Thursday, October 30, 2014
Mark 7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Mark 7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Mark 7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Mark 7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”
Mark 7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
A woman stepped out on faith to address Jesus. Not only was she a woman, but she was not a Jew, and as such would have been completely out of place having a conversation with a Jewish rabbi. This reveals the depth of her faith. She had heard about this man and the miracles that were being accomplished and she was desperate to find help for her daughter. So great was her faith that she didn’t bring her daughter with her, but simply believed that she could ask the man to do this work and it would happen.
Jesus’ response may, at first glance, seem a bit odd, however, he is referring to his ministry to the Jews. He is explaining to this gentile woman that he had come to preach first to the Jews. Now the reference to the dogs is not a derogatory term because he’s not referring to wild bands of dogs, but the term actually refers to the beloved household pet — the one that gets to sit on your lap and run around the dinner table being fed by the children when parents aren’t looking. The woman understands that he is there to minister to the Jews but she is the one who reminds him that the beloved household pets get fed as well, thus foreshadowing a ministry beyond the Jews but one that reaches out to the Gentiles. It was an expression of her faith and understanding that he was not just bringing salvation to the Jews, but this would be the redemption of all humankind. Further, this miracle is the only one in Mark that is done from a distance.
Dogs and children’s crumbs are a promise of a powerful kingdom that reaches beyond the visible and reaches into a future that touches you and me.
Lord, may I have faith like this woman and trust in you. Amen.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Rom. 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
This entire concept of living by faith was new to those who had been under the law. As far as Paul is concerned prevenient grace is at work as the righteousness of God is revealed to Jew and Gentile alike. Therefore we see prevenient grace opening the eyes of humankind to the righteousness of God. As we respond to God’s grace in our lives through faith we see the righteousness of God and are prompted to respond. One cannot be in the presence of the righteousness of God for long without sensing a need to respond through faith and it is in this step of faith that we are brought to faith. Therefore it is only by responding to what has been revealed to us by faith that we may experience faith for salvation and in this is transformation, for the one who has now experienced the righteousness of God through faith will live the sanctified life day in and day out by faith.
There is something, by nature, inherently evangelical in this scenario. As the people of God respond in faith to the revealed righteousness of God they are transformed by faith. Through faith - for faith. The result ought to be an ongoing revelation of Jesus Christ in the personal life of the one living in faith. As we live in faith then it is through our faith that the righteousness of God is revealed to others around us — drawing them through our faith to faith.
This makes me wonder what may be happening in a church where there are very few being drawn toward faith. It seems to me that it speaks volumes about the faith of those who are already in the church, for it is through faith that people are brought to faith.
Maybe this phrase ought to make us examine our own walk with the Lord today. Have I been walking in faith — in a faith that reveals the righteousness of God? If others were to describe God by what they see in us, what would God look like to them?
The truth is simple. We are to walk in faith, a faith that reveals God’s righteousness in all that we say and do, thus our lives become a channel of God’s prevenient grace.
Lord, as I walk in a foreign land today, may your lead me, in faith. Amen.
Acts 27:1 ¶ When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius.
Acts 27:2 Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica.
Paul had appealed to Caesar and was now being sent to Rome. He is placed on the ship with a kind and supportive centurion, along with Aristarchus and presumably Luke who continues to write as if he were present. Luke and Aristarchus have been faithfully present with Paul in many circumstances of his ministry. Aristarchus is one of the gentlemen that the people if Ephesus tackle and take into the theater during the riot in Ephesus. He and Luke have been with Paul during the good and the bad and have now determined to travel with him to what will become the very end of Paul’s life.
The fellowship of the believers is a reflection of the relationship found within God, in the Trinity. As God’s children we are challenged to participate in the fellowship of the believers and there are times in which this becomes invaluable to our lives.
Paul’s companions had been team-mates when it came to his ministry. They had partnered together, covering numerous a wide swath of society and geography sharing the good news of the Way. Each traveling companion helped to support the ministry in their own way, whether using their vocational skills, financial resources, or ministry abilities, it all worked together for the good of the ministry. They had good and bad days in ministry, but they continued to work together.
The days of planting new churches must have been exciting and yet they suddenly find themselves in a new and different phase. Paul has become a prisoner and while they have not been arrested, they choose to be close by and continue to support him. In good circumstances or bad, these friends are staying close. They themselves are having to sacrifice their own “normal” lives to be close to and minister to and with Paul. Yet this is also a reflection of God. God’s love, kindness and patience with us are revealed in the relationship of these friends.
Paul beings the final journey to Rome and again, his friends would not have to go with him and yet you have the sense that no on head to ask, they just came along. These would be painful hours enduring a trip across the sea and all that this would bring. And just as these friends are called into the journey with Paul, there are times in life when we are either the companions, or we are Paul, and there is something amazing about having our traveling companions with us.
I think about those who sojourn the last hours of their lives — those who may have suffered terribly from illness and the journey seems unbearable. Just like Paul’s companions who were faithful, there are those of us who are called to be faithful companions of our loved ones and those with whom we have traveled through life. We are, at times, called to simply engage in the ministry of presence. Sitting, talking, waiting, going through ship-wreck, and yet all the while making the journey in the presence of God.
I am grateful for traveling companions with whom I have journeyed in life — family members, friends, and loved ones. May God help us to be the traveling companions that others need, and may we never take for granted the ones that he has provided. Cherish the traveling companions!
Lord, may I be a supportive traveling companion to others who have been on this journey, to your glory. Amen.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Acts 21:17 ¶ When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly.
Acts 21:18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present.
Acts 21:19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Acts 21:20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.
Acts 21:21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.
Acts 21:22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.
Acts 21:23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow.
Acts 21:24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.
Acts 21:25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
Acts 21:26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.
Paul arrived back in Jerusalem and the inner circle warmly welcomed him. They were excited to hear about the missionary journeys and all that God had been doing among the Gentiles, but there was a problem. Rumors had spread throughout Jerusalem about Paul’s ministry and the group gathered together to talk to Paul about this issue.
They were feeling the pressure of all the lies that were being spread and they thought that something had to be done to address them. They encouraged Paul to tackle the rumors by trying to prove to those who were upset that he was really a committed Jew. We don’t get a feel for the conversation but some commentators believe that Paul reluctantly agreed to the plan of action and probably against his better judgement. How would trying to prove anything to the rumor mill solve anything? But, indeed, they chose to try and respond by showing the people that Paul was committed to Jewish law and customs by joining with four men who had been under a vow. He went through purification with them and paid to have their heads shaved.
Paul’s action of joining with these four did nothing to dispel the talk against him. Those who were spreading rumors about him had made up their minds and nothing that Paul could do would change their opinion. John Wesley said that the response flowed from carnal wisdom and not from the Spirit. In this case, human wisdom tried to prevail and instead of simply being who he was in the Spirit, Paul agreed to try and appease the rumor mongers. It failed.
Social media has created a medium by which rumors can be fanned into flames in almost a nano-second. There is a great temptation, yes, even among God’s people — to participate in the spreading of rumors.
What are we to do in the midst of a rumor driven world? Let’s try and learn from Paul’s situation.
1) Don’t spread the rumors. Be the one who stops the talk.
2) Live your life in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Holy Spirit to be your guide in all things.
3) Be true to what the Spirit is saying. In other words, keep your eyes on Jesus and live in such a relationship with him that the only thing that matters is him!
4) Don’t react to rumors — even if they are about you! Go back to points 2 and 3 — live in the flow of the Spirit and keep your eyes on Jesus.
