Saturday, March 29, 2014

What’s It Like Working for the Lord?



Scripture:

1Cor. 15:58 ¶ Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Observation:

Paul was faithfully serving the Lord, day in and day out.  He had just finished sharing with the Corinthian church about the resurrection.  He was firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and in the resurrection of the dead.  He knew that Christ had been resurrected and that we too, as God’s followers, would also be raised again from the dead.  That is why he could be steadfast and immovable!  The foundation of faith on which his life was built was firm.  Nothing would shake him from his understanding of the life-giving gospel found in Christ! 

Paul was moved with passion for those who were lost; for those who would not experience the resurrection.  Yes, God’s prevenient grace is reaching out to the entire world but there will come a day of judgement.  There will be a resurrection and Paul wanted to make sure that he was a faithful laborer in the kingdom.  He wanted to work hard for the Lord so that those who had no faith in the resurrection could find themselves steadfast and immovable.  Laboring for the Lord is never in vain.  The gift of the gospel message is life — eternal life.  This means more than anything that people can encounter here on this earth.  Paul knew that there had to be a commitment to working, laboring, for the Lord. 

This was not the time to retire!  For Paul, working for the Lord was everything.  He worked tirelessly from morning until night.  Words of Christ came from his tongue wherever he may have found himself — whether in his secular job — or preaching in front of a large crowd.  Paul’s reward was an eternal one, knowing that sometime in the resurrection he would see the fruit of his labors.

Application:

Paul’s labor for the Lord was not always easy and yet he had a passion to serve Christ every single day.  Last night I met up with a team of individuals who had been out in the northern reaches of Kenya for ministry.  They had been in a town that has been experiencing famine and the result is women who have been abused in the midst of it all.  They traveled three hours by land-rover over, through, and around pot-hole ridden roads to get to a refugee camp in the middle of no-where.  Here they saw where 150,000 displaced individuals are living; a struggling group of humanity not seeing any end to the drought and famine which has hit their home country.  And the group was praying and brain-storming over ways in which they could labor for the Lord to make a difference in this corner of the world.  They arrived back into Nairobi tired and dirty — but rejoicing in the opportunities of ministering for the Lord.

If only we would open our eyes we would see the needs around us on a daily basis.  There is an entire world that needs to know Jesus and he is looking for laborers who are willing to suffer hardships for the sake of the Gospel.  Laboring in this way is not in vain, but it is hard work.  Working for God was never meant to be easy.  Nor was it meant to be something static — an activity that we do day in and day out.  Working for God means that we are always working to excel “in the work of the Lord.”  We are to give him everything that we have — all our talents, energy and faith.  Our faith must be firm.  Just like Paul we must know that we are immovable in knowing him.  Then, we must work to excel in our service to him.  This means that we give God the best — not the left-overs.  And then, we trust God for the results.  Why? Because the work isn’t ours.  This is God’s work and the results are up to him. 

What’s it like working for the Lord?  Sometimes it’s a lot of work with long hours, dirt, flies and unrecognizable food.  But we press on for this is our calling.  To trust in him, give him our best — and leave the results to him.  It’s all worth it and it’s not in vain.  Someday we will see it all clearly and we will realize that we have made a difference by being faithful and laboring for him.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the blessed opportunity we have to serve you.  Amen.




Friday, March 28, 2014

Spiritual Blindness



Scripture:

John 9:39-41
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Observation:


The man who was speaking to Jesus had been born blind.  In life there may be accidents or diseases that cause blindness but someone who has never seen, this is something completely different.  Jesus had healed this man and suddenly he could see.  The miracle of this is huge for modern science would tell us that his brain, unaccustomed to seeing would not even have known how to interpret the things he was seeing and yet he seemed able to make sense of it all, trying to explain to the religious leaders what had happened to him. 

The religious authorities were so hung up on how they interpreted the law of Moses they they could not grasp what they were witnessing right in front of them.  The living God was being revealed in front of their faces.  God had become incarnate and was standing before them.  The blindness of the Law was putting on flesh and they were witnesses to this new life.  They were no longer blind, but since they chose not to believe they would have to live with their sin.

Application:

We can find ourselves in the different characters of this story.  First of all we meet up with the blind man himself.  He had done nothing to be deserving of his condition.  He was simply born without sight. The people of the world wanted to believe that he was deserving of his condition.  Surely he or his parents had sinned or he wouldn't have been blind.  He wasn't looking for healing that day.  He was simply sitting by the gate begging when someone pointed him out and asked Jesus a question.  The result was that Jesus took the man's weakness and turned it into more than the man could have ever imagined.

This miracle was also for his parents.  Their personal needs would now be met because they would have a healthy son who could work and support them, rather than spending his days begging in the city. However, when the authorities come after them they are reluctant to declare who it is that has done this miracle.  They tell the officials to go ask their son...for he is old enough to respond for himself.  While they are willing to accept the benefits of this miracle, they are unwilling to confess that Jesus is Lord.

Finally we meet up with the religious officials who should have known better.  They had studied the Law for years and were proud of all of their knowledge.  However, their knowledge had, in some ways made them blind.  They couldn't see the truth of Jesus who stood right in front of them.  They were too busy trying to do church right, that they missed The Messiah for whom they had been waiting.  He was right there!

Where are we in this story?  We are invited into a deeply personal and intimate relationship with Christ...where we fall deeply in love with him...where our spiritual eyes are opened and we can see God incarnate...Jesus.  We are invited into a face to face relationship with him.  When we see him face to face, we reflect him to the world.  When we refuse to see him, we will reflect our own spiritual blindness. He wants to open our eyes so that we may declare the truth that Jesus is Lord!

Prayer:

Lord, may I never be ashamed to declare you to the world!  Amen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sharing and Waiting



Scripture:

1Cor. 11:33 ¶ So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
1Cor. 11:34 If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.

Observation:

The Lord’s Supper had turned into a common feast for the church at Corinth.  It was something of a pot-luck dinner and people were celebrating and eating this meal together.  The problem was that they would start early, while many of the laborers were still at work.  By the time they could arrive there was nothing left.  Some people were eating their fill and drinking while others were left hungry.  This was not the intent of the Lord’s Supper.  Instead, the Lord’s supper was to be a time when they intentionally gathered together, waiting on and preferring one another.  It was to be a time of inclusion, not exclusion.  It was to be done simply — just the Lord’s supper, and nothing more added to it.  This was not about filling bellies, but about worshiping the Lord, and allowing all to come to the table.

