Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Not To Have a Marriage



Scripture:

2Sam. 6:16 ¶ As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
2Sam. 6:17 ¶ They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD.
2Sam. 6:18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts,
2Sam. 6:19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
2Sam. 6:20 ¶ David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”
2Sam. 6:21 David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the LORD, that I have danced before the LORD.
2Sam. 6:22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”
2Sam. 6:23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Observation:

Michal was David’s young beautiful bride and they had fallen madly in love.  She was Saul’s daughter and at one point she had even helped to save David’s life.  However, as David and her father Saul continued to fight, I believe that she somehow doubted whether she would ever be reunited with the husband of her youth, David.  She became a pawn in the power struggle between two men.  In David’s absence her father gave her to another man in marriage.

One would assume that this second marriage was a sad one, but apparently it was not.  Later when David was victorious he sent for Michal.  He wants her back now, but somehow I doubt that it’s because he’s in love with her the way he was years before.  Instead, he believes that he deserves her back, possibly as a spoil of war.  We are told that her husband follows her all the way to David, weeping because he does not want to let her go.  Her new husband loves her and is heart-broken at losing her!  Yet, David demands that she return to his household.

Michal’s life has been shattered by the relationship between David and her father.  She has been the rope in a tug of war and she allows bitterness to take root.  Living in the home of her husband, the man whom she had dearly loved, she no longer allows herself to love.  Everything that he does makes her angry and despise him even more.  When all the city is rejoicing with David when he returns home with the ark she can only see the negative.  Why would he make such a fool of himself? And she despised him.

David was excited about all that had happened and wanted to come home and share the joy with his household.  Instead, he is met by his first wife, Michal, who spits her words at him, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”  She has no place in her heart to forgive him and all she can see is something negative.  There is no understanding of David’s relationship with the LORD. 

Somehow I believe they live in a very cold relationship with no physical contact for the remainder of their marriage.  David has been hurt by her words.  Michal has been hurt by his actions.  No one reaches out to the other and a marriage dies.

Application:

There are so many problems with David and marriage that it’s sometimes frustrating to hear that he was a “man after God’s own heart.”  He had multiple wives and God had warned the Israelites that this would become a problem for a king.  Truly this does become a major problem. 

What makes this story interesting is that Michal is the first wife.  Let’s look at this marriage and simply learn what not to do — or maybe, let’s think about the positives, what should we do?

1)  Love the spouse of your youth.  God’s intent is that we stay married to our spouses for a lifetime.  There are seasons of life when the relationship may change or shift and adjustments need to be made, but a commitment to making it work for a lifetime is necessary!  Had Michal and David been allowed to be together for their entire lives, how would this story have ended?  We don’t know, but somehow I believe that he may not have taken other wives and he and Michal would have loved each other to the end.

2)  Put the feelings of your spouse above yours.  When David had Michal brought back to him, it doesn’t appear to have been out of a great love for Michal, but out of revenge for the fact that her father had taken her from him.  Because the Scripture makes such a point to show us the reaction of her husband, it becomes apparent that she was now in a happy marriage.  If David had shown great love for Michal, would he have made her leave her husband, or was he now acting out of a selfish heart?  In a marriage you need to think about the needs of your spouse and put their needs above your needs.  Allow the love of God to fill you with love for your spouse and desire for them to flourish in life and in your marriage.  Do all you can to make them feel as loved as possible. 

3)  Do not allow small irritations to grow into full-blown contempt.  There will always be little things that your spouse does that will annoy you.  Hey, we are human and we all have our oddities!  The problem comes in when we allow those little things to become big things.  Sure, I don’t like the way that he squeezes the toothpaste tube but it’s not worth the destruction of our marriage.  Get over it!  Michal refused to get over it.  David would have treated her with love and respect but she would not allow it.  She built up barriers and allowed his actions to irritate her and then nursed her feelings into contempt.  Making no attempt to hide her feelings she let him know what she thought and with a wounded heart and ego, David left her alone for the rest of her days. 

4)  Be willing to say that you are sorry.  What would have happened if both David and Michal had owned up to their hurts and been willing to work on their marriage?  Mistakes had been made all the way around, but by refusing to say they were sorry — by refusing to work on things, they were miserable.  Why would you choose to remain miserable for the rest of your life?  The joy that is possible when two individuals work at their marriage is indescribable. 

God desires for us to have healthy marriages, ones which reflect the love found in God.  God continues to reach out to us in holy love, constantly reconciling us to him.  This same action should be found when a husband and wife reach out to constantly love and desire the best for the other.  In doing so, we overcome the obstacles that life throws our way and we are brought to a place where we cannot wait to simply be in the company of the one we love, for there is no place we would rather be, than together. 

Prayer:

Lord, may you be glorified in my marriage.  Amen.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Check Out the Weather Forecast



Scripture:

Matt. 16:1 ¶ The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
Matt. 16:2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’
Matt. 16:3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
Matt. 16:4 An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.

Observation:

Meteorology has been around for a long time.  Maybe not as the profession that it is today but there have always been those who have been the predictors of weather.  Even in Jesus’ time they had ways of “reading the sky” and determining what type of weather lie ahead.  Evidently they were pretty good at it.

Jesus acknowledged their weatherman skills and the fact that people knew how to make observations and then interpret them into a forecast. 

At the same time Jesus was irritated with their inability to take their observations regarding him and also make an interpretation.  The Pharisees and Sadducees came and asked Jesus for a “sign from heaven.”  His frustration with them was that they had been able to observe sign after sign on a daily basis and yet, they had been unable to interpret those signs.  How in the world could they be skilled at reading the signs regarding the weather and yet were blind to what they had been observing on a daily basis?  Jesus did not hide the fact that he was doing miracles.  The blind were able to see, the lame to walk, the sick were raised up from their beds and it was all happening in front of their eyes. 

Jesus was frustrated. 

He told them that the only sign they would receive was the “sign of Jonah.”  Jonah, the man who had been swallowed up by the big fish and spent 3 days in the darkness of the belly of that fish and was finally spit out and returned to life was the sign.  It was the sign of Jesus who would spend three days in the belly of darkness and be resurrected, brought back to life.  This would be the final sign because somehow they were missing the whole forecast which was being played out in front of them. 

He lays out the truth before them and will not argue.  He simply leaves them and walks away.  They refuse to take the forecast seriously.

Application:

Today the weather forecast is for extremely violent weather in the Southeast region of the United States.  We are told by the forecasters that approximately 75 million people live in the pathway of a very dangerous storm that will spawn hail and tornadoes.  People are on alert.  They will listen to their radios and they will take cover when they are told because we are listening to the voice of the forecasters.  Too many people have already died from this storm in the last two days.  We will be paying attention!  We know how to predict weather these days with greater and greater accuracy so when we receive a warning, we had better take notice!

Jesus has provided us with signs for over 2000 years.  This is our spiritual weather forecast.  It is abundantly clear that this man who performed miracle after miracle and was resurrected from the dead was no ordinary man.  The voices of early witnesses have declared who he was and what he did.  It is later in this same chapter that Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah!  Peter had read the signs — he had paid attention to the weather forecast and he realized who it was that stood there in front of him.

We pay attention to the meteorologists and we believe what they are telling us.  They know how to read the signs, making observations and then giving us a forecast. 

We have the signs.  We can make observations.  We have been given the forecast.  Will we believe? 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the signs and that we can believe.  Amen.




Monday, April 28, 2014

How Did I End Up In This Pit?



Scripture:

Matt. 15:14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”

Observation:


Jesus was warning the disciples about the Pharisees.  They had distorted the word of God and were leading others to the pit of destruction.  The disciples were to leave these kinds of leaders alone for the result of their teaching would lead to the pit.  They were blind guides, but they were also leading the blind and those who followed needed to take responsibility for their blindness.  If only they had personally studied the Scriptures and not blindly followed blind leaders they would not have fallen into the pit.

Application:

After following blind leadership there may be a day when one awakes and asks, “How’d I end up in this pit?” 

