Monday, June 30, 2014

Worship and Praise



Scripture:

Psa. 104:31      ¶ May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
        may the LORD rejoice in his works—
Psa. 104:32     who looks on the earth and it trembles,
        who touches the mountains and they smoke.
Psa. 104:33     I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
        I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Psa. 104:34     May my meditation be pleasing to him,
        for I rejoice in the LORD.

Observation:


Looking around at the beauty of creation we are moved to worship and to praise our God.  How can we look upon the beauty of the mountains, the foliage, the flowers, the berries, the sun setting over the ocean and yet, not praise the Creator?  When we stop in silence and look with childlike glee upon the beauty that surrounds us there is nothing more to be done but praise our God!

The Psalmist was overcome with worship before God.  Daily he looked upon all that God had done and meditated, thanking and praising the LORD.  The focus of his praise and worship was always upon God, glorifying him and praising him for what he was able to behold.

Application:


The focus of our praise should always lift us heavenward. Have we ever been blessed by looking under a microscope in science class?  The very finest details of creation can only take us back to the One who has created all of the intricacies we find here on this earth.  The overall splendor of creation can be breathtaking, but so can the smallest cell.  What is humanity in light of the greatness of God who is able to create all that we see?  And yet, the God who created all of this, loves and cares for you and me.  This is the God that I worship.

Springing up around me today is the beauty of God’s creative hand.  Whether I’m looking at a snow-capped mountain, or a desert cactus, may I rejoice in God’s creation and love for the whole world.  John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world…”  — everything in it for it was all his creation. 

God’s love for this whole earth is visible in all that is seen.  May we soak in the beauty of the details that we discover surround us and give praise to the One who in his creativity has provided all for us. 

He alone is worthy of praise!

Prayer:

Lord, may my heart meditate on you as I look upon all that you have done.  Amen.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Undivided Passion



Scripture:


Psa. 86:11     Teach me your way, O LORD,
        that I may walk in your truth;
        give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
Psa. 86:12     I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
        and I will glorify your name forever.
Psa. 86:13     For great is your steadfast love toward me;
        you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

Observation:

The Psalmist is praying to the Lord and in his prayer, we can find ourselves.  The way of the LORD is the path on which we are to journey.  It is a journey that leads us into truth and ultimately this leads us into a personal relationship with God, one in which our hearts are no longer divided over the things of this world.  Instead, we love God and serve him with our whole hearts. 

The result is that our undivided passion is in love, worship and service to God.  Great is God’s love toward us for he has lifted us up and brought us into the beauty of our relationship with him, saving us from the depths of the muck and mire found in Sheol. 

Application:

The divided heart is torn by competing passions.  The things of this world, even when they are good, can take us away from loving God with all our heart.  This includes all the activities of family, sports, work, leisure time and such.  The Psalmist understood that all of these had to be placed within the context of the relationship with God.  The undivided heart must love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and in doing so, then all of the other facets of life will come into alignment.  They will be fulfilling because they will be filled up with God.  The result will be an undivided passion that infuses our lives.

Prayer:

Lord, teach me your way and give me an undivided heart.  Amen.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Harm in Words



Scripture:

2Tim. 4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 
2Tim. 4:15 You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message. 

Observation:

What was it that the coppersmith did?  It seems that he opposed the message that was brought and he did it with such vigor that great harm was done to the preacher.  Now the younger Timothy is being warned that he, too, should beware of this individual, for it seems he has not changed and he will continue to oppose the message.  

It is not the place of Timothy to “pay him back for his deeds,” but rather, this is the responsibility of the Lord.  Timothy is simply to be aware of what is happening and be wise in responding to the harm being done by Alexander’s words.

Application:

I was in a meeting this week of leaders who serve in numerous institutions.  The presenter was talking to us about the importance of reputation and the way in which reputation can be easily damaged these days.  With the existence of the internet a reputation can be destroyed multiple times over in a nano-second!  Sadly, often stories are not fact-checked and the story becomes the reality even when it doesn’t match the reality.  Reputations are destroyed and, at times, lives are destroyed simply because of words, which today have the ability to be spread like wild-fire.

In the first century they were not dealing with the internet and yet there was amazing power to be found in words.  Alexander had done damage and brought “great harm.”  What a sad story.  Someone who was intentionally opposing the message which was being preached and who worked hard to create problems for these followers of Christ.

Sadly, these days, it seems that it is those within the community of faith who are often doing the damage to the reputations of others within the community of faith.  The attacks of Christian against Christian I find extremely troubling.  The reality is that these kinds of conversations are not helpful.  The word gives us ways in which to have helpful conversations with brothers and sisters with whom we may not agree.  However, writing up our disagreements and forwarding them around to others and/or posting them on the internet only shows the world that there is division within the body of Christ.  The world is to know God’s children by their love, not by their ability to be critical of one another.  There is great harm in words and when words begin to divide the body of Christ, we have a problem.  

We should be warned, just as Timothy was warned, that there are those of whom we must beware, for they are strongly opposing the message.  The message is more than the written or spoken word, but the message is the life lived in faith.  It is the life lived in seeking the face of God and responding in a way that looks like Christ.  Words can harm.  We must be aware.

Prayer:

Lord, may I watch the words that I speak and may my life be my message.  Amen.



Friday, June 27, 2014

Is close good enough?



Scripture:
2Ch 25:2
He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart.

Observation:
The new king had studied the laws of God and he knew the right things to do.  He began to enact the practices that he had been taught and yet there was something wrong.  God was longing for a King like David, a man after his own heart.  Not this king, for Amaziah did not have a true heart.  He could follow the letter of the law, but he had no passion for God.

Application:
Too often Christians get hung up on following the letter of the law and somehow miss out on the personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Hours can be spent examining little details of facts and condemning others who may not see things from exactly the same perspective and all the while they may not have a true heart. 

A true heart seeks The Lord with all of their being.  The law is not a list of rules but it is a passion which comes from the heart that is set on The Lord. 

For Amaziah just getting close to following God was not good enough.  Looking like a Christian, going to church and giving in the offering does not make you a true follower of Christ.  A true follower of Christ has a heart and passion that is directed in loving service toward him.  The law is followed out of love for God and not out of obedience to a list of rules.  Even the law was to become a stumbling block to the people of God.  What is it that can become a stumbling block to us today? 

Just getting close to looking like a Christian is not good enough!  The Lord looks on the heart and he is our judge.

Prayer:

Lord, may your children seek you with all of their hearts and may you infuse them with your transforming Spirit.  Please open our eyes to the things in our lives which we may have allowed to become stumbling blocks to wholeheartedly falling in love with you! Amen.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Time for Reflection



Scripture:

2Tim. 2:7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.

Observation:

The instructions given to Timothy are to be strong in the grace in Christ Jesus.  The focus of life is to be on service to the Lord and understanding this and putting it into perspective takes time.  Timothy is to be reflective, thinking over what he has been taught so that his understanding will increase.

Application:

While Timothy may have been taught many things and had great instruction there was still the need to set aside time for reflection, or for thinking things over.  Slowing down and taking time to reflect is necessary in our spiritual lives.  We can fill our minds with all kinds of things that we have read and studied and yet, if we don’t take the time to reflect, will it truly not mean anything to us.

I think the greatest enemy to our spiritual lives these days is time.  Are we able to take time for reflection and thinking things over?  If we don’t, we are liable to act too quickly and in haste, make mistakes.  We may simply and impulsively respond without taking time to think and this can get us into trouble.

When we read the word, we need to take time to reflect.  It’s too easy to sometimes simply put ourselves under pressure to get the “reading” done.  This can be especially true if we’re following a reading plan.  Have you ever read a chapter or two and realized you weren’t even paying attention?  It has certainly happened to me and then there is the moment of realization that you needed to slow down and think things over and reflect on what it means for your own life.

Prayer takes reflection as well.  We need the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit to give us insight and understanding into what God is trying to teach us.  This takes reflection.  We must take the time to listen.  Just as we can skim over things when reading and never really realize what we have read, it is also easy to bring our list or petitions in prayer before the Father without taking time to reflect.  Reflection is what is required if we are to grow.

