Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Love Is the Greatest



Scripture:

1Cor. 13:8 ¶ Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
1Cor. 13:9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
1Cor. 13:10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
1Cor. 13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
1Cor. 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1Cor. 13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Observation:

The great love chapter has always had great appeal.  I hear it read at weddings and other events and I wonder whether we really understand what Paul is talking about?  The depths of this love are beyond our comprehension for Paul is talking about the very nature of the Triune God whom we worship.  Everything in the world pales in comparison to God’s nature.  All the things that “spiritual” folks may seek after; prophecies, tongues, knowledge — all of these things are human, but the very nature of God, love, is Divine and is therefore eternal. 

Application:

Unfortunately followers of Christ become absorbed with the thought of earthly things — albeit seemingly spiritual.  This simply reveals our immaturity for we are responding as a child.  But after years of life experience we begin to realize what it is that has true value in life, and those are things eternal.  Therefore we are drawn toward the love of God and our desires are no longer for what we can get from him, our desire simply is him as we long for the time when we will see him clearly, face to face.  Why?  Because faith and hope keep us going in the present, but only God’s love can consume us bringing us to the place of perfection, or completion, in him.

Prayer:

Lord, may we always and continually be drawn toward your love.  Amen.





Thursday, February 27, 2014

Refusing to Listen



Scripture:

Mark 6:11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

Observation:

Jesus had instructed his disciples to go out into the cities and to preach the good news.  Some places would be more receptive than others.  The responsibility of the disciples was not to make the people receptive, but to be faithful messengers. 

Historically the Jews had shaken the dust off of their feet as they had left Gentile villages.  They were, in a sense, shaking the “uncleanliness” from their feet as they left these towns.  Therefore this was a common habit among those who saw themselves as being highly religious.  The disciples were traveling to Jewish villages and they were being prepared for those religious people who would refuse to hear.  The testimony against those who would not welcome them was not just a rejection of the disciples, but a rejection of Jesus himself.  The result was that these people would now be unclean spiritually, for unless they accepted Christ they would not be able to enter into the holy place for all of eternity.  Their behavior and rejection of the Messiah made them “unclean” and the disciples would shake the dust off their feet as a public witness of their spiritual state.

Application:


The Jews saw themselves as very religious people who were meticulous about following the laws of God.  Unfortunately they were so caught up in their religiosity that many failed to recognize the good news about the Messiah when presented. 

Too many folks these days believe themselves to be good and religious.  They are engaged in all the cultural practices of religion.  They attend church pretty regularly and they get fired-up about defending the rights of Christians from a political and legal perspective.  But what would happen if they were confronted with the potentially messy relationship of Jesus Christ?  Jesus brought something completely new and different to the religious scene that the people found difficult to accept.  Jesus brought with him a new way of life, one that led to a deeply intimate relationship with God that was transformational.  That transformation is not always easy and becomes one in which we must wrestle with the life which we encounter.  Nothing is ever just black and white and we realize that the love of God reaches beyond so many of our man-made barriers. 

Sometimes when good church folk are confronted with Jesus they are uncomfortable.  I’m afraid that just as there were good Jews who rejected the disciples so we are in danger of good “Christian” folks rejecting true discipleship.  Could it be that God has said “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” in regard to some of our churches?  The people have not been listening.  The good news has been rejected.  They have made a choice that makes them unclean in the presence of God. 

My heart breaks at this very thought.  May it not be so, Lord!  May we not be a stubborn people who refuse to hear what your messengers are saying to us and may we be willing to change!  My prayer is that we will never hear it be said of who we are as a people — or as a church — that the messengers will “shake off the dust that is on [their] feet as a testimony against [us].”

Prayer:

Lord, help us to listen.  Amen.





Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Begging Jesus to Leave!



Scripture:

Mark 5:17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

Observation:

Jesus had just healed the man who had been demon possessed and it was a very impressive miracle.  The man was filled with numerous demons who declared their own name as “Legion” for they were many.  They begged to be sent into the pigs and Jesus responded to their request.  Overcome by the demons the pigs ran into the sea and were drown.

The people of the area were more angry than they were impressed.  Jesus might have brought healing to one man but the result messed with their business practices.  They were going to lose money because of what he had done.  They were much more interested in their financial enterprises than they were in their own spiritual lives or those of their community. 

They begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood.  Better to make money than to be set free spiritually!  And it wasn’t just a few who were begging him to leave.  Luke tells us that the entire community prayed that he would go. 

Jesus doesn’t hang around where he is not wanted.  He leaves and there is no record to indicate that ever returned to this region ever again.  Their prayer was answered and Jesus was gone.

Application:

I have heard many people lament the fact that many of our churches seem empty and without the presence of the Lord these days.  Is it possible that we have actually asked him to leave the neighborhood?  Maybe we didn’t realize that we were doing it and it didn’t seem intentional at the time, but possibly, through our reactions and priorities we have made the message loud and clear. 

Jesus was disrupting the economy of the community.  Being a follower of Jesus Christ does disrupt the economy!  My personal economy is changed when I put Christ first.  I must give my tithe into the Church and then I must continue to give offerings sacrificially to his work.  When I begin to think that my finances and resources are “all mine” then I am, in very subtle ways, asking Jesus to leave the neighborhood.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus he preached about Jesus and the result was a marked decrease in the worship of Artemis the great goddess of the city.  His preaching was having a direct impact on the tourism trade and it made the souvenir salesmen mad.  They were so angry that they rioted. 

When Christians begin to live in a way that is counter-cultural it will have a direct result on the world around them.  What does happen when a group of Christians take back their neighborhood and no longer allow the drug king-pins to rule?  The economy is changed and it angers those who have been in charge.  They want Jesus to leave the neighborhood! 

Let’s not allow Jesus to be kicked out of the neighborhood — either by us, or by the thugs around us.  Jesus comes where he is invited.  May we be willing to be counter-cultural and invite him into every nook and cranny of our lives, sometimes making us and our neighbors a big uncomfortable.  But we need to be made uncomfortable for we should be eternally on a journey of transformation into the reflection of Christ living in the midst of a world that needs his healing touch.

Prayer:


Lord, you are welcome here.  Amen.





Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Overstating the Case



Scripture:

Mark 4:35
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (NIV)

Observation:

The disciples had been hanging out with Jesus day in and day out.  They had listened to his preaching and been witnesses to his healing power.  Now, as they were tired from the day of ministry they got out on a boat and were crossing over the sea.  As the waves of the storm begin to overtake the boat they become frustrated at the peace of Jesus.  He was fast asleep while they were all worried about what to do.  In a moment of frustration they asked Jesus a rather silly question.  “Don’t you care if we drown?”  Of course Jesus cared whether they would drown!  But in their frustration they forgot all that Jesus had previously done and overstated the case. 

Jesus calmly awakened and rebuked the storm and then asked the disciples why they were so upset.  Their response to the storm revealed their lack of faith. 

Application:

Does our response to the circumstances of life reveal our lack of faith?  Just like the disciples we may be privileged to experience the work of God in the world and in our own lives.  The expected response would be peace in the midst of the storms but then suddenly we may feel that the waters of life are getting rough.  We become frightened by the waves that seem to be sweeping in over us. 

Jesus is our example in the storms of life.  He is peacefully sleeping through it all.  Why?  Because he knows that the storm has no power to overtake him.  When the enemy stirs up the storms around us we must remember who it is that is in the boat with us. 

I have a rather natural tendency to overstate the case.  Just ask my husband!  In this case I had to chuckle at the disciples’ response, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  They misinterpreted his sleeping and instead of seeing it as the peace that he wants to provide us in the midst of the difficulties, they saw it as indifference.  They overstated the case because obviously Jesus loved and cared for them and would not want them to drown.

Jesus loves and cares for us.  We need to be careful to not misinterpret his actions or inaction.  His inaction was simply a revelation of his character.  He was peaceful in the storm.  As we reflect his image, we also take on the characteristics of Christ.  The tendency to overstating our case seems to melt into the distance as we put our total trust in him and his nature is reflected in our response to the storms of life. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to trust you in all the storms.  Amen.