It doesn’t happen just overnight.  Landing in the pit results from spiritual blindness and spiritual blindness may happen a little at a time. 

We become too busy with life to REALLY spend time with the Lord.  Instead we discover that we can click on the television and quickly catch someone’s preaching.  We are not spending enough time with the living Word to be discerning about what we hear and so our ears are tickled and we listen on.  We turn on the radio as we drive to have our devotional time with our drive-time preacher and again we may enjoy what we hear and without discernment, we follow them a little further. 

There’s really no time to pray and to get to know the Savior personally so we run into church on a Sunday morning and we enjoy our style of worship and a message on a popular theme, but we don’t know Jesus.  The preacher gets us riled up about particular issues and we want to help set the world right — but we have lost our first love.  Our eyes are now on the leader and the issues and/or concerns, but they are not seeking the face of God.  Instead of our vision becoming more and more clear as we keep our eyes on him, our vision becomes increasingly distorted as we focus on leaders and suddenly we no longer see or hear from Jesus and we find ourselves in a pit.

But our scriptures reminds us that Jesus came to get the lamb out of the pit — even on the Sabbath.  He doesn’t give up on us and so, if we find ourselves in the pit, spiritually blind, turn toward the sound of his precious voice.  Seek him, and seek his face and the light of Christ will return bringing you clear sight, lifting you from the pit.

Prayer:


Lord, may I seek your face and your voice today.  Amen.




Sunday, April 27, 2014

When God’s Portion is More Than Enough



Scripture:


Psa. 142:5      ¶ I cry to you, O LORD;
        I say, “You are my refuge,
        my portion in the land of the living.”

Observation:

David found himself trapped in a cave and running from King Saul, the earthly leader who should have provided him with refuge and a portion.  Safety from the king would surely have been expected and yet, the king saw David as a threat.  Where could David and his men go but to run for a place of safety?  Instead of being able to freely live out in the open they would have to hide away.  Realizing his relationship with Saul was terribly strained, David also had no way in which he could live out life with the portion of land and hesitance he should have received.  Not only did he and his band of men have to hide out in caves, they literally had to side with the enemy so they could have a place to live and exist. 

In a moment of despair David cries out the Lord and in his lament we hear a valuable truth.  No matter what the world throws at you or tries to take from you, there is only one place of refuge and that is in the Lord.  There is no portion on earth great enough to compare with the refuge we find in God.

Application:


Hopefully not many of us will find ourselves living in a cave, trying to survive while our enemy hunts us down.  While that may not be the case in a physical sense, it could be true in an emotional sense.  A feeling that the world is closing in on you and while you have worked hard to have relationships and physical comfort and security, it’s all falling apart.  This could be as a result of illness, or loss of work, or strained relationships at home or among friends. 

Suddenly you find yourself living life in the safety of a cave somewhere and it is in that moment that we should follow David’s lead and cry out to the LORD.  It is the LORD who provides our portion.  In our moments of weakness we discover God’s strength.  His portion becomes more than enough and in this God gets all the glory.

This is the second Sunday of Easter and we continue to rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When his disciples were living in the darkness of his death they couldn’t imagine anything that might lie ahead.  They were perplexed, alone, and in the darkness of a cave.  Yet, when they went to look at the human-created cave of his tomb they discovered it was empty.  We find our refuge and our portion in an empty tomb that brings us into the land of the living for in Christ we have new life!  God’s portion is certainly more than enough for God’s portion is his own son. 

Jesus ushers us into the real land of the living — the land of eternal living.  When we hold onto the things of this world we are holding onto the temporary and that portion may seem satisfying today but it will not satisfy eternally.  Only Jesus is more than enough and he has burst out of his tomb leaving it empty so that he can reach down and find us hiding in the back of our cave and draw us into new life.  To God be the glory for his portion is enough.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your portion that satisfies and cares for me.  Amen.




Saturday, April 26, 2014

Do You Know What You Have?



Scripture:

Matt. 13:16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
Matt. 13:17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

Observation:

Jesus was speaking to his disciples and explaining to them that they were truly blessed.  The world had long awaited the coming of the Messiah.  There were many prophets and righteous people who would have loved to have been with Jesus but they didn’t get to walk and talk with him.  Instead, these disciples were the ones who had the blessing of seeing and hearing Jesus.  The beauty was that they were appreciative of what they were experiencing.  Their eyes truly saw, and their ears truly heard and as a result they were followers of the Messiah, the promised one. 

Application:

After Jesus ascended into heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to be the Comforter among his people.  This promise of the Holy Spirit is important in the life of the follower of Christ.  It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are regenerated — or made new, transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ himself.  This incredible transformational power means that we too can personally experience God!  This begs the question, “Do you know what you have?” 

I’m afraid that far too many followers of Christ take for granted the fact that we may be empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  There are people in the past who would have longed to experience what we are able to experience. 

What else do we take for granted?  Through the centuries there have been Christians who have gone to their death because they wanted to worship together in church as followers of Jesus Christ.  Today we live in a time where we have either taken the church for granted, or we have determined that the church is irrelevant.  The church, with all of her warts, bumps and bruises is still the bride of Christ.  There are those who have gone before who died to have what we have.  They longed to see what we see and hear what we hear.  What are we going to do with what we have?

That was the question for the disciples.  Did they realize what they had — and then, what would they do with it?  That question is the same for us today as we are challenged to open our eyes and see, and truly listen with our ears.  We are a blessed people who can freely worship God in gathered communities of faith.  Many have longed for this day.  May we never take for granted the blessed gifts that have been given to us and may we care for these gifts in ways that would be pleasing to our Savior.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit and your bride, the church.  Amen.




Friday, April 25, 2014

A Sheep, in a Pit, on the Sabbath



Scripture:

Matt. 12:11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?
Matt. 12:12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.”

Observation:

Jesus had gone into the synagogue of the Pharisees and it was the sabbath.  The rules of the sabbath day had almost taken on a life of their own and instead of understanding the intent of a sabbath rest for the people of God, the Pharisees had made the people of God subservient to the sabbath.  Their worship of the day itself was almost (or was) idolatrous. 

Here, on this sabbath day they confront Jesus with a man with a withered hand and asked him if it was legal to cure on the sabbath.  For Jesus this question was ridiculous so he answers their question with another question.  If one of your sheep falls into a pit on the sabbath, won’t you go and get it out?  Of course an owner would have compassion on their own little lamb who might die if left in the pit, waiting to be saved on another day. 

Remember this is Jesus responding — the good shepherd.  His mission is to save the sheep.  If these Pharisees would have compassion on an animal to save it on the sabbath — why not a human!  It was time to understand the context of the sabbath and God would be appalled if we didn’t do good on that day.  When you find a sheep in a pit on the sabbath — you must take action!

Application:

While Jesus thoroughly understood his role and his mission, there may be times when we are challenged to understand ours.  The Pharisees had gotten so focused on the rules that they forgot the purpose.  They had gotten off of their mission and gotten hung up on simply sustaining the structure.  It’s far too easy to slip into that kind of thinking and when that happens, we become more concerned about keeping all the plates of religion spinning than taking care of the sheep that have fallen into the pit on the sabbath. 

Jesus knew that he was the Good Shepherd and that caring for sheep was his business.  We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.  We are called to care for his sheep and when we find one in the pit, we are to have compassion and pull them out.  Sadly, we may be distracted by trying to make sure everything around us is in proper shape that we forget about looking for sheep in pits.  I believe that we are surrounded by those who need us to open our eyes and leave the confines of our “sabbath” and go into the pit and bring them out to safety.  Jesus was ridiculed for what he did but we are to follow him and to be imitators of Christ. 

Let’s all be willing to jump into a pit to help pull out a sheep on the sabbath.

Prayer:

Lord, please give me eyes to see the sheep!  Amen.




Thursday, April 24, 2014

Overly Blessed?



