those within a congregation who are filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is the responsibility of those within the congregation to bring the very best of their spiritual lives into the congregation.  It is only then that the light of the church can continue to burn brightly.  The local minister can tend to the lamp itself, but the only way that it can continue to burn, and to burn brightly and purely is through the presence of the oil.

When the people of God refuse to give him first place in their lives then the fruit of the Spirit becomes degraded in their lives.  No longer are they producing pure oil, but instead are pumping out the industrial grade oil that can only be squeezed out by the tiny drops when put into massive presses.  The oil is bitter and not fit for public consumption but instead is used as a lubricant. 

Too often I hear people complain these days that the local church isn’t as vibrant as it used to be.  Then, they point their fingers at the one caring for the lamp.  The lamp can be well tended and cared for, but if the oil brought in by the people of God is bad, the lamp will not burn brightly and there will be no vibrancy in the church. 

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to bring the very best to God.  The pure oil was the first oil produced from the fruit.  That means that we are to give God our very best — the very first things that we have to offer.  The Holy Spirit will take our firsts and make them into a pure and glorious fruit for the Lord.  But when God becomes second, third, fourth, or even fifth place in our lives we will not produce what is needed to light his tabernacle.

What kind of olive oil are we producing today?  Only when we give God our very best can the temple be lit with his glorious presence. 

Prayer:

Lord, help me to give you my best every day.  Amen.





Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Proclaiming the Messiah



Scripture:

Acts 5:42 And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Observation:

The Apostles had already faced many obstacles when it came to proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.  The religious officials were hounding them, wanting them to stop.  They were threatened with imprisonment and beatings, and yet, they counted that a privilege.  They had fallen in love with Jesus and were now serving him, whether in difficulty or in ease.  None of that mattered to them because they were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they could not stop talking about Jesus!  Every single day and everywhere they went, in formal and in informal settings, they proclaimed “Jesus as the Messiah.”

Application:

What is my table conversation like? 

Is Jesus proclaimed in my home?

My husband and I are blessed to the parents of two incredible daughters and some of the best theological discussions we have ever had occurred around our kitchen table.  I will be forever indebted to our dear Russian friends who taught us a great deal about community and the fellowship of sitting around a table and enjoying discussion.  It was around Russian kitchen tables that the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to be spread, even during the dark years of communism. 

The disciples learned to use every means possible to tell people about the Messiah.  Yes, there was the place of the Temple where they would publicly preach, but then there were the homes where they would converse with people over spiritual matters.  I’m afraid that too often we believe that spiritual teaching should be confined to the pulpit and not spill out around the dinner table!  However, returning to our daughters, I believe it was probably around the dinner table where they received their greatest spiritual formation.  We tried not to be in too big of a hurry to get away from the table, but to sit back, relax and ask about their day in school.  There were times that they were puzzled by the things their teachers had presented to them, and there we could sit together and wrestle over the questions that they were mulling over in their minds.  Day after day we would talk about spiritual matters and what that was supposed to look like in our daily lives.

What would it look like if every follower of Jesus Christ made it a matter of habit to proclaim Jesus every day?  I don’t mean in an obnoxious kind of way — like with a bullhorn at a ballgame!  No, I am suggesting that teaching and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah became like breathing to Jesus’ disciples.  They couldn’t help oozing Jesus because they were so filled with him.  Therefore, whether engaged in “formal” teaching, or “informal” they were continually sharing about Jesus.  It just became normal to them and when we are filled to the brim with Jesus it should become the norm for us as well.  Jesus should simply drip from every part of our being.  The scripture says “they did not cease to teach and proclaim.”  I would like to suggest they COULD not cease!  They were just too overcome with Jesus.

May Jesus so fill us today that we too find it impossible to not talk about him.  May he be proclaimed at our dinner tables.  May he be spoken of in our homes.  May Jesus ooze from us as we step out into the world today.

Prayer:

Lord, please fill me to overflowing today.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Speaking with Boldness



Scripture:


Acts 4:24 When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them,
Acts 4:25 it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:
    ‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
        and the peoples imagine vain things?
Acts 4:26     The kings of the earth took their stand,
        and the rulers have gathered together
            against the Lord and against his Messiah.’
Acts 4:27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed,
Acts 4:28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Acts 4:29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness,
Acts 4:30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Acts 4:31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Observation:


It was in Acts 2 that we had previously found the whole group of Jesus’ disciples together and praying when the Holy Spirit came on them on the day of Pentecost.  Now, we find them together again and this time their prayer is recorded for us.  It is here that they express to the Lord that there is opposition to their ministry, an opposition that includes persecution, and yet, their prayer is not for personal protection nor is it for punishment of those who may “rage” against them.  These believers pray that in the midst of the threats they might be able to speak with boldness. 

Their prayer was answered and it is believed that they literally experienced an earthquake as their prayer meeting came to a close, and they were strengthened and filled again with the Holy Spirit.  They were able to leave the prayer meeting, facing threats and speaking boldly.

Application:


As I think about this prayer of Jesus’ disciples I am humbled.  If I had been there, what would I have been praying for?  After the day of Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit they were experiencing wouldn’t you have wanted to pray down fire from heaven on those who simply would not believe?  Wouldn’t you have wanted personal protection?  But something else is happening here in the lives of the disciples.  As they are being filled with the Holy Spirit they are not only receiving power, but they are being transformed.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives they are being united to God, and the very nature of God is filling every part of their being.  No longer are they thinking like themselves, but they are taking on the very mind of Christ and now his desires become their desires.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  Their “enemies” are the “lost.”  There is a shift in their thinking and no longer are they concerned about their own fate, but they are concerned for the fate of their enemies.  Now, they want to speak with boldness in response to the threats.

God answered their prayer because their prayer came from the depths of a personal relationship with God.  The people had been willing to tarry in prayer until the Holy Spirit had infused every part of their being.  When God’s heart becomes our heart; when his desires become our desires; then his transformational work is being done in our lives and our responses become his responses to the challenges of life. 

So often people emphasize the presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and its accompanying signs and wonders.  We think it’s more exciting to think about the signs and wonders and what those might look like in our lives than to focus on this infilling of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t like to think about facing our adversaries with boldness.  Maybe we ought to take a harder look at this prayer meeting and the way in which the disciples were becoming more like Christ and their love for their enemies gave them a boldness to go into the world, sharing Jesus with those who would seek to harm them.  This same Holy Spirit is available to us today — and challenges us to pray to speak with boldness.

Prayer:

Lord, may I speak with boldness today.  Amen.

Monday, January 27, 2014

We Need Community

We Need Community

Scripture

Exodus 17:8-13
Amalek Attacks Israel and Is Defeated
 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.

Observation:

This story of Aaron and Hur is a classical example for us that we are made to live and work together in community.  Moses may have been the leader but he could not do all of the work on his own.  He needed the assistance of those who were willing to partner with him and that partnership brought about victory for the entire community.  Every member had their own responsibility and only when each completed what they were to do did they all experience the defeat of their enemy.

It's interesting that after this account in the Scripture we are told about the visit of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law who helps him understand the need of delegation.  Moses thought he had to do everything on his own, but there was a better way!

Application:

Too often I'm afraid we think that we have to do everything on own.  Surely it must be our responsibility tackle all of these obstacles which lie ahead.  However, that's not how God created us.  Instead we were created to exist in community; in a place where we would help one another out to get the entire job done.