5) Don’t react with carnal wisdom — let the Spirit do the work. Writing that letter or response or doing things to appease people may simply make things worse!
The situations in which we find ourselves today are not new — only the tools that are utilized are new. May we learn from the past and put into practice the lessons learned in the present and may God help his people to be bearers of his truth, living lives of holiness on a daily basis.
Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14) Amen.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Acts 19:8 ¶ He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Acts 19:9 When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
Acts 19:10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
Acts 19:11 ¶ God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,
Acts 19:12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.
Paul was beginning his ministry in Ephesus and as usual, he started out by preaching in the synagogue. However, after three months the religious folks were no longer willing to listen to Paul. They were even sabotaging his ministry by speaking poorly of him. Because of this difficulty he moved from preaching to the lecture hall. We don’t know who Tyrannus was but it’s believed that he had a large lecture hall where possibly Philosophy was taught in the morning hours. During the heat of the day the hall would not normally have been used so it’s not difficult to imagine that Paul was able to use the hall from 11am until 3-4pm. The Christians may have paid to rent the hall during these hours, or it may have been donated to them for this purpose, but we do know that it became Paul’s practice to have these “hours” in which he could be found at this location. Daily he would lecture in this hall, possibly teaching the very students who studied philosophy in the morning and bringing them to a new philosophy or understanding of truth during his hours at the lectern.
His teaching began to draw massive crowds. The lecture hall probably held more than the synagogue could have held and now he wasn’t just preaching on the sabbath, but every day he was teaching Greeks and Jews alike. Not only was he preaching and teaching, but God was working miracles through him. People were overwhelmed with what they saw and would bring to him pieces of cloth for him to touch and then they would take that home to their sick friends or relatives and they were healed! What happened was amazing.
This was Paul’s plan for ministry. He had a strategy for church planting in a new city and it was one which focused on Christ. His preaching focused on Christ. His teaching focused on people getting to know Christ and in the midst of it all we see that Christ was his pattern. Jesus went about teaching, preaching and healing and now Paul is doing the very same thing. Paul admonished the people to follow him as he followed Christ.
Ministry should include the preaching of Christ. He is the one to be lifted up — he is the one to whom all preaching should point.
Ministry must include teaching — a teaching which challenges people to the very core of their understanding and encourages them to take up their cross and follow Jesus. It is a teaching which is robust enough that it can reach the mind of the philosopher and yet, gentle enough to touch the heart of a child.
Ministry must include healing — in the form of the transformative power of God’s Holy Spirit. This may include physical healing, emotional healing and/or spiritual healing but if there is no touch on the life of people then ministry is lacking.
The city of Ephesus was transformed during Paul’s period of ministry which lasted for nearly three years. A city which had worshipped their own personal goddess and had one of the seven wonders of the ancient world in their midst was brought to their knees by the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit through the ministry of Paul and his disciples.
Jesus is our model for ministry. All ministry must be Christ centered! Paul followed Christ. Paul encourages us to follow him as he followed Christ. May all ministry point in the direction of Christ — he is the living model.
Lord, may I seek your face today and may you help me follow in your steps. Amen.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Acts 17:1 ¶ After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
Acts 17:2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,
Acts 17:3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”
Acts 17:4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
Acts 17:5 But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house.
Acts 17:6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,
Acts 17:7 and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”
Acts 17:8 The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this,
Acts 17:9 and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.
Paul and Silas were developing a rhythm to their ministry. Paul had a plan for his ministry and this included going to the Jewish synagogue every sabbath. He knew exactly what he was doing and could preach well because he was a well-educated man. In the synagogue he would argue about the Messiah from the scriptures.
As a result of his preaching and apologetics a number of Jews became believers. Devout Greeks were known as “God-fearers” and a number of them kept the Mosaic laws, except for circumcision.
Macedonia was a unique region in regard to women. Here we see that a number of the leading women were coming to Christ and this was significant. Remember that in Philippi it was Lydia who first came to Christ and the church began to meet at her home. The women in Macedonia are significant to helping create a foothold for Christianity in Europe. Macedonia as opposed to Athens had different laws regarding women. The Athenian laws made women little more than the status of a slave and to educate her was to make her a prostitute. In Macedonia public statues were erected in honor of notable women and it was not uncommon for a man to take his last name from his mother. It was into this environment that God sent Paul — to Macedonia to begin the European work of Christianity.
As a result of Paul and Silas’ intentional effort to preach about Christ a number of people became believers and this troubled the religious authorities. They weren’t troubled because of Paul’s theology — they were jealous because of his popularity and that people were following what he had to say. The result of Paul and Silas’ work was that the peaceful little world was being stirred up in Thessalonica. Instead of business as usual on a day to day basis, this new faith in the Messiah was changing things and there were those who did not like change. They wanted the status quo, so much so, that the religious leaders were willing to get some “ruffians” to “ruff” up these men who were preaching about the Messiah. Not being able to find Paul and Silas they still wanted to make a point and drug Jason and some other believers to court claiming that they had turned the world upside down.
The most important thing for the religious leaders in Thessalonica was the status quo. They didn’t want anything to come along that would change the way in which they lived their lives day in and day out. They had positions of respect in the community. People listened to them and did what they told them to do and life just went on, day in and day out in a particular rhythm. Although they had preached about a coming Messiah, they probably had preconceived notions of what that was supposed to look like.
If we were to be really honest with ourselves, we like the comfort of the status quo. It feels good when life has a particular rhythm and routine and when that gets stirred up we become uncomfortable.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are not called to the status quo. We are called to a radical obedience that turns the world upside down.
Our obedience to Christ should make those around us a bit uncomfortable.
Even in today’s world the reason that people don’t want Christians around is because it changes things. Many countries are uncomfortable with people becoming Christians because it changes the rhythm of society. If we think that being a follower of Jesus Christ is always peaceful and doesn’t cause consternation in society, then we don’t really understand what it means to be a Jesus follower. Following Christ has always been counter cultural — even when it came to status quo religion. Phineas F. Bresee, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene used to talk about Christianizing Christianity. There he was — stirring up trouble among the status quo Christians of his day!
We are called to follow the example of Paul and Silas - who turned the world upside down. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It’s not safe. It’s not comfortable. It’s world changing.
Lord, please help me to faithfully serve you in obedience on a daily basis. Amen.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Acts 16:16 ¶ One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
Acts 16:17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
Acts 16:18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
This is an interesting incident where Paul was regularly being confronted by a slave girl who was being used by her owners. Different translations have given us a variety of perspectives on his feelings toward this situation. The King James Version says that he was “grieved.” This conveys a feeling of sympathy, empathy and pain regarding the condition of the girl. She was being exploited by those who owned her and the injustice of the situation grieved him.
The 1984 NIV says that Paul “became so troubled” that he decided to take action. The language here is a little nuanced from the KJV, and not only does he feel a sadness or grief, but he is troubled to the point of intervention.
The latest NIV and NRSV both use the phrase “very much annoyed” to explain how Paul felt at the moment. It seems that we have struggled with English language terminology which is strong enough to convey how Paul was feeling at the time. What Paul was witnessing was a huge injustice. A young girl was being used to make money for her owners and not only was she being exploited, the spirit within her, not from the Lord was taunting Paul and his witness. He didn’t need this kind of support for his ministry. Therefore his response serves two purposes, setting the girl free and disconnecting the power and work of God from that of the men who were engaged in evil.
Is there anything that very much annoys us today — to the point where we would want to take action? There probably should be!
