Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ashamed?



Scripture:

Rom. 1:16   For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Observation:

Paul is telling the great Romans that he is not ashamed of the gospel — the good news about Jesus Christ. Chryostom tells us this about the Romans:

“The Romans were most anxious about the things of the world, because of their riches, their empire, their victories, and they thought that their emperors were equal to the gods. . . . While they were so puffed up, Paul was going to preach Jesus, the carpenter’s son who was brought up in Judea, in the house of a lower-class woman, who had no bodyguards, who was not surrounded by wealth, but who died as a criminal among thieves and endured many other inglorious afflictions. Since it was likely that the Romans were pretending that they did not know any of these unspeakable things, Paul understates that he is not ashamed, in order to teach them not to be ashamed of Christ either.” (Homilies on Romans 2)

This statement then is a powerful condemnation of the Romans who may be ashamed of the gospel because it doesn’t fit their worldview of a religion. Rome was filled with places of worship for the different gods and goddesses and yet, here was the son of God who had been poor and there were no beautiful public places in which to worship him. This gospel was one to be received by faith and it was available for all of humanity. It broke the bounds of everything that they knew in the world and in a humble way reached out to each of them. If they were going to embrace the gospel, they too would have to not be ashamed.

Application:

Christianity, I believe, has been working for a long time to be “respectable” in the eyes of the world. Even particular denominations and churches don’t like being considered odd or different from the world’s perspective and so work to become “normalized” within society. We join certain associations or groups so that we can be more acceptable. We move away from some of the more radical stances we may have had early on so that people don’t think that we are that odd and yet, along the way, in that move to not being ashamed of the gospel what we have embraced may be diametrically opposed to the gospel!

What have we done to not be ashamed of our gospel? Could it be that we have taken upon ourselves the trappings of the Roman religion — the large edifices, the ornate worship, the wealth, the upper class — so that we would not be ashamed? At the same time, to not be ashamed, we may have been infiltrated with the world’s thinking. We don’t want to be different from the world around us, and we don’t want people to think that we are odd so we must adapt Christianity to fit the way in which the world has progressed in their thinking! Somehow I don’t think this would have excited Paul very much. He was the oddball, the one who embraced the simple poor Messiah from the little town of Nazareth. And he was not ashamed of this faith.

Paul was chiding the Romans over their embarrassment of Jesus and so we too are also chided by this scripture. If we were honest we might discover that we, too, may act embarrassed about our Messiah. Paul’s challenge is for us to embrace this humble and simple Messiah who ushered in the new kingdom and to participate with him in this kingdom.

Today we begin the Advent season, an ushering in and anticipation of a new kingdom. Let us celebrate and embrace, and never be ashamed of our Savior!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your coming and may I proudly embrace who you are the kingdom you represent. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks!



Scripture:

1 Thess. 5:16 Rejoice always,  17 pray without ceasing,  18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Observation:

As Paul closes out his letter to the Thessalonians he has these staccato words of advice. It is a formula for practicing godly behavior and in this we find a balance, or constancy. There is something about a follower of Christ looking for the best in what they see around them.This is an optimism that should help us to live a life of rejoicing. Optimism is contagious and when we are abiding in the presence of the Lord we are overwhelmed by the immense possibilities that we can experience in him.

This abiding which brings rejoicing is experienced in prayer. Prayer without ceasing is really an attitude of abiding in the presence of the Lord, both when we are still and when we are engaged in his mission. This makes us grateful for the opportunities which arise. John Wesley said it this way, “Pray without ceasing — which is the fruit of always rejoicing in the Lord. In everything give thanks — Which is the fruit of both the former.” There is a connection between the three and they all reflect the state of our spiritual life.

Application:

Trying to find a simple formula for the Christian life is probably not a good idea. We get too caught up in following the formula that we can miss the point. However, there are markers along the way that can help to keep us on the right path. There are disciplines in life that can help us on this journey. They include the practice of rejoicing. No, not everything in life is going to be praiseworthy —  but there is a discipline of looking for the good. It’s far too easy in life to be brought down by negative thinking — or by always looking for the weaknesses of others. This is not helpful. Instead, we are to rejoice always — keeping a spirit of optimism alive.  This helps to charge our batteries on a daily basis. It’s why we can get out of bed looking forward to tackling another day.