What does that look like within a community of faith?  For me, it has meant learning to depend upon a group of Aarons and Hurs who are living out life with me as a prayer team - my community.  Early on in my ministry years in Russia I remember feeling like I was running out of fuel, both physically and spiritually.  I was discouraged that I didn't have the time that I wanted to spend in prayer and soaking in the word.  Life was just too crazy and I had little children at home.  It was in conversation with a friend that I was reminded that while I might not have the time now, others did, and they were partnering with me...praying prayers with me and for me.  This is an amazing understanding of intercessory prayer...someone praying my prayers for me when I cannot.  Aaron and Hur were lifting the arms of Moses when he could not!

We cannot do it all alone, and we cannot go it all alone day in and day out.  We were not created to live they way.  Instead, we were created to live within a community of faith who would each take turns being Aaron and Hur for one another.

What society may view as a weakness, God has intended for our strength.  We must be intentional, becoming connected to a community of faith.  Only there will we find our Aaron and Hurs who will help carry us through when we can't do it on our own.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for my Aaron and Hurs.  Amen.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The LORD who Heals



Scripture:

Ex. 15:26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD who heals you.”

Observation:

The great getaway had just occurred.  The Israelites had escaped from Egypt and Pharaoh and his army had been swept into the sea.  Now, as they looked back over what God had done for them they rejoiced and celebrated.  And then the voice of the LORD spoke to them, providing them with a promise.  If the Israelites would listen to the voice of the LORD and do what he commanded them he would — not rescue them, provide them with everything they wanted — no he would heal them.

Application:

At this very moment in the lives of the Israelites I wonder why it was so important for God to assure them that he would be the God of their healing?  Could it be that while they had been in Egypt they had become accustomed to the medical care provided in that country.  We know from archaeological digs that the Egyptians were quite a highly developed society and created creams, medicines and salves to treat the people.  Had the Israelites become dependent upon the services of this country to take care of their medical needs?  The Israelites were used as slaves, doing manual labor, and may not have been allowed to work in the realm of medicine.  Now, all of that was left behind in Egypt.

Another possibility is that the Israelites had just watched the plagues and diseases that had been inflicted on the Egyptians.  The verse suggests that this may have been a cause for fear — because God just might bring about those same diseases on them and how would they survive?  The promise of God’s healing is also a promise to not inflict this type of punishment on the people.  For his own people who are loving and serving him healing is the promise — not sickness as a form of punishment.

Looking into the future, obedience to God’s law would be a form of preventive medicine for the Israelites.  God’s laws on cleanliness, food preparation and sexual purity in relationships meant that the Israelites would be free of many of the diseases that existed in those days.  By being obedient to God’s commands they would, literally, be a healthier people. (We could park out on that subject for a long while and consider the ramifications for God’s people today!  But maybe we could ask God to speak to us about our obedience to to his commands for living a healthy life — and about our responsibility when it comes to allowing space for God’s healing!)

There is a promise for us today from the LORD who heals.  That IF we follow the commands of the Lord, then he promises to bring wholeness or completeness to our lives, and in this there is healing.  While we live in a corrupted world and in a corrupt and decaying body, we are drawn toward a new future in him, where the LORD is healing me.  In his future this body, just as Jesus’ body, will be complete and whole, but until that time, we are drawn toward the hope that we have in Christ.  He is already at work within us and as we participate with him, there comes a transformation which will lead to our ultimate healing in and through him. 

We are not to live in fear of the past.  Instead, we are to move forward, living in obedience to the calling of God who is the LORD who heals both now and forever.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your promise of healing.  Amen.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Let’s Start Again



Scripture:

Ex. 12:1 ¶ The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
Ex. 12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

Observation:


The children of Israel had now been living in Egypt for generations.  Life was a grind serving as slaves to the Egyptians but now God wasmoving to set his people free.  His promise of freedom was to be marked by a new beginning.  From now on the calendar would begin with the event of God’s intervention in the lives of his people. 

Application:

Life is filled with new beginnings.  Sometimes it’s a whole new book, and sometimes it’s a new chapter in that book.  When Christ enters our lives it is the beginning of a whole new book.  The story is just being written — fresh and new.  The old book — it’s gone!  Now it’s time to start with clean pages, ones that can be filled and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The adventure is greater than anything that we could ever begin to imagine. 

Along the way there are moments of divine intervention.  The children of Israel began their new book, their new year, their new journey — by celebrating the Passover.  They were celebrating this in anticipation of what God would be doing for them.  Sometimes we are called to celebrate what God is promising to do for us before it has even happened.  The new day dawns with us moving forward in faith, believing what God has promised us and willing to be obedient.  And then come the moments of divine intervention; those times when we clearly see the hand of God moving in ways we never imagined possible.  We are overwhelmed by his presence in our lives and in the world around us.

Starting again may also be a new chapter in the journey.  One chapter comes to an end and another has to be written.  Again, before us are blank pages and we have no idea how they will be filled, but we move forward in the grace of the Lord, trusting in him for his leadership and guidance.  The blank pages may scare us a little.  They certainly frightened Moses and Aaron.  We’ve never been down this road before.  We don’t know how the story ends, but our heavenly Father, who loves us more than we can imagine has promised his presence with us for the entire journey.  We will never be alone.  We are not to be afraid but begin writing the chapter, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph and eventually, page by page.  We will be surprised when the story becomes woven together and makes sense in the entire story-line of the book. 

This promise of a new start wasn’t just for the children of Israel.  When God steps into our lives he provides us with a new beginning, a place from which everything starts over again.  The Israelites had to be willing to be obedient to the challenge placed before them.  If the old is bogging us down, maybe it’s time to step into the new and start all over again with God.  It’s fresh - let’s start again.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the newness of life in the kingdom.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

No More of This!



Scripture:

Luke 22:51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Observation:

Jesus had been in the garden praying while his disciples had been falling asleep.  It was that final night in that place where Jesus went so often to pray that the old was breaking down and the new was being ushered in.  The disciples had wanted him to be a political leader and to overthrow the rulers of the day.  As they came to take Jesus away one of the disciples struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear.  This was their natural response — to fight!  But this was no longer to be the natural response for in the new kingdom we don’t respond in this way.  Jesus says, “No more of this!” — and he actually heals the man.  This moment is a turning point in all of history.

Application:

As we enter into life in the kingdom, our behavior should change as well.  Literally — there should be “no more of this!”  We are now kingdom citizens and as such, we are to respond in this world in the way in which Jesus would respond!

What happened that night in the garden was a clash of the old and the new.  The old kingdom came to take Jesus by force.  The new kingdom went with them peaceably.  We often have to live in that moment where the two kingdoms clash.  The world throws everything at us that it can and there is the natural temptation to fight back!  But then we must take a deep breath and consider the kingdom response. 

What do we do when people are unkind to us?  Is it our natural response to defend ourselves?  That was the disciples’ natural response.  However, when we are confronted with those who may not like us and who are unkind to us, we must get to that point where we also say, “no more of this!”  When we respond in the same manner that they respond, the situation simply escalates out of control.  This is not God’s intention for us.  Instead, his intention is that we are counter-cultural and our response comes from the Prince of Peace — who did not come with a sword!

There will always be those who come at us harshly.  That is not our concern!  Our concern should only be our response and if we want to break the vicious cycle, we must say, along with Jesus, “no more of this!”  And in that moment we reflect the love of Jesus onto the one who has come to do us harm — and just like the slave whose ear was healed — maybe there will be healing for the one trying to hurt us.