Monday, February 24, 2014

Conspiring With the Enemy



Scripture:

Mark 3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Observation:


The Pharisees were so angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath that they went right out and sinned on the Sabbath!  The Herodians were a political party who were opposed to Roman Rule; rather nationalistic and in favor of the family of Herod.  The Pharisees were willing to conspire with their enemies because they hated Jesus.  Just as they were trying to catch him breaking the law they stomped all over the law by their own actions!

Application:


When we allow hate and dislike to rule in our hearts and lives we will go to extreme lengths to get our way.  That’s what the Pharisees were willing to do. 

Sadly, even God’s people have given into the temptation to use all means necessary to attack those who make them feel uncomfortable.  Jesus was pushing them out of the comfort zone of their religiosity.  They didn’t want to hear about this relational stuff, they wanted to be able to practice their religion the same way they had always practiced their religion — by living within a set of black and white rules. 

Now Jesus comes and he has a different perspective and he’s inviting people into a personal relationship with God, a relationship in which the laws of God will be written on the hearts of the people.  The way in which Jesus is living his life is the foreshadowing of God’s intention for all of his people.  The genuine intent of the law is to be fulfilled.  Why would God want someone to remain sick just because it was a particular day of the week?  God would want the sick to be healed!  That’s the love of God reaching out to hurting humanity.

But the Pharisees couldn’t get it.  Sometimes we don’t either.  The love of God compels us to look beyond our comfort zone and to minister in ways which may make us uncomfortable.  We are to follow the example of Christ.  The Pharisees, they were so scared they might lose power that they would not even open their minds to what Jesus was saying.  They preferred to conspire with the enemy to get their own way than to listen to Jesus. 

Don’t be afraid of Jesus today.  Really listen to him and then follow him into a hurting world.  Heal and touch people in the name of Jesus.  Leave the enemy behind.

Prayer:

Lord, may you continue to daily write your laws on my heart.  Amen.





Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Sabbath Rest



Scripture:

Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath;
Mark 2:28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Observation:

God planned a sabbath for all of humanity; not just for the Jews.  The sabbath is not to be a burden to humanity but instead is to be a day of genuine rest and restoration for the people of God. 

Application:

The Jewish leaders had gotten hung up in the details of the Sabbath.  They had made it complicated and about the restrictions that needed to be followed.  It was as if they were worshipping the sabbath and honoring the day for the sake of the day.  Jesus knew that they had it all wrong. 

Every human needs a sabbath.  This is not a day to be overwhelmed with a set of rules placed upon us by others but it is to be a day of genuine rest and restoration.  Unfortunately we don’t always do well at understanding Sabbath in this way and we push ourselves to do far too much.  And eventually we don’t even understand what it is that is supposed to be happening on that day.

The official “Sabbath day” was on Saturday.  Today most Christians worship on Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  While the actual day of the week may have shifted, are we still having a sabbath in our lives?  Are we slowing down long enough to allow God to be the one who recharges us? 

These past couple of months have been crazy ones in my own life and I am searching for that new rhythm that allows me to really enjoy a sabbath rest.  Yesterday a friend reminded me of this need in his life and that I needed to find that sweet spot in my own life.  My personal confession today is that it’s far too easy to get caught up in everything that we need to do that we don’t allow ourselves the time to soak in God’s presence that we need — not just on a daily basis — but on a sabbath basis as well.

I’m heading out to church this morning where I will not be preaching.  I’m glad.  I’m looking forward to worshiping the God of all creation and reflecting on him today as I celebrate a sabbath rest. 

Prayer:


Lord, may there be a rhythm of sabbath in my life.  Amen.





Saturday, February 22, 2014

Seeking the face of the LORD



Scripture:

Psa. 27:8     “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
        Your face, LORD, do I seek.
Psa. 27:9         Do not hide your face from me.

Observation:

The Psalmist recognizes the need for God in life.  Created to be a reflection of God, one can only reflect what one sees.  Therefore the Psalmist is seeking the face of God.  When we look into the very face of God, then the face of God is reflected in us for all the world to see.  It is in this face to face and nose to nose relationship that our lives are set aright. 

Application:

We get up and what is the first thing we do in the morning?  I believe the Psalmist is teaching us the need to seek the face of God! 

If I am to be a reflection of the LORD in the world then I must be in a deeply personal relationship with him.  My alignment with him must be kept right. 

The Psalmist cries out, “Do not hide your face from me.”  The reality is that God doesn’t hide his face from us.  He remains the constant in the relationship, constantly looking in our direction, never hiding his face from us.  We are the ones who get out of alignment.  When we turn our heads in another direction, then we cannot find the face of God.  When we are cowering or hiding behind the rock, we won’t be able to see the face of God.  When we have become distracted by the things around us, we won’t be able to see the face of the Lord. 

Lord — “do not hide your face from me” is a cry for help.  Lord, help me to remain in the right place so that I can continue to look on your face! 

As a follower of Christ it is our responsibility to seek his face on a daily basis.  Then, may the glory of God be reflected in and through us in all things.  When the reflection is not visible, take responsibility for having gotten out of alignment.  He is not hiding from you, you are hiding from him.  Come out from behind the distractions and look on him, face to face. 

Now, take the face of the LORD into the world so that others may find him too!

Prayer:

Lord, may I seek you today and every day.  Amen.





Friday, February 21, 2014

Where is the Light Shining?



Scripture:


Num. 8:1 ¶ The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Num. 8:2 Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.
Num. 8:3 Aaron did so; he set up its lamps to give light in front of the lampstand, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Observation:

The tabernacle was very dark with no windows.  The priests were instructed in the placement of the lamps.  The lampstand was to be lit from the fire of the altar and the remaining lamps to be lit from the lampstand.  They were to be arranged in such a way that they provided light leading up to the altar.

Application:

The fire of the altar represents the source of all light — God himself!  Jesus came to earth to be that light for us and we are to receive our light directly from him.  Only by being in relationship with him can we receive the light of God. 

We are to take that light out into the world and help to light more lights.  In this way the light of Christ is taken beyond the source and into the places of darkness in the world.  At the same time our lights are to shine the path that leads to the source — to the altar.  People need the pathway lit so that they can find their way to Christ. 

The tabernacle was properly lit when these instructions were followed.  If they were not followed then the very light of God would not shine and the path to the altar would not be found.  If we do not follow the instructions of God in our own lives there will be darkness in this world and people will not find their way to God. 

We have a responsibility to be the shining lights of God in this world, illuminating the pathway to God.  When God’s people are not fulfilling the responsibility for which they have been created the light will not be shining in the right place.  Where is the light shining?    

Prayer:

Lord, may I be your light today in the right places.  Amen.





Thursday, February 20, 2014

Support From an Unexpected Source



Scripture:

Acts 27:1 ¶ When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius.

Observation:


Paul had appealed to Caesar and so there was no option but to send him to Rome.  The time had now come and Paul was being placed on a ship.  While he traveled he was to be under the authority of a centurion by the name of Julius.  As we discover throughout this journey Paul and Julius become friends and the centurion intercedes, saving Paul’s life. Not only does he save Paul’s life but he becomes dependent upon Paul’s leading and direction.  The man who had authority over Paul as a prisoner becomes the unexpected source of help and support during this difficult phase of Paul’s journey.

Application:

We often have preconceived notions and expectations of people.  Especially when we encounter people in positions of authority we are quick to stereo-type them and what we perceive will be their behaviors.  However, it seems that God wants to bring us help from unexpected sources. 

If our help constantly came from the same source, or from the places that we would expect, would we still be dependent upon God?  I’m afraid that we would become dependent upon ourselves and our own preconceived notions of where the help should come from! 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus performed miracles of healing in so many different ways?  Sometimes he touched the person.  Sometimes he just spoke words.  Once he spit into the dirt and created mud for a blind man’s eyes.  But there didn’t seem to be anything routine about the way in which Jesus did this work.  Why?  Because he knew that we as humans would become dependent upon the method instead of the source for the healing.