Reflection is thinking things over and making space for introspection.  At the same time it seems that this type of reflection has something to do with external reflection.  How do I reflect the Image?  By spending time in reflection I will become a greater reflection.  This is what God wants from you and from me.  So take time and think over what we read, study, hear and receive and allow it to form us into clearer reflections of Jesus in the world.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to make space for reflection in my life.  Amen.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Circle of Protection



Scripture:

2Kings 11:4 ¶ But in the seventh year Jehoiada summoned the captains of the Carites and of the guards and had them come to him in the house of the LORD. He made a covenant with them and put them under oath in the house of the LORD; then he showed them the king’s son.
2Kings 11:5 He commanded them, “This is what you are to do: one-third of you, those who go off duty on the sabbath and guard the king’s house
2Kings 11:6 (another third being at the gate Sur and a third at the gate behind the guards), shall guard the palace;
2Kings 11:7 and your two divisions that come on duty in force on the sabbath and guard the house of the LORD
2Kings 11:8 shall surround the king, each with weapons in hand; and whoever approaches the ranks is to be killed. Be with the king in his comings and goings.”
2Kings 11:9 ¶ The captains did according to all that the priest Jehoiada commanded; each brought his men who were to go off duty on the sabbath, with those who were to come on duty on the sabbath, and came to the priest Jehoiada.
2Kings 11:10 The priest delivered to the captains the spears and shields that had been King David’s, which were in the house of the LORD;
2Kings 11:11 the guards stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, from the south side of the house to the north side of the house, around the altar and the house, to guard the king on every side.
2Kings 11:12 Then he brought out the king’s son, put the crown on him, and gave him the covenant; they proclaimed him king, and anointed him; they clapped their hands and shouted, “Long live the king!”

Observation:

A vulnerable seven year old was to become king and his enemies wanted to destroy him.  The man of God was obedient to the instructions of the LORD and called together the army.  They devised a plan which would alter the course of history by bringing God’s new young leader to the place where he belonged. 

The guards followed the instructions that they were given and eventually they encircled the young man so that he could be crowned king.  Can you just envision the scene?  A small boy surrounded by these massive men, providing him with the protection that he needed so that he could become the leader of his country.

Application:

We all need a circle of protection.  There are plenty of times when life gets rough and we begin to wonder whether we can survive and this may possibly be because we have stepped outside the circle of protection that God has intended for us.

We are to to live our faith within community and not in social isolation.  Others become the guards that help to protect us from the things of life which can be thrown our way.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Canton First Church of the Nazarene on a Sunday morning.  The pastor, Chad Current, was making a point about this very thing.  He had with him some building blocks and as he was talking and setting up the blocks someone came forward and knocked them all down.  It’s like one of those disruptions in life that can come our way when we exist unprotected.  However, a little while later in his message he invited up all the small group leaders from the congregation.  He had them stand in a large circle surrounding the platform.  Then, he had them link arms and while he was talking, he began to rebuild the tower of blocks.  Half-way through the building process the individual who had come forward before and knocked everything down stepped forward again.  However, this time he could not get to the blocks.  He was kept from getting there by the ring of protection provided by the small group leaders.  They represented the community which we need as followers of Jesus Christ so that when the enemy comes out to attack in full force, we are surrounded and protected.  When we step outside the community and try to do things on our own, then we become vulnerable for our protection is gone.

Josiah could only become king because the community stepped forward and protected him.  We need community. 

We also need a praying community.  The power of intercessory prayer is often not visible, and yet, it provides those moments when we find ourselves in the circle of protection when we are not with the community.  Instead, the community of faith is present with us in prayer.

We need a circle of protection and God has provided this for us in the form of a faith community, if only we stay within the circle.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to stay within that circle of your protection.  Amen.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Call to Service



Scripture:

1Tim. 5:22 Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.

Observation:

There are different opinions regarding this verse.  Some believe that it is referring to the laying on of hands for healing, while the majority believe that it refers to the practice of ordination.  There are some who are called out by God to specific service as leaders.  Those who are called out for this responsibility of leadership or service as an overseer are ordained into this ministry.  The elders present lay their hands on this individual as a part of the ordination process.

Here we are warned not to lay hands on anyone too hastily.  The responsibility as a minister or leader is not one to be taken lightly.  Instead, this is a very serious and sacred responsibility and therefore one who senses this call must go through a period of preparation before they are ordained.  The caution here seems to be stated toward the individual who would do the ordaining.  They are not to participate in the sin of someone that they may ordain without providing for a way in which the character and doctrinal teaching of the individual can be ascertained.  If this is not done and someone is placed into a position of leadership who is not of the character required by God, then the one doing the ordaining participates in the sin of the one being too hastily ordained. 

A leader is to keep themselves pure, even by the ordination of those called to ministry.  There is a call to service and it is a serious call!

Application:

Sadly, almost anyone can become ordained these days.  Internet ordination is available in an instant if you simply send in your money and the sacredness of the calling seems to be falling by the wayside.  This is not God’s intent for a call to service is a serious call.  It a call to service, but it is also a call to leadership.  As a call to leadership it requires individuals to take the time to study and to know the doctrine of which they will be stewards.  Nothing should be done hastily!

In the early days of Christianity there were many wanting to join this new religion but not because they had experienced Christ, but because it may have seemed exciting.  We also know that there were those who were charismatic leaders who enjoyed the role of leadership but did not want to take the time to seriously study and know the word.  These teachers were leading people astray and it was creating divisions and problems among the new believers.  Sadly, the same is true today when there are those who enjoy being a part of the church simply for what they can get out of it.  There are too many religious leaders who are failing these days because their own faith is shallow. 

The church must take her role seriously when it comes to laying on of hands for ordination.  This is a serious call.  This is a call to service and teaching and much is required of those whom God calls. 

Prayer:


Lord, please help the church to be discerning in the nurturing of the call.  Amen.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Life and Doctrine



Scripture:

1Tim. 4:16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NRSV)
16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV)

Observation:

In these words to Timothy we hear words which speak to us as well.  His ministry was to be a testimony of his faith.  There was to be no distinction between what he preached and taught and the way in which he lived his life.  His life and doctrine were to be one and the same. 

This wasn’t necessarily to be a simply task.  There was a perseverance in the task which would require effort.  Every day was to be a day of living out his faith and in doing so he himself would be saved.  At the same time those who heard his preaching and messages would also be saved, both by his words and his life.

Application:

For the preacher of the Gospel there can be no distinction between the words we preach and the lives that we live.  If we are to proclaim Christ and a new life in him, then we must be living that life to its fullest.

Never should a preacher be preaching something that he/she does not personally live out in their own lives.  Close attention must be paid to doctrine and then the practical living out of that doctrine.

We begin to run into trouble when a preacher no longer knows their own doctrine.  A life will be aligned with what it believes and understands and when there is no understanding of doctrine there is nothing with which to be aligned.  For those in the holiness tradition we have believed in a doctrine that is powerful and transformative.  It is a doctrine that results in a life that desires to be a reflection of Jesus Christ.  There are huge ramifications for this in the daily life which include love of God and love of others; issues of justice for the poor and marginalized of this world; self-discipline and introspection regarding our use of resources and an overall desire to be like Christ. 

Our life and doctrine must be one and the same.  We must pay attention to our teaching and to our living because the cohesion between these breathes life into ministry.  The reverse is also true.  When there is no alignment between our doctrine and our life those around us will become disillusioned.  The ramifications are tragic. 

May God help us to live lives of cohesion where the words of our mouths and the lives which we live are an on-going testimony to the work of Christ in our lives.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me this day to be faithful to you in all things.  Amen.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Grieving with Your People



Scripture:

2Kings 6:24 ¶ Some time later King Ben-hadad of Aram mustered his entire army; he marched against Samaria and laid siege to it.
2Kings 6:25 As the siege continued, famine in Samaria became so great that a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.
2Kings 6:26 Now as the king of Israel was walking on the city wall, a woman cried out to him, “Help, my lord king!”
2Kings 6:27 He said, “No! Let the LORD help you. How can I help you? From the threshing floor or from the wine press?”
2Kings 6:28 But then the king asked her, “What is your complaint?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son; we will eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’
2Kings 6:29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son and we will eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”
2Kings 6:30 When the king heard the words of the woman he tore his clothes—now since he was walking on the city wall, the people could see that he had sackcloth on his body underneath—

Observation:

The situation in Israel had become dire.  The king of Aram had surrounded the city and now they were running out of supplies.  Little or no food was left within the city walls and starvation had overcome much of the community.  This dreadful story of a woman eating a child was more than the king could bear.  He was responsible for these people and it was his desire to care for them. 