Scripture:

Matt. 11:20  ¶ Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent.
Matt. 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Matt. 11:22 But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
Matt. 11:23 And you, Capernaum,
    will you be exalted to heaven?
        No, you will be brought down to Hades.
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Matt. 11:24 But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Observation:

During much of Jesus’ period of ministry he lived in Capernaum.  The cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida were nearby and the citizens of these three towns were blessed with opportunities to watch Christ in action.  They witnessed miracles on a regular basis and heard Jesus himself preach the good news of the kingdom.  Who wouldn’t have wanted to have experienced Jesus first-hand?

There is an old Hebrew saying that you will be “exalted to heaven.”  Capernaum was living in that Hebrew blessing.  The Messiah was living amongst her citizens and this city was blessed above all others.  But maybe she was overly blessed because somehow the people just didn’t “get” it.  Instead of living into the blessing, they would be brought down to Hades.  Why?  Because they were taking for granted all that they were experiencing and would not repent.  Jesus had come to them as a loving Savior and they had been blessed by his presence but now he was warning them because of their lack of genuine faith. 

The cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom were remembered for their wickedness in the Old Testament.  However, Jesus is declaring that these cities would have repented had they experienced the blessings that Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum had and that these cities would suffer destruction as a result of their unrepentant nature.  All three cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were destroyed by the Romans.  The ruins of Chorazin were not discovered until 1962, and Bethsaida, while the birthplace of Peter, has never been found.  The ruins of Capernaum were found by Edward Robinson in 1838. 

Were these towns overly blessed by the presence of Christ and his disciples?  They took their blessings for granted and suffered complete destruction.

Application:

We are not blessed to experience Jesus’ miracles in person or to see him walking down the street of our town, but are we not blessed in many parts of the world to have many churches?  And are we not blessed by the promise of the Holy Spirit living in and through Jesus’ followers?  And didn’t Jesus say that those who would come after him would do more than he did?  Could it be that today’s Christians are just as overly blessed as those who experienced Christ in these three cities and may be taking their blessings just as for granted as those in Jesus’ time?

Maybe it’s time to take stock of our blessings and recognize that we are being called to action as a result.  The people of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida were being called to repentance and so are we.  They were absorbed by their local life and culture and took for granted that Jesus was among them calling them to take up their cross and follow him.  We are blessed to hear the Word preached week after week in our churches.  We have homes and libraries filled with numerous translations of the Bible.  We are surrounded by miracles (only we often don’t take time to recognize them) on a regular basis.  But could it be that it will be better for the citizens of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom on the day of judgement than for those of us who have been overly blessed? 

The call to life in the kingdom is not a half-way calling.  It is, instead, a call to a radical lifestyle of following after Christ, day in and day out.  It is a call to imitation of Christ and continual and on-going transformation into his image on a daily basis. 

Are we suffering from being overly blessed?  Take time out to listen to the still small voice of Jesus beckoning us on into a radical life of holiness. 

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to live for you and listen to your voice every single day!  Amen.




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How Radical Are you Willing to Be?



Scripture:


Matt. 10:34  ¶ “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Matt. 10:35     For I have come to set a man against his father,
    and a daughter against her mother,
    and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
Matt. 10:36     and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Matt. 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
Matt. 10:38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Matt. 10:39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Observation:


Jesus knew that living life in the kingdom was something incredibly radical.  He also realized that most people would not be prepared for what it meant to be such a radical follower of Jesus Christ.  Service in the kingdom meant that there would be discord among the societal systems.  Typically the father made all the decisions regarding the religious affairs of the entire household.  Should a young person decide to follow Christ, there would no longer be peace within that family unit.  It meant that a young person may actually choose to make a decision that did not align with that of a pagan parent.  The consequences of this were deadly.  It helps you understand why Jesus said, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”  Young people who followed Christ would have to suffer at the hands of their family members who disowned them. 

But Jesus also talked about the reverse.  If you loved your parent and the security of the family structure more than him, then you couldn’t be a member of the kingdom.  Why?  Because you would be submitting to authority of your parents and their decisions regarding faith above Christ. 

Pick up your cross and submit to the authority of the kingdom and follow Christ.  This was the radical call of Christianity.  Hanging onto the material world and its systems and structures would result in death eternally, while those who followed Christ would find their lives in him. 

Application:


The life of a true Christian is not for wimps!  Somehow I think that we have lost sight of the fact that we are being called to a radically different way of life in which Christ is everything.  Maybe we have made Christianity too easy in certain parts of the world.  It became a part of the fiber of culture and so there was no call to take a stand against mother or father or the security systems of life.  Instead Christianity became culture itself.  But that’s not a life of radical commitment in the kingdom and that’s Jesus’ expectation for us.

To place this Scripture in today’s context, it would be mean to evaluate even those places that have been called “Christian” and determine whether they truly are or not.  Sadly too many of my peers have left the faith because there was an inconsistency between what was in the Scriptures and taught in church and what they saw at home.  Parents did not live out a life of radical obedience to Christ and so their children were turned away from the faith.  Jesus was calling the believers of the first century out of the comfort zone of the culture.  Even if the culture calls itself “Christian” we are still called out of the comfort zone of that culture. 

Unless we are willing to submit to Christ in all things, we will find ourselves with nothing.  Carrying the cross of Christ is to publicly submit to his kingdom.  There can be nothing half-way about that. 

If we are hanging onto the things of our culture — even our Christian culture — that may be keeping us from radical submission to Christ, we will lose our life.  Followers in the kingdom are asked to serve at a level of radical obedience where day by day the world is able to see us carrying the cross of Christ and know that we are his.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to keep from being lulled into the “good” things of this world.  Amen.




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Does Anyone Have Compassion or Concern for Those Who Need Christ?



Scripture:


Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matt. 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
Matt. 9:38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Observation:


Jesus looks out over the multitude of people who have been following him and he is moved with compassion.  Why?  Because they have been living under a burden of religious oppression that has led them to the point of feeling “harassed and helpless.”  No matter what they do, they just can’t seem to get it right and they are exhausted from trying.  Jesus, is the good shepherd and his realization is that there is no one caring for these people and their true spiritual welfare.  No one is shepherding them as a good shepherd.  Instead they are being used by the system.

This is why Jesus then tells his disciples “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  The reality was that many people were spiritually hungry and they were not being fed by the “spiritual” system of the day.  They were actually being “harassed” by the system which left them wandering spiritually.  Jesus recognized that there were very few who had compassion upon the true needs of the people.  For those disciples who would move away from the religious system and focus on the genuine needs of the crowds, on those things which moved Jesus to compassion, there would be a huge harvest.  The prayer for laborers was a prayer that God would move more shepherds to compassion, recognizing the real needs of the sheep.  The sheep needed Christ, not a religious system. 

Application:

I’m not sure that the situation has changed much today.  It’s easy to get caught up in the religious system and its function and somehow lose focus of the real needs of the sheep.  Instead, we focus on what we view are the “perceived” needs of these individuals.  Jesus was moved to compassion for the real needs of the crowds.  It appears that seeing the plentiful harvest has to do with being a real shepherd.  The real shepherd works to care for the real needs of the sheep.

The sheep in Jesus’ day didn’t need guilt heaped upon them from a religious system.  I don’t think that much has changed today.  There is a real world around us with hurting people with real needs.  Their need is to know Christ, not a religious system or structure.  Jesus was wondering whether there were those around who had compassion or concern for those who needed to know Christ.  The same is true today.  Too many are lamenting the fact that there seems to be too little harvest. Could it be that there are not enough shepherds with compassion or concern for the real needs of the crowds?  Could it be that there is very little harvest because the laborers are focused in the wrong direction?

If we would truly pray for laborers for the harvest, I believe that the Lord would raise up shepherds, moved with compassion for those who need Christ.  That’s where we need to begin, not with the sheep, but with the shepherds.  May God help us to pray for the workers.  May God help us to raise up good shepherds.  May God help us to have eyes for the real needs of the people.

We need a whole new generation of shepherds who will have compassion and concern for those who need Christ.  May God help us as we pray, and as our eyes are opened to the white fields surrounding us.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to have compassion for the real needs around me.  Amen.