Application:

This week as I’ve been in Africa the imagery from the Eucharist has been used to describe the global family of God coming to the table.  I’m wondering if we might find ourselves in this 1 Corinthians passage somewhere.  Have we been willing to wait for one another to come around the table?  Sometimes we don’t because we are impatient!  It takes too much work to have the translators come and make it possible for everyone to be heard.  We just want to push ahead whether everything is really ready or not. We don’t have time to wait, nor do we have the patience to put forth the effort to make sure everyone is included. 

Could it also be that the stronger brothers and sisters have made the table available at a time that is convenient for them?  Conversations around the openness to leadership from around the world make us question whether we have made the table accessible.  Who has been deciding when we gather around the table — where the table is prepared — and what is required to bring to the table? 

Sometimes we need to step back and evaluate how we have been doing things.  Paul was bringing this observation to the church in Corinth and while the criticism was probably painful to receive, it was a corrective.  Within the global church we must sometimes receive some criticism and realize the value of waiting and sharing so that everyone can make it to the table and everyone can be heard and join in as an equal partner.

Prayer:

Lord, may you continue to give us correctives so that we can serve you faithfully.  Amen.




Monday, March 24, 2014

When Your Ministry Is Questioned



Scripture:

1Cor. 9:1 ¶ Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
1Cor. 9:2 If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

Observation:

Paul had gotten word from Chloe’s people that there were problems in the church in Corinth.  The people were arguing and complaining about many things, including Paul’s leadership.  They complained that he hadn’t really seen Christ, nor had he been under Jesus’ day to day discipleship so he couldn’t have had authority to teach them.  And surely, had he been an Apostle he would have taken advantage of the opportunities set before him, including the possibility of receiving financial support for his ministry and/or having had a wife travel with him.  At least, this is what they had seen from the other apostles.  So, if he didn’t act exactly like some of the others, surely he couldn’t have been for real and now his ministry was under scrutiny from those who didn’t want to accept his authority as a spiritual leader.

Paul argues that he has the right as an apostle to serve them in any way the Lord leads him.  He is a free man, he is an apostle and he has seen Jesus on the Damascus road!  Also, he had been there to found the work in Corinth and these people had come to the Lord through his ministry.  Now, why were they questioning him?  His heart was troubled as his ministry was questioned.

Application:


For those who serve it is always difficult when people begin to question your ministry.  It is especially difficult when it is those whom you have led into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Sadly there are many wounded servants of the Lord around these days and they are wondering what they are to do when confronted in this way. 

Paul’s confidence was in the call he had received from Jesus Christ.  When our ministry is questioned we need to begin by searching our own hearts and the source of our calling.  If it truly is from Christ then we can learn a lesson from Paul.  Yes, his confidence was in Christ’s call, but he also would not allow the questions to keep him from ministry.  Instead, he went out of his way to remove any potential barrier to his ministry.  He even refused to accept financial support because, in his case, he thought it might become a stumbling block. 

Paul’s response here is also a type of personal reflection and this is also appropriate when our ministry is questioned.  He began to evaluate different aspects of his own ministry and whether he may have been out of step.  There are times for this personal reflection and this means there must also be a willingness to say that we were wrong and take corrective action. 

Yes, there will be times when your ministry will be questioned.  It happens to most all ministers — and so, just like Paul, you must determine your response.  And in the end we must remain faithful to the one who calls us.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your leading.  Amen.




Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Are They Still Here?



Scripture:

Josh. 15:63 ¶ But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day.

Observation:


God had promised the Israelites that they would be victorious over the people who lived in the promised land.  If the people of God were obedient and followed what God instructed them to do they would be victorious.  This begs the question — why couldn’t the people of Judah drive out the Jebusites?  And obviously, the Jebusites remained and infiltrated the people of God, diluting their faith.  They shouldn’t have been there — and yet they were!  Something had gone wrong.

Application:


There are times in our own lives that God gives us instructions.  These instructions may include getting as far away from the “enemy” as possible.  And yet, suddenly we find ourselves being influenced by those around us, encouraging us to be involved in activities that are not beneficial to us.  We have to ask ourselves, “Why are they still here?” 

Or maybe it’s better to ask ourselves, “why are we still here?” 

God has provided us with instructions for our lives which are found in the word of God.  Too often we don’t follow the book and then we find ourselves in extremely difficult situations.  Just imagine, Jerusalem was to go on to become the capitol city of Israel and yet, this is not realized because of the disobedience of God’s people.  How often do we find ourselves wading through difficulties because we are the ones who have gotten ourselves in the mess?  We look around and discover that we have allowed the “Jebusites” to live with us and they have brought their practices with them.  And they may not have seemed like such bad practices to begin with.  They looked just like the world — and maybe they were the things of the world, but all of a sudden they have enticed us away from our central focus, of serving God.

So if you look around and wonder why those old habits are still here; or why those old friends are still dragging you down; or why you are frustrated, maybe you ought to check out whether you’ve been obedient to the Word.  The people of Judah should have driven out the Jebusites — God had promised them victory.  He promises us victory today as well if we are faithful.

Prayer:

Lord, may I be faithful to you today in all things.  Amen.




Friday, March 21, 2014

My Strength Is From the Lord



Scripture:

Josh. 14:10 And now, as you see, the LORD has kept me alive, as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel was journeying through the wilderness; and here I am today, eighty-five years old.
Josh. 14:11 I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming.

Observation:

Caleb had been one of the faithful few among the Israelites.  He and Joshua had been the spies who had returned convinced that the Lord could help them gain victory over the Canaanites.  Unfortunately the people had not agreed and he had wandered in the wilderness, together with them, for forty years.  Now, he was a man of eighty-five and throughout all of this time he had remained faithful.  The result was that the Lord had given him strength to fulfill the promise to him and his family.  Now he was to go out and conquer the land that had been provided for him.

Application:


Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Joshua and Caleb?  They believed God and they trusted in him and yet they had to suffer the consequences of the faithlessness of the remainder of their community.  We are a people who are designed to live out our faith in community and there will be times when we may have to suffer the consequences of the action and/or inaction of that community of faith.  The question is whether that happens, will we remain faithful and recognize that it is God who gives us strength and sustains us? 

This idea of strength coming from the Lord has to do with our willingness to be dependent upon him.  Unfortunately, too often there are times when I want to depend upon myself and my own abilities to think things through or get things done.  It is in those times that I am reminded that I am being dependent upon myself and not on the Lord.  It is only when we allow the Lord, through the Holy Spirit to infuse our talents and abilities that he is able to really work through them to give us the strength that we require. 

Caleb had learned of the sustaining strength of the Lord and that way by abiding in him, even in the wildernesses of life.  God had kept his promise to Caleb, as Caleb had kept his promise to God.  We must practice dependence upon the Lord day in and day, even when we find ourselves in the wilderness.  It is only through this dependence upon him that we will discover the true source of our strength.