The injustice of exploitation ought to make us mad! There is a time and place for being grieved, troubled and just plain old annoyed. These are not un-Christlike attributes. Jesus was annoyed at the injustice that he found in the temple. He was moved to do something about it and Paul takes action as well. We are not to tolerate this kind of activity and as followers of Christ we are to help set people free from the bondage.
The ‘muddling’ of the Gospel should also annoy us. When those on the outside seek to ‘help’ us with our message then people will receive mixed messages. Followers of Christ should be responsible for the message that we present. Make sure it is presented clearly and don’t allow by-standers to be the extra support that you need. Proclaim Christ and allow his hand to be at work in the world so that his power is revealed.
There are moments when we will be righteously - very much annoyed and driven to action. Follow the example of Paul and be bold in response.
Lord, please give me discernment for those moments when I am to act. Amen.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Acts 13:44 ¶ The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
Acts 13:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.
Acts 13:46 Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.
Acts 13:47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Acts 13:48 ¶ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.
Acts 13:49 Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.
Acts 13:50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region.
Acts 13:51 So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.
Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Paul and Barnabas were out preaching and doing all that God had asked them to do. As they entered a new city they would preach in the synagogue, bringing the good news of the Messiah to the Jews. Unfortunately they were often rejected but, as a result they preached to the Gentiles. They boldly declared that the Gentiles were also recipients of the grace of God. The Gentiles were overwhelmed and many became believers and helped to spread the word about Jesus throughout the entire region. There were, however, very rich and influential Jews within the community who decided to make trouble. They gathered together their friends and began to persecute Paul and Barnabas, making life and ministry extremely difficult for them and eventually driving them out of the region.
Paul and Barnabas could have left in frustration but instead of sulking, they simply chose to move on and used this as a sign from God to go on to the next place of ministry. There was joy in the midst of what some would call defeat. These men were filled with the Holy Spirit and so they rejoiced, trusting God for all that was happening in their lives.
Paul and Barnabas teach us how to react in difficult situations. Underlying all that happens is the fact that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the driving force in their lives and therefore the things of the world just don’t get them down. They have one difficulty after another, but they always continue to trust that God is in the circumstances. A closed door means that another door is open. No whining or pouting — just a journey with the Lord, moving through the open doors.
This is why they can have joy in the midst of what many might see as defeat because for them, there was no defeat. No matter how difficult the circumstances, God was always victorious. Many people had come to know the Lord in Antioch of Pisidia. Even though the influential people of the city were against them, this was only the case because enough people had become believers to disturb the wealthy leaders. For this Paul and Barnabas would praise the Lord!
Paul and Barnabas didn’t spend time complaining that things didn’t turn out exactly as they had wanted, but shook the dust from their feet and moved on. In other words, they recognized what was going on, they registered a protest and then just moved on. If they would never have experienced difficulties in Antioch — would the Gospel have spread any further? Who knows, but they did not wallow in discouragement and neither should we. When a door closes, then just move on. God through the Holy Spirit may be leading us to the place where he wants us, and who knows what may be in store for us there. May we find his joy in the midst of what the world would see as defeat.
Lord, thank you for your wisdom and direction. Please, help me to trust in you and may your Holy Spirit fill me with your joy. Amen.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Acts 12:20 ¶ Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.
Acts 12:21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them.
Acts 12:22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”
Acts 12:23 And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Christians would have been living in the region of Tyre and Sidon and would have been suffering the consequence of a strained relationship with Herod. He was certainly no friend to the Christians having already murdered James and put Peter in prison. This man’s continued leadership could, quite possibly, mean terrible persecution for Jesus’ followers.
Evidently there was some kind of a dispute with the people of Tyre and Sidon and while they were autonomous towns, they had were part of the Roman Empire. They were not allowed to go to war but Herod had, for some reason, restricted their economies and they were struggling to have enough food. Wanting to come to some kind of a compromise with the man they probably bribed Blastus. Blastus’ position was that of right-hand assistant to Herod. He was highly influential and so, while Herod was often unreasonable, the leadership of Tyre and Sidon found a reasonable individual in Blastus. He worked to bring about reconciliation between Herod and these cities which included an event at which Herod would try to impress the people with his great wealth and authority.
All of Herod’s power had made him extremely prideful and this became his downfall. He allowed the praise that was due God to be showered on him. He ended up dying a horrible death and not only Tyre and Sidon, but the Christians of that area were set free from his tyranny. God had provided.
We must be careful not to try and take matters into our own hands, when God can and does make provision for our needs. We don’t know the back story to what happened but I can only imagine it had to do with little prayer meetings of disciples who were crying out to God for his help. The chapter opens with the story of Peter’s release from prison. God had provided! It ends with the death of the one who had orchestrated Peter’s imprisonment. God had provided! Neither Peter’s release from prison nor the death of Herod would have been anticipated.
The ways in which God’s provision is revealed may be different in each and every circumstance and sometimes we simply don’t understand what is really going on. Why is it that James had to die? Where was God’s provision in his life? We don’t know — all we know is that James becomes the first Apostle to be martyred. However, after his death God provides for Peter and then for the Christian community in Tyre and Sidon — and beyond with the death of Herod. We see Herod being punished for his outrageous behavior.
I’ll be honest with you — I don’t know what to do with James in this story. Why does God seem to provide for some and not for others? I don’t know but I know that there is a bigger picture that we don’t understand and my job is to trust in him. Peter trusted in the Lord and was let out of prison so that he could go on to preach to many more people. In the end he was not spared and history tells us that he was crucified upside down.
The people of Tyre and Sidon were spared economic calamity - at least for a time. The Jewish Christians running from the persecutions in Jerusalem were now able to find peace and food in these cities. God had provided and the word about Jesus was spreading.
Ultimately the lesson becomes one of trust — trusting in the God who provides. We may not always understand the ways of God, but we are to trust! We may never expect God to work in particular ways — but he provides.
Lord, may I keep my eyes focused on you and you alone. May I trust you to take care of things around me. Amen.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Acts 11:27 ¶ At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
Acts 11:28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius.
Acts 11:29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea;
Acts 11:30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
Prophets were leaving Jerusalem because of persecution and they arrived in Antioch. These prophets were speaking to the church words about the future so that the church could be prepared. It is known that a terrible famine did affect the area in the time mentioned. Much as the vision came and Joseph was able to help Egypt prepare for the famine, so God’s people were responding to the upcoming need. Instead of stockpiling supplies for themselves these Christians sent relief, probably in the form of offerings, to the people in Judea. This was a part of Saul’s discipleship training under Barnabas in Antioch and was, more than likely, Saul’s second trip to Jerusalem since becoming a believer.
The attitude and spirit of response to need here reflects the growth in Christlikeness among the believers. This entire story can be seen as a parallel to the one in Egypt so very long ago. There are similarities, but there are also differences.
Since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there were prophets who were able to speak regarding the future. They were suffering great persecution in the city of Jerusalem and probably came to Antioch in order to survive. They did not cease to speak about their visions and dreams. God was able to use them in a variety of places as a result of the persecution. More people were hearing about Jesus and Christianity was growing. They were able to speak clearly without the need for interpretation. Remember, it was Joseph who had to interpret the vision of Pharaoh. Now, the vision comes directly to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and they are able to share the vision and its meaning.
Joseph had to organize the people for response to the famine. Immediately God’s people organized to respond to the physical needs of the people. The Egyptians built store-houses so that people could come to them to get what they needed to supply their needs when the famine began to spread. The Christians took an offering and determined to take what they had to the needy. They didn’t collect things for themselves but instead collected with the intent of taking it out to the places where the need was the greatest.