Monday, April 21, 2014

The Continuing Life of Discipleship



Scripture:

Matt. 8:18 ¶ Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
Matt. 8:19 A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Matt. 8:20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Matt. 8:21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
Matt. 8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Observation:

Considering how the scribes and the pharisees are represented in Scripture it seems unusual that this person would come and tell Jesus that he was ready to follow him.  He even calls Jesus “teacher.”  Jesus has been talking about life within the kingdom and the invitation is not just to follow Christ, but to engage in life within the kingdom.  What does that mean for this religious man?  Jesus is unsure of the man’s understanding and level of commitment.  This is not just about following around a popular earthly teacher and reaping temporal benefits, Jesus is calling for a life of discipleship that begins here and ends in the eternal. 

The continuing life of discipleship requires one to give up all their earthly possessions, at least to the extent that they no longer are a matter of consequence.  In other words, a disciple must be willing to go and serve anywhere in the kingdom.  Service to the kingdom of God had to come above everything else.  When another disciples responds, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” Jesus tells him instead to “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  At first glance we may believe that this seems or appears callous on Jesus’ part.  Surely we are to love and care for our family. 

The problem is that in first-century Roman culture the family unit was the social unit.  Everyone belonged to a particular household, whether you were the man responsible for the household, the wife who managed the household, the children cared for within the system, or even the servants who served.  The head of the household made the decisions for everyone who belonged to them and in this way society functioned.  What Jesus is saying here is a statement about the kingdom.  True discipleship meant going outside of the societal structures that existed and being willing to step into life in the kingdom.  The kingdom of God had to become of more value and importance than the systems of society.

A disciple had to leave behind all of the social structures that brought them security and follow Christ.  This was the on-going and continuing life of discipleship.

Application:

Yesterday we celebrated Easter and rejoiced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The question for us today is whether we are willing to take up our cross and follow him! 

The scribe was enjoying the excitement around Jesus Christ.  That was the fun stuff.  Yesterday was the fun stuff.  But then reality has to set in.  Life and service within the kingdom is not just about fun stuff or about celebration.  Life and service in the kingdom means stepping out of our comfort zones and out of the world in which we are currently living and seeking first only his kingdom. 

Once we become a disciple we are not just learning about Jesus, we are living in the kingdom with Jesus.  As we live in the kingdom with him we are drawn on a journey which leads us outside of the things of the world.  The social structures which exist on earth are not the ones that we follow when we are serving in the kingdom.  We allow the things of the world to care for the things of the world as we already live in the world of the eternal kingdom.  When kingdom life and Jesus become our focus, then we may begin the journey of true discipleship and true discipleship will lead us onward and upward all the way through to eternity.  This is the on-going and continuing life of a disciple.

Prayer:

Lord, may you please help me to continually live as a disciple in your kingdom.  Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

No More Fear



Scripture:

Matt. 28:1 ¶ After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Matt. 28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Matt. 28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
Matt. 28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
Matt. 28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
Matt. 28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Matt. 28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
Matt. 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Matt. 28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
Matt. 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Observation:

When the women approached the empty tomb an angel was there to greet them to allay their fears.  They were terrified to approach the tomb because of all that had transpired and yet, out of love for Jesus they wanted to come and take care of his body.  However, what they would discover could have possibly brought more fear and yet, God in his love provided for an angel to explain to them what had transpired, and to speak to their fears.  The angel tells them, “Do not be afraid.”  In that instant the fears are transformed from fear of having lost Jesus, to a potential new fear — the unknown.  An angel is speaking to them!  Jesus isn’t there!  The angel said, “He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said.”  No more fear, but anticipation of seeing Jesus alive so they leave in that transitional state of “fear and great joy” as the thought of Jesus alive begins to sink in.  And then, they run into Jesus and everything is truly transformed and there is no more fear, for He is risen!

Application:

He is risen, indeed!  And there is no more need for fear. 

We may find ourselves in the place of the women.  We are terrified by what life hands us and we wonder what it is that lies ahead.  There is the great unknown of transition.  Where is Jesus in the midst of it all?  We wonder whether life will ever be the same again and we think that the pain is more than we can imagine. 

At the moment of our deepest need we discover that God has sent a comforter, or a messenger, to reach out and minister to us.  This “angel” helps us to see that our focus has been on the wrong thing.  The women were focused on Jesus’ death.  How had they not heard that he had told them that he would be raised in three days?  The angel refocus’ their attention and helps them to remember the promise of Jesus.  Not only does the angel refocus them but points them in the direction of confirmation.  It’s time to look at the facts.  There is no need to fear for Jesus is no longer in the tomb!  It’s time for us to look at the facts and realize that resurrection power is available to us as we look in the direction of the risen Lord. 

Don’t be afraid — and go tell others what it is that you have experienced.  There is no more need for fear.  Jesus has risen.  The tomb is empty. 

Prayer:

Lord, we rejoice in your resurrection and the destruction of fear.  Amen.




Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don’t Worry About Tomorrow



Scripture:

Matt. 6:33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matt. 6:34 ¶ “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Observation:


Jesus understood that the things of this world carry very little value in light of eternity.  The things of this earth are simply temporary and will some day pass away.  On the other hand, the things of God and the kingdom will last forever.  Therefore we are to be actively engaged in the work of the kingdom.

Jesus was engaged in kingdom work.  On that dark and silent Saturday when the disciples had no clue as to the future, Jesus was working.  Everything he did was about the kingdom. 

On that Saturday the disciples were in despair.  Everything had changed with Jesus’ death.  What would happen tomorrow?  Could they muster the strength to remember the words of Jesus?  “Do not worry about tomorrow.”  They certainly would have been believing that “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  Only they were concerned that tomorrow would be even worse.  The kingdom they had dreamed about seemed so very far away, and yet, it really wasn’t.  Jesus was already providing for the new kingdom in ways they would never have even imagined. 

But on Saturday the disciples could not see the kingdom and they were worried!

Application:

There may be times in life when we find ourselves living in the darkness of Saturday.  Life may seem without hope and the kingdom exceedingly far away.  We can’t imagine that there could be a Sunday — a resurrection. 

It is at these times we must hold onto the promises of Jesus.  We must always seek the kingdom and not worry about tomorrow.  When we put our trust in him for all things, then he will be with us through the dark and silent Saturdays and will lead us into Sunday when the kingdom will be revealed.  Life doesn’t always make sense.  The deep pain that we feel in the darkness makes us want to worry.  It’s not easy.  God seems silent and yet he will break through in victory.  When?  The disciples didn’t know.  Nothing made sense.  They had no idea what to do.  And so they mechanically went through the motions of life. 

None of us knows what tomorrow will hold.  We may view it as something glorious, such as the resurrection, or it may be the despair of Saturday.  In the midst of it all may God give us the strength to strive for the kingdom and his righteousness and not to worry.  This is the peace that Jesus brings us, even on Saturday.

Prayer:

Lord, we wait, not worrying about tomorrow.  Amen.




Friday, April 18, 2014

Blessed Jesus



Scripture:

Psa. 34:1     I will bless the LORD at all times;
        his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
Psa. 34:2     My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
        let the humble hear and be glad.
Psa. 34:3     O magnify the LORD with me,
        and let us exalt his name together.

Observation:

It’s the day of the year we call “Good Friday.”  On this day we remember that Christ went to his death for us all. 

The Psalmist loved God. 

He blessed the LORD continually. 

The focus of his life was his passionate love for God and his desire was to constantly exalt his name.

Application:


Blessed Jesus. 

Blessed Jesus.

Suffering on the cross.

May I bless him at all times!

May he be praised at all times!

May he be magnified at all times!

Blessed Jesus. 

Blessed Jesus.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you is not enough.  I am amazed at what you have done and eternally grateful.  Amen.




Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Strength Comes From the Lord!



Scripture:

Psa. 59:16      ¶ But I will sing of your might;
        I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
    For you have been a fortress for me
        and a refuge in the day of my distress.
Psa. 59:17     O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
        for you, O God, are my fortress,
        the God who shows me steadfast love.