Prayer:

Lord, may I be entirely dependent upon you today.  Amen.




Thursday, March 20, 2014

Defective Relationships



Scripture:


1Cor. 6:7 ¶ In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?
1Cor. 6:8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that.

Observation:

God’s intent was that the Christian community would reflect the love of Christ.  As people grew spiritually they were to become a greater reflection of the love of Christ to the world.  Paul calls these laws suits a defeat, or a defect.  Why?  Because it meant that they were not living as the victorious followers of Christ that they could have been.  By giving into legal action against one another they were failing as followers of Christ.  The question ultimately boils down to what is more important?  Obviously for Paul to be like Christ was the most important thing in life.  Jesus came into human flesh so that we could be like him.  We are to follow after him and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us to transform us into his likeness.  That is the goal for humanity and when we fall short, then we are being defeated. 

To have lawsuits means that we are pushing for our own rights.  Did Jesus?  Wasn’t Jesus wronged and defrauded?  Yes, he was.  But not only are these Corinthians fighting for their own “rights” they are turning around and treating others the same way.  In this they are defeated for they are not being the people of God and their relationship with God and others is defective.

Application:

I mentioned it yesterday and I’ll mention it again today.  Jesus’ plan was that his followers to be filled with the Holy Spirit and in this, to be filled to overflowing with the love of Christ.  The world was to look at the Christians and notice how they loved one another.  This was the victorious Christian life. 

Sadly when Christians do not work at their relationships with one another, the world notices.  There is great defeat which hurts the individuals and the family of faith.  This is usually the result of self-centeredness when we demand our own “rights.” 

We must work at our relationship with God and with one another so that the world does not look on us and see defective relationships. This becomes a defeat, not only for us personally, but for Christianity.  We are part of a living and breathing community of faith and the world is desperate to see this faith in action.  Not only in action, but anxious to see that it really does work!

May God help us to be willing to endure hardships for the sake of the kingdom.  May we view these as opportunities for the love of Christ to flow through us and reveal his power victoriously in relationships.  Then the world will look at us and say, “see how they love one another.”

Prayer:

Lord, help us in our relationships today.  Amen.




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Renewal for a Multi-cultural and Multi-generational Community



Scripture:

Josh. 8:35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.

Observation:

Joshua was now the leader of the Israelites and had led them to a victory over Ai.  However, the community was in need of an on-going reminder of their covenant relationship with God.  This was not just a relationship between the leadership and God, but a relationship of the entire community and God.  Joshua gathered the entire assembly together and read every word of Moses’ commands to them.  No one was excluded from this reading.  The women were responsible for the children who were in the home and therefore the women and the children needed to hear these commands directly.  The aliens were also considered a part of this community as long as they lived by the laws of God. 

Inclusivity was an important feature in God’s community and every member was to know the importance of their relationship to God. 

Application:

We see the beauty of a multi-cultural and multi-generational people of God in this story.  The message wasn’t just given to one group at a time, but to all of them, brought together in one place as a community.  No one was to hear anything second-hand but directly from Joshua.

Within Christianity we have tended to divide ourselves among generational and ethnic lines.  We have children’s church, youth group and Hispanic services all happening in different corners of church buildings.  I’m afraid that we have convinced ourselves that this is the best way to provide individualized instruction for all the different needs that are found within our communities of faith.  There may be a time and a place for this individualized focus but at the same time may we be lacking something by not meeting together as a multi-cultural and multi-generational community of faith? 

I can just imagine in Joshua’s day that the children got a little antsy.  He was probably not just reading the Ten Commandments!  And yet, there was something important about the entire assembly of Israel hearing the word of God together.  When a community of faith hears and processes God’s commands together, then they are able to respond together as a united people.  One generation to the next, and one nationality to the next, hears and commits to the same truth. 

Jesus wanted the world to be able to look at his people and say they “love one another.” (John 13:35)  Maybe it’s time again for a renewal of our commitment to him — as the entire assembly.  We need to gather, young and old, male and female, and every culture — together.  We need to have the shared experience of hearing the word and responding as a diverse community of faith.  In this we will find our unity and the world will see that we truly do “love one another.”

Prayer:


Lord, may we be willing to be intentional when it comes to bringing your people together and living in response to you.  Amen.




Where’s The Power?



Scripture:

1Cor. 4:20 For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.

Observation:

There was a growing arrogance in the church.  Places of position and levels of education were creating a type of hierarchy that was resulting in division.  Paul was concerned about the behavior and he was convinced that an ability to speak with eloquence was not an indicator of one’s spiritual growth.  Instead one needed to look on the power that was revealed in the life of the individual.  Those who were in the kingdom of God were not there because they could speak well.  It was recognized that they were in the kingdom by the fact that their lives were a reflection of Jesus Christ and his power.

Application:

Social media, the television and the internet have all changed the face of Christianity.  As much as we wouldn’t want to admit it we are influenced by the consumer characteristics of our world.  What is it that sells?  Nice looking people with products that make us feel good, packaged in appealing ways — that’s what sells!  Let’s admit that we are attracted to these types of folks who are preaching as well.  Sometimes we are more overcome with the superficial than we are with what they are really saying — or whether they have the power of the Holy Spirit or not.  Marketing ability does not equate to being Spirit-filled!

We must be willing to look beyond the exterior and examine whether a person’s work or ministry is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Is there true transformation happening in the lives of those around them?  Does the person look like, act like, and sound like Jesus — even when no one is looking?

Could it be that we have become so attracted to commercialism that we fail to look for the power?  God has always been in the business of using ordinary individuals who have been committed to him.  It is God that is revealed when he can take the ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary.  It doesn’t take a marketing team to do that! 

We ought to be seeking the power and the infilling of God’s Holy Spirit in and through all that we do.  Be true to God and what he wants to do in and through you and let him take care of the rest.  The kingdom of God will not expand through human advertising campaigns, but only through his power!

Prayer:

Lord, may I trust in you and your power to move and make a difference today and every day.  Amen.




Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Do Not Boast About Human Leaders



Scripture:


1Cor. 3:21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,
1Cor. 3:22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you,
1Cor. 3:23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Observation:

A number of different preachers and teachers had made their way through Corinth.  Different members of the church felt that they had bragging rights over the follower of Christ who had discipled them.  Some were proud that Paul had been their teacher.  Others may have been baptized by Apollos and Peter had also been influential in the ministry there.  The problem was the disunity among the believers as they argued over who was more important.  Paul was telling them that boasting about human leadership was a waste of time.  Rather, everything here on earth comes under the rule of Christ.  We all — including our human leaders — belong to Christ, “and Christ belongs to God.”