Praying without ceasing — now that’s always got to be a good idea. Learning to abide in the sweet presence of our Lord day in and day out is a spiritual discipline. It’s an easy-going conversation with him when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed at night and at all the events in-between.

Finally, we must live with a heart full of gratitude for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Sometimes the circumstances may not make sense to us, but this is where we must simply trust in the Lord.

No, not a cliche formula, but a way in which we can practice our spiritual life on a daily basis. Will we always succeed? No, probably not, but rejoice, pray and give thanks are good things to practice!

Prayer:

Lord, may I abide in you and your presence today, living into the formula you have provided. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Unrestrained Madness of Love



Scripture:

1Th. 3:11   Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Observation:

Paul’s intimate prayer for the Thessalonians gives us a glimpse into the heart of this leader. Prayer is a regular part of his life, so much so that it becomes a part of his letter writing. It seems to simply flow from who he is!

The prayer provides us with insight into what he sees as the priority for the lives of Christ followers. Knowing the love of Christ is foremost. It is in the intimacy of the relationship with Christ that we become partakers of that divine nature — holy love. This holy love is to so fill our very being that it overflows — and “abounds.” Paul’s love for his disciples was overflowing to the point that he was willing to suffer persecution on their behalf. Loving God, and loving others — should be the marker of their lives. Chrysostom calls it the “unrestrained madness of love.”

This love is connected to holiness because it is the holy love of God, of which we partake, that overwhelms our being so that we may be strengthened in holiness. This is not an outward form of holiness but it is a holiness that springs from the interior of our very being because of the holy love of God which fills us. This holiness is not optional for Christ-followers, but is God’s intent — for us to be his holy people. It is God's holy people who will be able to stand before him, blameless when he comes again with all of his holy people.

Application:

Over and over again we are reminded that it is God’s holy love which sanctifies us as his holy people. It is not something that happens from the outside - in. We cannot make ourselves holy by our own actions or behaviors for we are powerless to do so. To try and do so only leads to frustration because this happens without power. Yes, I can try to avoid those behaviors, or try to live my life differently, but without the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside of me this will all become a futile attempt.

I’m afraid that far too often there are individuals who encounter Christianity and are excited about what it means to be plugged into a personal relationship with Christ but the Christian community, instead of taking time to disciple individuals, helping them to know the incredibly powerful support which comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit, tries to push them into a particular mold. John Wesley took great amounts of time to disciple the new converts to Methodism. They met on a regular basis for accountability and intense amounts of time were spent in prayer and study. It was during these times that people would wrestle with what the Lord was doing in their lives — from the inside out. It was during these times that the Lord was forming them and shaping them into his holy people. They took the world by storm because they abounded in love and England in the 18th century was transformed.

Knowing Christ and his holy love is the call of every believer. This unrestrained madness of love is world changing. May Paul’s prayer be our prayer today, both for ourselves and for those who are growing in Christ around us.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to know you and the depths of your love today. May your love abound in your followers. Amen.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Ultimate Thanksgiving



Scripture:

Matthew 27:50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.  51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Observation:

This is the moment of Christ’s death on the cross and it is in this moment that everything is changed. The power of sin and death is destroyed and Jesus is the one who conquers in this earth-shattering event. The corruption caused by sin is healed and the Holy of Holies in the temple is opened providing the pathway for us to become God’s holy people.

Application:

Today people will gather around tables together as families and express things for which they are grateful. There are many people and things for which we can be extremely grateful but at the end of the day nothing can match what it is that Christ has done for us.

I don’t think that we can ever fully appreciate what it cost Christ for all of us. His love spills out over the cross and across the hills and valleys of time to reach us today as we gather around our tables.  May our hearts be filled with gratitude and may we not take for granted what should be our ultimate thanksgiving — what Christ has made possible through his life and death!

Prayer:


Lord, today we are thankful for all that you have made possible for us. Thank you will never be enough! Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Main Dish or Just the Seasonings?