For Paul, and for us today, the Lord wants to be with us, lead us and guide us through unexpected sources.  He can take the perceived enemy and use him to be our guardian and protector.  He can take a bad situation (for Paul it was a shipwreck) and use it to be glorified.  Why?  Because God can use unexpected sources — people, places and things — to support us in our times of need.  In this way the glory of God is revealed because he has the power to transcend beyond the limits of our imagination. 

Allow God to minister to you today from an unexpected source.  Julius should have been Paul’s enemy.  He became Paul’s friend and protector.  That’s the miracle of the power and grace of God at work in our lives.  

Prayer:

Lord, may I be open to the ways in which you want to provide.  Amen.





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

This Wasn’t Done in a Corner



Scripture:

Acts 26:25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth.
Acts 26:26 Indeed the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am certain that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner.

Observation:

Paul was speaking before Agrippa and Festus, sharing his testimony.  It is at this time that he shares his Damascus road experience and the transformation that he encountered as a follower of Jesus Christ.  The hope that he had found in Christ was exuding from him.  Festus thinks that Paul is crazy but then Paul reminds the rulers that they have been witnessing all these things about which he is speaking.  The followers of Christ are not living out their faith in secret, but instead are actively engaged in ministry, reflecting Christ to the world.  Paul knows that the leaders have been watching and seeing that this is genuine.  It “was not done in a corner!”

Application:

What makes us nervous about living out our faith today?  Are we worried about what people around us might think? 

Those earlier believers didn’t shrink from their faith.  As they experienced the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit working in their lives they began to live as reflections of Christ.  They were known for their generosity, love for one another, and love for humanity.  No one had encountered people like them before and they were not afraid.  How do you think Paul was cared for while he was there in Caesarea?  The followers of Christ openly cared for him day in and day out.  Nothing was being done in a corner.  The authorities of the day had personally been witnesses to the activities of these followers of Christ.

What a challenge for Christ followers these days.  I think there are times when we become too concerned about being offensive to the person next to us.  However, I’m not too sure that these early believers were offensive, but instead were simply genuine and consistent in the ways in which they lived their lives.  What would happen today if all of God’s followers embraced a life of influential love on a day to day basis?  What if we would simply ooze with the love of Christ?  What if people experienced a church in which the people loved and cared for one another and there were no needs among them — and then they reached out to those within their community and met their needs as well?  There would be no need to live out our faith in a corner because the bright light of faith would shine through these acts which reflect Christ. 

Our spiritual lives should not be lived out in a corner but instead should be visible for all the world to see.  Just as Moses could not hide the shekinah glory of God when he came down from the mountain so we should not be able to hide the reflection of Christ in our lives.  It shouldn’t be possible to function in the corner. Our neighbors, and the church neighbors, and the community in which we live ought to know that we are followers of Jesus Christ. 

Prayer:

Lord, may I live out my faith in such a way that you are reflected to the world around me.  Amen.





Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Nursing a Grudge



Scripture:


Acts 24:27 ¶ After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
Acts 25:1 ¶ Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem
Acts 25:2 where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul. They appealed to him
Acts 25:3 and requested, as a favor to them against Paul, to have him transferred to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way.
Acts 25:4 Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly.
Acts 25:5 “So,” he said, “let those of you who have the authority come down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him.”

Observation:


Two years had now passed and Paul had been held in Caesarea.  Felix had been the one in charge but now Festus had taken over.  Only three days into his job he headed up to Jerusalem for some meetings and he was immediately confronted by the Jewish leaders.  Two years had gone by and they were still mad about Paul and they were still planning an ambush to kill him! 

Application:

You would think that after two years the leaders in Jerusalem would have settled down.  Why is it that they are still so angry with Paul?  Could it be that Paul’s imprisonment has not stopped the rapid spread of Christianity?  They are angry because they are losing the power and authority that they have enjoyed and someone has to be the scapegoat!  Surely, if only they could get rid of Paul everything would be better.

These leaders have had two years to thoughtfully consider what is happening around them.  However, instead of being sensitive to God’s movement around them, they spent those two years nursing a grudge.  One can only imagine that they blamed every problem they had on Paul and that sect of Nazarenes!  In this way they didn’t have to deal with their own problems but could simply lay blame elsewhere.  To be this angry after two years and have this as your main agenda item with a new leader who has only been on the job for three days means that you have been allowing this to fulminate for a long time!  I can only imagine how angry and unhappy these chief priests and leaders had become.

This is what happens when we personally begin to nurse a grudge.  We don’t deal with the real problems in life because we make others the scapegoat.  We convince ourselves that we should be able to have this bad attitude because we are justified by someone else’s behavior.  And the longer it goes on, the more that it consumes our lives, day in and day out. 

Sadly the leaders never got to enjoy what God had in store for them.  They had seen the Messiah and they had rejected him.  They had witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and they were simply jealous.  They had seen the transformation of Saul to Paul and they were angry.  When we nurse grudges we simply become hardened, ugly and angry people.  If there is any hurt or anger that we may be nursing today, maybe we ought to examine the root cause and we may discover that we are the ones who are being damaged for we will never find peace.  Paul lived, even while imprisoned, in the peace of Christ.  May the peace of Christ reach out to us today.

Prayer:


Lord, may I live in your peace.  Amen.





Monday, February 17, 2014

Rather Well Informed



Scripture:


Acts 24:22 ¶ But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”
Acts 24:23 Then he ordered the centurion to keep him in custody, but to let him have some liberty and not to prevent any of his friends from taking care of his needs.

Observation:

Paul had been brought before Felix and the accusers had told him about all of Paul’s bad behaviors; that he had been an agitator and a ring-leader of the Nazarenes.  What Tertullus, the lawyer, was not prepared for was that Felix was already “rather well informed about the Way.”  There were those in the region of Caesarea who had become Christians including Philip and Cornelius.  The accusations against Paul somehow did not measure up to the peaceful and loving followers of Christ that he had encountered.  This made him question the reliability of those testifying against Paul and therefore he deferred taking any action.  Instead he held Paul, whether for Paul’s own safety, or awaiting some sort of a bribe, and gave Paul freedoms, allowing his friends to take care of him and his personal needs. 

Application:

Felix was well informed about “the Way” and yet he refused to become a follower of Christ. He is remembered as being a very corrupt official who was willing to take bribes on a regular basis.  The reality is that we can be “well-informed” about “the Way” or about Jesus, but it doesn’t mean that we are followers. 

How many people who attend Church would be able to say that they are “rather well informed?”  I think it would be much of Christianity, but could it also be true that much of Christianity would also be willing to take the bribe?  In other words, we may not be that much different from Felix.  We may have a lot of head-knowledge about Christianity, we may actually be “rather well informed” but that is simply not enough.  Having had knowledge of Christianity did nothing for Felix.  He went on living his life in the same way he had always lived and this was contrary to the way in which the Christians would have lived.  At least, the true Christians.

We cannot simply live our lives by practicing a perfunctory form of Christianity; by having some kind of head-knowledge.  We are called, not to be “rather well informed” but to be entirely absorbed by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Felix had seen the transformation of those who had become a part of the Way.  There was something radically different about these people and the way in which they lived their lives.  I believe that he recognized that there was a deep commitment to Christ and to a Christ-like lifestyle (something he probably didn’t want to commit to!).  If we are to truly be followers of the Way, then we are to abandon ourselves to a deeply committed personal and transformational relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is not head knowledge, but it is heart knowledge and a desire to follow Jesus every single day of our lives and in every single circumstance. 

Don’t just be rather well informed, but abandon yourself to being completely absorbed by love of Christ.  This is our calling and in this we will find our salvation.

Prayer:


Lord, may I know you more today than ever before.  Amen.





Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Faithful Few



Scripture:


Acts 23:20 He answered, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more thoroughly into his case.
Acts 23:21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent.”
Acts 23:22 So the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, “Tell no one that you have informed me of this.”

Observation:


While the city of Jerusalem is in an uproar a handful of faithful believers refuse to be drawn into the fray.  They remain strong in their support of Jesus and Paul.  Becoming aware of the plot against Paul, his nephew who is now a member of “The Way” goes out on a limb to report what he has heard to the officials guarding his uncle.  The result is that Paul is saved from the awaiting ambush and he is eventually able to go to Rome to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Application:


We never hear about this nephew ever again.  He just appears for this one moment in the story of the life of Paul and yet his faithful act makes a real difference. 

Not everyone will be the central figure in the story but everyone is called to be faithful.  Each and every single one of us has a part to fulfill in God’s kingdom and if that one piece is not completed, who knows what will happen?!  This young man knew that the city was in an uproar over his uncle and he knew that it was dangerous to report what he had overheard, and yet, he chose to be faithful to the truth.  He knew that he had to take action and so, while there were forty men ready to ambush Paul, he alone was willing to go to the officials and speak out. 

God is looking for the faithful few these days.  He needs followers who are willing to speak out, to go against the crowd, literally putting themselves in danger for the kingdom.  Too often I’m afraid that we don’t want to reach out beyond our comfort zones and so we allow the enemy to gain victories.  It may begin with little things here and there but ultimately our lack of action can become disastrous.

What happens when Christians witness injustices in the world?  Are we motivated to take action or do we sit back quietly and watch what is happening?  The faithful few are needed to speak up!

When God asks us to speak up, whether it simply be for one moment, we must be willing to take action.  He needs his faithful few to go against the crowd and stand up for his Truth!

Prayer:

Lord, help me to be a member of the faithful.  Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What are you learning in prayer?



Scripture:


Psa. 25:4      ¶ Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
        teach me your paths.
Psa. 25:5     Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
        for you are the God of my salvation;
        for you I wait all day long.

Observation:

Here we have just a little bit of insight into the prayer life of the Psalmist.  His desire is to know the LORD, and in doing so to be able to follow the LORD’s paths throughout life.  The LORD’s truth is THE truth that is needed for life, that teaches us in the ways to go.  The Psalmist wants to follow the God who brings salvation — and this relationship is worth it.  For this we are willing to wait all day long!

Application:

What am I learning in prayer?  Too often we think that prayer is the time when we bring our needs before the Father, however there is so much more!  Prayer is the time in which we allow God to teach us, to mold us and to make us into his holy people.  Prayer is more about us listening and learning from the LORD, than it is about us asking him for things.  This becomes obvious in the prayer of the Psalmist. 

Yes, this prayer does have requests but they are about the depths of his relationship with the Father.  The Psalmist’s desire is to know God.  Is that my desire?  Do I want to know God with all my heart — to the extent that his ways are my ways?  That’s what happens when we get to know the LORD — and then he reveals to us his pathways.

So often I hear people who are praying about wanting to know God’s will for their life.  God’s will is that you would know the Father!  It is in knowing the Father that we discover the pathway for life for it becomes revealed in our relationship with him.  Without spending time getting to know God we will not understand his passion and desires for us.  It takes time to simply trust in him and soak in his holy presence.

The result is that we are led in his truth and this is what we desire because we know that it leads to our salvation.  The other paths lead us astray — but knowing God’s truth and teaching means that we are led in a way that leads to life.  That is true in the eternal sense but it also true in regard to our personal lives.  How often does the way of the world lead to death?  We’ve read far too much lately about the celebrities who have died because of the way of the world!

How long are you willing to wait on the LORD?  Be willing to sit in his holy presence and learn from him.  It’s not about our list of prayer requests, but rather is about our desire to know him.

Prayer:

Lord, help me to slow down and soak in you.  Amen.





Friday, February 14, 2014

Get Rid of Him



Scripture:


Acts 21
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”

Observation:


Paul had returned to Jerusalem knowing that things would not go well for him.  There were religious officials who were jealous of his ministry and popularity and were determined to find anything they could to hold against him.  While Paul did absolutely nothing wrong, they decided to spread rumors about him anyway.  Paul had become friends and ministered to a Greek from the city of Ephesus and they simply assumed that Paul would have brought him into the temple.  While Paul didn’t, their vicious personal attacks were enough to get everyone stirred up.  The crowd, fed by the rumors, got all stirred up.  People were angry at Paul and were determined to "get rid of him."

Application:


In hindsight we wonder how the people could have thought this about Paul.  He was a good man who was seeking their best interest.  He wanted them to know Jesus. 

But that was the problem.  Knowing Jesus meant disrupting the religious systems of the day.  Specifically it meant that those in power would need to submit to the authority of Jesus and they simply were not willing to do that.  Power often trumps the day and leads to selfish decisions.

How can we avoid being swept into the crowd and shouting, “Get rid of him?”

We need to join with those who would not listen to the rumors and stood firm, asking questions and seeking the truth.  Seeking the truth means spending time in prayer with Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life.”  While in prayer we need to ask the Lord to examine our hearts and our motivations.  We should always ask whether our actions or reactions have anything to do with a desire for power or control.  I think it’s a natural reaction to want to control a situation when things feel out of control. 

People were afraid of the consequences of following Jesus.  What would becoming a believer do to the already existing systems?  Life was crazy enough with the Roman rulers, let alone having their worship systems disrupted.  Therefore it was easy to stir up the crowds because they were afraid.  It was more comfortable to support the existing systems than to move into an unknown future by following Jesus. 

In the midst of the fear there had to be a scapegoat; someone to blame for their problems.  Why not Paul?  If only Paul were not around they could go back to business as usual!  Paul simply wanted them to know Jesus in a deeply intimate way.  But getting intimate with Jesus is sometimes frightening.  We are scared of what he may discover in us and so we stir up the crowd; we get upset; and we find the one on whom we can blame our woes.  Let’s just “get rid of him!”

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to know you and to seek you and your truth.  Amen.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Giving



Scripture:

Acts 20:34 You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions.
Acts 20:35 In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Observation:

Paul had never wanted to be a burden on anyone and so as he went about his ministry he tried to find ways of supporting himself.  He was a brilliant and highly educated man but was very willing to work with his hands.  He had learned the trade of tent-making and therefore often found himself among others of the same trade working side-by-side, earning an income, while sharing the good news about Jesus.  It was in his work situations that he found great opportunity and we know that specifically he led Priscilla and Aquila, fellow tent-makers to the Lord. 

Application:

Everything Paul did in life was about ministry.  He wanted to make sure that he was serving Jesus Christ day in and day out through his life and work.  He found this possible by using his hands, whether it was making tents, or by giving to others.  Paul’s hands bore the scars of a man who had lived his life giving rather than receiving.  Somehow this is eerily similar to the Christ whom he followed who eternally bears the scars of our salvation on the palms of his hands. Paul said, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”  (I Corinthians 1:11) His life of service and self-support was his way of following Christ.


Prayer:

Lord, may I follow you today and every day, giving of myself in service to you, by way of service to others.  Amen.





Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Deprived of Majesty



Scripture:

Acts 19:27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.”

Observation:

The goddess of Ephesus was Artemis and her temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  People came from all over the world to see the temple and to worship her.  Now, the Apostle Paul was preaching that people should not worship gods made with human hands, but they were to worship Jesus — the living God.  The artists who made money by selling Artemis trinkets were furious because Paul was disrupting their business.  The silversmith Demetrius was leading an uprising against Paul.  He was probably mostly concerned with his own profits, but he argued that Paul’s work was causing the majesty of Artemis to be called into question. 

Application:

The problem with Demetrius’ argument is that the true God can never be deprived of majesty because of the attitude of a bunch of humans!  Majesty is a state or a condition of God himself and not something bestowed upon him by us.  And that was the rub with Artemis.  She had no majesty except that which was given to her by the people.  If the people refused to make her into a god, she would cease to be a god.  On the other hand, God, whether we worship him or not, will always continue to be God.