The sending here is important and each person was to send according to their ability. It’s an important concept, that we are each to share as much as we can with others who are in need. Interestingly the aid was sent by Barnabas and Saul. This engagement in relief to the needy became a part of Saul’s formation and discipleship. Participating in the helping of others is important to our own spiritual development. The people who received the aid were blessed, but so were those who participated in the collection and the sending.
Sending relief in times of need is a reflection of our spiritual condition. May God help us to have ears to hear the prophetic words with which he may be challenging us today.
Lord, please help me to be faithful to helping those who have need. Amen.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
Barnabas had obviously spent time with Paul and was convinced that he had experienced the saving work of Jesus Christ in his life. He was willing to disciple Paul and when seeing the potential in this man, brought him to the inner circle of leadership in Jerusalem. He made the necessary introductions and vouched for Paul. Later he traveled with Paul on his missionary journey until they had a dispute at which time they went their separate directions, but by then Paul was ready to be on his own and his missionary efforts changed the world.
Barnabas gives us a great picture of what it means to be engaged in intentional leadership development. Too often people feel threatened by developing leaders, fearing they will lose their own positions of power and authority and therefore refuse to give space or nurture those whom God is raising up. Barnabas didn’t react in that way, but instead saw something in Paul and was willing to nurture his giftings.
We learn from Barnabas that we should have our eyes open, looking for those whom God is raising up. Somewhere along the way he saw Paul and he did not ignore his presence. It can be easy to be so self-focused that we simply miss seeing what’s in front of our eyes. We should pray that God helps us to see the people he is sending our way, ones whom we are to disciple and in whom we should develop gifting.
After seeing Paul, Barnabas took the time to get to know him and to listen to his testimony. God had done a genuine work of transformation in the life of Paul. Unfortunately this is not always true in the life of an individual. There are those who may testify to a life-change because it is convenient but they have not allowed the Holy Spirit to cleanse them deep down in their depths! A genuine work of God must be seen in the life of an individual — something that could never have been done on their own. This is not about a human desire for leadership but about God’s calling and transformation in the life of an individual. We must pray for God’s discernment when working with people.
After hearing Paul’s testimony, Barnabas evaluated his giftings. Paul was a talented and gifted individual and Barnabas seemed to understand that these gifts needed to be directed into service for God. Some people have more talents than others and when it comes to intentional leadership development we must recognize that we may be the person with the keys to unleashing those talents for kingdom use or not. The reality is that a gifted person will use their gifts. If the church doesn’t give them a place to serve, those gifts will go elsewhere. We should never be jealous of the gifts of another person — God has given them those gifts for the sake of the kingdom. We should provide every opportunity for those gifts to shine through and give glory to God.
It’s easy to become comfortable with the same old players! Not only is it comfortable but it is powerful and retaining power within the same group of individuals then becomes reciprocal. Intentionally inviting someone into the inner circle and sharing power with them is a huge thing. Barnabas was willing to bring Paul into the inner circle because he was engaged in kingdom business, not in Barnabas business!
Barnabas did all that he could to help Paul flourish and eventually Paul’s leadership superseded that of Barnabas. Somehow I think that in the end, Barnabas was okay with that because he could look at what Paul had accomplished and know that he had a part in it all. This is what happens when we intentionally develop leaders that God has placed across our path. Our joy should not be in the things that we accomplish, but in the people that we develop and their accomplishments. We are to invest in people whom God is and will use mightily in kingdom work.
Lord, please help me to have the eyes to see those whom you are wanting to develop around me. Amen.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Acts 6:1 ¶ Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
Things were going well in the new church. People were coming to Christ on a daily basis and yet, this resulted in growing pains. While some were rejoicing at what was happening, others were complaining. The growth revealed a lack of organization and an inability to keep up with the ministries in an orderly fashion. People complained.
We get so excited when God works and people are becoming disciples and yet, soon there comes a moment when people start complaining. Honestly, the complaints can feel a little like being punched in the stomach. Why do people have to complain when God is moving? Maybe it’s just human nature, or maybe there’s a lesson for us to learn.
God moved and stretched the little band of disciples beyond their comfort zones and into realms they had never before imagined. The complaining of the people actually helped them to work on an action plan. No longer could they function in the way they had in the past. There had to be more organization to minister effectively.
The complaining made them seek guidance from the Lord. They’d never been in this situation before — having too many disciples! It was a good problem and yet it created new problems.
We must realize that when God moves there will be accompanying “problems.” There will be those who will complain about what is happening because they may feel short-changed in the process. These are opportunities to seek the Lord and make changes that will respond to the needs. This is how we grow to the next level — by having complaints! If there had been no growth, there would have been no complaining.
Rejoice in complaints and see them as opportunities to adjust and become better at ministry. This is what the disciples did in the early church and the ministry began to take form. We have a choice to make when it comes to our response. We may become defensive and frustrated, or we can work together with God to find solutions. The solutions of the disciples led to the structure of the early church with an ability to multiply ministry over and over again. The complaining was for their good and they learned and adjusted. Let’s find the solutions to the good problems God is providing today.
Lord, thank you for increase and complaints. Amen.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Mal. 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? ¶ For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;
Mal. 3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
A prophetic voice about the coming Messiah. The highway of holiness would be the new way ushered in by the coming Messiah and for those who would journey on the path he would provide for purification. The fire of the refiner is used to remove impurities. Fuller’s soap was used to clean and bleach new wool so that it could be made in to fresh garments. The priesthood of Levi would be made clean and pure so that they could serve in faithfulness and righteousness before God.
In the New Testament we are invited to the great wedding feast and are to wear our new garments. New garments are clean and fresh — made from bleached wool. The bleached wool is only possible because of the Fuller’s soap. This soap made with alkali was used in the Fuller’s field just outside of Jerusalem. The people all knew what Fuller’s soap was used for — it was the instrument which made the wool white and clean so that new garments could be sewn.
Jesus Christ is the instrument — he is the Fuller’s soap.
Clothing doesn’t just wash itself. Clothing cannot make itself clean. There must be something that works the process and this is the soap.
Yesterday I was shopping for laundry soap here in my neighborhood. I was shocked to discover that Tide Laundry Detergent is a hot commodity! At my local Walgreens they have had to put alarm devices on the laundry soap. At the check out I asked what the issue was with the soap. I was told that the management can’t put out more than three bottles of Tide at a time because it is almost always stolen.
I did a little “google” search to see if there is any news on the Tide “grime wave” and yes, there is. Evidently there is great prestige in using Tide laundry detergent (it’s why the other brands did not have alarms on them). Drug dealers are willing to take Tide in exchange for drugs. Why? Because it is so highly valued and they can sell it back to retailers at an enormous price. Therefore people steal Tide, trade it for drugs and the drug dealers sell it back to the stores.
Just as Tide is highly valued, Fuller’s soap was valued in Malachi’s day. This illustration helped people to understand the power of the coming Messiah. He would be the instrument of cleansing and purity — he would be the one who could set things right again.
150 ounces of Tide sells for nearly $20 today. It’s an amazing commodity!
Sadly Tide is purchasing all the wrong things — those which will only bring momentary satisfaction and ultimately destruction. What we need is the Fuller’s soap — the work of the Messiah in our lives to cleanse us and purify us from the ravages of sin.
Which would we prefer in our lives?
Fuller’s Soap — What Jesus has done for you and me — priceless!
Lord, may you do your work in me. Amen.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Neh. 13:4 ¶ Now before this, the priest Eliashib, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah,
Neh. 13:5 prepared for Tobiah a large room where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.