Scripture:


Matt. 23:23   “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.  24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Observation:

The Pharisees and scribes were focused on the smallest, legalistic details of life. They wanted to make sure that people would know how to properly tithe on the herbs that grew in their gardens. The time and energy involved in tithing on seasonings could be exhausting. The result was such a focus on the seasonings that the main dish was altogether ignored. The kingdom was about justice, mercy and faith — this was the substantive food!

Hilary of Poitiers reminds us, “God laughs at the superficial diligence of those who measure cucumbers. God laughs at our attempts to swallow camels, as if the sins of avoidance were less serious than the sins of consumption.”

Application:


Tomorrow will be Thanksgiving Day in the United States and many families will celebrate by cooking a turkey with all kinds of side dishes. But what would happen if we simply showed up with all the seasonings for the dinner? Yes, I’ll bring the salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme! Maybe someone else could bring the cinnamon and nutmeg. What a boring dinner that would be! And yet that’s what the religious life of the scribes and Pharisees looked like!

Let’s be honest that we might find ourselves in the very same place. The meat of the spiritual life is to focus on justice, mercy and faith. Christians are to seek justice in this world, a justice that looks at the big picture — the turkey — and not just on the salt and pepper! The Pharisees were so proud of observing the very letter of the law, and sometimes we are as well! But what is the big picture — what is the main dish? Justice challenges us to have missionary eyes which will explore the context and greater influences which create a particular environment and whether there are ways in which Christians should intervene. It helps us then to focus on the issue of mercy or compassion which is borne out of our faith. It is then a faith which is brought to those around us who suffer from injustice so that they, too, may experience the mercy of God.

As we contemplate this season of Thanksgiving, may we not just show up with the seasonings but focus on the main dish! May we seek his face, wisdom and guidance as we desire to walk as servants in his kingdom.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to keep my focus on the big picture as you lead.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Opportunity and Perseverance



Scripture:

Matt. 20:29   As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.  30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!”  32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?”  33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”  34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Observation:

Jesus was going to pass by and the blind men who were sitting on the side of the road realized that they had an opportunity. They had heard about this man Jesus and that he was a miracle worker. This was it - the opportunity for their lives to be significantly changed.

Their social status would have encouraged them to stay in the background — remaining quiet! And yet they recognized that this moment might never come again and so they persevered. They began to shout “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

The crowd’s response reflects the way they felt about these two individuals. They told them to be quiet! They were not worth it — they were simply poor, blind beggars! Unworthy to ask this man for anything.

They would not give up. They refused to listen to what people said to them — and in essence, about them. They shouted even louder.

Jesus stopped. The opportunity now stood right in front of them and with boldness they declared that they wanted to see. Jesus was moved and they were healed. Their perseverance had been well worth it!

Application:
There are moments of opportunity within our own lives — moments when Jesus comes our way. I’m afraid that we take it for granted that he will pass this way again another day. That the still small voice that may be encouraging us to respond to the Lord, or to something he’s challenging us to do — that this voice will come again another time. There are moments of opportunity — ones which will never pass again and had the blind men let the moment pass, they would have remained blind.

Some of us, by refusing to respond when Jesus passes by are missing the opportunities which he has placed before us.

At the same time, we may need to persevere in our faith. The blind men would not let anything discourage them. Too often we allow the negative voices around us to discourage us from what we ought to be doing, or how we should be responding. They aren’t worth it! Persevere, step forward in faith — and allow the Lord to do his work in you.

Prayer:

Lord, may I walk forward, persevering with faith in you.  Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words



Scripture:


Matt. 18:1 ¶ At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Matt. 18:2 He called a child, whom he put among them,
Matt. 18:3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Observation:

The idea of greatness and power was consuming the disciples as well as those surrounding Jesus. Their image of power and leadership came from the world and they were trying to imagine what this new kingdom was going to look like. It just didn’t make sense to them.

Jesus decided to show them what the kingdom was going to be like and the picture was a bit stunning. Instead of someone like Caesar with all of his power, wealth and might Jesus, called a child over and had this child stand in the midst of them. One can imagine what this child may have looked like. The child may have been dirty and sweaty from running around and playing and was certainly not dressed in any kind of finery. Just an ordinary child — and this was Jesus’ picture.