For those who choose to ignore God, or fail to recognize his existence they will not change the condition of God.  However, they will cause harm to their own lives.  Unfortunately most humans will give majestic space to something in their lives and this, for them, will be their god. 

These days we don’t worship trinkets like Artemis, or do we?  Is it important for us to have the latest computer gadget, smart phone, or Coach purse?  Have we somehow ascribed “majesty” to some of our things because we value them too much?  We may look at the Ephesians and think that it’s crazy that they loved their Artemis so much and yet, what do we really love?  Have we turned some of the things of our lives into trinkets to whom we have ascribed majesty?

Maybe we have forgotten what true majesty is about because we fail to worship God in all his majesty.  The root of the word majesty is “greatness.”  Our God, the one we worship, he is great.  He is not great because we think he is great — he simply is!  Artemis was “majestic” because of the way in which the people worshiped her.  Think about our worship experiences — if they were the things that made God great well….I’m glad God isn’t dependent upon us.  The sad truth is that too often we think that worship is about us and we want the way in which we worship to make us happy.  Who is getting the majesty in that scenario?  Maybe it’s about us? 

What would happen if we were willing to deprive ourselves of all majesty and instead, worship the one who is truly majestic!  God is great and worthy of all our praise and worship.  When Paul helped the people of Ephesus turn their eyes away from the powerless goddess whom they were worshiping and fix their eyes on Jesus, they began to understand what real majesty was.  They lost nothing but gained everything.  We are invited into that same encounter.  Deprive the things of this world of their majesty and worship the only one who is majestic.  Anything less is simply folly.

Prayer:
Lord, I worship you today.  Amen.





Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sacrificing to the Goat-Demons



Scripture:

Lev. 17:6 The priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and turn the fat into smoke as a pleasing odor to the LORD,
Lev. 17:7 so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves. This shall be a statute forever to them throughout their generations.

Observation:


The Israelites had been rescued from the Egyptians by God.  They had watched the Egyptian army be swallowed up by the sea.  They had seen Moses go up into the mountain to spend time alone with God and they had already gotten into trouble for worshipping the golden calf.  You would think that they had let go of the past and were willing to be faithful to the God who had rescued them and was providing food for them on a daily basis.  And yet, here in the midst of the instructions given to God’s people he has to tell them how to worship him instead of sacrificing to the goat-demons with whom they had “gone a whoring.”  (KJV)

Who were the goat-demons?  Clarke’s commentary tells us:

“The famous heathen god, Pan, was represented as having the posteriors, horns, and ears of a goat; and the Mendesians, a people of Egypt, had a deity which they worshipped under this form. Herodotus says that all goats were worshipped in Egypt, but the he-goat particularly.”

In other words, these people were still worshipping the idols of Egypt, including this practice of the worship of Pan.  Not only did they worship him, but this concept of prostituting themselves before him went beyond simple infidelity in relation to God.  In Egypt women were literally prostituted with goats in a style of worship of goat-worship, and now, imagine how contemptible this practice was in the eyes of God.  And it must have been on-going in the midst of God’s own people.

Application:


When I read this it becomes almost beyond my comprehension that the Israelites could have continued in this type of behavior.  I am also stunned at the benevolence of God who was watching it happen and yet provided an out for them.  He loved them that much that he kept reaching out and trying to make a difference in their lives.

Do we hold onto the past and bring things that have been dear to us right into the midst of our God worship?  No, we probably don’t worship Pan, but what do we worship?  You see, the Israelites just couldn’t give it all up.  There were certain things that brought about a sense of security for them and they were putting their trust in the past.  Even when the past was unpleasant, there was a sense of routine or regularity to the past that made it attractive. 

There may be times that old habits seem to give us a sense of security.  When it comes to following Jesus, we just don’t want to give those things up!  However, when it does come to following Jesus we are to be sold out to him 100%.  There is no holding onto the things of the past, we must follow the route that God has laid before us.  The past led to destruction for the Israelites and it will do the same to you and to me.  Instead, we must fix our eyes on the Lord and only on him.  There can be no worshiping the things of the world, only a pure and genuine worship of him.

Our loving God is reaching out to us and making it possible for us to be in a deeply personal relationship with him.  His very presence was visible to the children of Israel!  He has sent the Holy Spirit to be our comforter, advocate and counselor here in our presence.  While God is reaching out to us, we shouldn’t go “a whoring” with other gods.  Sadly, there are times that we do when we ignore him and what he has done for us in our midst and we publicly worship the idols of our past, or of self-centeredness. 

There can be no goat-worship among God’s people. 

Prayer:

Lord, may we be faithful to you today.  Amen.





Monday, February 10, 2014

The Wisdom of Paul’s Apologetic



Scripture:

Acts 17:23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Acts 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands,
Acts 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.
Acts 17:26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live,
Acts 17:27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
Acts 17:28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
    ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Acts 17:29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
Acts 17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
Acts 17:31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Observation:

Paul is now in Athens — that great city of ancient days.  Many brilliant scholars had come to this city to study at her famous university.  As a whole this community enjoyed talking and debating philosophical matters and now Paul was invited to speak to those who had gathered.  How do you present Christ to a crowd like this?

Listening and observing Paul had been assessing his context.  How would he address these people?  They seemed to worship many gods and found great intrigue in them.  Paul used their desire to know different gods and helped to point them in the direction of the true God.  He honored the people for their desire to worship.  Then, he pointed them in the direction of one of their altars which was dedicated “To an unknown god.”  He used this as the platform on which to build his apologetic.  He could explain to these people who the unknown god was!

Then, in just a few brief sentences Paul was able to speak of the God of all creation who is greater than any human edifices.  No, the Parthenon could not even contain him!  This unknown god — was a living God and from him we have all been created.  That is why he can’t be a creation of mortals.  He is our Father and therefore we are his offspring. 

He went on to explain that while humanity had been ignorant of this fact for a long period of time, an era of revelation had now come.  It was time for humanity to recognize the true God and repent, turning from their worship of idols.  This living God would judge humanity, but at the same time provide a way of salvation and eternal life.

His message stunned the crowd and brought further invites for him to speak.  This concept of a living and breathing God with the power over death spoke right to the core of the crowd.  Some became believers almost immediately. 

Application:


I’ve had the privilege of ministering in many parts of the world.  One of the worst things someone can do is enter a situation and bring with them their own culture and ideas and expect the people there to adapt to your point of view.  Instead, one must do what Paul has done in this situation.  We must seek God’s wisdom and leadership when it comes to our own apologetic; sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Paul was constantly wanting to share Christ everywhere he went, but as we notice, he doesn’t do it the same way everywhere he goes.  Each situation has its unique issues and we must be sensitive to what God wants to accomplish in each place — and to the ways in which the message about Christ are to be received.

Unfortunately we have often only thought that it is “foreign missionaries” who had to think in this way.  They obviously were taught to go and learn a new culture and figure out the wisdom of their apologetic in that place.  However, with our rapidly changing culture, every follower of Jesus Christ needs to be asking God for this type of sensitivity.  All across the world we find different nuances of culture that need to hear about Jesus — but the methodology cannot be the same!  Paul’s methodology adapted everywhere he went.  So should ours! 

The people of Athens were hungry to hear what Paul had to say.  When we are sensitive to the needs of the culture we may just discover that people are more hungry to hear about Jesus than we think.  We have to ask God to remove our preconceived notions of delivery systems and allow God to work in his way in and through us.  It could be that we have become the stumbling blocks to the spreading of the gospel when we expect to share about him in preconceived ways. 

Paul’s emphasis was on the living God. The people of Athens were stuck on the gods they could create with their own hands.  Maybe we have done the same thing by putting God in a box. We must allow the living God to breathe through us and into the world.  This becomes the wisdom of the apologetic.