Application:

Unfortunately we have a tendency to want to boast.  It may be about the leaders who have been our mentors.  It could be about the education we have received.  It may be about the church we have attended or the Pastor who has influenced us the most in life.  We may want to boast about our personal accomplishments or the things that we have accumulated throughout our lives.  All of this is a natural human tendency and it creeps into the lives of the those who follow Christ.

Paul was witnessing this in the behavior of those who attended the church in Corinth.  They were bragging about their spiritual mentors, but really what they’d done was to “spiritualize” the human tendency to boast.  As we grow in God’s grace these types of behaviors should disappear for all we can boast about is where we stand in our relationship to Christ. 

We cannot boast in the powers or abilities of humans.  Have you ever wondered why so many spouses of world leaders have sometimes been drawn to things like astrology.  I read an article recently that spoke about the fear that many of the spouses of the world’s great leaders have.  Why?  Because they know just how human and ordinary their spouses are and they are hoping and praying that there is something out there more powerful than the man or woman they know on a very human level.

The reality is that there is nothing superhuman about a human leader.  They simply are, human.  And yet, God, in Christ, provides us with all that we need life, work and ministry.  Yes, human mentorship, education and training is a good thing and it is necessary, but it should always be pointing us in the direction of Christ for God is the only one worthy of our praise.  If we are going to boast, may we boast in him.

Prayer:

Thank you, Lord, for all you have done in and through others.  I am very grateful, but may I always remain loyal and faithful to worshipping you!  Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Demonstration of the Spirit



Scripture:

1Cor. 2:4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
1Cor. 2:5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Observation:

Paul had a great education and he knew how to prepare messages for the people to hear.  This Scripture does not intend to serve as an excuse for avoiding preparation for preaching, but it is a suggestion that even the greatest of preachers is to be dependent upon the demonstration of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is to infuse our work so that the presence of God is revealed in the spoken word and not the eloquence or the preparation of the speaker.

Application:

All followers of Jesus Christ should realize that there is a need for the demonstration of the Spirit within their lives and work.  If we believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we believe that all are called to a lifestyle that would reveal the work of God in and through them.  This means that all of our talents and abilities are dedicated to God and in doing so, we ask the Holy Spirit to be revealed in and through all that we do.

Paul was a very accomplished religious leader.  He had just about the finest education possible in his day and yet he knew that he would have to be dependent upon the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.  Some of the greatest preachers of all time have understood this very need.  Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher, and yet, he realized the need for the Holy Spirit to work through his preaching.  While he preached an entire group of people gathered in a separate area to pray.  This “boiler room” is what stoked the fire of the Holy Spirit that infused his preaching.  Therefore his preaching was with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

We cannot be dependent upon our own abilities and/or talents these days, but upon the working of God’s Holy Spirit infusing these talents.  There is a temptation to be dependent upon human wisdom and understanding, but there is no power in our humanity.  Only when the Holy Spirit pours in and through everything that we do will we begin to see a real movement upon God’s people.

Are we hungry today for an outpouring of the Spirit?  I believe that we are — but it’s only possible when God’s children rest upon the power of God.  No matter how smart or how capable an individual might be, there must be a dependence upon God.

Prayer:


Lord, may your Holy Spirit infuse all that I do today.  Amen.






Saturday, March 15, 2014

Restoration in a Spirit of Gentleness



Scripture:

Gal. 6:1 ¶ My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.

Observation:

Followers of Jesus Christ may discover themselves falling into a transgression, or a fault.  There are occasions when this happens and the Apostle was well aware that this could be the case and therefore he established a method by which to restore such an individual.  However, those engaged in the restoration are admonished here that they are to be cloaked in a spirit of meekness.  Why?  Because when we become engaged in the reproach of others, we may discover that we are tempted, and this may occur on many levels.  We may be tempted to think that we are above transgressions or faults, or we may be tempted to use our power to hurt or damage the other individual.  Restoration should always occur in with a spirit of gentleness. 

Application:

It is sometimes difficult to know how to respond to a fellow believer who is misbehaving.  That’s because the problems can be found across an entire range of behaviors, from gossip to sexual misconduct.  Somehow we seem to rank these behaviors, weighing some more than others.  The reality is that sin is sin, albeit some seem to have greater consequences for the individual and the community more than others.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are to live this Christian life within community.  Each one of us is a part of a community in one way or another.  We need the community to strengthen us, encourage us, and hold us accountable in our Christian walk.  This is what John Wesley did through his Methodists societies. 

Unfortunately I have often seen two extremes when it comes to detecting a fellow believer in a fault or transgression.  One, we ignore the problem entirely because we find it too embarrassing and we don’t want to confront the individual, or we determine that the person or persons must be punished and we go about it in a very public way leaving numerous wounded individuals and much collateral damage along the way.  Neither one of these is helpful to the kingdom.

This advice is very practical.  When we detect someone in a transgression, take the time to pray!  Allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and may that Spirit pour out of us with the kindness and gentleness of a loving heavenly Father who is correcting a dearly loved child.  That is the spirit with which we are to respond to the “faults” that we have detected in others.  In this way it is the Lord doing the correcting, and not us!  When we believe that we must be the ones to correct others’ wrongs, we are falling into temptation.  May God save us from this type of behavior and may we seek the God of all comfort and the presence of the Holy Spirit to give us divine wisdom when it is necessary.

Prayer:

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





Friday, March 14, 2014

Paying a Decent Wage



Scripture:

Deut. 25:4 ¶ You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

1Cor. 9:8 ¶ Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same?
1Cor. 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?
1Cor. 9:10 Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop.
1Cor. 9:11 If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?

Observation:


Moses’ law stipulated that the Israelites were to take good care of their animals.  If one fell into a ditch, they were to retrieve it.  This was not only in regard to their own animals, but they were to care for the animals of others’ as well. 

The oxen were yoked together to work on the threshing floor.  As they walked around the millstone, the stone would grind the wheat.  At the same time their feet would tread the grain.  The owner was never to muzzle the ox while it was doing this work.  How unkind it would be for this animal to be working hard among all this food and never be allowed to eat any of it!  Instead as they worked they were to be allowed to eat and be sustained for their labor, from their labor.

In the New Testament Paul referred to this passage but was applying to those in the ministry.  His point was that if we are to treat animals kindly and allow them to eat from their labors, how much more-so with humans.  Specifically those who were in ministry.  If he and other missionaries had sown spiritual good among the people, should they not be allowed to be fed from among their labors? 

Application:


The ox was to be allowed to eat from the grain which he was threshing.  Interestingly the ox ate while he was working.  He didn’t overeat — he wasn’t gluttonous, but he ate enough to be able to continue his work with the necessary strength.