Application:
That picture was worth a thousand words because as much as Jesus could have preached about the kingdom his followers kept trying to figure that out in their minds. But here, before them stood a simple youngster, and people knew what they were like. This was the picture that the people were to understand — that this is what it’s supposed to be like in the kingdom. God’s children, all of them as humble loving children, enjoying the love and fellowship of the Father, humbly serving in the kingdom.

This was also a picture of himself. The people may not have understood it in this way, but he had come as a child to bring about the redemption of humanity. He had humbled himself and as his life was preparing the way for his followers, so was his humble childhood.

The call is now for us to be a reflection of him and if he came in the form of a humble child, then our reflection is of a humble child in the kingdom.

And all around us we see the children, and they are a reflection of Christ. If we are to welcome Christ into our lives, we must welcome the children, for in their midst, he is there. The needy, hungry, and stranded children of this world. This is where we find Jesus and this becomes, for us, the picture that should move us. We try too hard to figure it all out. Jesus made it simple. He brought the child and they saw what he meant. It’s time to open our eyes and see the children for they are the picture which leads us to Jesus.

Prayer:


Lord, open my eyes today to see with your eyes, the children and you.  Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Open Mouth, Insert Foot!



Scripture:


Matt. 14:5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Matt. 14:6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod
Matt. 14:7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.
Matt. 14:8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
Matt. 14:9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given;
Matt. 14:10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.

Observation:

Just because someone has a position of leadership doesn’t mean that they don’t do stupid things. Now, there could probably be a litany of stupid things that were done by Herod, but this was one of those where he opened his mouth and spoke without thinking what he was saying. The problem was that he publicly offered to grant the daughter of Herodias whatever she asked. I’m not sure that promising a teenager (and I’m not sure she was a teenager, but let’s just go there) anything she wants in front of a crowd of people is ever a smart idea. His reaction to her dancing reveals that he’s not thinking very clearly and is a bit overwhelmed by the moment. In that moment he makes a rash promise and now he is stuck.

His ego wouldn’t allow him to go back on this public promise, although it seemed unwise to him. Rather than face the humiliation of doing the right thing, he moves forward and has John killed. Notice that the scripture says that he is grieved! In his heart he knows what the right thing is to do and yet, he will not do it! He had opened his mouth and now had to live with the consequences.

Application:

Where can we find ourselves in this story? Sadly, probably right there with Herod.

Moved in the moment. There are times that we can be moved by the experience of a moment and we simply fail to think. Emotions are a very powerful thing and can overwhelm our common sense! One slip in an emotional moment and we can make a decision that will ruin our lives.

Declaring a rash promise. Obviously Herod did not think about the consequences of his promise and from a leadership perspective, his promise made no sense. I’m wondering whether his advisers sitting around him cringed when he spoke the words out loud. They were the level headed ones who probably recognized the consequences immediately. This was not going to end well!

Following through when you know it’s the wrong thing. I think of young people who tell me that they have allowed a relationship to develop and go on, even when they knew it was wrong. Eventually they get to a point where they have no idea how to get out of it and so they marry someone they know they should never have married. It’s not just in the area of relationships, but when it comes to experimenting with the world. Is it wrong for me to try those drugs, or gamble away our savings, or ??? That gentle nudge says it’s wrong, and yet we go ahead anyway, too embarrassed to say no.

Herod is a good example for us — of how not to do things. He becomes a giant reminder of the ways in which we can head down the wrong path. May God help us to avoid opening our mouth, and inserting our foot!

Prayer:

Lord, please be my guide and give me wisdom to know when to keep my mouth shut.  Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

We Really Do Need Each Other



Scripture:

Matt. 13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Observation:

Jesus was explaining the importance and value of the past when it is connected to the present and future. The things that the Scribes had learned in the past were valuable if they were placed within the context of what they were currently learning about the kingdom. There could never be a time when they would close the books and say -- that is all there is to learn!

There is an appreciation of the things of the past which brings us to a greater understanding of the present. Both are important, and without both lack the richness of the kingdom of God.

Application:

A week ago I had the privilege of eating dinner with Reuben Welch, author of the book, “We Really Do Need Each Other.” He just recently celebrated his 90th birthday and I was reminding him of the influence that he had on so many of us young people — many years ago at Estes Park in Colorado for a Youth Conference. His book and messages spoke to us about this need for one another.