Prayer:


Lord, please help to respond as a citizen of your kingdom.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Abundance and Poverty



Scripture:


Luke 21:1-4
The Widow’s Offering
Chapter 21
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Observation:

There have always been those who have more than others.  Many live in an abundance while others in poverty and this was true in Jesus’ day.  While we may find ourselves in different places in life, it is Jesus who can look past all of the clutter and see the intentions of our hearts.  The rich people had no problem giving to Jesus.  They had plenty.  They could put in a large offering but it really cost them nothing.  When the poor woman came she also participated in the offering.  She could have just passed it by and been justified in not giving.  This, however, was not the case.  Instead she put in two copper coins, giving everything she had to live on. 

Application:

Too often we spend our time and efforts in trying to accumulate things here on earth.  The more that we accumulate, the more time and money we have to spend on taking care of those things!  All of this can become a distraction to our spiritual lives and the reality is that in the story above, the one who was really rich, was the widow.  Why is that?  Because if we look at Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount — if we begin to understand what he was saying to us about the kingdom of God, then we begin to see things completely upside down.  The poor woman was the one who was blessed because her dependence was not on herself, but on God:

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

The widow gave God everything that she had to live on and in doing so she could realize the reward of the kingdom. 

From a spiritual perspective we can find the rich and the widow heading into church these days.  There are those who believe that they have much to offer the kingdom of God.  They come in with their abundance of talents and abilities — and personal wealth and they share out of that abundance.  However, it really doesn’t cost them anything.  They can appear to function within the kingdom without giving God their all, and have learned to feel good about what they do.  God is asking us to give him everything we have to live on!  He is challenging us to a deeper walk spiritually and to complete and total dependence upon him.  Only in this way will we discover what it means to live life within the kingdom, and there we will find eternal blessing.  At the end of the day it was the rich who were poor and the poor who had abundance.  That’s what happens in the kingdom!

Prayer:

Lord, may I live life today out of the abundance of my relationship with you.  Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rewriting History



Scripture:


Psa. 8:3      ¶ When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
        the moon and the stars that you have established;
Psa. 8:4     what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
        mortals that you care for them?
 
Psa. 8:5      ¶ Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
        and crowned them with glory and honor.
Psa. 8:6     You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
        you have put all things under their feet,
Psa. 8:7     all sheep and oxen,
        and also the beasts of the field,
Psa. 8:8     the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
        whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
 
Psa. 8:9      ¶ O LORD, our Sovereign,
        how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Observation:

God in his creative abilities and majesty has created all things.  The crowning jewel of creation was humanity, made in the image of God, to be a reflection of him in all the earth.  While we may look with awe and wonder at the stars of the sky and all the creatures that roam this earth, when we look at one another, we should be stunned by the glory and honor given by God. 

With all that we have, we must be stewards of his kingdom, so that he may be seen and reflected in all the earth.

Application:


When I was a teenager I had to memorize long portions of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  I remember being moved by the passion that could be sensed in the words which had been spoken.  It was a passion motivated by his deep faith in God and his belief that all of humanity had been made in God’s image and as such, the kingdom of God should already be revealed here on earth where ALL humanity should be treated as such.  His life was faith in action, believing that he was called to make a difference in the here and now! 

Years of living in the former Soviet Union have informed my life and during my time there I began to understand their human quest to make all mankind equal.  Everyone was to be on the same level and share everything in common.  Martin Luther King was held up as a role model — but something was missing.  One day in conversation with one of my Russian friends I mentioned Dr. King and his faith and they stopped me.  “He was a Christian?”  This part of his life had been omitted from their history lessons.  He was simply portrayed as an activist — not a Christian and let-alone a minister.  The problem with this portrayal is that it removes the theological underpinning, the motivation for understanding the action — that God has made ALL of humanity just “a little lower than God.”  All of humanity, male and female, black, white, or any other race — we are all the crowning jewels of creation and we are to be a beautiful reflection of the fellowship found in God right here on the earth!  This is the reflection of the already and coming kingdom of God.

If we choose to rewrite history and simply make our motivation some kind of activism, we will get it wrong.  Instead, look to the stars and see the very hand of God.  Stand in awe and wonder at what he has done, and then march forward in his kingdom, bringing about change so that the world will see how majestic is His name in all the earth! 

Prayer:

Lord, we praise you and your name this day.  Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gone to the House of the Sinner


Scripture:

Luke 19:7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
Luke 19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”
Luke 19:9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Observation:

Jesus’ mission statement is found in the last verse — he “came to seek out and to save the lost.”  He didn’t wait around for all the sinners to come to him, but he actively went to where they were.  This meant that he had to go to the homes of people like Zacchaeus, for Zacchaeus was a sinner.  Jesus was fulfilling his mission but those around him could not see it!  Instead they complained that he was going to be the “guest of one who is a sinner.” 

Application:


If followers of Christ are going to make a difference, then we must follow Jesus out into the world.  Obviously Jesus had his priorities right.  How many times to we read that Jesus had spent time in prayer before going out to spend time with those who needed to be saved?  He knew that his power came from his connection to the Father, and the same is true for us.  We must first spend time with him, and then we can go out to the houses of sinners. 

Everywhere we read about Jesus’ presence in the New Testament we realize that his holiness is never contaminated by the presence of sin, but instead, sin is destroyed by the presence of his holiness.  Remember the woman who reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment?  Jesus was not made unclean — but instead she was healed.  The power of Christ could invade the places which had been corrupted by sin.

The early folks of the holiness movement knew that they were compelled to go out to the houses of sinners.  They knew that they had to follow the mission of Christ — seeking and saving the lost!  We have become afraid of going to the homes of sinners for we have become concerned that they will make us dirty.  That’s what the crowds thought about Jesus!  They had no comprehension of the power of God that lived in him.  I’m not sure that we comprehend the power of God that can live in us! 

We are to be filled through and through with the Holy Spirit — and then the power of God will flow through us empowering us to be guests in the houses of sinners.  It is there that the love of Jesus which has been lavished on us can splash over into the world and make a difference!  Zacchaeus was transformed by the presence of Jesus.  He just needed Jesus to come to him.  Today there are many more Zacchaeus’ in the world who simply need someone who is a reflection of Jesus to come and be in their midst, bringing with them the transformational power of God. 

It’s time for us to go and be the guest of sinners. 

Prayer:


Lord, may I be willing to go anywhere you call me.  Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Leaving the Past Behind

Scripture:

Gen. 45:24 Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel along the way.”

Observation:

In very emotional scene where Joseph reveals himself as the long lost brother of these men standing before him.  He is overcome with emotion and begins to sob as he lets his brothers know that he is the one whom they had sold into slavery to many years before.  However, he makes it clear that he has forgiven them and that God has used the circumstances to change all of their lives!

Joseph provides them with all that they need to go home but encourages them to return with their father.  All that they need is now in Egypt and Joseph will care for them.  However, Joseph knows these men all too well!  He knew that they would dig up the past, his presence being a reminder of the terrible deed they had done so long ago.  The finger-pointing would be a part of their entire journey home; “It was your idea,”  “Well, you took him out of the well and sold him!” etc.

So, the final word of instruction from Joseph was, “Do not quarrel along the way.”  Why?  Because God had taken what had happened in the past and turned it around and used it for good.  Why keep digging up the past?  It’s time to move on and celebrate in the here and now.