The king physically shows his solidarity with his people.  He puts on sackcloth, for he too is grieving the loss of this child.  This is not just an unknown woman’s child, as the leader of this community, this is his child as well and his is unable, as a leader, to bring about change.  The deep pain of the people becomes more than he can bear and so, finally, he turns toward Elisha for an answer. 

It is the king’s ability to identify with and suffer with his people that brings him to the place of seeking an answer from God.

Application:

Unfortunately there are times in life when we experience people in positions of leadership who seem distanced or aloof of those whom they are to be leading.  What we see here is that there should not be this type of disconnect.  The king was suffering just as his people were suffering.  The reality is that he probably had more of a stash of food than the rest of his people but when he heard from the woman whose child had been eaten he could take no more!  He was absolutely overcome and he put on sackcloth as a sign of grieving.  He joins with the woman for whom he is king in her grief.

This is the heart of a genuine leader — one who feels the pain of his/her people.  There should not be any sort of distance between the leadership and those whom they are serving.  This is a crucial point because so often leadership has seen those “below” them as the ones who are there to serve them.  Unfortunately this top-down model has never been an exceptionally good model.  Even ruling monarchs got themselves into trouble when they saw themselves simply in a role as to be served by those in their kingdom.  Instead, those rulers who understood that they were to serve their people as the leader became the beloved of their followers — and their people did follow! 

A leader must be united with those they are leading and this includes rejoicing with them when they rejoice and weeping with them when they weep.  The king’s response was from his heart.  The people could see the sackcloth that he wore, visibly recognizing that he was grieving with his community and that he personally felt the pain.  In that moment his leadership was real and genuine.

Prayer
:

Lord, may I serve with a genuineness from you.  Amen.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Faith in the God Who Is Able



Scripture:

2Kings 4:42 ¶ A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”
2Kings 4:43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’”
2Kings 4:44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Observation:

Elisha had been spending days living among, communing with, and teaching the young prophets.  They were soaking in everything that they could learn from this man of God. 

This is a foreshadowing of what would happen during the time of Christ when the people would come and sit at his feet, desiring to learn everything they could from the rabbi Jesus.  But now they are at the feet of Elisha and they are getting hungry.

The people of the community brought their “first fruits” or their tithe to the man of God.  We see the faithfulness of the community in this action, that by providing the “first fruits” they were feeding the prophets, the men of God.  Upon first glance the “first fruits” were not enough to feed the entire group that was gathered but when it was given to the people there was plenty for the entire group of a hundred, and there was some left over.  God had provided and fed the hundred.

Application:

What an incredible story of faith found buried within the pages of the Old Testament.  So often we reflect upon Jesus’ feeding of those who had gathered to listen and learn from him.  However, here we find one who had gone before, who was simply trying to be faithful in serving the Lord and he is blessed to experience a miracle of feeding for the people of God.  Just a few things to note:

1)  The local people were faithful in bringing in the tithe.  This is not just a story about the faithfulness of Elisha, his servant or the prophets in his school, but instead it starts with the people of God in the community who are willing to be faithful with what they have.  God is still calling his community of faith to bring in their “first fruits” in service to God and the kingdom.

2)  When Elisha’s servant looked at what had been brought in he recognized that it wasn’t enough.  Sometimes when we look at the offerings, even when the community has been faithful, it isn’t enough.  We may either be discouraged or we can have faith to believe that God can multiply the loaves of barley and ears of grain. 

3) Offerings of faith may simply be the seeds from which God may grow his miracle.  Elisha believed the word of the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”  Jesus believed this as well.  Maybe we ought to believe it too! 

This is a story of faith and faithfulness that leads to God’s provision.  May God’s people be faithful in bringing in the tithe.  May we not be discouraged by the size of the offering.  May God take the offering and multiply it to supply the need, and may we have faith in the God who is able! 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your provision in the midst of great need.  Help me to be your faithful servant.  Amen.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Does Your Presence Make an Eternal Difference?



Scripture:

2Kings 2:19 ¶ Now the people of the city said to Elisha, “The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.”
2Kings 2:20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.
2Kings 2:21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, “Thus says the LORD, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.”
2Kings 2:22 So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

Observation:

The bad water had the result of affecting the entire community.  There was no way that the land could be watered and therefore much-needed food could not be raised.  The prophet came to visit the city and his visit made an eternal difference.  Symbolically salt was brought to pour into the spring of water.  We all know that one bowl of salt would not have made an eternal difference in this spring, and yet, it was a sign of cleansing and purifying that was to occur.  The Lord literally healed the water.  No longer was the water to be bad, but it was wholesome, bringing wholeness to the community.

Application:


As God’s children we are called to make an eternal difference.  The presence of Jesus in us ought to make an eternal difference to those we encounter.  Elisha did not just sit by and watch what was wrong in this community but he became engaged and helped to bring about change. 

That is our challenge — and it certainly is a challenge when we live in a world in which we may be overcome with busyness and it becomes increasingly difficult to slow down long enough to understand what is happening within our own community.  Elisha stopped at this city and spent time with the people.  In getting to know the people he became fully aware of their problems and needs.  Their concerns became his concerns and he was praying with them and for them in their time of need. 

Just as Elisha, we are challenged to become engaged in making an eternal difference in the kingdom in which we find ourselves.

Prayer:


Lord, may I slow down enough today to become aware of those around me and their needs.  May you work through me to make an eternal difference.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Gracious Speech



Scripture:

Col. 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Observation:

Christian conduct was and always has been considered an important feature of the life of a believer.  Living for Christ involves a personal transformation which should be evidenced in the life of the believer.  This includes a taming of the tongue.  Here Paul is encouraging the believers to be careful about what comes out of their mouths.  Their speech should “always be gracious.” 

Think about this in light of the grace of God extended to you and to me.  We are sinners who are saved by grace.  God’s prevenient grace has continually been reaching out to those who do not know him — even those who intentionally attack him — he will not stop reaching out and loving them.  This is God’s grace which we have not earned or deserved and yet, he extends that grace to us.  How much more so should we, his children extend this type of grace by way of our speech to others. 

Salt enhances the flavor of food.  So, our speech should enhance the character of another individual.  This truly is gracious speech.

Application:

Unfortunately God’s children have not always been the most gracious when it comes to speech.  We tend to be exceptionally hard on one another and, unfortunately, we seem to somehow condone “gossip” as simply being transparent and telling the truth!  The reality is that as long as we live in human flesh we will have flaws.  None of us can be perfect in the human sense of understanding perfection.  We can only be perfect when we are “in Christ” — for only in this way can we fulfill the purpose for which we have been created. 

In contemporary society we have moved beyond simply talking about one another to writing about one another on social media.  Somehow without having to face someone we think it’s okay to write about them.  And this, brothers and sisters, is often being done in the name of Christianity!  What a sad testimony we are providing to the world around us.  What happened to Christians being known for loving one another?  What has happened to speech being gracious and seasoned with salt? 

I believe it’s time for us to take a personal stand against the negative talk that can happen within Christian circles.  Instead, let’s think about the grace that has been extended to us and extend it to others.  At the same time let’s season our conversation with salt.  Let’s enhance others by speaking about and focusing on the good that they have done.  Gracious speech is a virtue and one that emulates Jesus Christ.  May God help us to be gracious today.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to be intentional in seasoning conversation with salt. Amen.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Christ is Our Life



Scripture:

Col. 3:1 ¶ So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Col. 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,
Col. 3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Col. 3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Observation:

When we are born again we receive a new life, one in which we are raised with Christ.  There is a transformation which occurs within our very being and no longer are we focused on the things of this world, but we become focused on the things that are of importance to Christ.  We are united with Christ and therefore his passions are our passions, his desires, our desires.  We begin to see the world around us from Christ’s perspective and in this way our minds become consumed with him. 