Neh. 13:6 While this was taking place I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king
Neh. 13:7 and returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.
Neh. 13:8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the room.
Neh. 13:9 Then I gave orders and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Neh. 13:10 ¶ I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who had conducted the service, had gone back to their fields.
Neh. 13:11 So I remonstrated with the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.
Neh. 13:12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.
The corruption found among the priesthood was a serious problem in Israel. Nehemiah had been working hard to rebuild Jerusalem but in his absence the priest Eliashib abused his situation and power. He misused God’s resources, using them for one of his relatives, Tobiah. Talk about corruption!
This, I’m sure created frustration among the people and we may assume that the people stopped tithing because of what they saw among the leadership and the misuse of funds at the temple. Unfortunately those hurt by this were the Levites — the faithful ministers who were simply trying to do their work on a regular basis. No longer was there enough money to support them and so they had to become bi-vocational. They had to go back to working in fields so that they could survive, for they and the house of God had been forsaken.
When things were set right within the temple the people responded and again brought their tithes and offerings into God’s house.
There seems to be a lot of finger point these days related to giving and finances in churches. People just don’t seem as committed to tithing as they had been in the past, or people want to give to specific causes. Is that really much different than what we read about in this passage today? People were directing their giving elsewhere because they could see that their offerings were going to support the lavish lifestyle of a family member who was living in God’s house! How long do you keep giving to something like that?
There is a misconception these days about the desire of young people to give to churches. Millennials are generous givers — if they believe that what they see is authentic. Could it be that the decrease in giving to churches is a failure in the authenticity of the priesthood? The sad part of this story is that it was the failure of Eliashib that affected the rest of the priests. The Levites were good ministers — the singers were good song leaders — but they were hurt by the failure of Elisahib.
Nehemiah stepped in to act and intercede on behalf of the priesthood. He removed Tobiah from God’s room in the house! He would not allow this corruption to continue and he acted to set things right again! The temple was cleansed and God’s room again became consecrated to him. A priority was made on supporting the Levites, so that they could give themselves wholeheartedly to the ministry of God. They were returned to their positions so that the house of God would not be forsaken. Everyone sacrificed to care for God first and when the people of Judah saw the authenticity of the priesthood the tithes began to flow, filling the storehouses.
When the community of faith suffers, the priesthood must examine themselves to see if there is any impurity. Yes, the standard is high for those in spiritual leadership — and it should be! It is a frightening place in which to find oneself and yet it must reveal a greater and deeper dependence upon God. If there is not an increased dependence upon God, even the priesthood will take matters into their own hands and misuse God’s resources, tempted by power and “success.” Convincing words will be spoken, justifying the actions and behaviors.
The challenge is for those of us serving in the priesthood. May God examine our hearts and motives and may we constantly keep our eyes fixed on him, exposing ourselves to his examining eyes. May our behaviors and responses reflect him on a daily basis and may the world experience the authenticity of meeting Jesus in an encounter with the priesthood.
For the laity — pray for the priesthood! If you are withholding your tithes and offerings in frustration, examine and ask whether that is really helping the house of God and the ministers? Is your minister bi-vocational because you are withholding your tithe? Could your response simply be making a difficult situation even worse?
The failure of the priesthood hurts so very many people but somewhere, someone, must be Nehemiah and say enough is enough. Let’s set things right, stop reacting and allow God to once again work in and through his house.
Lord, may those who are called into your service be strengthened by the power of your presence today and live out a life of authentic faith. Amen.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Psa. 1:1 ¶ Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
Psa. 1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
Psa. 1:3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Many people will want to give advice to us along this journey of life. They will try to encourage us to go in one way or another. The Psalmist has had this same experience and is keenly aware of the destructive nature of some advice that we receive. Instead we are happy and delighted in the law of the LORD. The law of the LORD may be contrary to the advice given to us by others and it may radically counter-cultural, but it is into this space of dwelling where we are invited.
What is delightful is meditating on the law of the LORD. Really soaking in the word of God and getting to know God through what has been passed down to us. This is not something that is supposed to happen on occasion, but we are to be intentional about meditating on the law on a daily basis. From the time we get up until the time we lay down again, we are to focus on him.
The laws of the LORD can carry us through the rough times in life because they are rooted in the foundation of God. That’s why they will provide for us at just the right time and with all that we need.
Probably the word “delight” hasn’t come to mind when we think about meditating on the law of the LORD. However, the more that we meditate on the law and we spend time with our LORD, the more that we discover the joy that comes from God. The law leads us directly to knowing the nature of God. In knowing the nature of God we are invited into participation with God and we are transformed in God’s very presence. This is delightful!
Experiencing God in this way is transformative to our lives. God invites us to be his children in a very intimate holy and loving relationship. This relationship is one in which we experience the deep and abiding love of God. That is delightful.
Soak in God’s law today, and in this way — soak in him.
Lord, your love and law is sustaining. Thank you! Amen.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Neh. 9:16 ¶ “But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments;
Neh. 9:17 they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.
Nehemiah is reviewing the journey of God’s people out of slavery as a reminder of the faithfulness of God. One phrase jumps out at me, “and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt.” He interpreted the actions of the people in the wilderness as a deliberate attempt to be sent back to Egypt. Their stubbornness and pride would not allow them to appreciate the new-found freedom they had in God. Instead they looked for ways to sabotage what God was doing for them. While God was leading them into something much better they could only think back to the past and the things they were missing. Oh, if only they could have the garlic and onions of Egypt! Really?! Yes, they were longing for the things from home and mourning the past, forgetting all that they had endured at the hands of the Egyptians.
Amazingly God was patient, continually reaching out to his people, waiting on them to respond to his graciousness and love. Stubborn pride would have had them back in Egypt. Holy love would not let them go.
When you think about this scenario you realize how crazy it really is! How in the world could these people have thought that it would be better to go back to the slavery of Egypt? Why would they intentionally make God angry? And yet, we see this repeated over and over again in the lives of people. God is constantly reaching out to all of us, wanting to draw us back into a relationship with him. At the same time we run around and do things the way that we want to do them, getting ourselves in trouble time and again. Stubborn pride gets in the way of a clear vision.
The pride of the Israelites clouded their vision and they wanted to believe that they knew better. So much so, that they wanted to prove that they were right. Stubborn pride meant going against the will of God, to try and prove that their way really was okay and that living in Egypt wasn’t all that bad.
Stubborn pride means I don’t listen to God’s leading in my life. I try to figure things out on my own and I don’t ask him for any help. Stubborn pride means that I find myself on a journey which is unsustainable. The Israelites eventually asked God for help — but only when they’d gotten themselves in BIG trouble. Stubborn pride leads us to destructive behaviors at which point we may be willing to ask God for help. It all sounds rather child-like, and stubborn pride does make us act like little children.
Nehemiah spoke these words as a reminder of how the people of God had behaved. Now they were being called to faithful obedience as he had once again led them out of slavery. If God’s people would be obedient and not sabotage the good works of the LORD, they would live within the walls of Jerusalem in peace. Stubborn pride had resulted in broken walls and lives. Now was the time to embrace the God of holy love who would not let his people go.
God sets us free when we simply let go and trust. Stubborn pride must vanish in the ever-loving patient arms of a holy God.
Lord, thank you for your on-going patience with your people. Amen.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Neh. 8:9 ¶ And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
Neh. 8:10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Neh. 8:11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”
Neh. 8:12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
The people were overwhelmed at the reading of the Law and they began to weep. They realized how unfaithful they had been but this was not to be a time for weeping. Instead they were to rejoice in the salvation which comes from God. God brings great joy and so they were to celebrate this, enjoying a feast with the very best of all that they had. They were to invite everyone within the walls to celebrate, sharing what they had so that no one would be left out. This was an invitation to enjoy the holiness of God and to focus on the positive, not the negative.