Application:


This is a very stereotypical thing to say but I believe that women have an extraordinary ability to remember all the crazy things from them past and remind our spouses of them when we’re in an argument!  We remember the crazy stuff like the time he got upset over the type of peanut butter I bought (and yes, that was more than 30 years ago!).  This statement by Joseph is a premonition of what we would later hear from Jesus.  The world is supposed to look at God’s followers and know that we are Christians by the way we love one another.

How often do we keep bringing up things from the past?  God has forgiven us and we are to move on in the newness of life.  However, while God might forgive us, we don’t always do very well at forgiving one another.  We love to keep bringing up the past and quarrel about it along the way.  Joseph’s instruction to his brothers is a good instruction for you and for me.  God knows us all too well — just as Joseph knew his brothers all too well.  It’s time to forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven us and stop quarreling.

What purpose would it have served had his brothers continued to quarrel?  None whatsoever.  What purpose does it serve for me to keep bringing up the fact that my husband didn’t like the peanut butter I bought one time thirty years ago?  None whatsoever — except to create dissension.

Stop quarreling along the way.  There is no reason to continually rehash the past.  It’s time to move on and to allow the loving forgiveness of Jesus to wash over every relationship and bring healing.

Prayer:


Lord, help me to leave the past behind.  Amen.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Blaming God




Scripture:

Gen. 42:28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in my sack!” At this they lost heart and turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

Observation:

Joseph’s brothers had traveled down to Egypt during the time of famine.  Little did they know that they had encountered the brother whom they had sold so long ago and that he was now a ruler in this foreign land.  They brought their silver with them to buy food, which they did, however, on their way home they opened the sacks of food only to discover that their money was in the sacks as well. 

Now, they feared the man who was in charge of famine relief.  They “lost heart and turned trembling” and immediately saw this as a bad thing — and they blamed God!

Application:

I'm afraid that God gets credit for a lot of stuff these days!  Probably much more than he would care to have assigned to him.  How often have I heard good people say after a bad or sad incident, “well, the Lord’s will was done.”  Somehow I just envision the Father up in heaven shaking his head and thinking, “Really, they think I wanted that to happen?”  Then we add some kind of language about the sovereignty of God and somehow that makes it all sound good. 

Actually, I think it’s a bit of a crutch to blame God for some of our own behaviors.  Now, in the case of Israel’s sons, one might say that God was trying to do something good and they interpreted it as bad.  Joseph was moved by the presence of his brothers and loved them so much that he wanted to give them back their money.  He may have also wanted them to feel a bit obligated to him so that they would return with their father and brother.  All of this was done in the desire to provide the very best for the family that he loved.  It was the brothers who interpreted it as a dangerous act of God. 

Is God sometimes trying to do something good for you, and you interpret it as bad or some kind of punishment?  Yes — we “blame” God for the situation.  Why didn’t he give us what we wanted?  Maybe because God has something better in store for you that you can’t even imagine.  These boys could never have imagined that this wealthy and powerful ruler of the land was their brother.  They never could have imagined that the boy that they tried to kill would become their savior.  And neither do we realize that at times it is in the unusual circumstances of life that we will find God right in the midst - if only we would stop blaming him. 

We are good at blaming.  It comes to us naturally because we inherited it from Adam and Eve.  Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve and suddenly we had sin in the world.  Why not blame God! 

We do blame God, for it seems to be a natural response.  But maybe we ought to step back from time to time and think about the fact that God gave us the opportunity to make choices.  He doesn’t force us to do things.  Even God’s people sometimes simply do what they want to do — and do not listen to the voice of God.  Sometimes people simply make some bad choices in life.  Sometimes people are rebellious and disobedient.  And it’s time for us to stop giving God the “credit” for those kinds of behaviors.  We live in a fallen world and while God would love for his people to do what he desires, sometimes we simply don’t and there are and will be consequences.  Don’t write it off as “it must be God’s will!” 

When my father-in-law was on his deathbed he had a conversation with my niece who was struggling with his illness.  She said, “why would God do this?”  I am so grateful for his response.  He told her that God did not do this but that he (my father-in-law) had not always made healthy choices nor cared for himself physically as he should.  He had been overweight and suffered with diabetes for years and now there were consequences.  He did not want her to blame God for the condition in which he found himself. 

Sometimes we get ourselves into nasty predicaments.  Stop blaming God and take action to get your life and your relationship back on the right track with God.  Yes, there will be difficulties in life.  Yes, even good people will let you down.  But don’t blame God.  Instead, allow God to be with you in those times — to love you and to sustain you. 

Prayer:


Lord, thanks for walking this journey of life with me.  Amen.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Entering the Kingdom by Force




Scripture:


Luke 16:16 ¶ “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force.
Luke 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.

Observation:

The arrival of John the Baptist signaled a turning point in human history.  Until that time “the law and the prophets were in effect.”  John began to proclaim the coming kingdom and the response was huge.  People came in mass numbers, urging one another to enter the kingdom.  The force of the crowd coming out to hear about the new kingdom was overwhelming.  But did they really understand what it all meant?  The law was not going away, but instead it was being fulfilled through Jesus Christ and would be written on the very hearts of the people.  The things of the world might shift and change, but the kingdom was about fulfillment of the law, not its destruction. 

Application:


The fear began to well up inside of me as I realized that there wasn’t enough room for the crush of the crowd.  I had never experienced anything like it before in my life.  I was heading to the first-ever Billy Graham Crusade service in Moscow, Russia.  I had taken the subway train to the station where we were to exit.  You could sense the excitement of those people who were on our train car, people from all over the country were arriving to see what would happen at this event that had been widely advertised. 

What no one had expected was the arrival of so many people at the same time at one subway station.  There was only so much room available on the train platform and everyone had to be funneled up the escalator to the exit.  When we stepped from the train we discovered there was no place to go.  We were pushed and shoved by the people behind us and all of a sudden we were part of a massive crowd that was trying to force its way in the direction of the escalators.  The force of the crowd was so great that at times it seemed that my feet no longer touched the floor.  There was a back and forth rocking motion and I was simply swept away by the crush of the crowd as slowly we made our way to the escalator, all the while fear was creeping in because more trains were arriving.  We could only sustain a certain amount of crushing and then there would be no room left.  The air began to feel stale for there were simply too many people in too small of a space.  And little by little we were trying to force our way forward until we would reach the escalator.  At that point we seemed to be spit out of the crowd, one by one, until we could balance ourselves on the steps that were moving rapidly upward. 

This crowd was trying to enter the kingdom by force, in much the same way I believe it may have happened in the time of Christ.  This was something new and novel.  People were tired of the past because it had nothing to offer them.  Now, they were hopeful about the promise of a new future and so they pushed an shoved to get to the good news of the kingdom.  And just as the people who came to see Jesus got excited about what “freebie” he could give them — namely his miracles, so the people that day at the Crusade couldn’t wait for the “freebies” at the end.  The Salvation Army team had to stand around the floor of the arena with ropes to hold back the crowds.  The people really had no idea what this “altar call” was, but they knew that if you went down front they would give you some free literature and so they anxiously awaited the end of the service so that they could enter the kingdom by force — nearly trampling the Salvationists.  It’s a sight I will never forget.