Prayer:

Lord, please give me your wisdom today.  Amen.





Sunday, February 9, 2014

Divine Direction



Scripture:

Acts 16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Observation:

Paul is on his missionary journey and the doors keep closing.  He’s been ministering in Asia and seeking God’s leading for his on-going ministry.  There were a number of times in his life that God spoke to Paul by way of a vision and this was no different.  Sometimes closed doors are a way of God leading, and that culminated in the vision of the man from Macedonia.  This would be a major step for Christianity as it would bring the gospel to Europe.  The call was not one from Imperial leadership, but a call of desperation, the call of a people who needed help!  It was the divine direction that Paul needed and so he crossed over into a new continent and in doing so ushered in a new era in Christianity.

Application:

There are critical moments in life when we seek God’s divine direction.  Paul was a man of prayer who had become accustomed to seeking God’s leading in all things.  If we are to seek divine direction, then seeking the face of God should become a habit in our lives.  Then, when we receive a vision or a dream, we will know whether it is from God!  In this case, Paul was sure that God was giving him direction and he acted on that vision.

When we are confident that the direction given to us is from God, then we must act.  I’m afraid that too often we are not confident in our relationship with the Lord and therefore we do not jump in and act on his leading.  Moving on to Macedonia had huge implications for Paul.  He was getting further and further away from home and deeper into Roman territory.  This held a number of unknowns and yet, Paul was confident of the divine direction and he moved forward in the leading of the Lord.

The result of Paul’s action is still being felt today.  Europe became the center of Christianity for many centuries and it was from there that missionary work spread throughout the entire world.  What would have happened had Paul not been obedient to the vision and leading of the Lord?  When we receive the cry for help, we are to respond and move in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  When there is divine direction and leading in our lives, God will go with us and help us make a difference for him.

Looking for divine direction?  Get to know God, and then trust him with his leading. 

Prayer:
Lord, may I follow you today and every day.  Amen.





Saturday, February 8, 2014

Unsettling Rumors



Scripture:


Acts 15:24 Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds,

Observation:

Jewish Christians around the city of Antioch were taking it upon themselves to tell the new Gentile believers that they would need to be circumcised or they would not be saved.  None of this instruction came from the Apostles, but it was simply the opinion of a few people.  However, by sharing their thoughts — and doing it with “authority” they had disturbed a whole lot of people.  What would it mean to be a Gentile and a follower of Christ?  Rumors were spreading throughout this Christian community and it was causing quite a stir. 

The Apostles had to get together and hold a council meeting in Jerusalem.  From there they had to issue a decision, in writing, to be sent to Antioch.  What you read above is a portion of the letter that was sent, apologizing for the unsettling rumors.  Hopefully the rumors were put to rest by this communication, but as we all know, they probably were not entirely.  Peoples’ feelings had already been hurt and damage was done by those who had been willing to speak for the Apostles.

Application:

These were good, well-meaning, Christians who were spreading the unsettling rumors.  Without going to the authorities they simply surmised what must be truth and were willing to spread this around the community.  They had never taken the time to consider the consequences of their action.

Unfortunately unsettling rumors continue to be a trend within Christian communities today.  Sadly, we seem to be attracted to bad news on an unhealthy level.  The twenty-four hour news cycle hasn’t helped this in any way, shape, or form.  We seem to be drawn to hearing and sharing the negative.  However, just as we see in the city of Antioch, this can have negative consequences on a community of faith and the effort to reverse the rumors can be great!

What are some lessons we can learn from this incident in Antioch?

1)  Don’t speak for others unless they have given you authority to do so!  We may think that we have heard something, or that something in particular is going to happen, but unless those involved in the process have spoken directly to you and have asked you to be a voice for them — don’t offer to do so!  By surmising a particular situation you may actually be saying things that are disturbing and unsettling to many people and there may be long-term consequences. 

2)  Don’t act on unconfirmed information.  We don’t know if it actually happened or not, but we might guess that there were those who went ahead and circumcised some of the Gentiles because they thought it was the right thing to do, without getting confirmation that it was!  I’ve seen this happen in the Church when a well-meaning member goes to a new person and begins to berate them for certain behaviors.  The person who is new in their faith, or simply exploring their faith is so hurt that they leave, never to return.  The problem is that often people have incomplete information.  They make judgement decisions based on what they think they see or hear, or what they would imagine the pastor would want them to do.  Never jump to conclusions and don’t act on unconfirmed information.

3)  If untrue rumors have been spread, you need to take action to clearly communicate the truth.  The Apostles knew that this was a very serious problem that would need to be tackled.  They went to Jerusalem and gathered together the very first council meeting.  There they came to conclusions as a leadership team for the Church.  After reaching a consensus they knew they would need to communicate their decision in writing to try and speak to the rumors.  In their communication they were willing to admit that disturbing and unsettling things had been said, and that this was done without their authority.  Then, after making that clear, they made clear what the exact instructions would be.  There was to be no doubt in the minds of those Gentile believers!  No one was to be able to come in and persuade them otherwise for they were to have the truth before them in writing. 

May we not be found guilty of spreading unsettling rumors.  If you don’t know the whole truth, and if you’ve not been dispatched to proclaim the truth, then don’t surmise you know what’s happening.  These unsettling rumors can be very divisive in the life of the church and can unsettle the minds of the members.  Instead, we are to have a spirit of unity.  Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another.  May love for one another rule the day.  Seek the best.  Report the best.  Put the rumors to rest!

Prayer:

Lord, please help me not to be one that unsettles the minds of others.  Amen.





Friday, February 7, 2014

Withholding Evidence



Scripture:


Lev. 5:1 ¶ When any of you sin in that you have heard a public adjuration to testify and—though able to testify as one who has seen or learned of the matter—does not speak up, you are subject to punishment.

Observation:

The laws and rules were being established for God’s people.  Those who had witnessed a crime were required to testify to the crime.  If they refused to testify they were considered guilty and were subject to punishment.

Application:


Have you ever witnessed something that made you nervous and you would prefer to turn a blind eye to the situation.  I’m afraid that this may happen more often than we would like, and there have been times that it has happened within the Church.

Sadly the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church have come to light in the last number of years.  For years there were those who withheld evidence because they were concerned about the ramifications.  Who wants to report the misbehavior of a priest?  However, by not reporting the misbehavior of the priest necessary evidence was withheld and the crimes were able to continue. 

God did not want this type of insidious behavior to go unnoticed among his people.  He knew that if people could live their lives unchecked that they would continue to try and get away with unacceptable behavior.  That is why the one witnessing the behavior is responsible to testify! 

As Christians there may be events in the world that we are witnessing and maybe we need to stand up and testify to help stop the behaviors.  Recently I was asked why Christians should be speaking up in regard to human trafficking — and whether our little voices could even make a difference!  If we couldn't make a difference why would God have made a regulation such as this for his people? The reality is that when person after person steps forward and becomes a voice for what they are witnessing, things will change!  If we are silent, then we become complicit in the crime itself. 

I am concerned that “Christians” may find themselves remaining silent on a number of issues, and in effect giving tacit approval to certain behaviors.  What about the issue of pornography?  What about the inappropriate behavior of leaders toward those under their authority?  What about the misuse of funds?  What about the misuse of power? 

God’s people were never to withhold evidence, but are expected to stand firm in the truth.  We are not to excuse inappropriate behaviors, but we are to expose them for what they really are.  Not in some sort of a “witch hunt” but simply being honest about what we know and see and being willing to testify.  Only in this way will God’s people be a people of integrity so that the world might be able to know that we represent him well, and that he can be trusted.

Prayer:


Lord, may we be a people of integrity.  Amen.





Thursday, February 6, 2014

The End of Corruption



Scripture:

Acts 13:34 As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
    ‘I will give you the holy promises made to David.’
Acts 13:35 Therefore he has also said in another psalm,
    ‘You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.’
Acts 13:36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption;
Acts 13:37 but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption.