Observation:

David had experienced God’s grace and wisdom as he had been able to escape the reach of Saul.  While David had warrior skills, he was constantly drawn back to the saving power of God and wanted to praise and glorify God.  David knew that he couldn’t survive on his own resources, but needed to trust in God. 

Love for God simply welled out of David and he sang and glorified God.  God was his fortress and strength. 

Application:

God was and is the source of steadfast love and when we are prepared to abandon ourselves to him, love for him will simply pour of us.  We will awaken in the morning and we will be overcome with the desire to bless his holy name!  We will want to praise him and thank him for his steadfast love that endures even when life brings its difficulties. 

If we are depending on ourselves then we will find that we easily become frustrated and discouraged.  Of course we don’t have the ability to solve all that we face on our own.  When we think that we must do this alone we will become miserable, but as we trust in God almighty, we will discover that we can begin the day with a song. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your leading and guiding strength! Amen.




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week Walking



Scripture:

Matt. 16:24 ¶ Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Matt. 16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Matt. 16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
John 13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Observation:

Jesus’ entire life was one in which he was restoring humanity.  Before holy week even arrived Jesus was speaking to his disciples about taking up their cross and following him.  The symbolism of bringing their entire lives into submission to the authority of the kingdom was seen in this statement.  And yet, it was also a foreshadowing of what was to come. 

On this Wednesday of holy week, we are called to follow Jesus on the journey that would lead him to the cross.  It was a journey in which everything related to the world was to be abandoned.  Those who wanted to save their lives from their own perspective didn’t realize that holding on to the way of the past would lead to death.  Instead, giving up that life and wholeheartedly following Jesus Christ meant that their lives would be saved. 

And what were they holding onto?  All the things of the world.  The materialistic things would ultimately mean nothing in light of life in the kingdom which came through submission to the way of the cross. 

Jesus was carving out the pathway — and it was time for the disciples to follow him in all things.

It was holy week.  He would physically take up a cross.  Were they ready?

Application:

The same question is posed for you and for me.  Are we willing to give up all the things of the world for what the kingdom has to offer?  It requires complete and total submission to Jesus.  This is not just something half-hearted, but it is complete and entire devotion and service to Jesus.  There can be nothing that distracts from loving him.

It’s holy week.  Jesus has taken up the cross.  Are we ready to follow?

Prayer:


Lord, as you lead, please help me to follow. Amen.




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Destructive Nature of Jealousy



Scripture:

1Sam. 17:28 ¶ His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.”
1Sam. 17:29 David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.”

Observation:

David had been sent by his father to bring food to his older brothers who were lined up for battle against the Philistines.  When he arrived he began to ask questions about the situation.  This short exchange allows us to catch a glimpse of the relationship that existed between David and his oldest brother Eliab.  David must have been the pesky little brother and Eliab was annoyed at his sudden appearance.  David had a curious nature and was asking questions, taking stock of the situation.  David was probably being a little more assertive than Eliab had been and this touched a nerve.

What right did this little punk have to be coming and asking these kinds of questions?  It was time for Eliab to put his little brother in his place, and he decided to do so publicly.  His intention was to embarrass him.  He questions David’s motives, when clearly David had come at his father’s instruction.  Notice he mentions “those few sheep” — belittling the work of his little brother.  Then he accuses him of having evil in his heart.  In fact this is quite the verbal lashing given in front of all of those who can hear. 

Eliab appears to be very jealous of David and his method of coping with his feelings is to attack David.  If only he can make David sound small, then maybe Eliab will feel better about himself.  The sad truth was that this big brother had done nothing about Goliath.  David had come and already assessed the situation and discovered that the very dignity of God was being challenged.  He wanted to make a difference.

You can hear the defensiveness in David’s response.  I doubt this was the first encounter of this type with his big brother.  “What have I done now?”  Yes, David had been challenged time and again by this big brother.  Probably every time David did something right, Eliab did his best to make David feel like it was something wrong.  David was weary of this whole scenario.  He defends himself, “It was only a question.”

Application:

David had the opportunity to respond to this situation in one of two ways.  He could have allowed the jealousy of his older brother to define the way in which he lived.  If that were the case he would have kept his mouth shut.  He wouldn’t have asked questions and he certainly would not have offered to fight against Goliath. 

On the other hand David could have, and did decide that he would not be defined by the taunting of his jealous older brother.  David was indignant about the way in which God was being taunted and the way in which the Israelites were being treated.  This mattered more than his own ego.  He was determined to continue to do what was right and he decided to challenge his brother, asking him “What have I done now?”

Jealousy is very destructive and it would be pleasant to know that it didn’t exist within the ranks of followers of Jesus Christ.  The reality is that it should not exist because God’s people are called to be filled with God’s nature of holy love.  That love should so infill every part of our being, sanctifying us and making us holy that we would not allow attitudes like jealousy to creep in.  Sadly, it still happens and there are those who would call themselves members of the family who would treat one another just like Eliab treated David. 

The destructive force of jealousy ruins relationships within the family.  This, in turn, ruins the witness of the family to the world who should be seeing how we love one another.  Jealousy stifles the work of God because we may decide not to ruffle any jealous feathers by doing what God would ask us to do.  David could have packed up his things and gone home.  That would have made Eliab happy. 

The difficult response is the one that David gave.  He chose to be faithful to the living God.  He endured the verbal abuses of his big brother and continued to do what he knew was right.  Was his relationship with Eliab ever a happy one?  We don’t know, but we do know that David was a man after God’s own heart.  Sometimes we have to break beyond the destructive nature of jealousy and press on toward obedience to God.  Just like David, we can learn that this is possible when we trust in him!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your enduring strength. Amen.




Monday, April 14, 2014

Obedience, Not Sacrifice



Scripture:

1Sam. 15:22 And Samuel said,
    “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
        as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
    Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
        and to heed than the fat of rams.

Observation:

Saul and his army had gone to battle.  God had instructed them to destroy the enemy and everything that they had.  Instead, Saul had saved the very best of their enemy and brought it home with him.  His excuse was that he would be using these in sacrifice to God.  However, that wasn’t what God had asked him to do and now the prophet Samuel has to come and confront him with his disobedience. 

God didn’t ask for the burnt offerings — he asked for Saul’s obedience.  Somehow Saul was rationalizing his behavior and saying because he was going to sacrifice these animals it was okay to take them, trying to appease God and Samuel.  It didn’t work.  Saul’s motivation came from selfishness and not out of a love and desire to be obedient to God.  The sacrifice isn’t what’s important, the heart is! 

Samuel went away sad, never to see Saul ever again.  God instructed him to anoint David to become king.  Saul’s disobedience led to his demise and failure.

Application:

Saul went off to war and responded in a way that “he thought” would make God happy.  The problem here is that Saul got too busy doing things “for” God that he forgot to spend time really “knowing” God.  By lacking that personal and intimate knowledge of God, Saul did what he thought God would find pleasing.  The problem was, Saul had wandered so far from the heart of God that he didn’t understand what God truly wanted from him.

This temptation to wander away from the heart of God is very real.  Even followers of Jesus Christ get so busy in doing the work that they believe they are called to do that they fail to spend time with the Lord and to get their instructions from him.  In this way it’s far too easy to become disobedient because we fall into a trap of thinking that God wants certain “things” from us.  God doesn’t want or need our “things.”  God wants us. 

When I was a little girl my mother planted hundreds of roses and flowers around our house in Germany.  She loved to give bouquets of flowers as gifts to people, and she enjoyed having the beauty in our home as well.  I remember once when I was very young my mother sent me outside to cut some daisies to put into a vase in the house.  I didn’t really pay attention to the instructions that mom was giving me and so I went outside with the scissors and began to look around.  Not having listened well I cut down my mother’s gladiolus instead of the daisies.  There is a HUGE difference between these two.  I remember proudly walking into the house with the gladiolus (which were not meant to be cut and brought into a house!) and presenting them to my mother.  I thought she would be proud of the beautiful flowers I had brought her, but she wasn’t all that happy with me.  While they were lovely flowers and she would end up using them, I had not listened and I had not been obedient to what she had been trying to tell me.  In my haste I had not done the right thing.  I don’t recall her being upset at me, but I do remember feeling a bit like she was disappointed in me.  Not so much about the flowers, but because I hadn’t listened and obeyed.