The sad truth is that on a smaller scale, far too often, we too may be trying to enter the kingdom by force.  We push and we shove to get there and enjoy the “freebies” that Jesus has to offer us, but we want it all to be easy.  Jesus never promised that it would be easy!  He never said that he would destroy the law — but instead that he would fulfill the law.  The kingdom is an invitation to join Jesus in living out the law from the inside out.  It is an invitation to servant-leadership in a very upside-down world.  It’s where the first are last and the last are first.  It’s a place where we are to reflect Jesus, being his instruments in a world that so desperately needs to experience his love.  The reality is that the gate is narrow, and when people figure that out, they aren’t as excited about trying to get in.  We don’t want to leave our baggage at the door so that we can enter.  We try pushing and shoving and getting in with all that we have, because of what we think we will receive in the end.  Instead, we are invited to put down our junk and give ourselves wholly over to the work of Jesus in our lives.  This is the work of the kingdom, and we can’t grab it on our own.  Jesus works in and through us and the law of God becomes the law of our lives — nothing more, nothing less! 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the gift of your law  Amen.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Passion for the Lost




Scripture:


Luke 15:1 ¶ Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 15:3 ¶ So he told them this parable:
Luke 15:4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
Luke 15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
Luke 15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
Luke 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Observation:


The official religious folk were always looking out for Jesus, just hoping to catch him in doing something wrong!  In their minds, one of the worst things that he did was hang out with sinners.  Why would he not hang out with the “good” religious folk? 

Why indeed?  Because Jesus had a passion and a love for those who were lost.  Immediately he tells them the story of the lost sheep, explaining that the ninety-nine were safe, but there was one little sheep that had wandered off.  The good shepherd goes and finds the one that is lost and brings it home. 

All of heaven joins in the passion for the ones who are lost and there is great rejoicing when they are brought home.

Application:

I love having conversations with young people these days, especially those with a passion for the lost.  Their creativity abounds as they imagine different ways in which they may engage the culture.  There are those who want to do coffee house ministry, others who want to do rap ministry, and yet others who want to do relief and development work around the world.  I’m excited about this generation who wants to leave the ninety-nine and go, be like Jesus, welcoming sinners and eating with them. 

But there is something important here.  Jesus did more than just eat with them.  He brought to them the good news of the kingdom of God.  He healed their bodies, their minds and their emotions and he often sent them away telling them to “sin no more.”  The good shepherd goes out to find the lost but then he brings them home.  It is in the act of bringing them home that all of heaven rejoices — they do not rejoice in his eating with the sinners.

There is a passion to hang with sinners — but is there a passion to bring them home?  Early members of the holiness movement were passionate about the lost.  They wanted to be like Jesus and so they stepped out into the world and looked for the lost sheep.  They brought them to Jesus where they discovered the transformational power of a personal relationship with him.  Could it be that this is the key step that might be missing today?  And could it be that our relationship with Christ is at the core of this? 

How many of us have fallen deeply in love with Jesus Christ?  It is only when I fall deeply and passionately in love with him that I want others to experience the same.  Out of my love for him, it becomes my desire to share him with others who are lost.  I remember the recovering addicts with whom we worked in Ukraine — they would often tell me how grateful they were for all that Jesus had done for them.  As a result, they could not keep quiet.  They wanted to go back to their hometowns and plant churches so that others could experience what they had in Christ.  This passion for the lost came from the overflow of their lives.

The Pharisees had hung around in doing the right religious things all of their lives.  Sadly, they had not experienced a deep and profound love for God.  They didn’t understand the heart of God and so now, when confronted with God’s son, they had no love for him either.  As a result, they had no love for the lost.  Instead, they were angry that they weren’t getting the attention they felt they deserved.

May a great love for Jesus well up inside of us, moving us to the place of passionate engagement with the lost world. 

Prayer:

Lord, may I love you and love others today.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Early Success May Be Temporal



Scripture:

Genesis 36:15
These were the chiefs among Esau’s descendants:
The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau:
Chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz,
16 Korah, Gatam and Amalek. These were the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in Edom; they were grandsons of Adah.

Observation:


It was Esau’s brother, Jacob who had wrestled with God and who was renamed Israel.  He was the one through whom the holy lineage was to come and yet when we read through these portions of scripture we find that Esau’s sons are called Chiefs while Jacob’s sons are simple shepherds.  Some of the older biblical translations referred to Esau’s sons as Dukes!  Somehow they had ascribed to them entire groups of people and they were considered the leaders.  Whether it meant they were the head of clan, they were a Chief or a Duke, there was a distinct terminology used here for Esau’s sons that was not used when it came to Jacob’s sons. 

A kingdom was being established through Esau, one which would become known as the Edomites.  It would take generations before the Israelites would become a nation such as Edom.  Esau embraced the things that the world had to offer and for a period of time he was successful.  Jacob and his shepherd boys embraced their relationship with God.  Often this made them outcasts of the world, but eventually they gave rise to the son of God and to God’s kingdom which is eternal. 

Application:

The story of the "Tortoise and the Hare" certainly comes to mind when you think about the lives of Jacob and Esau and their descendants.  Esau and his descendants saw incredible success early on, but it was a success borne out of a relationship with the world. 

Is there a temptation to find our success in the world?  I certainly believe that to be true!  Often what the world has to offer us is right there before our eyes and we are tempted by that early success.  It all seems so quick and easy.  Why would we want to go through the struggles that serving God may bring to us.  Think about Jacob’s family!  They suffered during the famines and eventually moved to Egypt.  They had a little success there early on but eventually there were not rulers, but they were slaves!  Finally when God led them out of Egypt they again encountered the Edomites and by now they were enemies.  They struggled for hundreds of years while Esau’s descendants were strong.  It wasn’t until the time of King Saul and King David that we begin to see the defeat of the Edomites.

My great-grandparents moved from the “old country” to America.  He came from Sweden and she came from Denmark.  They met in America and homesteaded in Nebraska.  Life was hard and yet they embraced it, trying to become successful on this new land which they now owned!  Working day in and day out they simply stopped making the faith that they had brought with them from their homelands a priority.  Instead, even Sunday was a day in which they would labor — working for that early success.  That was, until the day of the terrible mid-western storm when lightening struck the house.  There they stood watching the house and everything they owned inside go up in smoke.  What had they been working for?  For rapid success in the new world! 

Grandma looked up at her husband Emile and said to him, “Papa — on Sunday we’re hitching the horses to the wagon and we’re going to church!”  And standing there watching their human dreams go up in smoke the young Johnson family made a commitment to return to God and to making him first place in their lives.  The result?  All of their children gave their lives to Jesus Christ.  A daughter became a missionary to Africa.  Several became preachers and today they have grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who are serving in God’s kingdom.  They gave up on the early success and chose to invest in God’s kingdom for the long term!  Great is their reward.

We will be faced with choices today.  Will it be quick success — or kingdom investment?

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the commitment of great-grandparents that has spoken into my life.  Amen.

Monday, January 13, 2014

False Sincerity



Scripture:


Luke 13:31 ¶ At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
Luke 13:32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
Luke 13:33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
Luke 13:34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Luke 13:35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Observation:

What seems so unusual about this scripture is that the Pharisees seem out of character.  Why would they suddenly come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wanted to kill him?  This seems far too kind for them!  And the truth is, it was too kind for them.  They presented themselves before Jesus with false sincerity and really had an ulterior motive.  They were the ones who wanted Jesus to leave the region for he was becoming far too popular.  Under the pretense of protecting Jesus from Herod (who had already beheaded John the Baptist) they came to “protect” him. 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, the very place where he knew he was to continue his ministry and yet, the religious leaders really did not want him there.  Jesus tells them that they can tell Herod, “that fox” just exactly what he’s up to!  He is “casting out demons and performing cures” and he will continue to do so until his work is finished!  This is also a message directly to the Pharisees that Jesus has a plan and even their “best efforts” to thwart those plans will not keep him from moving onward to Jerusalem.