How powerful it is to imagine that we have been “hidden with Christ in God.”  We are drawn up into Christ, united with him.  We are invited into a deeply personal relationship with the holy Trinity where we are given new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Daily the Spirit breathes life into us and God’s nature of holy love infuses us as we are hidden in God. 

Christ becomes our very life.  He is our life-support; providing us with Spirit-filled air to breathe along with spiritual food and nurture.  To disconnect from him would mean certain death and so we find our lives in him alone.  The beauty of this picture is seen when Christ is revealed and in this revelation we will be seen, for we will be in his presence.  The glory of Christ will be seen in those who have found their lives in him.  He rejoices in those who have been adopted into the family and as a result of finding life in him, reflect the Father’s glory — bearing the family resemblance.  This is our life.  This is our calling.  We are to be found in Christ and it is in Christ that we will find our lives.

Application:

I think that most of us are looking to “feel alive” on a daily basis.  Sometimes we go to extremes to “feel alive,” and there are those that take on risky habits or hobbies in an effort to get that adrenaline rush that makes life feel so vibrant.  There are those who enjoy jumping out of airplanes, or climbing rock walls, or scuba diving, or driving race cars or motorcycles or…well, the list could go on and on.  None of these things are bad, for they truly can be fun, but at the same time, they should not be a substitute for finding our lives in Christ. 

I’m afraid that for many the spiritual life is no longer vibrant, and so there is a desire to find that rush of excitement somewhere else in life.  That’s why we become attracted to these other things, because we want to feel something!  But could it be that we don’t feel anything because we are not putting any effort into our relationship with Christ?  Could it be that we don’t set our minds on things above? 

When I think about the Apostle Paul I think about a pretty exciting life.  He was united with Christ and Christ’s desires were his desires.  He followed the example of Christ by spending time with the Father in prayer on a daily basis.  This was a regular part of his life.  His desire was to know Christ in a deeply intimate way.  Christ was constantly breathing new life into him, and Christ is wanting to breathe new life into us today as well.  Christ will be our life, if we will seek him with all of our hearts. 

From personal experience I can say that the journey with Jesus can be quite exciting.  Every day we can see the hand of God at work as we begin to live in Christ and see the world around us from his perspective.  We begin to see the small miracles that are changing the world.  We see the hurting girl across the room from Jesus’ perspective.  We become engaged in his mission, filled with his passion, because he is our life.  Jesus’ life was never dull.  A life that is lived in Christ is a God-infused life that gives us the excitement of being alive in him on a daily basis. 

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the joy of living in you. Amen.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Wisdom and Knowledge



Scripture:

Col. 2:2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself,
Col. 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Observation:

Humanity has always been on a search for wisdom and knowledge, but for the Christian there is one place where this wisdom and knowledge can be found, and that is, in Christ.  God’s mystery is bound up in his endless love for the humanity which he created.  This holy love became incarnate and was revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  In Jesus are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Therefore it is when we find ourselves “in Christ” that we discover all wisdom and knowledge for it does not come from anything external, but only in relationship to Christ.

Application:

Trying to gain wisdom and knowledge outside of Christ is ultimately futile.  Are there a lot of “smart” people in the world — sure!  But are there a lot of really “wise” people in the world? 

The most powerful combination that we encounter is a gifted and talented person who lives in humility in relationship with Christ.  When our talents and abilities are placed in humble service before the Lord then those human abilities become combined with the nature of Christ and something happens on an exponential level.  Being smart and being a Christian are not two mutually exclusive things!  Instead, being intelligent and getting to know Christ is an incredibly powerful experience and places people in positions where they can have an influence on the shaping of the world politic and culture. 

To have wisdom and knowledge means that we must know Christ.  We must understand that he is the source that unlocks the mystery of God for his people.  When we try to explain and/or rationalize the things of this world, or the things that we can see, feel and touch without the mystery of Christ we lack true understanding.  Christ must be the center and the lens through which we view all things.  Only in this way will we even begin to catch a glimpse of the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for bringing me back to focusing on you.  Thank you for providing a lens through which I may see and seek to understand. Amen.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Connection Between Joy and Peace



Scripture:

Phil. 4:4 ¶ Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Phil. 4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Phil. 4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Phil. 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Observation:

This admonition to rejoice and focus on the good comes through again in this letter to the believers in Philippi.  We’ve already been told to rejoice and now Paul brings up the subject again and repeats it for emphasis.  At this point he goes on to point out the connection to rejoicing and the very nature or attitude of the rejoicing believer.  There is a resultant gentleness in the life of the believer who rejoices because their very temperament allows them to draw near into the presence of the Lord.  In this presence we learn to bring our needs before the Father, instead of worrying about them.  Again, it is this attitude and spirit of rejoicing which permeates the believer instead of being anxious and worrying. 

Rejoicing brings us to a place of dependence upon God.  True joy, the type that reaches to the depths of our being comes from spending time in God’s presence.  It is in this place that we can bring to him our requests.  We leave the seemingly insurmountable problems which we face at the foot of Jesus.  This, however, takes time spent in “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.”  Notice again this positive attitude of “thanksgiving.” 

We see this trajectory that begins with rejoicing leading to a person transformed in the very presence of Christ.  There is a comfortableness in bringing petitions before the God as a result of the deeply personal relationship with him.  This leads to peace — God’s peace — God’s got it all in control kind of peace!  He promises that this peace “which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds.”  The peace permeates our hearts — the center of our emotions where we are feeling deep pain, and our minds, which go crazy thinking about all the negative possibilities in life — and yet, God’s peace envelopes us and takes away the worry, but it all begins with rejoicing.

Application:

Anxiety and worry can become overwhelming emotions, ones which may paralyze a person, keeping them in such a state of fear that there is no ability to move forward.  It is in this place that we must turn ours eyes toward the one we love, the one who can lead us and guide us through the difficulties of life. 

How do I practically apply the principles presented here by Paul?

1)  Intentionally rejoice in the Lord.  Enjoy God and his holy presence.  Relax and have some fun!

2)  Spend time on a daily basis in a place of intimacy with the Lord.  We must set-aside time to pray and be in the word.  Then, the very presence of Jesus goes with us throughout the day and it is his gentleness that will be “known to everyone.”  The more time with spend with the Lord, the closer we draw to him.  The reflection of Jesus in our lives becomes larger and larger and there comes a point when those around us really can’t figure out if they’re seeing us being like Jesus, or Jesus in us.  That’s a beautiful moment.

3)  I stop worrying (which can do nothing) and get busy bringing my requests to God — and listening for his leadership and guidance.  He says to bring him everything — and that means, everything!  Our own personal strategic plan is nothing if it is not infused with prayer.  Praise him, thank him and glorify him in prayer and then leave the concerns at his feet.

4)  Be still and allow the peace of God to come into the very depths of your being.  Jesus is the prince of peace.  God’s peace is truly more than we can understand and reaches to the depths of our anxiety, if only we will allow him to have space in the midst of our fears. 

Begin today with rejoicing, walk through some thanksgiving and allow God’s peace to permeate every part of our being.  This was Paul’s plan that he was sharing with his beloved friends and he knew that it worked, for it had transformed his own life.  He knew there was a connection between joy and peace!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for bringing peace to our anxious moments.  Amen.


Help for All



Scripture:

2Chr. 14:11 Asa cried to the LORD his God, “O LORD, there is no difference for you between helping the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let no mortal prevail against you.”

Observation:

Asa was about to lead the people of Judah into battle.  Zerah the Ethiopian had come out to attack him with a million men and three hundred chariots.  The odds were stacked against Asa and his army, who had just under six hundred thousand men made up of individuals from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  They had no chariots.