Our heavenly father doesn’t want us to bring him things.  He wants us to listen at his feet and soak in what he has to tell us.  His desire is for us and for our lives and when we go off in too much of a hurry without really listening to what he trying to tell us, we will fail.  He doesn’t want our sacrifices or our stuff.  He just wants us!

Prayer:

Lord, may I slow down and hear your voice so that I may live in obedience to you. Amen.




Sunday, April 13, 2014

Grace, Love and Fellowship



Scripture:

2Cor. 13:13 ¶ The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Observation:

This is Paul’s benediction for the people of Corinth and it is one in which we clearly see the Holy Trinity.  Jesus’ grace reaches out to all of humanity while the Father’s love characterizes the very nature of God.  All of this is brought together by the communion, or fellowship, or participation with the Holy Spirit.  It is in this revelation of God, seen in the Trinity, that we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and desire for all of humanity to be united together in holy loving fellowship.  It is a fitting benediction for the people of God.

Application:

Today is Palm Sunday and a great reminder of all that our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us.  His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem was celebrated by the myriad of residents.  Unfortunately many of them had no idea who he really was, nor what he was bringing to them.  They only wanted to experience a little bit of what he had to offer.

May we be willing to experience all the fullness of God!  Jesus’ grace continues to reach out to all of humanity to this very day.  All that he encountered and endured during Holy Week reaches out to all, drawing us into a relationship with the Father.  Yes, the loving heavenly Father, who willingly gave up his son so that you and I could be brought back into relationship with him has never changed his nature.  God’s love remains as he gazes in our direction, ever desiring for us to be in communion with him.  And this communion is possible through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who draws us into fellowship with God. 

Why would we desire anything less than the grace, love and fellowship found in God? 

May this prayer of benediction be our prayer on a daily basis as we are privileged to fellowship with our Holy God.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for this Palm Sunday and all that you have done for us.  The blessings are greater than what we truly can imagine. Thank you.   Amen.




Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Do You Wish You Could Change?



Scripture:

2Cor. 12:8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,
2Cor. 12:9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Observation:

People have speculated about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”  Many suspect that it was his poor eyesight and that his prayer was that God would remove this burden from him.  Whether it was his eyesight or something else that he considered a weakness, Paul knew that he had issues in life.  Even the great Apostle Paul who daily lived out his love for Christ struggled with human frailty or infirmity.  He seemed to struggle with the fact that he wasn’t the greatest preacher, or that he had to work as a tent-maker for a living and then he may have also prayed for 20/20 vision.  But these things did not change in Paul’s life, and yet he did not waver from the faith. 

I’m sure there were times that Paul thought he could serve God so much better if only…. Yet here we catch the understanding of Paul.  The power of God is made perfect in weakness.  It is in our weaknesses that God can be glorified.

Application:

Let’s be honest, there always seems to be something that we wish we could change about ourselves.  The problem is that we can use our weaknesses as an excuse when it comes to serving God.  We begin to create an “if only” list of items that “if only” I had these abilities God would be able to use me. 

Paul is telling us that it’s time to put away the “if only” list and jump in wholeheartedly in service to the Lord.  Why?  Because it is when we bring our weaknesses to the Lord that God becomes glorified.  When God takes a shy little girl and uses her in the work of the kingdom, then it is God that is revealed and he is glorified!  When God takes a half-blind man and has him write letters that change the world — it is God that is glorified, and not the skills and abilities of the man.  When God takes a young man who has struggled with dyslexia throughout his entire educational process and transforms him into an articulate preacher of the word, then God is glorified! 

God’s grace reaches out to each and every single one of us and touches us at the point of our human frailty.  Only when we submit that frailty to the infilling of the Holy Spirit can it be made whole.  Power is brought to completion or perfection in weakness.  If we are filled up to the brim with our own skills and abilities, then how do we leave room or space for the working of the Holy Spirit?  When we are weak, then we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and it provides space for the “power of Christ” to dwell in me.

Do you really wish you could change anything in life, or might we be grateful for our weaknesses for it is in these that we get to experience the strength of the Lord!  Maybe we ought to stop trying to change things and embrace the One who wants to fill us with everything! 

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your promises and sustaining grace today.  Amen.




Friday, April 11, 2014

Putting Up With Abuses



Scripture:

2Cor. 11:19 For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves!
2Cor. 11:20 For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face.

Observation:

Paul was frustrated that the Corinthians had been tolerating false prophets.  His writing is laced with irony as he chides them for being so wise as to put up with fools. 

The Corinthians had been so taken by some of these false preachers that they were willing to fall into the slavery of legalism.  More than likely this had to do with following Jewish law to the extent that they were not experiencing the freedom to be found in Christ.  And these great and powerful preachers were taking advantage of the ordinary people, preying on them and taking money and resources from them. 

These kinds of leaders don’t have the best interests of others in mind, instead they have themselves in mind and how they can use others for their own benefit.  And the abuse went beyond financial, it went to the physical.  The worst personal affront of the day was to be slapped in the face and yet, the Corinthians were allowing this to happen.  What a misuse of power!  Interestingly this abuse of power must have continued until the 7th century when it was determined at the Council of Braga that a Bishop could no longer, at his will, strike his clergy.

Paul was frustrated that the Corinthian church was willing to put up with this kind of abuse, rather than exercise the freedom that he had presented them in Christ.

Application:

The freedom which Christ is offering us really is beyond our imagination.  However, it is a freedom which can only come from daily walking and talking and being formed by him and this takes a commitment to being open and vulnerable before him. 

Instead of this kind of vulnerability before God we tend to be drawn toward strong human leadership.  Unfortunately this kind of power and/or leadership can be used and abused, whether in the workplace, government or even the home.  When we place ourselves under this type of authority, rather than the authority of God, we allow ourselves to be used and abused.  How was it that the clergy became tolerant of being hit in the face by their Bishops for 700 years???  What makes us submit to behaviors which go against the very nature of Christ? 

Paul was stunned that the followers in Corinth would be willing to put up with this behavior.  While we may not have Church leadership hitting people in the face, there are other abuses that we have tolerated.  It is just easier not to rock the boat?  Or is it that we allow others to have such power over us that we get our eyes off of Christ!  All of this becomes a distraction to the real goal of life — knowing and becoming like him.  Paul was trying to wake up the Corinthian church. 

Maybe there are those who need a wake-up call today!  What or who are we allowing to become a distraction in our lives?  What are we tolerating because we refuse to seek the face of God? 

It is time to break the cycle of abuse.  We must allow Christ to have full power and authority and follow his leading or we will discover that we are simply putting up with fools!

Prayer:

Lord, help me to seek you today and every day.  Amen.




Thursday, April 10, 2014

Success From a Different Perspective



Scripture:

2Cor. 10:18 For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

Observation:

Even in Paul’s day there were those who were considered the “great” and “successful” leaders from a human perspective.  They must have “boasted” about their abilities and felt “proud” of their successes.  Christianity was spreading rapidly and there were those who enjoyed the preaching of certain leaders.  Apparently the ones who were more engaging in their preaching were the more “successful.”  Paul, who himself said he was strong in his letters, wasn’t sure that he was that forceful in person. 

Paul’s concern was about faithfulness to Christ and not popularity among the people.  His goal was to know Christ more and more each day.  Therefore his commendation was not coming from the people around him, but from the Lord himself.  Human commendation of success within the kingdom may actually take us in a direction that is not in keeping with God’s intention.  Paul understood this and wanted to make certain that the people understood success from a different perspective.