This section ends with Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem.  His heart is breaking with his love for the city and all that she symbolizes for the people of faith.  The religious leaders wanted to keep him away for their own sake, and Jesus wanted to go and die there for their sake.  The true heart of love is revealed in the response of Christ.

Application:

There are times in life when we used “veiled” language because we don’t really want to tackle the issue head on!  One of the most memorable conversations that I had with my husband Chuck was when we were young and stilling trying to figure out what this relationship was supposed to be.  We had gotten to know one another a bit but we weren’t sure about this “dating” thing.  He came to me one Sunday evening and we had a rather cryptic conversation.  He told me that he had a “friend” who was interested in a girl — and you can imagine how the rest of the story went.  He was wondering what type of advice to give his “friend” — as to whether this girl might be willing to go out with him or not.  I told him that it was probably a good suggestion to tell his “friend” that I suspected the girl would probably say “yes,” if he would ask!  He thanked me for the advice and then went on his way.  Of course, I assumed he was talking about the two of us but when he didn’t call until Thursday to ask me out I had plenty of time to doubt the conversation.  But I was right - and more than 30 years later, I’m glad it was about us.

The Pharisees certainly did not want to appear that they were against Jesus.  This would not have looked good for them and so using “veiled” language they tried to appear caring and very spiritual in their conversation with Jesus.  But time would reveal that they were simply worrying about themselves and when using Herod as a ruse didn’t work, they finally got their own hands dirty and took care of the business of Jesus.

Unfortunately people in the world are tired of the false sincerity of Christians.  They want Christians to be transparent and genuine, knowing that through and through, what they say and what they do are rooted in their faith.  Jesus was genuine to the core and his love for Jerusalem was not only borne out in his lament over the city, but in his follow-through. 

As imitators of Christ we must be genuine in our passion for the lost.  Lament and follow-through will reveal to the world that our faith is sincere. 

Prayer:

Lord, may I be genuine and sincere in my faith today, and every day.  Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stewardship In His Absence



Scripture:

Luke 12:42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

Observation:

Jesus is sharing another parable with his followers and this one has to do with those whom he will leave in charge.  There is a leadership role which the apostles will take over when he is no longer with them, and this is the place of wise and faithful management.  This manager is to practice good stewardship of the entire household, making sure all of the members are well fed. 

But what happens when the Lord’s absence continues for an extended period of time?  There is a temptation for the manager to put him or herself in the place of the Lord and begin to exert control over the other members of the household.  Instead of feeding them well, the manager uses them to his/her own benefit, beating them and showing no self discipline, eating and drinking to their fill. 

When least expected the Lord will come and find the household in disarray, and the manager who had proclaimed that they were God’s servant will find themselves in a “place with the unbelievers.”

Application:

This parable is really quite profound and is a warning for those who find themselves in places of leadership within the Church.  This is a place of great responsibility and there must be good stewardship of all the resources that have been made available.

What becomes clear is that in the Lord’s absence, it is the responsibility of the manager to provide food for those within the household.  Let me put it in these terms.  Pastor — it’s your responsibility to provide excellent spiritual food for those within your church!  My concern is that in the long absence of the Lord we are becoming lazy managers of the household.  We are not taking the effort to grow good food to give to the household, instead we have adopted the lead of society and that is, restaurant, fast-food and left-overs will supply our needs.  Just as society is getting sick off of these types of foods, so the church is getting sick on a diet of fast-food. 

We cannot be well-fed off of pastors re-preaching other peoples’ sermons!  A pastor becomes well-fed him/herself when he/she spends time feeding on the word of God.  A pastor needs to be feeding the congregation from the food that he/she has been growing in their own personal garden.  Stop trying to feed your family with left-overs from the neighbors or what you bought at the internet drive-through! 

The parable shows the deterioration which can occur when the manager becomes so power hungry and self-centered that they actually put themselves in the place of the Lord and allow all types of un-Christlike behavior to go on within the “family.”  The punishment for this type of manager will be great.

Our good and faithful Lord is asking us to be good and faithful managers of all that he has put into his care.  We are to be a reflection of Christ to the world and our stewardship of the household must reflect him.  There should be no laziness in his absence, but rather diligent workers seeking to make a difference! 

May we live every day as if it were the day that he would drop in to observe what we are doing — and may he find us to be good and faithful stewards.

Prayer:

Lord, help me to be good and faithful today.  Amen.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Vow



Scripture:


Gen. 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,
Gen. 28:21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God,
Gen. 28:22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.”

Observation:

It appears that during the time of Jacob there were very few people who served God.  His father and his grandfather had personal relationships with God and yet there would have to be a commitment on the part of this young man that he, too, would follow the LORD.  The faith of his parents would not be enough, he would have to make a vow himself.  During the night he had an incredible dream that became very personal and when he awakened he realized the need for his own personal commitment to God. 

Jacob awakened and made a vow — one which would change the remainder of his life.  He recognized that night that God would be with him and therefore, “If God will be with me…” then everything in life will be different.  Jacob was pledging to remain in this relationship with the LORD.  He recognized that God would care for his very needs.   Notice, this does not include the “extras” of life, but acknowledging that God gives us food to eat and clothing to wear.  Jacob also needed protection for he knew that his behavior had created a rift with his brother.  This relationship with the LORD would also be one of peace, one that could unite him once again with his brother so that there would be peace in his father’s house. 

In response to the vow that was made Jacob set up a stone — as a visible reminder to the commitment made.  As Jacob’s personal visible reminder of his vow he promised a tithe of all that he had.

Application:

How seriously do we take our faith?  What kind of a personal vow have we made to the Lord? 

To be in a personal relationship with the Lord is to embark on a serious adventure.  Unfortunately many don’t see it in that way.  Instead it is seen as a commitment to occasionally attend church, get excited about some worship music, and listen to a sermon. 

Just as Jacob was very serious about his vow, so we need to be serious about our vow as well.  We have vows in marriage where we are committing to a life-long relationship with one another.  Sadly, many of those vows are being broken these days.  Could it be that we are living in a time where making vows and sticking with them has become extremely difficult?  And could it be that it has become difficult because we are too focused on ourselves and what it is that we want?  Jacob was ready to tell God that he would be satisfied with having his “needs” met, and he would always give God back the tenth.

Many people are unable to tithe these days because of their personal debt.  We are living above our needs and have moved into our wants.  The vow, or commitment has become to ourselves and our self-satisfaction, to the detriment of our families and the on-going life of the church. 

It’s time for God’s people to make a vow — a serious commitment to a life of devotion to him!  This is a commitment from which we will never waver, being faithful to God, through his grace, to the very end.  Then, may a stone be raised over us that serves as a reminder to the world that this has been the house (or the temple) of God. God has lived within and been reflected in the life of this individual.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your faithfulness to me.  Amen.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Best Dish On the Table



Scripture:

Luke 10:38 ¶ Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
Luke 10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
Luke 10:40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Luke 10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
Luke 10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Observation:


Jesus went to visit some of his very dear friends and had arrived at their home.  Jesus didn’t travel alone, but his entire company of followers were with him and caring for them took a great amount of effort.  This was Martha’s home, and as such she had taken upon herself the responsibility to be the hostess and care for the needs of her guests, which was no small feat. 