We need those who have gone before us, for they are treasures in the kingdom. Jesus said that the master of the household would bring out the treasure, old and new. There is beauty in a kingdom which is balanced with old and new. There are things that we learn from tradition — and there are things that we learn from the people of tradition. Sitting at a table and listening to Reuben Welch was a blessing for me. He has experienced so much of life and is connected to people and events that I will never be personally, and yet, he is able to make that connection for me. It was a priceless conversation — the old, and the not so new — spending time talking together.

We really do need each other — for it is in this need for each other that we find the beauty of the kingdom. Too often we are encouraged to seek to minister to that one demographic! That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said to bring out “what is new and what is old.” This was the kingdom.

We are challenged today to serve in the kingdom in a way which reveals the beautiful gems which have been placed into our hands. The old and the new, glistening and gleaming off of one another, producing a most beautiful experience for the world around us. Jesus was warning the Scribes because they didn’t see the value in both. They hung onto the old. What about us? Do we see the value — or are we hanging on, either to the old, or to the new. Jesus had it right — we really do need each other.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the blessing of old and new.  Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

On Grief and A Flute Player



Scripture:

Matt. 9:23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,
Matt. 9:24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
Matt. 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
Matt. 9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Observation:

This is a simple story which we have heard or read numerous times. Jesus heals the little girl and the people rejoice.

But at the moment in which he arrives at the home he encounters the professional mourners. These are the flute players, the ones who have come to make a great noise about the child’s death. It is the flute player that testifies to the fact that she is truly dead. Also, flutes were generally employed when it came to the death of a child. The whole community would therefore understand that it is a child who has died in this home.

The flute player is doing the job they have been paid to do! They are loud and pronouncing a very public grief, in essence, standing in the place of the family who may not be able to express their personal pain. The loud and energetic mourning on display by the professional mourners is probably not a pain that is very deeply felt.  The flute player was accustomed to grieving loud and long, as one one who had no hope (but certainly was being paid). It’s important to remember that the loudest grief is not always the deepest. A shallow river produces much more sound than one which runs deep.

The flute player played the role of assisting the family and community in their grieving but with the arrival of the Messiah, all of that changed.

Application:

The role of the flute player stopped me a bit in my tracks for I was a flute player when I was in school. I enjoyed playing in the band, playing my flute, and hanging out with my friends. We were not called upon to be mourners, but instead had the joy of playing the fun high notes that brought a bit of a twist to the music. Sometimes we played high above the melody in notes which filled the spectrum of the music with joy and anticipation. This was fun!

But being a flute player in Jesus’ day — in this role — was not fun. And somehow I think that we might be able to find ourselves in the place of the flute player that day. We continue to live in a world that is punctuated by pain and often we don’t know what we are to do about it. We respond in the way in which we feel comfortable and somehow we pull out our metaphorical flute and begin to make noise.

Someone is hurt and not knowing how to respond we grab our personal instrument — voice, pen, keyboard — and we make noise! Somehow we think that the noise is helpful, just as the flute player. But the music of the flute was really a sign of hopelessness. There was no hope, so the only option was to grieve loud and long.

The grief of the professional mourners did not match that of the parents. It’s that awkward moment when someone says to a devastated parent, “Oh, I know just how you feel,” and then begins a litany of advice on how to just “get over it.” It’s the flute player that’s playing their tune. It’s loud and yet it is shallow. True grief is so painful and deep that barely a squeak of sound can be heard as the pain wells up from within the very viscera of our being. It feels like a bowling ball has been swallowed and with every breath it lands somewhere squarely in the chest. The sobs are muffled and stifled and yet there is the chatter of the flute player. The noise is but a distraction from the real pain and eventually you want the flute music to go away.

The flute player became unemployed that day. No one had ever experienced the power of the Messiah, nor the joy that he could bring. While the flute player continued doing the assigned job, Jesus came and ushered in a new kingdom in which the role of the flute player would be forever changed. Instead of pronouncing the hopelessness of death, the flute player could become an instrument of praise for the Messiah, pointing the way into the new kingdom.

These days no one thinks of a flute being an instrument of mourning. Instead it is associated with the marching band of my high school years, playing the joyful and uplifting notes of the orchestration.