Application:

Christianity itself has adopted many of the “success” principles of this world.  We want to measure “success” by the numbers and by popularity.  Success also seems to be equated with power and an ability to manipulate and motivate.  But what about servant leadership?  What about the Jesus model that did not set up an earthly kingdom but instead went to a cross?  Isn’t this what Paul is really talking about here.

Jesus didn’t boast about himself.  Paul wanted to imitate Christ.  Paul said to follow him as he followed Christ.  And all of this leads to success from a different perspective. 

This success is about total obedience to Christ on a daily basis.  This means that God gets the glory — not the human leader!  God should be the only one who is lifted up.  It is the power of God that should shine through in the life of every one of us — not our own human strength.  It is in my weaknesses that he is glorified!  We should allow him to take our weaknesses and fill them up with his power and strength to change the world.  Then, it is always about him, and not about us. 

If the world only sees strong and capable humans using their own talents and abilities they will not see God.  Success for a Christian is for the world to see Christ.  If we are being ever transformed into his likeness, and if this is the goal of life, to be like Christ, then success is for others to see Christ in me.  Nothing else.  It makes human boasting ridiculous!

May God help us to keep our eyes on Christ and the focus be on ever knowing Christ.  Anything short of this is not success!

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for loving us and being patient with us so that we may grow in you.  Amen.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Serving the Lord Only



Scripture:

1Sam. 7:2 ¶ From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years,
and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
(Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. - NIV)
1Sam. 7:3 ¶ Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the LORD, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
1Sam. 7:4 So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the LORD only.

Observation:


The Israelites had not been serving God.  They had allowed the worship of other gods to infiltrate their lives and they had suffered the consequences.  Finally the ark of the covenant was back with them and they were seeking the LORD.  The NRSV says that they “lamented after the LORD.”  The NIV says that they “turned back to the Lord.”  They were willing to confess their sin and their guilt for not worshiping the LORD and put away their foreign gods and committed themselves to serving the LORD only. 

Samuel was calling the people back to serving the LORD only, for they had polluted themselves with the things of the world, having been led astray by the sons of Eli, the priests.  The corruption of the nation and unfaithfulness to God had crept into the very highest ranks of society. 

Sadly they had suffered at the hand of their enemy and they realized that they had forgotten their first love.  They had forgotten their covenant and they had strayed from the Shema; “Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  They had given themselves to the worship of other gods.  Enough was enough.  Faithful living came from faithful commitment.  Everything else had to be put aside and the people lamented after the LORD — realizing and confessing their unfaithfulness.  It was time to get back to serving the LORD only.

Application:

There can be nothing half-hearted about our Christian walk.  The Israelites had tried that out and had failed miserably. 

They tried to serve the LORD and other gods at the same time.

I’m afraid that many who call themselves Christians today may do the same thing.  They put on the outward coverings of being followers of Jesus Christ while at the same time inviting other gods into their lives.  These may be the gods of family, time, money, or even religion.  Anything that becomes more important than the LORD is a distraction to serving him only, no matter how good it may appear on the surface. 

We may use the excuse of religion, or being religious as a barrier to our personal relationship with Christ.  The trappings of religion and trying to “do it right” may actually keep us from serving the Lord only.

We are called to a deeper walk with Jesus Christ — one in which we discover what it means to give everything over to him.  There can no longer be a half-hearted commitment, but there must be a repentance, a lament, a return to loving the Lord our God with all of our being.  Only in this way will we be able to serve him only. 

Prayer:

Lord, may you lead me every day into that singular love and focus on you.  Amen.




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When Ebenezer is Just a Word



Scripture:

1Sam. 4:1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. ¶ In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.

Observation:

This is a sad time in the history of God’s people.  In the previous chapter we had learned that it was rare to hear the voice of the Lord.  Now, the Philistines are wanting to do battle against the Israelites.  We are told that the Israelites encamped at Ebenezer.  Interestingly this location does not get it’s name until chapter 7 of 1 Samuel.  This book is written after the fact and they are noting that the location where the Israelites encamped was near what would become known as Ebenezer.

The irony of the name is that it means “stone of help.”  This was a place where they would eventually note that it is God who is their help.  However, when this story unfolds the Israelites have been ignoring God and are simply going about their lives trusting in themselves.  When it comes time for this battle they suddenly think that maybe it would be good to trust in God and they have the Ark of the Covenant brought to this location.  However, their faith in God is not sincere and the Ark is lost to the Philistines. 

Eventually the people turn their hearts back to God and they are able to bring the Ark back home and they celebrate this fact by raising up a stone, their Ebenezer as a reminder that God truly has been their help.  But what happens when Ebenezer becomes simply a word like it was at the first part of this chapter?  At that point they were not trusting in God and he was not their help.  He was simply something to be used in their time of need. 

Application:

How often do we simply use God, or the church, or the Bible or other items to “save” us in a difficult time?  Ebenezer should be more than a word naming a place!  The Ebenezers in our lives should be great reminders of our faith and trust in a God who is our helper and who can make a difference in the lives of God’s people. 

The Israelites had taken God for granted and expected him to swoop down and save when they called on him.  God’s desire is for us to understand that he is our daily Ebenezer.  He does not just want to step into our lives from time to time.  Instead he wants to be actively engaged in all that we do every single day.  He wants us to call on him, he wants us to trust in him.  He wants us to understand that he is the one who wants to lead us through every facet of our lives.  He wants to be there and recognized as the Ebenezer — the rock who is our help. 

The Ebenezer is not just a word.  Our Ebenezer should be carried with us, day in and day out.  Then, when the battles come, Ebenezer will be more than just a word, but will be a reality. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your daily help.  Amen.

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

1. Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

2. Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.




Monday, April 7, 2014

A Heart-felt Prayer of Thanksgiving



Scripture:


1Sam. 2:1  ¶ Hannah prayed and said,
    “My heart exults in the LORD;
        my strength is exalted in my God.
    My mouth derides my enemies,
        because I rejoice in my victory.
 
1Sam. 2:2      ¶ “There is no Holy One like the LORD,
        no one besides you;
        there is no Rock like our God.
1Sam. 2:3     Talk no more so very proudly,
        let not arrogance come from your mouth;
    for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
        and by him actions are weighed.
1Sam. 2:4     The bows of the mighty are broken,
        but the feeble gird on strength.
1Sam. 2:5     Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
        but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
    The barren has borne seven,
        but she who has many children is forlorn.
1Sam. 2:6     The LORD kills and brings to life;
        he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
1Sam. 2:7     The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
        he brings low, he also exalts.
1Sam. 2:8     He raises up the poor from the dust;
        he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
    to make them sit with princes
        and inherit a seat of honor.
    For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S,
        and on them he has set the world.
 
1Sam. 2:9      ¶ “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
        but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
        for not by might does one prevail.
1Sam. 2:10     The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered;
        the Most High will thunder in heaven.
    The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
        he will give strength to his king,
        and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Observation:


Hannah had been suffering because she had no children.  This was not her only pain for because of her barrenness every part of her life was affected.  She had no child to raise.  She was not seen as a person of value in society.  She would have no one to care for her in her old age.  Other women humiliated her.  It was a constant and daily reminder that she was a failure in the eyes of the world.

In the midst of her feelings of despair she poured out her heart to God and he answered her prayer.  This now is her prayer of thanksgiving and from Hannah we learn what it means to pray a heart-felt prayer of thanksgiving to God who hears and loves his people.

Application:

My heart is full this morning, full of God’s love.  There are times when I simply feel that there are no words to convey the sense of his deep love that washes over life’s complicated circumstances. I rejoice that there is none like our Holy God  I will choose to trust in the One who has set the pillars of the earth. 

There is none like Him!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your love that goes with us through all the issues of life.  Amen.




Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Real Family



Scripture:

2Cor. 6:18     and I will be your father,
        and you shall be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.”

Observation:

The children of Israel turned their backs on a loving heavenly Father, rejecting the love that he had for them.  Paul was quoting from the Old Testament when he reminded them what God’s intention was in the very beginning.  He wanted us to be a part of his family.  The “Lord Almighty” — the one who is Lord and has power over everything — has a real family into which we are invited.  We are to become full heirs, true sons and daughters of the Father.  The rejection is not only of God, but of the Father, and the family life and everything that comes with it! 