Observation:

Paul was testifying to the work of Jesus Christ and he wanted them all to understand the unique nature of his death and resurrection.  Jesus’ death was like none that had ever been experienced before.  Lazarus may have been raised from the dead but he was in the tomb for days and his body had begun to deteriorate.  His flesh had seen corruption.  Jesus’ body did not experience corruption for his victory was complete and the corruption of humanity which was begun with the sinning of Adam and Eve was put to a halt in the obedience of Christ.  This signaled the end of corruption, not only for Christ, but for all of humanity.

Application:


When we live in sin, we live in corruption.  This is a genuine physical corruption but it can also be a corruption of the mind and attitudes. 

One of the major concerns in terms of security in the world is corruption.  Entire countries and governments are susceptible to the power of corruption, especially when we are talking about large sums of money. 

The three most corrupt countries  in the world today are Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea.  Is it possible that in these nations, government officials, or those in power, do not seek justice or mercy, but instead seek power for their own personal gain?  That attitude of power and corruption then filters down among and through the people who believe that if their officials can break the rules, they can as well.  Ultimately we see that sin creates an atmosphere of corruption.  It is a world in which things become out of balance and the destruction is wide-spread. 

The Armenian earthquake in the late 1980’s revealed the weaknesses of the Soviet Union.  Here was a place where corruption had also become the norm.  In an earthquake prone location the Soviets built their cookie-cutter high-rise buildings.  Not only did they build this style of building, but the atmosphere of corruption allowed for the people doing the building to sell off materials to line their own pockets.  Why put enough re-bar or concrete into the structure when we can make a little money on the side?  Therefore, when the earthquake struck, not only did you have dangerously high buildings, but they were also weak buildings and it’s no wonder that they came down stacked like giant piles of pancakes.  Over 400,000 people lost their homes in less than a minute.  Yes, corruption can lead to wide-spread destruction.

The original sin of Adam and Eve has left humanity in a state of corruption.  This victory of Jesus Christ is a victory for you and for me.  We do not have to live in a trajectory of corruption but instead we can live on a trajectory of life brought to us by Jesus.  That is what Paul wanted the people to understand, and he wants us to know it today as well.  Jesus’ victory means that we do not have to live with the continual battle of the bent toward sinning — or toward corruption.  Instead, we can live with a bent toward living as we are drawn closer to him.  Jesus broke the power of sin and death and when we enter into a relationship with Christ, he draws us toward him as we follow him on the highway of holiness.

Too often we do not recognize the power to break free from corruption.  Interestingly the more Christianized nations of the world are the least corrupt.  Does that surprise us?  Yes, the work of Christ in this world is transformational, not just on a personal level, but on a corporate level.  Paul was excited to share this testimony about Christ.  The end of corruption had come!  We are invited to enter into a relationship with him in which the corruption in our own lives will be put to rest and when the day comes that we are reunited with him — that healing of the corrupted flesh will be made complete.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for putting an end to corruption.  Amen.





Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Death by Pride



Scripture:


Acts 12:1 ¶ About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.
Acts 12:2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.
Acts 12:3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.)

Acts 12:20 ¶ Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.
Acts 12:21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them.
Acts 12:22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”
Acts 12:23 And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Observation:

Herod was a man filled with great pride.  He believed in himself and all that he felt he could accomplish.  He provided Christianity with the first martyr by having James killed.  He loved the applause of the people and so, whether it was right or wrong, he decided he wanted to get more praise for himself and had Peter arrested.

Miraculously Peter was released by an angel of the Lord and he was, once again, free to minister.  In the meantime Herod had all the guards who were with Peter put to death.

Herod prepared for a royal speech.  History tells us that he dressed in a robe filled with silver threads so that he literally glowed in the sunlight of the day.  Oh how he loved the praise of the people and he did everything he could to stir them up in praise of himself.  When the people began to compare him to God, Herod simply took all the praise for himself.  There was no humility in Herod whatsoever!!!  And immediately while he was there in front of the people he was overcome with terrible stomach pains and had to be removed to the palace where he died five days later, eaten from the inside out by worms.  It was an excruciating and humiliating death, all of which is confirmed by the historian Josephus and supports this account in Acts.

Application:


The contrast in this chapter of Acts between Herod and Peter is great.  Herod is overcome with his own sense of worth, while Peter is only interested in glorifying God.  Peter is saved by the visitation of an angel, while Herod is put to death by the visitation of an angel.  Herod wants to destroy people in an effort to gain more power and recognition amongst the people.  Peter wants people to find healing and wholeness through recognition of Christ as Lord.

The arrogance of Herod led to his death.  When we become smitten with power it can become intoxicating — even to the Christian!  Peter had received power from on high and was now able to perform all kinds of miracles of healing and yet he knew that his power was simply a gift from God.  He constantly pointed people back to God.  Herod was willing to let people consider him a god and never even said a word.

We are created to point people toward God so that they can have a personal relationship with him.  We are never to become self-absorbed and take the glory for ourselves.  God has placed us in our circumstances so that we can point others to him.  Everything that we do in life should point people in the direction of Jesus Christ.  All praise, all honor, all power, all glory belongs to him and to him alone!

Sadly, there is too much death by pride these days.  Too often we are seeking the praise of others in our own lives and we make decisions based upon the response we will receive.  Or, we become too prideful to seek the help that we genuinely need.  Instead we walk through life struggling with debt, addictions, broken relationships, etc.  We may never think that we are as blatant as Herod, but whenever we refuse to submit ourselves to God’s work in our lives, we are saying, “I am a god.”  The result for Herod was death.  Sadly, the same result awaits us when we choose to be in charge and take all the praise and the glory.

Prayer:


Lord, may you receive all the praise and the glory in all things today.  Amen.






Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What is Acceptable?

What is Acceptable?

Scripture:

Psalms 19:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Observation:

There is a connection between the heart and the mouth.  Our words and our behaviors are to be acceptable to The Lord, the one who is the foundation of all things and gives us life.

Application:

Do we ever stop and think about the price that God has paid for us? How is it that he is our rock and our redeemer? The idea of redemption comes to us because God has paid a price for our salvation.  Sin was holding us in its grips and to be set free required Jesus' action to pay the price and redeem us.  Because of his work we are the redeemed, we are set free from the bondage of sin.

Once we experience that freedom we must build our lives upon a firm foundation, and that is, on the Lord.  Jesus' very life creates for us a pathway to follow that will lead us through life.  This is the firm foundation.  His path is not one which will deteriorate and be filled with potholes.  Instead, his path is the one that has been tried, tested and created by Jesus himself.  Isn't this the direction we would want to go?

Once we begin follow the path of Jesus we discover not only that we want to go his way, but that we want to be like and act like him.   We love Jesus and our desire is for him, and just as we desire the approval of those we love who are a part of our earthly family, so we desire his approval.  It's what happens in a love relationship.  It is in that relationship that our hearts meditate on him, our beloved.  In doing so our hearts are transformed, molded and shaped by his heart.  His desires become our desires.

Desire is then turned into action, whether that be in word or in deed.  The words spoken from our hearts are acceptable to the Lord when they come out of our relationship with him.  All of a sudden many of the earthly behaviors become embarrassing for they are seen in light of him!  No, they are not acceptable, not because of some list of rules from a church, but because of our love for Christ.

When we get to a point where we we are trying to justify our behavior, we are probably doing something that is unacceptable in the eyes of the Lord because justification is not born out of a relationship with Christ but our of self centeredness and self gratification.  What is acceptable?  What would you feel comfortable saying or doing in the presence of Jesus?  When he is recognized as rock and redeemer everything flows from our relationship with him.  He is present.  Is it acceptable?

Prayer:

Lord, may my heart draw closer to your heart today.  Amen.


Monday, February 3, 2014

We Are Witnesses



Scripture:

Acts 10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;
Acts 10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,
Acts 10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Acts 10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.
Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Observation:

Peter was sharing his testimony with the family of Cornelius.  He laid out very simply what it was that he had seen and experienced with Jesus.  This was his testimony and the people of Cornelius’ house were ready to hear this truth, accept it and be baptized.