Rejoicing in the LORD would bring them strength. They had survived very difficult times and they had rebuilt the walls. Now was the time, not to weep or mourn for the past, but to rejoice in the present that God had provided for them. Mourning the past and weeping would drain all the life out of them and this was not what God wanted for his people. Celebrating God’s faithfulness would restore them and bring them joy and strength!
It’s not necessarily the amount of work that we have to complete in life that can make us tired and exhausted, but instead the way in which we do the work. When we are working from a sense of drudgery and frustration there will be no energy. Creativity disappears and there is constant weeping and mourning for what may have been.
We are invited into God’s holiness and his future in which we find his joy and strength. We may still have as much, or even more work to do but suddenly it becomes energizing and life-giving instead of draining. This is the place into which we are encouraged to live — in the Lord’s joy. There is no time to grieve what may have been because there is too much good stuff going on in the present! We are to continue to press on into the present and future which comes to us from God.
Celebrate the Lord today and share your celebration with all those around you. Live into the joy of the Lord and you will discover his strength. Then our tears will disappear and we will be renewed with energy and motivation that we believed had long ago departed and would never return.
Lord, may my heart stay focused on you and your joy. Amen.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Neh. 6:1 ¶ Now when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah and to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had built the wall and that there was no gap left in it (though up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates),
Neh. 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm.
Neh. 6:3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it to come down to you?”
Neh. 6:4 They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.
Neh. 6:5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand.
Neh. 6:6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem also says it—that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall; and according to this report you wish to become their king.
Neh. 6:7 You have also set up prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘There is a king in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these words. So come, therefore, and let us confer together.”
Neh. 6:8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your own mind”
Neh. 6:9 —for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
Nehemiah and his team of co-laborers were working diligently to rebuild the wall. It took everyone staying on task to get the job done. This, however, was of great consternation to the enemies who thought this plan of the Israelites was foolish. All of a sudden they began to see the project come together and they did not like it at all. Their plan was to distract Nehemiah and the others from their work. Their assumption was that if they could get them to stop, if the momentum would die down, then the project would stumble and never be completed.
They sent note after note, trying to distract Nehemiah from his work. They tried to feed on his ego — surely he would want to come and have a meeting with these leaders! Nope! He told them that what he was doing was a great work and he valued it above getting to hang out with people who thought highly of themselves. This, of course, irritated these foreign leaders and they sent more notes trying to distract him from the work in which he was engaged.
Finally they resorted to scare tactics, hoping that they could get the Israelites to stop. Instead, Nehemiah looked to the Lord and asked God to strengthen his hands — so that he could persevere and continue to do God’s work, ignoring the distractions.
Distractions are so very real. They come at us in all forms of things, but generally keep us from accomplishing the tasks which lie before us. Distractions can be good things and bad things, but the question is how we will deal with them.
There is a very practical question here for many of us probably have long to-do lists in life and it may be that a number of those items have never been completed because there have simply been too many distractions. Life comes along and it keeps us from doing the things that we thought we would get done.
Spiritually we have the same issue. We have good intentions about the priority of our spiritual lives but then there are distractions that come and derail us. Somehow there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do the things that we thought we would do for the Lord or with the Lord.
Nehemiah didn’t let anything distract him from what he saw as his primary responsibility. He refused to allow the temptations of the world to get him off task. He angered the leadership around him because he was so focused on what he believed God wanted him to do.
What would happen if I lived my Christian life like that? What if I refused to allow the distractions of this world to keep me from the task of knowing God? We were created to be in fellowship with God, to get to know him and be united with him. If we don’t make that the number one priority in our lives, it won’t happen! There will never be enough time, and there will never be enough resources. However, if we refuse to allow other things to become distractions, even the seemingly good intentions of leaders and family — then we can complete the task. We can continue on this journey and be united with Christ in ways we would never even have imagined.
Distractions will always come at us but to know Christ we must resist and persevere.
Lord, please help me to deal well with the distractions of this day. Amen.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Neh. 3:1 ¶ Then the high priest Eliashib set to work with his fellow priests and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set up its doors; they consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred and as far as the Tower of Hananel.
Neh. 3:2 And the men of Jericho built next to him. And next to them Zaccur son of Imri built.
Neh. 3:3 ¶ The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
Neh. 3:4 Next to them Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz made repairs. Next to them Meshullam son of Berechiah son of Meshezabel made repairs. Next to them Zadok son of Baana made repairs.
Neh. 3:5 Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.
Neh. 3:6 ¶ Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
Neh. 3:7 Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite—the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah—who were under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River.
Neh. 3:8 Next to them Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
Neh. 3:9 Next to them Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs.
Neh. 3:10 Next to them Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house; and next to him Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs.
Neh. 3:11 Malchijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens.
Neh. 3:12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
Neh. 3:13 ¶ Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate; they rebuilt it and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.
Neh. 3:14 ¶ Malchijah son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate; he rebuilt it and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
Neh. 3:15 ¶ And Shallum son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate; he rebuilt it and covered it and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars; and he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the City of David.
Neh. 3:16 After him Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired from a point opposite the graves of David, as far as the artificial pool and the house of the warriors.
Neh. 3:17 After him the Levites made repairs: Rehum son of Bani; next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, made repairs for his district.
Neh. 3:18 After him their kin made repairs: Binnui, son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah;
Neh. 3:19 next to him Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the Angle.
Neh. 3:20 After him Baruch son of Zabbai repaired another section from the Angle to the door of the house of the high priest Eliashib.
Neh. 3:21 After him Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz repaired another section from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib.
Neh. 3:22 After him the priests, the men of the surrounding area, made repairs.
Neh. 3:23 After them Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs opposite their house. After them Azariah son of Maaseiah son of Ananiah made repairs beside his own house.
Neh. 3:24 After him Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the Angle and to the corner.
Neh. 3:25 Palal son of Uzai repaired opposite the Angle and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah son of Parosh
Neh. 3:26 and the temple servants living on Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower.
Neh. 3:27 After him the Tekoites repaired another section opposite the great projecting tower as far as the wall of Ophel.
Neh. 3:28 ¶ Above the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each one opposite his own house.
Neh. 3:29 After them Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, made repairs.
Neh. 3:30 After him Hananiah son of Shelemiah and Hanun sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam son of Berechiah made repairs opposite his living quarters.
Neh. 3:31 After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper room of the corner.
Neh. 3:32 And between the upper room of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants made repairs.
This entire chapter is presented because it’s hard to just pick and choose any few verses for it is in its entirety that you begin to understand the way in which the community came together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The fact that time was taken to write the names down is significant — for this was a group effort. These people should not have been able to rebuild the walls as quickly or as well as they did. The local rulers mocked them as every person, every family began to work on their little segment of the wall. They didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t have a lot of resources. They were scared. They weren’t safe…and yet, every one built and repaired. As they became co-laborers God did something miraculous in and among them and the impossible became possible!
I think of all the impossibilities that we face and they always seem more ominous when we try to tackle them alone. Looking over the rubble of Jerusalem must have been terribly discouraging. Wondering how this little band of returned exiles could solve the problems must have been equally discouraging.
Christianity is facing some difficult days and there are those who have predicted the demise of Christianity as it has been known. At the same time there are opportunities for us to respond, just as the Israelites. What we are facing is not something that can be managed on its own, or on our own. Instead, this is a time when we ought to join together, as co-laborers within the work of the kingdom. When everyone picks up his/her part and participates in kingdom work, the result is astounding.