As Asa faced the enemy, who wished to destroy them, he cried out to the LORD.  In the world’s estimation, Asa and his men were weak.  Why would God want to support the weaker of the two teams?  Asa knew that the God he served did not play by the world’s rules.  Instead, he knew that he, the weaker, could call upon the LORD to help him.  His prayer helps us see that Asa understood that those who relied upon God had power that the world would never see.  God’s help is available for all of those who call upon his name and no human or mortal, no matter how powerful or wealthy, can prevail against him. 

Application:


Why would God want to be on the side of, what appeared to be, the losing team?  Because God doesn’t look at circumstances the same way that we do!  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure that God looks much at the circumstances, but instead, looks at the heart.  What is the motivation that God sees in the hearts of individuals?  He sees whether there is a heart that is turned toward him, one that relies on him!

The problem with Asa and God’s people was that they were not always consistently dependent upon him, nor did they always call upon him.  By now Israel was divided into two kingdoms because the people of God could not keep their focus.  There had been good leaders and bad leaders.  Sometimes they looked to God and sometimes they simply tried to do everything that they could on their own.  However, this leader, Asa, called the people back to God.  He tore down the idols that had been made and brought the focus back to their God who had rescued them and brought them out of Egypt.  In this moment Asa chooses to call upon God for he has come to know that God helps the weak and/or the strong, as long as their hearts are inclined toward him.

After Asa called on the name of the Lord the battle began and God struck down the enemy.  It was an amazing victory. 

When facing enemies or challenges in life that seem larger than we can face, God comes along and reminds us that he doesn’t pick and choose winners by human standards. When we are tempted to think that human strategic planning will give us the answer, (in Asa’s case that would have been tough) we are to rely upon God, for it is in our weaknesses that his strength is revealed.  God loves us and wants to be with us in the midst of the challenges that we face.  The victory may not always come in the way that we would like, but God goes with us. 

When we are tempted to be overwhelmed by the challenges we face, may we remember that in God’s economy there is no difference between the mighty and the weak.  I praise God that in my weakness, he is strong.

Prayer:

Lord, may I rely upon you in all the challenges of life which I must face. Amen.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Focus on the Good!



Scripture:

Phil. 3:1 ¶ Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

Observation:

Here is a word of admonition for the believers in the city of Philippi, one that is to stay with them on a daily basis.  All of God’s children are to rejoice in the Lord!

Application:

Every day it seems as if we get more “news” that is more doom and gloom!  It’s so easy to become focused on the negatives of life and forget that there are good things happening.  Even followers of Jesus Christ can become consumed with seeing only the negative and not the positive around them.  I believe this admonition from Paul was a serious one because he knew the importance of rejoicing in the Lord, even in the midst of difficulties.

Too often I’m afraid that even God’s children spend a lot of time and energy looking at the negatives. Yes, there is a lot in this world that is difficult and yet, there is also much that is good.  The Lord is working and is engaged in our lives.  Sometimes it simply takes being intentional about seeing the hand of God at work.  Maybe that’s why Paul encouraged the brothers and sisters to rejoice. 

Let’s take the time today to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Let’s look for God's hand, be intentional about rejoicing and focus on the good!

Prayer:

Lord, I rejoice in you today and thank you for all that you have done.  Amen.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mentorship: True Children of Faith



Scripture:

1Tim. 1:2 ¶ To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith:

Observation:

The greeting here to Timothy identifies him as a loyal child in the faith, or a true child of faith.  Timothy is not a biological son, but is, instead the result of a relationship founded on a love for God.  He has been raised up spiritually and now is able to take on roles and responsibilities of leadership.

Application:

I frequently hear people discuss the topic of mentoring.  Young people are looking for those who will mentor them, and new believers are seeking out those who are more mature in their faith to lead them along this Christian journey.  There is a great desire to have this spiritual connectivity that results in a nurturing and growth that leads to greater maturity. 

We are hungry these days to grow spiritually and to learn more about what it means to walk with the Lord in today’s world.  The world is changing at light speed and the things on which we had been able to depend may no longer even exist.  However, in the midst of change there is a constant which is found in our walk with the Lord.  Unfortunately there don’t seem to be enough believers consistent in their walk with the Lord to show us the road map for faithfulness.  Yet, I believe that this is exactly what those around us are hungry to experience; followers of Jesus Christ who are committed and living out a life of faithfulness in the midst of chaos — and we want them to be our mentors because we have a desire to be true children of faith.

For those who are in a position to mentor there is a responsibility to pass on the faith.  There must be an intentionality in mentoring the next generation and helping to shape or form them into loyal or true children of faith.  This takes time and effort and a willingness to invest in the lives of others.  This is about helping people in their personal walk with Jesus Christ but then, also helping them know how to be Christian leaders in the world and this takes on a practical flavor.  How do we respond when we are under personal attack?  How do we lead others? How do we dress appropriately? 

We see throughout the word that there were those who were willing to take others other their wing and raise them up as loyal children in the faith.  No, they were not their biological children but they knew that they were called to mentorship.  In this way the faith was passed along. 

May we be willing to allow those of more mature faith to mentor us, and then may we be willing to be intentional about mentoring and raising up a new generation of children in the faith — and all, to the glory of God.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for those who have invested their lives in me.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Spice-Laden Mountains



Scripture:

Song 8:14      ¶ Make haste, my beloved,
        and be like a gazelle
    or a young stag
        upon the mountains of spices!

Observation:
This is the final verse of the Song of Songs.  It seems to end rather abruptly and yet there is passion and poignancy in this last comment.  This entire book, the Song of Songs sits at the very heart of the word of God and is a reminder that the call of God’s people is into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus had not yet come when the book was written and so it becomes prophetic, foreshadowing the arrival of the beloved, the one with whom we would fall in love. The longing and the desire contained within the pages of the Song are a reminder to us of the deep love that Jesus has for us and the depth of response he is awaiting from us.  True holiness is to become absorbed in the holy love exuding from the beloved.

But here the book ends rather abruptly.  The beloved is suddenly gone and we are awaiting his return.  Where is he?  Why is our heart broken?  Some commentators have suggested that the mountain of spices represents the three days in which he is in the tomb for it is in death that bodies were wrapped in spices.  Others have said it denotes the time now when he is gone to the Father and we await his return.  The throne of the Father is a royal throne and when Jesus was born the wise-men came and brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh.  These were spices in honor of a king. 

Application:


Jesus is our king who now waits upon the spice-laden mountain, a mountain in which he receives the honor that is due him as our Lord and King!  At the same time this becomes our prayer for we, his beloved, have fallen deeply in love with him.  Our desire is for him.  We cry out, “make haste” — come back quickly for we love you and our only desire is for you.  On his holy hill, the mountain of spices permeates his very being and our prayer too is that his holy scent will, through the Holy Spirit, be brought to us, those who are his holy people and the world will be drawn toward the one who is now upon the spice-laden mountains.

Prayer:


Lord, may your love so permeate our being that your holy spice-laden scent would be noticeable through me.  Your love overwhelms me!  Amen.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Remember Camp Songs?



Scripture:


Song 2:4     He brought me to the banqueting house,
        and his intention toward me was love. (NRSV)

Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
    and let his banner over me be love. (NIV)

Observation:

The beauty of human of love is revealed to us in Song of Solomon.  God has created this intimacy which is to exist between a man and a woman.  At the same time this human intimacy reveals to us God’s desire for us to begin to comprehend his unfathomable love, waiting to be poured out on us. The story in Song of Solomon is one in which we find God’s love reaching out to all of humanity.

It is God, who through his prevenient grace, is constantly reaching out to all of humanity, drawing us toward him.  He is the one who invites us into his banqueting table and this is the table found within the church for here, within the body of Christ, the bride, we find him.  The banqueting house or banqueting table is where the bread and the wine were served and so we are led to that place, to the table where we find him.

It was typical for those who served in the military to carry banners which spoke of their strength and prowess.  The banner of the leader would be placed at the entrance to a banqueting house or hall, for it would extoll the abilities of this leader to all who entered.  The one who loves us brings us to his table and instead of trying to intimidate us with his formidable power, his banner over us was love.  This is the old rendering of the translation - that we understand that the banner is over the place into which we are invited and it describes the very nature of the one who has brought us to the table.  He is love!  God is love!  His intention toward us is love — and this is the way in which the NRSV translates the phrase. 