Jesus takes our grief and our mourning and fills it with the presence of his kingdom and in that moment everything begins to shift. Nothing is to remain as it has always been, but instead it is to point us to the one who has power to raise the dead. The flute is playing a new and different tune.

Prayer:


Lord, please be with those whoa re suffering grief today.  Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Do You See?



Scripture:


Matt. 6:22 ¶ “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;
Matt. 6:23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Observation:

This passage in Jesus’ sermon has given people pause. It’s not entirely clear what it is that he is trying to say but there are those who say there is a physical as well as a moral understanding. Physically the eye is the part of the body which has an affect on every other part of the body. What we see directs the ways in which we will go. The hand responds to bring the food which is seen to the mouth of the individual. Our feet are led on the pathway that is seen by the eyes. There is something incredibly centering about the eye for it receives data which will then influence the remainder of our behavior. This is the problem with a diseased eye, for it cannot clearly interpret the signs and it makes it more difficult for the entire body to remain on track.

From a moral perspective that which the eye sees will drive behavior. Are we singularly focused in our lives — focused upon Christ? This is the moral question regard to the eye. It is the morally healthy individual who will keep their focus on the things of God while it is the spiritually unhealthy individual who will be driven toward the darkness.

Application:

I would like to suggest another way in which to think of the eye for today we understand the role of the retina. It is the beams of light which are absorbed by the nerves which are found in the retina. These are then sent to the brain that interprets what it is that we see. When we keep our focus on Christ, then the light of Christ is what is absorbed by our retina and it is his image which is then transmitted to our brains. Remember the folks in the Old Testament who repeatedly talked about seeking the face of God! There is something about continually seeking Christ, seeking the face of God that becomes burned into who we are.

Remember when we were little children and our parents told us not to look into the sun? Of course, if you are like me, you tried it a time or two! The result was a bright blob in the middle of your vision which remained there for a period of time. No matter where you looked that bright blob was in the middle of your field of vision. The light of the sun had been almost burned into your retina and the image remained long after you stopped looking!

When our eye is healthy — when it can absorb all the light that it sees, then we begin to have a clearer image of Christ, and the longer we look at him, the more the image will remain in us!

The question for us must be, “what do you see?”  What we see will determine how we live our lives. This is true on a moral level, a spiritual level, but also a physical level. Just as the image of Christ can be burned into our eyes and brain, so can the “dark” images that we allow our eyes to see and ponder. This is the problem with pornography. The darkness of the images will be embedded in our brains until there is no room left for the light of Christ. There were problems in Christ’s day with people being engaged in unhealthy practices and he understood this. He knew that if the eye wandered to the dark things of the world, then the whole body would be in darkness.

The only solution to the problem is for the eye to be turned and focused on Christ. He is the source of true light. Whatever it is that we see today, that will control our bodies and become the compass. May it lead us to his light!

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to see your face today.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Massacre of the Innocents



Scripture:


Matt. 2:16  ¶ When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Matt. 2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
Matt. 2:18     “A voice was heard in Ramah,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
    Rachel weeping for her children;
        she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Observation:

Herod was a man who felt insecure in his position and in no way wanted to be threatened. He interpreted the wise men's lack of return as having been “tricked” or “mocked.” He believed that they were up to something suspicious or else they would have come back and told him about this new “king.”

The scripture tells us, “he was infuriated” and his paranoia led him to over-react. He would have every child in and among Jerusalem two or under killed. An ancient writer by the name of Macrobius let’s us in on a dirty little secret regarding this event. Herod may actually have had an infant son being nursed by a woman in Bethlehem at the time. His own son was among those who was sentenced to death because of Herod’s fears. Macrobius goes on to joke that it’s safer to be a hog in Herod’s land than a son, because Herod had professed to be a Jew and would not kill swine, but would order the murder of his own child!