Those who are ministering should be paid a decent wage from among those whom they are serving.  It should be a decent wage — enough for them to be satisfied and have the strength and energy to continue ministering.  However, there are a couple of reasons this may not be happening these days.  One is that we are not seeing a lot of spiritual growth among the churches.  Where there is not spiritual growth there will not be material benefits.  The ox was able to eat because he was working and therefore there was something to eat from.  We are living in a day of spiritual drought in some parts of the world.  The people in the pew as well as the pastor are dying. 

In some places there is great work that is happening and there is spiritual growth, but there are lay leaders who don’t believe the pastor should get paid.  Rather, by keeping the pastor poor we are keeping them humble!  No, instead the pastor should be able to receive enough and be satisfied — to meet his/her needs by the loving care provided to them by their parishioners.  They should receive a decent wage.  When they don’t, it’s as if we have muzzled the ox that is treading the grain.  Can you imagine the frustration? Seeing all the resources around you and yet starving at the same time?

That same frustration reaches outside the church.  If people are not given a decent wage for the work that they do, they will be like the muzzled ox.  Hungry and tired from their labors and wondering if they will ever get fed.  In the meantime the mill owner has more than enough. 

God wanted his people to be fair when it came to animals because he loves them.  How much more does God love those who are made in his image?  May we treat one another with the respect due one who is created in the image of God.  In doing so we may be showing love to God himself.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be sensitive in caring for others.  Amen.





Thursday, March 13, 2014

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers?



Scripture:

Deut. 22:1 ¶ You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner.
Deut. 22:2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it.
Deut. 22:3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.

Observation:

God’s people had already been instructed to love the Lord and love their neighbor.  Now, here comes an affirmation and practical example of what it means to love one’s neighbor.  As God’s holy people we are called to take responsibility for the things that we find in life.  Whereas the world would tell us “finders keepers, losers weepers,” God’s people are to have a completely different perspective.  As a member of a community of faith we are to take responsibility for the needs of the neighbor.  The wandering sheep does not simply become ours because it has wandered, no it becomes our responsibility and is under our care until it can be returned to its rightful owner.  The same is true for anything else that belongs to our neighbor that we might find.  We are to care for the item and return it to the rightful owner.  We are to take responsibility for the things that we discover.

Application:

Sadly our laws and the responses of individuals are making it more and more difficult to take this kind of responsibility these days.  However, we cannot allow that to discourage us from being the people of God.  Instead we must look for opportunities to be responsible and to love our neighbor.

A few years ago my husband found a ladies’ wallet at a gas station.  It had probably been placed on top of the car while filling up!  He looked through it and discovered the address of the individual because her driver’s license was inside.  Later that day he drove to the home and delivered the wallet to the owner.  Her eyes welled up with tears at the thought that someone would not take anything from her wallet, but would instead return it all to her safely!

Should that be a surprise to us?  The world teaches us, “finders keepers, losers weepers.”  God teaches us that “finders protectors, losers receivers.”  This is the unique perspective of those within the kingdom.  Our love for God must be translated into our actions on a daily basis.  We are not to respond in the way in which the world would respond but we are to go out of our way to act and react like Christ.  This is our calling — to be counter cultural for we belong to a new and different culture — the kingdom of God.

Prayer:

Lord, may my life be different today.  Amen.





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

God’s Child



Scripture:

Gal. 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Gal. 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Gal. 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Gal. 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Observation:


Faith in Jesus Christ has changed everything for God’s people and being baptized into Christ we are now children of God.  We have the privilege of being God’s holy children here on this earth because we have been adopted into the family.  Not just are we adopted but we are now grown-up mature members of the family who are now reflecting the image of the Father whom we are facing.  Why?  Because we belong to him and to no one else!

Application:

I’m not sure that we can ever fully grasp the implications of this scripture.  All of the human barriers that divide us — our race, nationality, position and gender — they have been destroyed by the power of Jesus Christ in our lives.  Really — they have been obliterated because in God’s family we are all now his children and this supersedes anything earthly.  Jesus came here to earth and became human so that we could become like him.  His very life is transformative for you and for me and he has carved out a pathway for us to enter into his family. 

We simply enter into this family relationship by faith but then, once in the family, we act like a member of the family!  If you would meet my children you would figure out quite soon that they belong to Chuck and to me.  They have physical characteristics like us, yes, but it’s much more than that.  They tend to talk like us, and think like us, and make decisions like we do.  They like to celebrate special occasions the way we always have in the family.  Certain events and activities are special to them because that’s what we do in this family.  It is quite obvious that they are a part of this family.

When we put on Christ and become a member of the family there is a real change that occurs in us, and it is a transformation that continues throughout our entire lifetime!  As a member of the family we hang out with the family!  We spend time with our Father.  We spend time with our big brother.  We eat the food provided for us by the family and we are strengthened and nurtured by all that we receive from the family.

Little by little we look more and more like the family and that means the earthly characteristics that may have defined us begin to fade away.  Instead the family nature of love overflows from who we are and the barriers are all gone. 

Are these the characteristics of our lives?  If not, then we must wonder whether we are really living with our new family, or are we simply trying to drop in for a visit now and then and pretend that this is our family.  That’s not good enough. 

I’m grateful for the privilege to be God’s child.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for being our Abba — Daddy.  Amen.





Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Confronting a Friend



Scripture:

Gal. 2:11 ¶ But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;
Gal. 2:12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.
Gal. 2:13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Gal. 2:14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Observation:

Paul was troubled by Peter’s (Cephas) behavior.  Peter had adjusted his relationship with the Gentiles to please certain Jews.  Others were watching the way in which Peter would treat the Gentiles and they followed his example, including Paul’s own Barnabas.  I can only imagine Paul’s frustration at all of this!  However, instead of going behind Peter’s back with his frustration, he confronted his friend and talked with him directly about his concerns.  The concerns were addressed, as they had to be, for the behavior of Peter and others was damaging the witness of the truth of the gospel and life within the kingdom.

Application:

Paul evaluated a situation and was gravely concern with the hypocrisy which he was witnessing.  He knew that action had to be taken because the witness of the gospel was being damaged in the process.  He realized that he would have to confront Peter, and that took a lot of courage.  Paul was not one of the original disciples and here he would need to talk to the defacto leader of the Apostles, Peter.  However, he didn’t shrink back, but spoke directly to Peter.