Jesus was about the business of preaching the gospel everywhere he went, and more than likely, many a sermon was preached in the homes of friends and all those who would welcome him.  I can just imagine that Jesus didn’t waste a lot of time with small talk, but instead got right to the task of teaching and preaching. 

What Jesus had to offer was truly “the best dish on the table.”  (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament)  But Martha was occupied with all the other dishes!  She was a good hostess and was trying to care for the needs of all of those who had appeared at her home.  Being a good hostess, not only did she want to feed the people there, but she wanted to do a really nice job of it and so she busied herself making many different kinds of foods that could be spread out on the table.  She was not trying to get attention for herself but believed this was the way in which to show her love and appreciation for her Lord. 

Martha became quite irritated with her sister who was not helping with all the work of being a hostess and asked the Lord to send her back into the kitchen!  Surely that was where Mary, a woman belonged!  But Jesus had come to turn everything upside down and this included the traditional tasks which may have been performed in the home.  The concern was not about a meal made up of many courses, the focus was to be on the message which was being spoken in the front room.  A fancy meal was not necessary for the best dish on the table was the one being spoken by Jesus.  Mary had figured that out and was willing to put aside the traditional duties and soak in the word, and Jesus affirmed her in this behavior. 

What Martha was doing wasn’t bad and it was what she had been taught to do.  Mary, however, had discovered that the kingdom transcended the boundaries of human life and leads us into a place where the priorities are different.  Fancy food on the table may have been a sign of great hospitality, but when the best dish on the table is being served at the feet of Jesus, we stop worrying about all those other dishes and are satisfied with simple human food so that we can focus on what he has to offer.  His meat will last forever.

Application:


Mary had already stepped into the new kingdom that Jesus had brought to earth and Martha was just beginning to figure it out.  Our later encounters with Martha reveal that she heard this word from the Lord and changed her priorities.  It was a lesson well learned.

Think about the day today and all that it has in store.  There is much to be done!  It seems there always is much that needs to be done, but does it have to be done to the extent that it excludes time to be with the Lord?  Are we focusing so much on doing things for Jesus Christ — and wanting to do them extremely well — that we forget that the very best we have to offer may be sitting there unused. 

There have been times in the life of the church that we spend hours working on planning events and making sure that every single detail is its absolute finest.  There is nothing wrong with that, unless it is done to the exclusion of the one thing that should take center stage — Jesus!  You can just imagine that Martha was spending hours on numerous fancy little dishes to put out on the table.  Her heart was in the right place but the whole time she didn’t realize that the best part of the meal was already prepared.  She could have made something simple so that the attention would have all been on the main dish — Jesus!  And she could have been learning from him as well.

We need to evaluate where we spend our time and energy.  Do we actually spend time doing things that can become a distraction from our personal time with the Lord.  Are we chomping down on little appetizers instead of getting to enjoy the main meal because we’ve not left time for him?  Mary chose the better way, and ultimately Martha did as well.  Their eyes were opened to the new kingdom, one in which the things of this world “grow strangely dim.”  They put the things of the world behind and sat at the feet of the Lord, all the while being transformed into kingdom citizens who knew what it meant to eat from the best dish on the table.

Prayer:

Lord, may I be fed from you today, and may the distractions be few.  Amen.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Love Is A Choice

Love is a Choice

Scripture:

Genesis 24:67
Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Observation:

Isaac had never met Rebekah until his servant brought her home.  He trusted his servant to fulfill the mission on which he had been sent.  His servant arrived with a young woman from far away and yet, Isaac took her home and made her his wife.  Then there is a simple, but profound statement, "and he loved her."  Note, it doesn't say "he fell in love with her and then married her."  It's actually the other way around and there is something here which we should observe.  Isaac made a choice, a lifelong decision that he would love his wife.

Application:

Listening to the radio this morning on the way to the airport I heard an advertisement from a Law Office.  They mentioned that in the United States, right around 50% of marriages will end in divorce.  The message was, since this is inevitable for so many of you, make sure you get the right lawyer.

Interestingly last evening I heard another advertisement that caught my attention, but this time it was regarding the importance of filing your taxes electronically and as soon as possible. Why?  Because divorced couples with children who file before their previous spouse will be able to file electronically and then it will create problems for the other spouse and they will have to do more work and file more paper work.  So, hurry up, get it done so that you can have the advantage and mess up your former spouses life even more...and maybe even get more money back from the government for claiming your children.  Wow!!!!

No wonder there are so many divorces and so many relational problems.  We are not choosing to love one another, we are choosing to love ourselves and society is even promoting and putting its seal of approval on this type of behavior!

Many of the societal issues we face these days are because we are putting ourselves first and not choosing to love.  This may be in marriages but it is also probably reflected in all of life.  We have been taught to look out for number one.  God's intention is that we choose to love and that we place the needs of others before our own.  John Wooden is quoted, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” (Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and off the Court).

Choose to love your spouse!  Choose to love your children.  Choose to love your relatives.  Choose to love those whom you encounter in life.  Isaac chose to love, and he was comforted.  Choose to love and the God of all comfort will minister to our hearts as well.

Prayer:

Lord, may I love today.  Amen.




Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pay Attention To How You Listen



Scripture:


Luke 8:16 ¶ “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.
Luke 8:17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.
Luke 8:18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

Observation:


The daily life of a Christian reveals the true character of the individual.  This is a serious relationship and one that should infuse every part of our being. 

Why do you turn on a light?  So that it will light the room.  You don’t turn it on just to hide it under something. 

The seriousness of this Christian walk cannot be emphasized more because there is nothing that we do that can be hidden from God.  What we do day in and day out will reveal who we are and whom we are following.  That’s why we need to pay attention as to how we listen to the Lord.  The light given to us from the Lord is not meant to be hidden somewhere.  Instead that light is to shine on and inform our lives so that we will be different.  The intention of the light of Christ is to shine into the dark corners of our lives so that those areas can be cleaned up, as well as to light the pathway on which we are to travel.  

That’s why we need to pay attention!  Take action when the light shines and if we do, God will give even more, but if we don’t, we will lose it all.

Application:

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone and at some point you kind of “zone out?”  All of a sudden you become aware that you have not heard the last 30 seconds or so of that conversation and you wonder how to respond?  I have to confess, that has certainly happened to me! 

I think that’s what Jesus is talking about in our spiritual lives.  We need to pay attention as to how we will listen to the Lord.  His word is here to guide us in our lives every single day.  There are times when I read a passage of scripture and I’ve kind of “zoned out” on that too!  I’ll get to the end of a chapter and realize I had not been paying attention and I'll have to go back and read it again.  You see, if I really want the word to change who I am and affect the way in which I live my life every single day, then I have to pay attention.  I must pay attention with the intent that the word that I read or hear is to inform my life in such a way that it forms me spiritually. 

Are you paying attention to what Jesus is offering you, or are you taking the word of God, skimming it and putting it back on the nightstand?  If so, then maybe you’re lighting a lamp and hiding it under a jar!

Prayer:


Lord, may your light shine in me today.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Grace Extended — Grace Rejected



Scripture:

Luke 7:29 (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism.
Luke 7:30 But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)

Observation:


Thousands of people had flocked to hear John the Baptist preach as he called the people to repentance.  Tax collectors were considered to be the very worst of the very worst, and yet they were willing to listen to John’s preaching and repent.  God was justified in his action against the Israelites for they had been disobedient.  By being baptized these people acknowledged God’s justice, their need for repentance and received God’s grace reaching which was extended to them. 