You will also notice the tense differences in the translations.  Part of that is because English becomes limiting, but put the two translations together and you get a sense that God has been leading and is continuing to lead us to his banqueting table.  It is always a continuous action that has existed in the past, exists in the present and will continue to exist into the future!  The eternal God reaches out to all of humanity wanting to bring us to a place of intimacy in our relationship with him, continually pouring out his love on us.

Application:

By now I’m humming the tune to the little song that we used to sing, “His Banner Over Me is Love.”  In case we’ve forgotten, here’s a little group of kids singing the song with the motions.



I think about how many times I may have sung that song and had a lot of fun singing it, and then I realize that I don’t really think I knew what I was singing about.  I’m glad that it’s one of those that sticks in your mind but when I begin to think about the incredible love of God that awaits us at his banqueting table, I am simply overwhelmed.  God, in his powerful love, is ushering us into his very presence and desires for us to have a deep and intimate relationship with him.  He doesn’t want us just to be glad that we are “saved” but wants us to be transformed by his incredible power and to have the ability to walk in his nature — which is holy love. 

This is holiness, to stand under the banner of his love!  His banner of love means that we have aligned ourselves with the very nature of Jesus Christ and that as we partake of the banquet we too are transformed into his nature.  God’s banner over us is love and his intention toward us is to love us. 

It’s not just a fun camp song, but the banner of God’s love is a reality which exists over his table, spread for you and for me.  The invitations have been sent out, the table is spread, and he is calling.  May it not just be a camp song, but may the banner of God’s love over us be a reality every single day of our lives.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the incredible life-giving love which you pour out on us.  Amen.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Living in Love



Scripture:

Eph. 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
Eph. 5:2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Observation:

One sentence — packed full of the holiness message. 

It all begins with Christ and his very nature which is holy love.  His holy love drove him to give himself up for all of us.  He wanted us to become brothers and sisters and this would only be possible by sacrificing his life for all of us.  By giving up his life, he made it possible for us to live a new life, born again into his family.  Living in his family we take on the very nature of Christ — holy love.  Therefore we live in love — in Jesus’ holy love and we desire to be just like him.  That’s why we imitate him, because we are in him and want to be like him. 

Christ’s holiness drove him to die on the cross for us.  We are invited to become partakers of the divine nature, to live in his holiness and this is living in love.

Application:
Holiness must always be defined by our relationship to Christ.  The temptation is to define holiness by behaviors and this becomes easy if we only look at the beginning of this verse.  We are encouraged to be imitators of God and this is a good thing, but it only happens when we are living in God’s love.  When we are living in his love, then we will feel compelled to become more and more like him. 

We have become beloved children of God, and this means we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  Siblings tend to look and act alike! 

There should be no fear of holiness, for holiness is God’s desire for all of his children.  Holiness is the result of God’s children living in holy love; being bathed by the Holy Spirit, filled to the point of overflowing and splashing out onto the surrounding world.  As we live in love, the fragrant offering of Jesus is spread to others because we want to imitate the actions of Christ. 

Holy love is all consuming and transforming and results in Jesus’ siblings becoming more and more like him as they walk in the pathway of holiness which he has provided.

Prayer:

Lord, may your holy love consume me today.  Amen.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Longing for the Good Old Days



Scripture:

Eccl. 7:10     Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?”
        For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

Observation:

Wisdom literature often gives us things to chew on.  Obviously longing for the “good old days” has been around for a long time, looking back and thinking that the past was better than the present.  Somehow this is not considered wise and it may be that this question is asked from emotion rather than careful examination.  The “good old days” weren’t always that good and maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the present.

Application:

Today is Pentecost Sunday and as we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit into the presence of the church on that historical day, we may have a tendency to look back with great longing.  Wouldn’t it have been incredible to have been present on that day so long ago?  What was it that happened?  The people there witnessed an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit that transformed the world.  The little band of Jesus’ followers were transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit and they never looked back.  As exciting as Pentecost was for them, they would not have wanted to go back to that day for they lived in the present, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, reflecting Christ and performing miracles along the way.

What is it that we might be longing for?  I have to confess that there are times that I look back on past days and I think about how nice it would be to park there!  But then, as I think about it more clearly I realize all that I would be missing.  What we experience in the present and in the future is energized by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  When we travel this journey of life filled by him then we get to encounter transformations that are God-revealing.  Who would want to miss out on that?

As we think about this Pentecost Sunday, let’s not wish for that day to return, but instead, may we live in the present in the presence of the Spirit.  May we be open to allowing God’s Holy Spirit to fill every pore of our very being until we are overflowing with him.  Then we will no longer long for the “good old days” but will be filled with anticipation with what lies ahead in God’s future.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for Pentecost then and now.  Amen.



Saturday, June 7, 2014

All Generations



Scripture:

Eph. 3:20 ¶ Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Observation:

Paul’s prayer in the middle of his letter to the church in Ephesus is a blessing to us all.  Not only does he speak to those who were living in and around Ephesus, but he speaks to us today as well.  He recognized that there was a power that would come to us through the working of the Holy Spirit that could accomplish much more than we could ever imagine.  Human limitations would be broken through the infilling and overpowering work of the Holy Spirit and in this way it is God who would be glorified and praised. 

At the same time the prayer was for the presence of God (his glory) to be revealed in the church, which is the body of Christ.  The role of the church in the revelation of Christ’s presence here on earth is vitally important and within this prayer we receive clues as to what this is to look like.  Within the church God’s presence is to be experienced in a very real way and God’s presence is witnessed in the actions of the body.  The body (the church) is to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world.  When you have a united body who is focused on reflecting Christ, the reflection is, obviously, magnified, and this is to include the entire body of Christ —  all generations that may worship together now, and forever and ever. 

Application:

What are the implications for the church today regarding this statement of “all generations?”  A number of years ago the church growth movement adopted a number of principles from the world of marketing and sales.  These concepts included focus on a particular demographic group.  It is my contention that we moved worship away from being God - focused to being consumer-focused.  Why not make church the way that people want to have church!  Therefore we began to divide up and create multiple personalities when it came to worship.  We also began to divide up the church generationally. 

Not only has style of worship divided the church but some of our practices have as well.  The little children were making too much noise and disturbing the service so we started numerous programs for them where they could go and learn about Jesus (or maybe be entertained and have nice child care).  We segregated the children from the whole family and while there are churches who are trying to invite the children into the sanctuary for family worship, we find that there are many adults (parents included) who are resistant.  They don’t like the effort that it takes to have the children present.

What about our teens?  We provide special youth groups where our teens can fellowship and study the word together.  This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.  However, we have created a sub-culture of young people who worship in their own way that often has nothing to do with what is happening in the sanctuary.  Later we wonder why they don’t transition into “big church.” 

And then there are the senior adults who like to sing their hymns (using the books!).  They are a growing demographic within the population.  The recent Pew Study in the United States shows a huge change within the population and the way we have always viewed things.  While older people have typically been a small and shrinking part of the population they will become a large and significant part of the US population in the years ahead with an equal number of older adults and children.  This must change the way we think about doing church.

God is glorified in the church when the whole body of Christ is represented, from the youngest to the oldest and the Pew study shows that we will have the greatest possibility of glorifying God in this way in the days ahead.  However, to do so we will need to be intentional.  How do we bring together every generation to worship God and allow this combined reflection of Christ to make a tangible difference in the world? 

We must be intentional about ways in which we do bring every generation together, learning to appreciate one another, and giving deference and honor to each other.  The focus of our worship must be on God and what he desires from all of us, not about what we want.  When the focal point of worship is the one who is receiving the praise then I believe that our attitudes will change.  The ways in which we plan services will change and God will be glorified. 

May we, together with Paul, stop and pray for God’s leading and guidance in the family of God so that the glory will be in the church for all generations, those living and those yet to come.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the diversity of age and that we may, together, glorify you.  Amen.


Friday, June 6, 2014

A New Building of Worship



Scripture:

Eph. 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
Eph. 2:20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
Eph. 2:21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
Eph. 2:22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Observation:

The new temple is an interesting place, the beauty found in the diversity of the stones themselves, for they are living stones, made up of those who are “members of the household of God.”  Within this household are found people of all races, but they have now been united as citizens of the kingdom. 