There may be times when we need to confront a friend regarding their behavior.  Now, let’s be careful here.  Paul didn’t confront people over every little thing, nor did he spend his time pointing out everything wrong he could find about people.  Instead, he became concerned when the witness about Christ was being damaged.  His concern was the gospel message!  At that point he knew that he had to protect the truth and take action. It is at this point that we may need to take action and confront those whose actions are becoming a distraction to the gospel.

It’s important to note the way in which Paul took action.  I don’t believe that he went behind Peter’s back and gossiped about what he had done.  However, that is far too often the way in which we act and/or respond to difficult situations.  Instead of confronting them, we complain about them with others.  There are even times when we plan strategic complaint sessions with individuals that we hope will carry the cause for us so that we don’t have to.  This is inappropriate.  By this type of behavior we are creating even more problems.  Instead, when we feel compelled by what we have learned and/or discovered, we must take direction action, as did the Apostle Paul. 

Paul’s confrontation of Peter led to a group decision regarding the official stance in relationship to Gentiles.  In other words, it helped to clarify what was happening and it helped further the ministry of the new fledgling Church.  By confronting Peter the community of faith was able to openly discuss their concerns and draw official conclusions that helped everyone involved.  It just took someone being willing to confront the issue.

When major concerns arise we may be called upon to take action.  If this is the case, then take action, but don’t gossip.  Work to find positive solutions instead of grumbling and complaining.  In this way the truth of the gospel will shine through and even more people will be drawn to Christ.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for leading us into truth.  Amen.





Monday, March 10, 2014

Knowledge and Authority



Scripture:

Gal. 1:11 ¶ For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;
Gal. 1:12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Observation:

Paul did not know Christ when he was alive and nor was he one of the original disciples.  There always seemed to be those who questioned his preaching of the gospel because his experience was unique.  However, it was in his unique experience, his personal revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus, that provided him with his own first-hand knowledge of the gospel.  Paul had experienced the transformational work of the gospel in his own life.  The result was a desire to spread the good news about Jesus everywhere that he went.

The knowledge that he had of Christ, his own first-hand experience, was then coupled with the authority that he received.  His authority also came from Jesus’ personal revelation and on-going revelations, but also from the disciples themselves.  Paul was sent into his ministry by the community of faith and by the calling he received from Christ. 

Application:


The combination of knowledge and authority led to the success of Paul’s ministry.  Note — Paul was not successful because he was able to write up a strategic plan, but because he was given insight and revelation by Christ and was called by God into his work.  Throughout his ministry we see that Paul spends time in prayer and seeking the face of the Lord.  Jesus leads him from one location to another as he preaches the gospel.  He is empowered by the Holy Spirit and many miracles are experienced in his presence.  He is able to combine personal knowledge of Jesus Christ with authority and power that reaches out to a needy world and touches them at the point of their deepest need.

What a powerful combination; authority and knowledge!  When God’s people experience a call from Jesus then we must respond.  This call should be combined with knowledge.  Paul had a great education, but that was combined with personal knowledge of the Savior.  After his Damascus road experience Paul spent hours and hours in prayer and study as he really got to know Christ.  This is the knowledge that we are all called to acquire.  Not just a head knowledge but a heart knowledge.  We are to know Christ to the extent that we are overcome with the desire and passion to follow him in obedience anywhere that he leads.

The authority for Paul came from Christ and from the Church.  This is a powerful combination and one which we thoroughly endorse today.  Jesus is still in the business of calling women and men to minister in his name.  For those who respond to the call the Church acknowledges that calling and gifting, commending them for service. 

For Paul, you could not separate knowledge and authority.  For any who are called today we cannot separate them either.  The response to the call should be a desire for knowledge coupled with the authority to preach the word given by Christ and the Church.  May those who are called by Christ listen in obedience and respond to the call.  We cannot be disobedient to the heavenly vision!

Prayer:

Lord, may I be faithful in fulfilling your calling today.  Amen.





Sunday, March 9, 2014

Needing Strength



Scripture:

Deut. 11:8 ¶ Keep, then, this entire commandment that I am commanding you today, so that you may have strength to go in and occupy the land that you are crossing over to occupy,
Deut. 11:9 and so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Observation:

God was providing the law, written on stone tablets, to the Israelites for the second time.  The first time they had worshiped the golden calf in Moses’ absence.  Now, again, he is reconfirming his covenant with his people. 

The people are tired and weary.  The journey has been tiresome and often their nerves are frayed.  The people of the promised land will seem overwhelming and dominant to them but before they even know what lies ahead God promises to give them strength.  He will give them what they need to cross over and to overcome — if they keep God’s commands.

Application:

There are times when life simply feels overwhelming and there doesn’t seem to be enough strength to continue on!  It is in these times that we must remember that our responsibility is to put our trust in God.  God was the provider of strength for the Israelites and he is the one who gives us strength today.

The vision of the promised land lay before the Israelites.  Only through the power and strength of the Lord would they be able to conquer what was before them. 

May that be a reminder to us!  Too often we try to move forward in our own strength and we become tired and weary.  It’s time to put all our trust in the Lord and allow him to speak and move through us in ways that we could never imagine.  The Israelites did eventually live in a land flowing with milk and honey.  They were able to take down the giants when they felt so small and it was all in the strength of the Lord.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be faithful and put all my trust in you.  Amen.





Saturday, March 8, 2014

Go Boldly

Go Boldly

Mark 15:43
Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Observation:

Jesus' followers had just experienced his excruciating death by way of crucifixion.  It should have been a moment of fear and trembling for all of his followers and yet here we find Joseph of Arimathea willing to go boldly to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus.  Willing to put aside all fear of being associated with Jesus, Joseph moves on boldly.

Application:

We are not charged to be timid about our faith in Jesus Christ, but we are encouraged to move forward boldly.  For the disciples who witnessed Jesus' death this boldness was acted out in different ways, ways in which we, too, may be challenged to respond.

Joseph boldly went before the government official to follow-through on his commitment to Christ.  There may be those of us who will be called to be bold in our faith before those in authority.  Joseph would have known that he could suffer consequences for his association with Christ but he knew the right thing to do was to care for the body of Christ.  It is right that you and I should also care for the body of Christ, and to do so means that we may need to boldly go to those in places of official responsibility and be the voice for those who have lost theirs.

Interestingly the next ones we find going boldly to care for the body are the women. It's on the morning of Christ's resurrection that they go to prepare his body with spices.  They are physically caring for the body and they are willing to do this with boldness because the body is surrounded by guards.  And yet the depth of their love for Jesus compels them to care for the body.  Our love for our savior must also compel us to go boldly to the bruised, beaten and decaying body of Christ and bring the ointments of healing.