The religious officials, by refusing the baptism of John also rejected God’s grace.  God’s desire was to reach out to them and to save them.  Even now they had witnessed the Messiah standing before them but the more grace was extended, the more it was rejected.  Their egos would not allow them to accept that God’s judgment would be upon them for they, and the people of Israel, had been unfaithful to God. 

Application:

Have you ever tried to reach out to someone in need, to offer them grace, only to be rebuffed?  It seems that this happens often in ministry, especially with those who are really struggling to get out of sinful habits.  One of the worst that we confront these days is the problem of addiction to internet porn.  Even when trying to provide counseling services and methods of accountability there are those who will either refuse to admit that it is a serious problem or think they can manage it on their own.  Grace has been extended, but grace has been rejected.

Unfortunately it is often our ego that gets in the way of accepting the grace that God extends to us.  How many have stubbornly refused to follow Christ simply because they believed they could do a better job of managing their own affairs!  What folly.  Ultimately the Pharisees lost everything by trying to compromise with the political powers of the day and rejecting their Messiah.  They went so far as to crucify the one who came to save them.  Talk about grace rejected, and yet, don’t we do the same every time we refuse to acknowledge the justice of God and the grace that he is extending to us?

Every single day God is reaching out to us with his gracious acts of love and mercy.  Some days he uses different people and circumstances to be channels of that grace and we simply need to open our eyes and recognize the ways in which he is reaching out us.  Don’t reject him for your own purposes — it’s not worth it!

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to witness to your grace today.  Amen.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Are You Doing?



Scripture:

Luke 6:46 ¶ “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?
Luke 6:47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.
Luke 6:48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.
Luke 6:49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

Observation:

It’s so much easier to follow the way of the crowd, the “broad way.”  God does show us the way to go and gives us good direction in life, and yet, there are times that we simply choose to not do what he tells us to do!  Our actions speak much louder than our words.  We cannot simply say that we will follow God, but our lives must be a reflection of him — of following him and imitating him in all that we do. 

The ones who listen to the Lord will build their lives on a deep and solid foundation. They will take the time to build it wisely because we all know that life brings with it many difficulties and in those moments we will be unable to stand if the foundation has not been built on him!

Application:


Years ago when we were missionaries we were busy building a youth center outside of Moscow.  This site was used for camps and theological education but it took a lot of visiting teams to come over and help us make our dream a reality.  At the time our girls were little and they loved helping out the Work and Witness teams and “learning” all kinds of construction skills from them.  During a particular period of construction the team was framing in new parts of the building.  It was the responsibility of one gentleman to use the table saw and cut the studs to the proper length.  There were lots of small pieces of left-over wood laying around after this exercise.  Our little girls wanted so badly to build something in the back yard that they approached “Grandpa Roy” — the Work and Witness coordinator, and asked him if there were pieces of wood they could use to build their own house in the backyard.  He told them that they could but they could only use wood that was — and he lifted up his hands to show them — only this big or smaller.  He showed them a distance of about 18 inches, or 45 cm. 

The girls were very busy, and also very quiet.  Every parent knows that when they’re that quiet you’d probably check up on them!  Wow - they had been busy building a little “house” or shack in the back yard.  On further inspection the house had some pretty nice looking wood in it.  Grandpa Roy and we parents began to wonder where they were getting this wood.  Weren’t they using the “scraps?”  So, we began to do some of our own investigative work only to discover that the man running the table saw had not been in on the conversation between the girls and Grandpa Roy.  The girls kept taking really nice studs to the man running the saw and asking him to cut it just “this big” — the size Grandpa Roy had indicated.  Instead of using scraps, they were using the wood intended for the building project!  And they simply thought Grandpa Roy was helping them with their building plan.

Ultimately their building plan had a few fatal flaws, even though they were using the good studs.  They failed to realize the need for a foundation for their house.  It was in the heat of summer and the ground was baked solid and so they had nailed their little house directly into the ground.  This was their foundation.  It all looked okay until the evening thunderstorm rolled in and the water ran beneath their house turning their foundation into mud.  By the next morning the entire house was lying flat on its side.  A lesson learned!

Jesus has come to prepare a way for us, so that we might be able to follow him on the highway of holiness.  We go to church and we call him Lord — and yet, do we really follow him?  It seems that so often when we run into the difficulties of life it is because we have tried to trek off in our own direction, or maybe failed to heed the instructions.  Our little girls were looking for shortcuts.  The project failed.  Too often we’re looking for short cuts, for the easy answers in life, but they don’t come. 

When life suddenly seems to be out of kilter, maybe we ought to step back and say, “What am I doing?”  Take some time to evaluate whether you are calling him Lord, and yet, are failing to do what he tells you to do. 

We all know that the rainstorms of life will come and will pound us.  Will we stand?  Will we make it?  Only if we dig deep and build the foundation that Jesus has laid before us. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to dig deep every day and continue to follow your path.  Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Withdrawal



Scripture:


Luke 5:15 But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.
Luke 5:16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Observation:

Quietly tucked into the narrative we find what very well may be the secret to Jesus’ ministry.  He was busy day in and day out doing the Father’s business.  Miraculous transformations were occurring in the lives of numerous people.  Blind could see, those with leprosy healed, the paralyzed could walk and the crowds were following him everywhere.  And yet, even Jesus knew that his strength had to come from his fellowship with the Father.  He had to withdraw and be alone so that he could pray.

Application:

I lead a pretty busy life (and I think it may have just gotten busier), and yet, my life is nothing like that of Jesus Christ.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him, continually ministering to so many people.  He was constantly giving of himself to help others, to help them see and envision the kingdom of God!  It was exhausting work. And yet, Jesus — even Jesus, could not do this alone.  He made it a priority to get away and spend time in prayer. 

Jesus’ entire life here on this earth is one in which sanctified humanity is revealed to us.  Jesus came so that we, too, could be holy.  His life is a demonstration for us of the work that he wants to accomplish in and through us and we are to follow his example — to imitate him.  If Jesus had to withdraw on a regular basis “to deserted places and pray,” how much more so do I?  How do I think I can manage the busyness of my life on my own?  The busier we are, the more time we need to spend with him! 

Somehow this time of “withdrawal” needs to become a regular part of who we are, just as it was with Christ.  We need to create deserted places where we can simply be alone with him, and in doing so will we find the wisdom and strength that come only from him to go back out into the chaos of our lives. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the quiet moments with you.  Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Blessed in Christ



Scripture:


Ephesians 1:3-14
1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,

1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

Observation:

We have been adopted into God’s family, and are blessed in Christ.  The blessings are beyond description and in those we give all praise and glory to God, for he alone is worthy!

Application:

Today is a new day in my life’s venture, but it is nothing in comparison to the day I began my venture with the Lord.  I can still remember that night at a teen camp down somewhere in Missouri — forty years ago now, when I wrestled with my faith.  My parents served God, I was a good girl — surely that was enough.  But I knew in my heart that it wasn’t!  For me to be adopted into the family of God I would need to surrender all of myself in service to God’s kingdom.  That night I did and the journey ever since has been nothing short of amazing.  Only God can adopt a little shy girl into his family and begin a work of transformation as he has done. 

Yes, today is a new day, a new venture, and a new path of my journey — but it is a continuation of the one I began with him long ago — and he alone is worthy of all the praise and the glory.

Prayer:

Lord, it is a joy being your child.  Amen.