This new temple is to be more beautiful than anything made by human hands.  Jesus is the cornerstone and the foundation around him is made up of the “apostles and prophets.”  These are those who have gone before and paid the price spiritually so that there could be a beautiful new temple, made up of the people of God. 

The Holy Spirit works to unite us all, binding us spiritually so that God may dwell in us, and this is the new building of worship.

Application:

Last month we traveled through Germany and England touring sites related to church history.  The medieval cathedrals are breathtaking with their size and beauty.  Over and over again we were told of the intricate work that went into the stained glass and the hundreds of stone masons who would have been needed to create such a structure.  Often it took decades to complete the buildings, with those who began the structure never seeing it brought to completion.  Literally generations of families worked on a particular building, working their entire lives on a certain portion but never seeing it finished, and yet they labored on and created masterpieces.

While these masterpieces exist even to this day, they are nothing compared to the beauty of the new building of worship that God intended to create through his people.  More beautiful than any stained glass window is the gathering of God’s people who have been united into his family through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s intention is that people of every race, gender and economic class would unite together as citizens of his kingdom and form the new building of worship.  The beauty of that building is found within the diversity.  No, not everything is the same because the very unique stones bring with them their culture, their influence and their own style.  This may sound a bit confusing and yes, it can be, but it is in that confusion that the beauty of God begins to radiate. 

Why is Sunday morning the most segregated time in America?  Why have we chosen to have churches of particular ethnic groups?  Just think how bland those buildings of worship are as they are all painted with one particular color and style.  Instead, what would happen if the colors and styles became mixed and what resulted was something new and different.  Initially it may make people uncomfortable but the longer they are allowed to be living stones within the new building, the more they come alive and the very presence of God fills the place to overflowing for their purpose is to be a dwelling place for God.  Too often we worry about where we will feel comfortable for worship, when we forget that it’s about where God will feel comfortable!  God is comfortable in the temple built with the beauty of his diversity. 

The builders of medieval cathedrals had to be intentional and plugged away at their efforts for years until they eventually were completed.  Maybe we ought not to be looking for a quick fix, but instead should be working toward the long run, the long-term goal of the new building of worship.  It is one which will take planning, intentionality and patience but as God’s presence fills the place there will be spiritual growth and maturity beyond what we could even begin to imagine.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the beauty of your people.  Amen.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Just Enough



Scripture:

Prov. 30:7      ¶ Two things I ask of you;
        do not deny them to me before I die:
Prov. 30:8     Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
        give me neither poverty nor riches;
        feed me with the food that I need,
Prov. 30:9     or I shall be full, and deny you,
        and say, “Who is the LORD?”
    or I shall be poor, and steal,
        and profane the name of my God.

Observation:

The writer of the proverb understood that having too much or too little could be a strain on someone’s life.  The prayer was for a balance in life.  First of all, to be a person of integrity, not lying or cheating in any way.  Second, the prayer is for “neither poverty nor riches,” but a request for daily bread — just what is needed. 

The writer understood the consequences of too much, and not enough.  Too much meant that the individual would not need to trust in God.  Not enough left the person open to temptation and rejection of God.  It seems that just enough was the sweet spot of true balance.

Application:

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” he was teaching this principle of just enough.  It’s more than just enough, it is truly about having dependence upon God every single day and that is ultimately the place in which we want to find ourselves. 

It is in the difficult times of life that we begin to learn that Jesus is enough.  He is the one who provides exactly what we need at the moment of our need.  When the world and those around us cannot provide for us emotionally, physically and spiritually we begin to realize that Jesus is enough. 

When people let us down; Jesus is enough. 

When we lose our job; Jesus is enough. 

When we get that bad news; Jesus is enough. 

We must come to that place, just as the writer of the Proverb, that what is provided is “just enough.” In this way we will develop a dependence on Jesus, recognizing that he gives us just enough for each and every single day. 

What we need today is “just enough" -- not more, not less!

Prayer:

Lord, please give us this day our daily bread and may we be grateful for your provision.  Amen.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Almost Forgotten



Scripture:


Rom. 16:12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.

Observation:

In Paul’s final chapter of greetings to the Romans we find many individuals listed.  As we read over the names we can begin to wonder who these people may have been and what had they done.  Most commentators don’t provide us with many clues and just mention that, in the case of this verse, they are women who were faithful in serving God.  Adam Clarke, writing in the 18th century writes:

Two holy women, who it seems were assistants to the apostle in his work, probably by exhorting, visiting the sick, &c. Persis was another woman, who it seems excelled the preceding; for, of her it is said, she laboured much in the Lord. We learn from this, that Christian women, as well as men, laboured in the ministry of the word. In those times of simplicity all persons, whether men or women, who had received the knowledge of the truth, believed it to be their duty to propagate it to the uttermost of their power. Many have spent much useless labour in endeavouring to prove that these women did not preach. (Clarke’s Commentary, Romans 16:12)

What we do know is that these were individuals who were committed to serving the Lord and have almost been forgotten in history.  Digging a little deeper we can find a little bit of information on Tryphaena and realize that while we may simply read over her presence here in the word, people of Paul’s time would have understood the significance of her name. It is believed that this Tryphaena is “Antonia Tryphaena, daughter of Queen Pythodoris, and herself queen of Pontus eventually, for example, was also priestess of Livia under Tiberias  (IGR, 4.144), and of Drusilla and benefactor of the city of Cyzsius during the Principate of Gaius (IGR 4.145).” (Gocha R. Tsetskhladze, Ancient West & East, Volume 4, Issue 1 BRILL, Leiden.  2005, 256 pages Originally published as Volume 4 (2005) of Brill's journal "Ancient West & East,"117. )  In other words this is a woman of importance in the region and one who has converted to Christianity and is now a worker in the Lord.

Another record tells us Antonio Tryphaena:

The name given to the only known daughter of Pythodoris and Polemo reflects her descent from Antony.  Her career reflects the growing importance of the dynasty of Pontus, for she married the king of Trace, Cotys VIII, and produced five children, all of whom took a noteworthy place in dynastic politics.  Her children included the last king of Trace, Rhoemetalces III, who died about A.D. 46.  Her daughter, Pythodoris II, married her Thracian cousin, Rhoemetalces II , in a manoeuvre designed in part to repair the dynasty’s fortunes after the murder of Tryphaena’s husband by his own uncle, Rhescuporis III, who paid for the deed with his life.  Another daughter, Gepaepris, was seen by Rostovtzeff as the wife of Aspurgus, king of Bosporus; by his she became the ancestress of a long line of kings there.  And the third son, Cotys IX, ruled Armenia Minor for a number of years, at least until A.D. 47.  Though Antonia Tryphaena goes unnamed by the classical authors, her presence at Cyzicus with her children led to a number of inscribed mentions of her… from the coinage of Tryphaena, we can see at least 18 years in her era, probably down to A.D. 39/40. (Hildegard Temporini, Wolfgang Haase. Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung. Walter de Gruyter, 1980, 922)

A name that we tend to simply pass over may have been a powerful and influential female ruler in the area of Pontus during the time of Paul.  The significance of her faith in Jesus Christ cannot be overstated and one can only imagine the far reach of her faith and yet, she is almost forgotten. 

Application:

These individuals are almost forgotten, but maybe mostly overlooked.  People who would have been well-known in their days, whose names would have had significance really mean little or nothing to us today.  However, there are those serving Jesus Christ today who are easily overlooked and almost forgotten.  They are the hard workers who are always doing all that they can to keep ministry going, and never seek for recognition.  Where would we be without them?

Let me just mention a moment, Lillian Marie. She was my father’s mother — my grandmother.  She served the Lord faithfully as a pastor’s wife for over 50 years in the state of Nebraska.  Life was very difficult for her as they were very poor, struggling to feed their family of three children.  Their daughter, Shirley, had Down’s Syndrome, and back in the day there were those who were convinced that my grandmother had sinned and this child was her punishment.  Even people in the church could be a bit mean.  However, Lillian Marie pushed forward in serving the Lord alongside her husband.  She was a powerful woman with creative energy and ideas and also helped to lead the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  Most of her life she was only known as Mrs. C.B. Johnson.  She went by the name “Marie” and “worked hard in the Lord.”