Today is International Women's Day and tomorrow we will celebrate Freedom Sunday.  All around the world we need to be aware that there are members of the body of Christ that are being beaten, used and abused and that there is a call to go boldly and care for the body.  We are not to be timid bystanders, but we are moved to bold action.  The people of God are empowered by the Holy Spirit to act with holy boldness, and in doing so the world will see an active reflection of Christ ministering to the needs of the least of these.  This is our calling.  May we respond with his boldness.

Prayer:

Lord, may I be bold for you today.  Amen.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What Are you Singing?



Scripture:

Mark 14:26  ¶ When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Observation:

Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the passover together; the last supper.  Jesus knew what was coming but his disciples still did not understand.  It was customary to close out the celebration of the Passover by singing the hallel Psalms, found in Psalms 115-118.  As they closed out the evening they would have finished by singing the following lines:

Psalm 118
22The stone the builders rejected
   
has become the cornerstone;

23 the Lord has done this,
   
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 The Lord has done it this very day;
   
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us!
   
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
   
From the house of the Lord we bless you.

27 The Lord is God,
   
and he has made his light shine on us.

With boughs in hand,
join in the festal procession
   
up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you;
   
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   
his love endures forever.

Application:

The song that was sung spoke directly to Jesus’ life; he was the stone that the builders had rejected.  Jesus would suffer and die — but he wanted everything in his life to give glory to God.  His song, the song he was willing to sing was one in which God would be given the praise even as he knew that he was walking into a trap that would lead to his death.

Paul and Silas sang songs and hymns to the Lord as they sat in a prison cell. 

In my moments of pain and of frustration — what am I singing?  What is my song?  What is my hymn?  Can I find a song in which God is found, or am I unable to sing at all?

Somehow I think there was something cathartic for Jesus to sing these hymns on that evening.  Through song we can often sense the presence of the Lord.  In the midst of our deepest trials may we seek out our hymn and allow God to speak to and minister to us as we worship him. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your song.  Amen.





Thursday, March 6, 2014

For Your Own Well Being and Your Descendants



Scripture:

Deut. 4:39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
Deut. 4:40 Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.

Observation:

The Israelites were being instructed by God and the instruction came with a promise.  If they would acknowledge him as God — and God alone, then they would experience his well-being as well as their descendants.  But this was the area in which they struggled.  They were constantly enticed by the gods of the other nations and would easily turn their backs on the one - true God. 

Application:

Far too often I don’t think that we realize the consequences of our own actions on the generations who will follow us.  We believe that our choices are our choices and we can do whatever we want.  However, if, for example, we choose not to serve God, have we also made that choice for subsequent generations?  Do we realize our responsibility that reaches out beyond ourselves?

I think back in my mother’s family.  There were six children in her family but by the time the family began attending church regularly the two older boys were already married and away from home.  The four younger children all gave their lives to the Lord and have been serving him.  I know all my cousins from the four younger siblings but I’m not sure that I would know the older cousins if I met them on the street.  Their lives went a very different direction, and it was one that did not include serving the Lord or being a part of a church community.  And now, my cousins are grandparents and we are looking at four generations who have not been walking with Christ.  On the other hand the majority of the cousins whose parents gave their lives to the Lord, along with their children and grandchildren are followers of Christ.  The decisions made so long ago have had an impact on generations of people.  Simple decisions that we think only have to do with us!

One of the saddest things I see today is the situation of divorce, where one parent is serving the Lord and the other is not.  One parent wants to raise the children to know Christ, and the other parent actively works against this — trying to make their children as secular as possible.  Do we realize the consequences of this action?  Why would anyone want to intentionally lead a child away from the Lord?  And yet we do and the long-term effects can be felt for generations. 

God’s commandments for his people came out of his genuine love and concern for them and for the future generations.  Our relationship to God will effect us, but also our children and our children’s children.  Whom will we serve?  How will we live our lives?

Prayer:

Lord, please, help me to be faithful in serving you.  Amen.





Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Commended By the Wit of the Argument



Scripture:

Mark 12:13 ¶ Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said.
Mark 12:14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
Mark 12:15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.”
Mark 12:16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.”
Mark 12:17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

Observation:

The Pharisees and the Herodians were conniving together to try and trap Jesus.  He knew exactly what they were up to and his answer stunned them; “and they were utterly amazed at him.”  The only problem is that they, along with us tend to be impressed with the wit of his argument.  However, we may miss what he was really saying.  We are to give “to God the things that are God’s.” 

Application:

Are there times we go to church on a Sunday morning and we are blessed by the presentation of the message?  Let’s be honest — there are! 

Living in an age where the “presentation” is so important, we often look for the “wit of the argument” rather than hearing the real message.  What Jesus had to say to those people was truly transformational.  Instead of absorbing the message and making it a part of their lives they simply went away impressed with Jesus’ speaking ability.

The challenge for followers of Christ is to not allow the wit of the argument to overshadow the argument itself.  What transformational message is Jesus trying to get through to me today and am I listening?  What does it mean for me to give to “God the things that are God’s?”  Most everything I have in life has been provided to me by God, not by the government.  I think of my husband, my daughters and my ministry.  It’s all been from God.  What about the food I eat?  Humans haven’t created food!  Everything we eat has been created by the hand of God and we are to be grateful!  Even the things that the government provides for us (roads, schools, etc) are made out of the materials created by God.  So, while I need to pay homage and respect to the government, I must show even greater respect and worship of the One who created it all!  When this happens all of the focus of life is changed.  We begin to see the hand of God in all things and we grow in awe and wonderment of the Creator who loves us, his people.

Don’t get caught up in the wit of the argument and miss the whole point of the message.  Listen for what Jesus is really saying to you and to me today.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for ALL that you have created.  Amen.





Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strategic Planning



Scripture:

Mark 11:11 ¶ Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Observation:

Jesus had just entered Jerusalem as the people surrounded him and sang, “Hosanna.”  Before he left the city that day he went to scope out the landscape of things.  He took the time to examine what was happening at the temple and in the city.  Then, he left the city and went to Bethany and more than likely to a night of prayer.  We learn in other locations of scripture that he goes out to pray at night, as was his practice.  Jesus regularly retired to spend time in the presence of his Father.  It is not until he has evaluated and spent time in prayer that he can return the following day ready for the action which lies ahead.

Application:


Evaluation - Prayer - Action

This is the way in which Jesus responded to the situation which he encountered in Jerusalem and these three steps are not bad suggestions for us either.  Too often we jump right into action before taking the proper amount of time which we should on evaluation and prayer.  Or, in the secular vein we take the time to evaluate and then we jump right into action without the focus on prayer. 

Where did Jesus spend most of the time in this three step scenario?  In prayer! 