I’m challenged today to imagine what a partnership between God’s people might be able to accomplish. May God help us to lay down our pride and pick up the tools which are necessary for us to work on that which is in front of us, and to be co-laborers together in the task with our sisters and brothers. The kingdom work completed by loving, committed co-laborers will bring about the impossible.
Lord, please unite us in service to you. Amen.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Psa. 133:1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
Psa. 133:2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
Psa. 133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
David knew what it was like for God’s people to be at odds with one another. He had spent much of his life running from Saul, and this had caused great pain, to the very depths of his soul. He and Jonathan, Saul’s son, were best friends and yet their relationship was strained as they were pitted against one another because of Saul’s paranoia. David’s desire was for peace in personal relationships and this became his prayer.
The holy anointing oil of the priests was considered exceedingly precious in Israel. This oil was mixed with spices and was pleasant to the senses. The peace of living in unity would provide for more comfort and pleasantry than this ointment. David’s prayer for unity was a foreshadowing of the bond to be found among Christ’s followers in the New Testament Church. The world was to look upon his followers and know them by their love!
I wonder how often we think about this need for unity within the body of Christ? We are a motley group of independent thinkers and people who have our own thoughts about how to live life. We bring those thoughts with us into the family of God. Often this is seen within the local church as individuals struggle over decisions such as worship style, worship hour, children’s ministries, outreach ministries and even the ways in which the building will be decorated. On a larger scale this happens when churches act in a sectarian manner, believing that they can be self-reliant and not needing to cooperate with the greater Church. I believe that all of these are tools of the enemy because strength comes from unity and when we can be divided, we will be a powerless people.
To live in unity requires intentionality. We all know that relationships require effort. A great marriage doesn’t just happen by accident. It happens because two individuals are willing to work at the relationship, giving and taking for the sake of unity. The same must be true in the body of Christ — there must be give and take. Whenever we demand our own way there will not be unity.
Unity can only come from diversity. Homogeneity is not the same as unity. When everything looks and seems the same, then things are homogenous. Unity only occurs when there is diversity because by its very nature, unity is bringing together things that are different in a beautiful and pleasant relationship. It is the result of the give and take which is necessary to build relationships.
We serve a relational God, one in which unity is found in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are invited into this relationship and if we are to be united with God, we must also be united with our fellow-human. We cannot expect to grow and develop in our relationship with God, if we cannot be intentional about the development of relationships within and among others.
The body of Christ must take every opportunity to be unified and the result will be a pleasant aroma for all the world to experience.
Lord, please help to unify us with you and the world. Amen.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Luke 21:37 ¶ Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called.
Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
This was Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem and in these couple of sentences we see his personal routine. He spent his days preaching and teaching in the temple. At night he would go back over to the Mount of Olives and rest and pray. Then, early the next morning he would make his way to the temple again, ready to teach the people. His morning lectures were a draw to those in the city who would get up early and come “to listen to him in the temple.”
Evidently it was unusual for the people to get up early to hear someone preach in the temple. Jesus wasn’t just a charismatic speaker, he was bringing them good, solid food which would be transformational in their lives. His preaching here in the temple is also referred to as lecturing. He was the teacher and the people were the students. They were coming to learn from the Master and his teaching was so compelling that they were willing to get up early in the morning and spend time just sitting at his feet so that they could soak in what he had to say.
How deep is our preaching/teaching these days? I’m afraid that too often peoples’ ears are being tickled by what they hear. We want the best show in town on Sunday mornings and we want to enjoy “our” worship experience. At the same time I believe there is a sincere and deep hunger for the “meatier” things of God. Over and over again I run into lay persons who are tired of the “fluff” of Christianity and would like to be taken deeper into the word of God.
To be a really good preacher means that you have to spend time in study. You cannot re-preach other peoples’ sermons that are pulled down off the internet! To really preach means that it has to come from a place in your own spiritual life where God is leading and directing and so there is great responsibility on the part of the preacher to spend the necessary time in preparation to be able to teach his/her people.
There is a draw to good preaching but there are also consequences. Preaching and teaching the truth will not always make people happy. While they got up early to hear Jesus preach this whole week — they eventually crucified him. If we are preachers, we must teach and preach the Truth. If we are lay persons learning, then may we learn and listen with the expectation that not everything we hear will be pleasing to our ears, but may God help us to go deeper with him as a result of what he is speaking to us.
Lord, please help our ministers to lead us deeper into your Truths through the honest preaching of your word! Amen.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Ezra 8:15 ¶ I gathered them by the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the descendants of Levi.
Ezra 8:16 Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, who were leaders, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were wise,
Ezra 8:17 and sent them to Iddo, the leader at the place called Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his colleagues the temple servants at Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God.
Ezra 8:18 Since the gracious hand of our God was upon us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the descendants of Mahli son of Levi son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and kin, eighteen;
Ezra 8:19 also Hashabiah and with him Jeshaiah of the descendants of Merari, with his kin and their sons, twenty;
Ezra 8:20 besides two hundred twenty of the temple servants, whom David and his officials had set apart to attend the Levites. These were all mentioned by name.
Israelites were returning to Jerusalem from exile and Ezra was leading the way. As they journeyed he was making preparations for life in Jerusalem and he discovered that there were no priests with him. The worship of God was to be at the center of their lives in Jerusalem. It’s interesting that they didn’t notice until they were on their way that they had no priests with them. This makes it highly unlikely that they were taking time to worship God on their journey, but were simply thinking of everything that would need to be reestablished in Jerusalem upon their return. The people suddenly realized that having ministers would be important. They sent for ministers to come from what is thought to be the region of the Caspian Sea. They waited to continue their journey until twenty-eight ministers had arrived. Once they had their ministers, they felt that they could move forward in the direction of Jerusalem.
I find it fascinating that it took them some time to figure out that they had no ministers with them. This must speak of the spiritual state of the people of God. While they had been in exile they were extremely discouraged. They had hung up their harps! Could it be that in their discouragement they chose to pout and not worship God. Did they somehow think that worship of God could only happen in Jerusalem? We know of those who knew better, including Daniel and his three companions. At the same time it could be that the majority of the people simply weren’t sure what to do about practicing their faith. They had been so tied to the physical temple in Jerusalem. Or could it be that they felt that worship was only possible in the physical temple of Jerusalem? Without the temple there could be no worship? Whatever the reason, they were returning from exile and made it all the way to the river Ahava before they figured out they had no ministers with them.
Life sometimes takes us into our own personal exile. We find ourselves in places of discouragement and we don’t want to take our ministers with us. We don’t want to be reminded about God, we would rather pout! And then God’s sweet voice begins to call us back and we begin the journey home toward him. In our disappointment and frustration we have been unkind to the ministers of God. We have left them out of the equation and at times, we have taken them for granted. They have been pushed to the very margins of our lives and we sometimes wonder if they are useful! But suddenly we come to the river of our life. We need to cross over and we want to find peace with God and our ministers are missing. We thought that we could manage on our own.
This isn’t just true on a personal level, but I’m afraid this could be true on a corporate level. We have chosen to so embrace the idea of the “Priesthood of all Believers” that there have been moments when we have written off the need for those who are serving in vocational ministry. We can manage the church without the ministers! We can handle this on our own! But then we come to the rivers of our lives and we want to cross over. We want there to be some normalcy in the craziness of our lives and we want to go back to worshipping God. We have taken those who minister for granted and there are none to be found — we simply forgot about them. We find ourselves in the place of Ezra who must become intentional about finding ministers. He has to search and eventually is able to come up with a handful.