It’s too easy for these people to be almost forgotten.  Had Paul not taken the time to list the names of these individuals we would never even know their names today.  He was intentional in thanking those who could have been easily overlooked and this is a great reminder to us as well. 

May we not overlook those who are the faithful, the ones who are making a difference on a daily basis and who are willing to work hard for the Lord.  They are too easily forgotten.  Maybe it will be our remembrance of them that will make a difference in their lives, just as Paul’s intentionality has helped these names not to be lost. 

Take the time today to thank someone who doesn’t get a lot of attention for what they have done.  May we be instruments to help those who might almost be forgotten — to be remembered as examples of faithfulness and transformation in service to the Lord.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for those faithful who serve you quietly every day.  Amen.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It’s Worth A Read!



Scripture:

Rom. 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Observation:

Paul was reminding his readers that spending time in the Scriptures was important!  Reading and learning from the past informs the present and the future.  The past serves as a road-map for the future when we realize that what has been written has been left to us for instruction. 

It is in reading the word that the Word is revealed to us and this is how we receive encouragement and hope.  We are blessed by the Word of God which is living and breathing and actively engaged in changing our lives.  The result is hope in the midst of discouragement.  It’s worth a read!

Application:

The Bible is something that most of us tend to take for granted.  It’s something that we’ve had around us for all of our lives and so we fail to realize how blessed we are to be able to put our hands on the word on a daily basis and learn from it and soak it in!  Sadly, because we take it for granted we don’t take the time to learn and glean from the word in ways that could be transformational.

If the Bible were a new book today there would probably be someone doing an infomercial about it.  Why?  For the very same reasons that Paul has identified above. 

Who wouldn’t want to have access to a hand-book of instructions on how to live our lives?  Everyone is looking for this kind of information and searching for the next best-seller, or motivational speaker.  What is the answer?  It’s in the book!

And who isn’t looking for hope these days?  And yet the scriptures provide us with a road-map for living that does provide hope, a hope for the here and now and eternal hope.  It is in the word that we find great encouragement for life and living. 

But maybe it’s that one word that throws us off — “steadfastness.”  In that word we find our sense of responsibility in all of this — we are to be steadfast.  We are to be the ones who will spend time opening the book and reading it.  We will never know anything about the former days or the things written for our instruction if we don’t exercise self-discipline by spending time reading and learning.  Notice, it takes both reading and learning, reading with a sense and/or desire to learn from what has been written, and learning brings with it an expectation of application.  We are to apply what we learn to our lives and in this way it is we who are transformed and through this transformation we are encouraged and have hope.

The things written in the former days were written for a purpose — to inform our lives.  So take the time to open the book, be steadfast, and find hope — it really is worth a read.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for all that sacrificed to provide us with your word.  Amen.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Why are we Criticizing One Another?

Why Are We Criticizing One Another?

Scripture:

Rom. 14:1 ¶ Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
Rom. 14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
Rom. 14:3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
Rom. 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Observation:

A serious issue was arising among believers in Jesus Christ.  Some of the members of the community of faith felt that they had Christian liberty.  They felt that they were strong enough in their relationship with the Lord that things like food and certain holy days did not affect their ability to worship God.  However, those who had come from the Jewish faith, or those who were new in their Christian faith, still struggled over some of these things.  They may not have been as well educated in the faith as some of the other brothers and sisters and so they still held to certain traditions that they just knew were right.

For a new believer who had turned from the pagan faith, they often did not want to eat meat that had been offered to idols.  That’s why they became vegetarians.  They felt that their conscious would not allow them to eat that meat.  However, there were others who said that this would not make a difference to the Lord because their relationship to him was not based on works.

The problem was that the people in the church were passing judgement on one another.  Those who ate meat thought that the ones who didn’t were being ridiculous.  Why couldn’t they understand that this was an okay thing to do?  At the same time, those who did not eat meat thought that the ones who did were terribly liberal and were surely going to rot in hell for doing such a thing!

The tent of the early Christian church was broad.  It should have included those who ate meat and those who did not.  It should have included those new in their faith and those who had been walking with the Lord for a long time.  They may not all have practiced their faith in exactly the same way, and yet, they were all to stand before the Lord and give account of their faith!

Paul was frustrated.  He did not want them to create division in the church by criticizing one another.

Application:

The topics may be different but debates rage on today within the church.

I recently heard of a church member furious with their pastor for eating meals at the only restaurant in town.  The pastor had become successful at getting to know a number of people in the community and now some new folks are coming to church.  The problem? The restaurant does have alcohol on the menu.  No, the pastor does not drink alcohol -- he only eats in the restaurant and has begun a fruitful ministry.  The brother in the church is concerned that the pastor must avoid the "very appearance of evil."  But if Jesus were here today, where would we find him?  Probably in the same restaurant getting to know the needy folks of the community.  The pastor has shown grace toward the brother, but the brother refuses to show grace toward the pastor and has threatened to leave the church.

Another recent trend among some younger Christians today is to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, and for some there is a very spiritual reason.  Now, it seems that this leaves those on both sides of the argument open for criticism.  I can hear some older Christians thinking that this is crazy.  At the same time I can hear some younger folks thinking that the older folks ought to be a bit more sensitive to the larger issues this addresses.  The result is that there can be division in the church.

Paul is trying to remind those first century Christians that passing judgment on one another is not pleasing to God.  God welcomes his children, and so should we!

Why are we being so critical?  Maybe being critical comes from our own sense of insecurity.  It's easier to judge someone else to make ourselves feel better.  May God help to unite us as his followers and not succumb to the temptation to have a critical spirit.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me see my sisters and brothers through your eyes.  Amen.




Sunday, June 1, 2014

It Takes Hard Work!



Scripture:

Prov. 20:4     The lazy person does not plow in season;
        harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.

Observation:

To be a farmer one must work hard.  A farmer friend of mine, Ken Morehead posted this on his Facebook this week:  “Finished planting today. If I had planted a straight line from here, never turning around, I would have ended up 550 miles away. That's roughly the distance from here to Kansas City or Billings MT. At 5.5 mph.” (May 20, 2014) -- He lives in North Dakota!

Ken spent the time needed to plow and plant in season.  Come harvest he will have to drive those 550 miles all over again and the fruit of his labor will be that much will be found. 

Sadly, if lazy person does get around to plowing or planting it probably won't be at the right time.  I’m afraid that they probably complain and blame their lack of harvest on other details — such as the weather, or others interfering with their lives.  However, when it is harvest season, they will find nothing.

Application:

This proverb certainly has a practical application for my farmer friend, but I think it goes beyond the farmer.  For all of us there are times and seasons when we are to be busy doing what we should be doing.  There are times when we are to be working hard and putting in long hours.  We are not entitled to receive things when we haven’t put in the effort.  The farmer cannot harvest what he/she has not planted!  It doesn’t just happen because they wish it to happen — it only happens because they are willing to work hard. 

We cannot expect to get things out of life if we don’t take the time and effort to work hard.

But what about our spiritual lives?  Are we expecting some kind of a spiritual harvest when we have never spent a season in planting?  Then I’m afraid that we would be found in the lazy category.  Or, do we somehow come before God feeling entitled to some kind of spiritual outpouring when we have never invested in our relationship with him? 

Then there are those who are pastors and shepherds who are wondering why they are not seeing much of a harvest.  Could it be that we have become lazy and have not put forth the effort to plow in season?  You see, it takes effort for there to be a harvest.  Sadly, there may be nothing to be found.

May God help us to follow the example of my friend, Ken, who is willing to put in hours and hours of work to plow and plant in season.  We reap the benefit of his harvest as he helps to feed many.  May we put in the hard work that is necessary for us to be faithful servants of the Lord and reap the spiritual harvest that is possible when we plow in season.

Prayer:

Lord, may I will be willing to serve you in faithfulness today.  Amen.