What would happen to our strategic planning process if it were bathed in prayer?  God wants to be a part of every process in our lives.  He wants to help inform everything that we do but far too often we don’t create enough space for him to interject his direction and leading.  Somehow we believe that it is up to us to figure everything out by ourselves.

Jesus took time.  He “looked around at everything” and then he went with his friends to pray.  The community of faith joined together in praying for God’s will to be done.  It was not until the next day that he began to take action.  This was the strategic plan.

Prayer:

Lord, may we seek your divine leadership.  Amen.





Monday, March 3, 2014

Raising the Bar on Marriage



Scripture:


Mark 10:2-9
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. ’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. ’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Observation:


God's people had struggled in their marriages just like the rest of the world.  Because even God's holy people could not work out their problems Moses allowed people to write certificates of divorce.  The result was that women could be discarded for a multitude of reasons, and generally, it was the result of not being valued as an individual created in the image of God. 

Jesus was constantly elevating the status of women and he does so in this statement.  He reminds the religious officials that God made male and female.  They are both precious in his eyes and the role that they are to play, is as God's original intention for Adam and Eve. 

Jesus is coming to restore not only humanity's relationship with God, but with one other.  This is why Jesus' message is to love God and love neighbor....and who is our closest neighbor but our spouse?

God's plan was for couples to be united, becoming one flesh, and in doing so to reflect the love and unity found in the holy Trinity.  This relationship was to be one in which the world could witness the love of God.  Any destruction of this relationship becomes the destruction of the image of God to the world.

Application:

We begin to understand why Jesus was raising the bar on marriage in this statement.  Humanity had been living in the fallen state for so long that they had accepted the inevitability of failure in regard to their relationship with God and with one another.  But sadly, how many believers today are still willing to live in this fallenness? 

Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not necessarily easy.  It takes self-discipline and continued growth, moving forward on a daily basis.  It doesn't just happen without us joining into and working together with God.

The same is true in regard to marriage.  A good marriage doesn't just happen.  It takes intentionality on the part of both individuals to make it work.  Each day there must be effort made to work together, communicate and support one another.  When these are lacking the relationship will deteriorate. 

The same can be said for our walk with The Lord.  Daily neglect will result in a broken relationship.

Yes, Jesus raised the bar on marriage because he knew of the incredible potential for God's followers.  The love found in marriage was to be a sweet little foretaste of the marriage supper of the lamb and the love that we would find in God for all of eternity. 

Let's raise the bar on marriage.  It takes effort and self-discipline, but when two individuals are willing to give of themselves wholeheartedly to one another, the effort is worth it.  Jesus knew the destructive results of divorce.  So do we.  Let's fight for marriage and all that God intended it to be.

Prayer:

Lord, please be with those who are struggling in their marriages and may they seek you and your face together. Amen.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

If Jesus is Able?



Scripture:

Mark 9:23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”

Observation:

The father of the demon possessed boy comes before Jesus.  His son has been afflicted for much of his life and often is hurt by throwing himself into the fire.  Obviously this man wants his son to be healed.  Finally he says, “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Quickly Jesus turns the statement around.  The implication of the word “if” is to actually question the power and ability of Jesus.  This is not about what Jesus can or cannot do, but this is about the faith of the father.  Does the father believe in Jesus?  Does the father believe that Jesus has the power to heal his son?  Therein lies the true question.

Later the disciples ask Jesus why they were unable to heal this boy.  Jesus responds that this kind can only come out by prayer, and now I wonder — whose prayer?  Could it be that Jesus wasn’t talking about the disciples’ prayer life, but about the prayer life of the father?  If the father didn’t have enough faith to believe Jesus could heal his son, how could he have faith to believe that the disciples could? 

The story is a revelation of the power of Christ that can only be manifest in the presence of those who truly believe.

Application:

Could it be that we are thinking that Jesus doesn’t have the ability to answer prayer?  He certainly does — but maybe not always in the way we imagine, and that may be because of our own personal failure in terms of our relationship with him.  I want to be careful and don’t want us to imagine that if we spend hours in prayer all of a sudden we will get everything that we ask for in prayer.  This could lead us into the direction of a works faith.  This is not the case! 

This was a situation of unbelief on the part of the person searching for the healing power of God.  It’s not about the healing, but it is about faith.  It’s about the father’s personal relationship with Jesus.  The problem was that he didn’t have one!  He wasn’t spending time in prayer, and he didn’t know Jesus.  He was just asking for things out of his human understanding.

Jesus wants to do so much more for us than give us a response to a wish-list of prayer requests.  He wants us to engage in a transformational relationship with him because he is able!  And when we  spend more and more time with him, then we begin to understand his very nature.  Our prayer life is transformed and never again do we doubt Jesus’ ability.  Instead we become a person of faith who believes in the power and the strength of the Holy Spirit, manifest in and through us. 

Yes, Jesus can!  Can you? 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your patience with us.  Amen.





Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Cruciform Life



Scripture:

Mark 8:34 ¶ He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Observation:

Jesus was calling his followers to a whole new way of life, one that demanded self-sacrifice and discipline.  The people of Jesus’ day knew all about Roman crucifixion and that one was required to carry their own cross to their execution.  This was symbolic of their submission to the power of Rome.  For someone to become a follower of Christ meant total and complete submission to the way of Jesus Christ.  John Wesley said that to take up the cross was to “Embrace the will of God, however painful, daily, hourly, continually. Thus only can he follow me in holiness to glory.”

Application:

The cruciform life is one in which we are led into holiness.  This is exactly what Jesus wanted his followers to understand, that he had come to provide for them a way to glory.  This way to glory was one in which they would be transformed into the reflection of him.  This statement is a foreshadowing of his own personal crucifixion which was yet to come.  He would physically take up a cross and die for all of humanity so that we might become holy just as he is holy.  It would all begin with a cruciform way of life.

How do we participate in the cruciform life?  It begins by denying ourselves.  This means we yield all of our personal rights as we give ourselves over wholeheartedly to Jesus Christ.  It is a life of putting Christ first.  What would he want me to do today?  How am I spending time with him and then with the community of faith and beyond?  It is submission to his power over my life in all spheres and no longer are my personal wants and desires foremost, but his life of holiness.  And yes, as John Wesley said it may be painful, but it must be every hour of every day and it must be continual. 

The title alone does not suppose an easy way of life.  Too many are preaching a prosperity gospel and a life of ease.  That’s not what the cross meant in the first century and it’s not what it means today either.  Jesus is still looking for followers who will take this way of life seriously, who are willing to put him first in all things.  Only in this way can we truly experience the transformational power of God’s Holy Spirit allowing us to live the cruciform life that leads us onto the path of holiness. 

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to daily submit to you and to your kingdom.  Amen.