Application:

I’m afraid that too often we want the benefits of being “saved” — that is, “saved” from eternal separation from God, and yet, we don’t want to be a part of the family.  We want the eternal benefits without the participation.  Unfortunately that’s not God’s intention.  God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to make it possible for us to be sons and daughters.  Jesus came to make it possible to transform humanity into the holy people that God had originally intended.  He created a pathway for us to become his brothers and sisters. 

Therefore the journey into the family begins by following after Christ and continues when we live in communion with the family.  As we live in communion with the family we begin to walk and talk and act more and more like the family.  There is a family resemblance as we are continually transformed. 

And this is the real family into which God invites his children. We may struggle with our earthly families.  There are those who have never had a loving father or a nurturing family and so it’s hard to imagine what this family is like — but this is the real family.  The earthly families with their rough edges and sometimes failures are not what God intended. 

The real family is one in which the Father dearly loves his children and provides a pathway that leads to transformation here and now in the kingdom and yet to come.  Let’s not allow the failures of this world to keep us from all that God wishes to provide for us.  The real family is here and inviting us in, even now.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of your family.  Amen.




Saturday, April 5, 2014

Compelled by the Love of God



Scripture:

2Cor. 5:14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. (NRSV)

14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (NIV)

Observation:


Paul's life was focused on one simple truth.  His gratitude for the new life he had found in Christ meant that the love of Christ overwhelmed and permeated everything that he did.  Different translations have tried to help us understanding what it was that Paul was trying to say.  The KJV tells us that the love of Christ “constrained” him.  In some ways this is an interesting word because it gives us the idea that the love of Christ was so overwhelming that it squeezed the focus of Paul’s life into one singular direction.  The NRSV says that it’s the love that “urges us on.”  We are hugged tightly by the love of God that moves us in a direction each and every single day of our lives.  The NIV says that “Christ’s love compels us.”  Again, this idea of being moved along because of all that Christ has done for us.

Paul’s gratitude for Christ’s death on the cross allowed him to recognize the overwhelming love of God that became the driving force of everything that he did in life.

Application:

When I stopped to think about this today I was a bit overwhelmed.  If we truly understand holiness, we understand that it is the love of God so filling us that there is no desire left in our hearts for sin.  Love excluding all else!  This is what Paul is saying — love for Christ excluding all else and becoming the driving force for every decision in life.

God is calling his followers to a deeper walk with him and the Apostle Paul is not to be an exception to the rule, but rather he is showing us what is to be considered the norm.  All of God’s followers are to be filled with Christ so that nothing else compels them.  We are not to be distracted in our daily lives, but instead we are to be singularly guided by Christ’s love.  When this happens then we are compelled, or constrained to act like and respond like Christ.  God’s holy people are to look like our holy, loving, God.

Not only are we to look like our holy, loving, God, but we are also to be driven in our daily activities by the love of God.  We should see the world around us through his eyes and seek to minister to those who need to experience his love.  We should be urged along — or compelled by his love.  Jesus’ heart breaks for the world; our heart should break for the world.

My desire in life is that I will be compelled by the love of God in all that I do.  I want nothing more than to be squeezed by his holy love and moved in the direction that he would desire.  Day in and day out — whether in my personal relationships, or in my work — that all will be shaped and formed by him.

Prayer:

Lord, may your love compel me today and every day.  Amen.





Friday, April 4, 2014

With the Eternal In Mind



Scripture:

2Cor. 4:18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Observation:

Paul was keenly aware that the life that he was living in the flesh was simply temporary.  The materials things of the world really meant nothing as he had fixed his eyes on Jesus.  Paul’s desire was to be a reflection of Jesus Christ to the world around him and he knew this was only possible if he were focused on Christ.  Christ is eternal and when the gaze upon Christ becomes so compelling everything else simply fades into the background.

Application:

So many different factors in life can become distractions to our walk with Jesus Christ.  The “stuff” of life that gets thrown at us from day to day can sometimes get old and tiring but yet, it begins to fade in relation to Christ. 

When we begin to see relationships with others in terms of the eternal those things change as well.  Is a petty dispute really worth it?  Maybe we win the day but we lose out for all of eternity.  Is that really what we want?  Or, is it worth it to point out the flaws in others, hurting them and maybe causing collateral damage in their children for all of eternity?  How many young people, children of pastors, have run from the church because the “good saints” have been critical of their parents?  Everything that we say and do should be done with the eternal in mind.  Everything else — including my own personal rights today become a distraction to what Jesus has in mind for all of eternity.

This may be easier said than done because the temptations that we face on a daily basis are designed to distract us and will somehow hit us at our weakest point.  We must ask God to give us the grace to fix our eyes on him and remain fixed on him.  Paul learned this was the secret to his survival, but also to his spiritual growth! 

Daily living must be with the eternal in mind.  Let’s pray that God helps us today as we keep our eyes fixed on him.

Prayer:

Lord, please, keep me from the distractions of the world.  Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reflected Glory



Scripture:

2Cor. 3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (NRSV)

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [or reflect] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

“But we all, with unveiled face, reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord. Are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” (John Chrysostom)

Observation:


Moses had spent time in God’s presence and when he returned to his people they struggled with the fact that his face reflected the glory of God.  They could not look at him and asked him to please wear a veil so that the glory of God could not be seen.  This he did and it symbolized the fact that their very hearts were veiled and unwilling to accept the presence of God in their midst.  Their hearts remained veiled to the God and the Law.

The arrival of Christ in the New Testament changed all of this.  The gospel is the good news about Christ and it is available to all.  The NRSV translation has more of a focus on the glory of God being reflected in the mirror of the gospel.  In ancient times metals were polished until they had a beautiful sheen.  They were then used to reflect light into a room.  If one held a shiny mirror to the gospel then it would be reflected to all who drew near.  Those willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah would see the glory of God reflected in the mirror and the resulting light would light up the room and their very lives.  The image of Christ incarnate in the gospel would be reflected on those who drew near, and the nearer, the greater the clarity of the reflection. 

At the same time there are other translations, including those of the Church Fathers who believed that the this meant that the people themselves were the mirrors.  Their own faces were created to reflect the very image of God.  If the mirror is veiled, there is no reflection.  However, with the coming of the gospel the veil has been removed.  Now all have the potential to reflect that which they are facing.  Therefore if we stand face to face and nose to nose with God, we will reflect his glory, and the closer we draw toward him, the clearer the image or the reflection becomes.  As the world looks on we are transformed into the image before us.

Application:


No matter which way you look at the translation of this verse there is a clear message to all of us who have been privileged to have access to the gospel. 

1)  We are supposed to spend time with the Word, allowing the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit to illumine our lives. 
2)  This illumination is to be transformational.  The spiritual life is not static.  We are always to be continually drawing closer to him so that we are being transformed from glory to glory!
3)  We are to be reflections of Christ in this world. 

Our calling is to live lives of reflected glory. 

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who has been going through some dark days at the hand of “good Christian people.”  He said that even in the secular business world he had never seen the type of nasty behavior he had now witnessed among those people who claim to be living lives of reflected glory.  I wonder whether it’s possible to behave in that manner and to be living a life of reflected glory?  It seems to me that you would have to either put the veil back on, or turn your head from the reflected glory of the Lord. 

I’m afraid it’s too easy to turn aside from the glory of the Lord.  It happens just a little at a time.  We don’t spend time in the Word.  We don’t consciously ask the Lord to draw us closer to him.  We become prideful in our spiritual state and refuse to recognize that there is always more.  We don’t understand our calling to be Christlikeness. 

Phineas Bresee, founder of the first Church of the Nazarene used to say, “nothing to the right, nothing to the left, straight ahead, Jesus only!”  Only in this way can we be reflected glory in our world.

Prayer:


Lord, may I be a reflection of you today in all things.  Amen.