If we do not value those who have been called to vocational ministry they will be hard to find when we need them! We must intentionally invest in ministers for the future of the church or we will find ourselves going great distances to find them when we are in distress. May we value the ministers that we have, being careful with them and giving them space to be a valuable part of our daily lives. And may we intentionally invest in the ministers of the future so that when the time comes we don’t have to look far and wide for them.
Pray that God will send us ministers!
Lord, thank you for the ministers we have and may we care for them and worship with them. Amen.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Esth. 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”
The Jewish people were being threatened by Haman and his attempt to purge them from the country. Queen Esther was willing to stand up for her people so that they might be saved. She saw the injustice of Haman’s actions and believed that something had to be done to save her people. She called for a fast and although the language is not there, you would hear in her words a desire for prayer and fasting, lifting up the situation for God and his intercession.
At the same time Esther knew that action was required on her part and she would have to try to have an audience with the king. She knew the consequences of stepping into the king’s presence. Esther was, after all, the replacement of a Queen who had embarrassed the king. But she knew trying to save her people was the right thing to do. Knowing that the right thing could result in losing everything that she had, she put it all on the line, fasted and prayed and then stepped out to make a difference.
Esther could have easily played it safe in life. She had everything provided for her and seemed to have the approval of the King. Why stick her neck out for other people? Because it was the right thing to do!
We may not find ourselves in a palace like Esther, but we may find ourselves in a similar circumstance. Speaking up against injustices is not an easy thing to do because it makes those who have power uncomfortable. Esther was not just pointing out something that was wrong, she was suggesting that something would need to be done about it, threatening Haman’s place and position in the kingdom. If Esther had not spoken up probably nothing would have happened to her, but all of the Jews may have perished. She was willing to give up her life for others.
Throughout history there have been far too many times when the Church has kept silent in the wake of evil. We have refused to speak up and do the right thing because we wanted to play it safe. Jesus never played it safe. He spoke the Truth and there were plenty of times that it infuriated those listening, for his words were very convicting. We must be transparent before the Lord and allow him to look into every crevice of our being, cleaning us up on a daily basis so that we can shine with the reflection of Christ. What would Christ do in the face of injustice? He is the great Shepherd, the one who has already laid down his life for the flock. We are to go and do likewise. It’s never about playing it safe and saving our ourselves.
When we are passionately in love with God we love our world and we cannot love our world without responding as Christ did. In the face of injustice, we must do the right thing. This is the response of the sanctified One living and working through you and me. And if we perish, we perish!
Lord, please help me daily to do the right thing as you lead. Amen.
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Luke 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife.
Luke 17:33 Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.
In just a short and simple little verse we are reminded to remember Lot’s wife. She was offered freedom and yet she was reluctant. We remember that she looked back and could it be that she remembered what it was that she had left behind. I’m wondering if it was more than just a simple look back, but was it actually a turning and running back to the city because she felt that what she had left behind was more important than where she was going? Placed within the context of this Scripture it appears that she may have been wanting to get something she had left behind that would help to make her feel more secure about her life. Her dependency was not on the Lord, but on the things that she had accumulated in the world. She turned back because of what she had left behind and lost her life, becoming a monument as a reminder that we are not to go back. Leave the things of the past behind, never turn back and keep our eyes fixed on the One who is leading us away to safety and new life.
I venture that too often we get hung up on worrying that we may be left behind and we don’t realize that we may be drawn to the things of this world that we are to leave behind. This was exactly Lot’s wife’s problem. We are to leave behind us the old life and the things that the world had to offer. For the Israelites it meant leaving Jerusalem behind and moving on in a spiritual life that would change them in new and radical ways. We are challenged to grow spiritually in ways in which we may have never imagined but the only way in which this is possible to is to leave behind the past, never looking back and never hesitating, thinking that you still needed that old stuff.
We want to live into the future that the Lord has for us. The reality is that future may look radically different from the past but we cannot worry about the things we have left behind. Let them be! Looking to the past and clinging to the things we are asked to leave behind will only lead us to death. Let go, never looking back to what was left behind but focusing on all the graciousness of our loving God — in this there is life both for today and all of eternity.
Lord, thank you for your glorious peace and direction. Amen.
Friday, October 3, 2014
Luke 16:10 ¶ “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
Luke 16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
Luke 16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
Luke 16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This passage comes on the heels of the story of the dishonest manager who cuts the debts of all his master’s debtors. He is described as being dishonest and yet shrewd. This negative example is used to set up this section. The Pharisees were lovers of money and on a spiritual level, Jesus did not view them as good stewards of the Master’s kingdom. So, while they thought highly of themselves, Jesus was bringing them another paradigm. Even the dishonest steward was showing more resourcefulness than those who called themselves religious. Notice he said, “if you have been unfaithful with dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
There was an expectation that followers of Jesus Christ were to be good managers or stewards of the things of the kingdom. They were to learn to be good managers of every resource and unless they managed the small items well, they would not be given more to manage. The love had to be for the master and not for the wealth of the world. The Pharisees had fallen in love with the things of the world. They no longer managed God’s resources.
This week Dr. Roger Hahn preached a beautiful message on management. A message that challenges us as God’s followers to understand that we are simply managers, not of our human and/or physical resources, but of all that we find in the kingdom. We are to be faithful with what God has provided. Practically speaking, followers of Christ are to be good stewards of resources in their own personal lives. This takes education and discipline.
Far too often a minister is known as one who does not know how to manage his/her own financial resources. This can make it extremely difficult to be a manager of God’s resources. Too many Christians are living far beyond their means as living examples of ones who do not know how to manage resources. We need to draw back and manage our own personal resources, living with what we have and not swim in consumer debt.
John Wesley, in his sermon, The Use of Money, famously preached “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” This is a word on stewardship and management. It’s a fallacy to believe that you can somehow dissect a spiritual life from our physical lives. How we live our lives on a daily basis is a reflection of our relationship with the Master. How we manage the little that we have on this earth is a reflection of how we will manage the much of the kingdom.
May God help us to be faithful managers of God’s kingdom resources.
Lord, give me wisdom today and everyday to be faithful with all that you have placed in our hands. Amen.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Zech. 10:1 ¶ Ask rain from the LORD
in the season of the spring rain,
from the LORD who makes the storm clouds,
who gives showers of rain to you,
the vegetation in the field to everyone.
The people were instructed to ask God to pour out his rain upon the land, just when it was needed. Spring rain was significant in that it helped to ripen the crop just before it was to be harvested. This rainfall would determine the quality of the harvest for the people of God. Metaphorically it also speaks of the end times when we are to also pray for rain for God’s harvest. It is the Lord who pours our his grace to grow the vegetation. We are to pray for the rain. God brings the rain and through his action we are blessed with the harvest.
I must confess that I stopped at this Scripture today because I had been eye-balling the weather forecast. I was kind-of joking with the Lord about the fact that we don’t need anymore rain in Kansas City today, but it looks like it will be another thunderstorm filled adventure. But God’s rain is something different. We pray for his rain to fall upon us and those around us. We are to pray for God’s grace to be abundant in the lives of those whom we encounter. We are to be a people of prayer, seeking the face of God in all that we do and praying for his rain to come at just the right time!
Today the thunderstorms are a reminder to me of God’s presence in the rain. He has poured out his grace in abundance — may we play in the rain, jumping and splashing in the puddles of his grace.
Lord, thank you for your rainfall. May we be faithful with what you provide. Amen.