Application:

I have had many a conversation with a Christian who has said that they don’t know how to share their faith with someone else.  They are concerned that they have never memorized some kind of method or “plan of salvation” to be able to share.  The result is that very few followers of Jesus Christ feel comfortable telling others about Christ. 

The early disciples shared their own, very personal experience they had with Jesus to anyone who would listen!  They didn’t worry about special training to be able to share the gospel.  The “gospel” simply means Jesus.  To evangelize means that we are sharing the “good news” of the gospel.  In other words, we are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ  — and this has traditionally been a personal experience. 

Everyone has their own personal story when it comes to their relationship with Christ.  Our testimony won’t be the same as Peter’s who witnessed living with Christ first-hand.  His story was significant and had an impact on the people of his day. 

Our story today will have an impact on those around us.  As followers of Jesus Christ we have experienced Jesus in our lives.  We are to simply have an openness to sharing our own personal experience when the opportunity permits itself.  Peter had been invited into Cornelius’ home for the express purpose of sharing his story.  If we listen closely, there are times when people around us are inviting us to share our stories as well — but we shy away because we think “they” may be uncomfortable, when in reality it is we who are uncomfortable because we have convinced ourselves that this has to be hard.

We are witnesses to the work of God in our own personal lives.  Jesus has made a difference in our lives and is transforming us.  That is good news.  Share it! 

Listen for the opportunities to simply tell your story.  Don’t make it too hard.  Just let the good news flow and you will be a witness that God will use to speak to the lives of those around you.

Prayer:


Lord, may I be a witness for you today.  Amen.





Sunday, February 2, 2014

Take Off Your Ornaments



Scripture:

Ex. 33:4 ¶ When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments.
Ex. 33:5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’”
Ex. 33:6 Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

Observation:

The people had sinned before God by making and worshiping the golden calf!  They had taken their golden jewelry — the earrings and other items they had gotten from the Egyptians and used them to create an idol.  Now, in an act of humility and repentance they were to take off all of their jewelry and ornaments.  It was a time of mourning over their sin and it included intentional action on the part of the Israelites. 

Application:


We don’t do all that well with humility and repentance!  It seems that we live in a time when we try to carry on as usual even if we have done something wrong.  Maybe we’ve learned it from the politicians who are notoriously self-righteous when it comes to taking responsibility for actions that have consequences.

The actions of the Israelites had major consequences for themselves and the generations to come.  The jewelry or ornamentation itself signified a tie back to Egypt.  Before they had left Egypt they had been able to convince their masters that things would go better for them if they gave the Israelites their gold.  And so, in many ways they had escaped with much of the treasury of Egypt.  Therefore, when Moses was up on the mountain and they chose to make a golden calf to worship, they were really looking backwards to Egypt for their salvation.  They were using the gold of Egypt to create the calf.  The very presence of God was before them on the mountain, but instead, they looked to the materialistic support they had from their previous masters. 

Interestingly we discover that they didn’t give up all of their gold for the idol — but only some of it!  They weren’t totally sold out to any god.  Evidently they were still well adorned in ornamentation which came from Egypt.  In this case it remained as a temptation that would tie them to their past, and not to the God of their future.  The fact that God asked them to physically strip themselves of their ornaments was an outward sign of what he wanted to do in their hearts.  They were to get rid of every last vestige of connection to Egypt.  There were to be no daily reminders of what they may viewed as the salvation of Egypt.  Instead, these were all to be gone and their eyes were to focus on Mount Sinai and the God of their salvation!

Too often we struggle with our spiritual lives because we try to remain connected to the things of the past.  Just a few little reminders around certainly can’t hurt, can they?  But what happens if the old friends drag us back down into a life of sin?  What happens if that one bottle of beer drags us back into a life of alcoholism?  What happens if that one evening on the internet drags us back into a life of pornography?  What happens if the love of money drags us away from spending time with God? 

When we repent, we must also take intentional action which will lead us in the direction of Sinai!  The Israelites had to take off their ornaments.  Who knows what our ornaments may be but they must be removed and laid aside for God to do his work in our lives.  There can be nothing that draws us back to the things of the past, but instead we must be intentional about letting go and moving forward with God.  We must take off our ornaments and look toward Sinai.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to leave the ornaments of the past behind.  Amen.





Saturday, February 1, 2014

What’s that I Smell?



Scripture:

Ex. 30:22 ¶ The LORD spoke to Moses:
Ex. 30:23 Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane,
Ex. 30:24 and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil;
Ex. 30:25 and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.
Ex. 30:26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant,
Ex. 30:27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense,
Ex. 30:28 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand;
Ex. 30:29 you shall consecrate them, so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy.
Ex. 30:30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, in order that they may serve me as priests.
Ex. 30:31 You shall say to the Israelites, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations.
Ex. 30:32 It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you.

Observation:

The people of God were to mix together a a special anointing oil that was to be used for the tabernacle.  This was a holy oil, used to anoint the places and the things that God had designated, and no one was to replicate this for it was to be holy and it was to make everything that it touched holy.

This fragrance was to be a constant reminder of the holiness of God that would waft from his very presence.  It was also a foreshadowing of the presence of Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one, who was to come and live among his people as a sweet fragrant offering.  In Song of Solomon we read about the presence of the Bridegroom:

Song 1:3         your anointing oils are fragrant,
    your name is perfume poured out;
        therefore the maidens love you.

We fall in love with our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who then sent to us the Holy Spirit to be a sweet anointing on all of those who are his holy people.  The oil cannot be replicated, for it is the original holy anointing oil that comes to us from generations past and is available to you and to me today.

Application:

Can you imagine the olfactory overload of walking into the Tabernacle after everything had been anointed by the holy oil of God?!  Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses we have and it powerfully draws out our memories.  Can you imagine, literally, being able to sense the presence of God within the Tabernacle by the overwhelming fragrance of the place!  What an incredible reminder and sense of comfort for the people of God to know, feel and smell the very holiness of God. 

Throughout the years this same oil was used to anoint their leaders.  We read of Saul and David being anointed for their positions.  The oil was poured out generously on them until it dripped from their clothing.  Their lives were being made a holy offering before God and they were sanctified for the work to which they were being called.

Let’s fast forward to today and realize that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost ushered in the possibility for all of God’s followers to be anointed with the Holy Spirit.  We are all called to be God’s holy people and in this regard we are to be anointed from head to foot until the Holy Spirit drips from us.  If that were true, then God’s people would be a holy fragrance in the world.  Everyone who passed us by would sense the holy presence of God.  The world should wonder, “What’s that I smell?”

But could it be that we are satisfied with cheap imitations of the true oil?  The people were warned to never try and replicate the oil for their own personal purposes.  We are not supposed to try and replicate the genuine scent of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, maybe we have and the world can smell a phony a mile away! The problem with cheap counterfeits is just that — they are cheap and they are counterfeits.  The smell doesn’t last and the oil doesn’t do its job.  Oh, it may seem like the real thing for the first few hours but after that, it’s all gone. 

Sadly, we may go to church and get all pumped up about the presence of the Lord but we don’t want to pay the price for the genuine anointing and so we walk away with something that is cheap and easy.  What we — and the world — need — is the genuine anointing of the Spirit to be wafting through the air, touching people at the point of their very personal needs.  We are to be the vessels in which the oil of anointing is carried into a world that needs the healing touch of Jesus.  But if our vessels are not filled to overflowing, there will be no fragrance.

My prayer is that God’s people will open themselves up to fresh anointings of the Holy Spirit until the oil of his presence literally drips off of us and can be smelled by the world around us.  Our presence in the coffee shop, restaurant, gas station, bank, school, etc. ought to leave people wondering, “What’s that I smell?”  And may it not be a stinky person — but the fragrance of God’s holiness.

Prayer:

Lord, fill us today.  Amen.