It is then that we are transported to the time of Jeremiah when the Israelites are carried off into captivity. From very near this same location is found Rachel’s tomb and so now, for centuries the mother of these people has wept over the atrocities which have occurred. Barnes tells us, “By a beautiful figure of speech, the prophet introduces the mother weeping over the tribe, her children, and with them weeping over the fallen destiny of Israel, and over the calamities about to come upon the land. Few images could be more striking than thus to introduce a mother, long dead, whose sepulchre was near, weeping bitterly over the terrible calamities that befell her descendants. The language and the image aptly and beautifully expressed the sorrows of the mothers in Bethlehem, when Herod slew their infant children. Under the cruelty of the tyrant, almost every family was a family of tears; and well might there be lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning.” (Barnes, Matthew 2:18)

The innocent had been massacred because of the insecurity and paranoia of the powerful.

Application:

There are three ways in which we can examine this scripture. The first is in its historical context and gleaning from it the story of what is happening there in the first century. It’s a terrible story that helps us appreciate the power of the new-born Messiah. Although he comes without all the trappings of human royalty his a threat to the kingdoms of this world. This is a reality and he will usher in a new kingdom that will be transformative! Herod ought to be afraid of losing his power to this baby and ultimately, he does!

We may also see the prophetic nature of this physical response to a perceived threat. Sadly this type of response is being repeated today in the Middle East. Innocent people, adults and children, are being massacred because of what some individuals have conjured up in their own minds as perceived threats. We watch the news and read the stories of the innocents being caught in the middle of epic battles for power among emerging groups of leaders. We are overwhelmed by the images of the mothers who are weeping for their children “are no more.” Here is today’s news from friends of mine in Eurasia where you can read about this continued and on-going massacre of the innocents:

http://www.eurasiaregion.org/churches-overwhelmed-in-supporting-refugees-from-radical-extremists/

Finally there is a third way, one in which we may find ourselves culpable. The massacre of the innocents isn’t always on a physical level. Let that soak in a minute. There are times when we take out our own lack of self-image and worth, our own paranoia, on the innocents around us. Those who have power have great responsibility to care for those nearby and not to abuse their power. Sadly, power can be corrupted and the innocents may find themselves being emotionally damaged, massacred, by the behaviors of the powerful.

We may write off Herod as one bad guy, but the story continues to unfold to this day. Caring for the innocent is our responsibility, both physically and emotionally. The massacre of the innocents may also be laid directly at our feet if we refuse to speak up and intervene both at home and abroad.

Prayer:

Lord, may we not be responsible for the weeping of Rachel.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What I want is you!



Scripture:

2Cor. 12:14 ¶ Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.

Observation:

There were some who were becoming wealthy by preaching the gospel. They were a burden on the churches where they served and expected the people to care for them in lavish ways.

Paul loved the people in the church as his own spiritual children. As his spiritual children his desire was for their spiritual welfare, not his own material gain. His statement is powerful, “I do not want what is yours but you.” He wants to be with his dearly beloved children, fellowship with them and bring them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

He is their spiritual parent, and just as earthly parents do not expect young children to support them, so he does not expect his young believers to support him. He is to be there for their growth and development. His desires have nothing to do with earthly gain. He loves his children, wants to fellowship with them, disciple them and know that they are following the Lord.

Application:

“What I want is you!” How often is this the message that is sent by those in spiritual leadership?

I’m afraid that some of the difficulty that Christianity faces these days is the fact that this is not the message! I am appalled at some of the wealth that has been accumulated by those who are preaching the word. We have all heard those television appeals for more money and it becomes the spiritual children who have been supporting the parent. Paul said it should not be this way!

But let me take this a step further and maybe a little more personal. Let me translate this verse into our context:

I am not going to be a burden at church and insist that everything happens in the way that I like to have it done. I don’t want it to be about me, but rather, what I want is you. I want you to be at church and learning about the Lord and worshiping him, and if that’s the case, I’m willing to do whatever it takes for you to experience Christ. You see, it’s not important for the older generation to have church the way they we it, because we are spiritual parents to the younger ones. Just as I loved caring for and nurturing my children as they grew up in my home, so I want to do everything I can to provide for the spiritual care and nurture of my spiritual children. All I want is for you to know Christ!

If this were truly the heartbeat of our congregations, things would change! Paul was not selfish but willing to give himself up for those whom he loved. He made it clear that things were not important to him and he wanted to be with and nurture the Corinthians. To truly love others we will give sacrificially for them to know Christ and our response will be the same as Paul, “What I want is you!”

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to love sacrificially.  Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Case for Generosity



Scripture:

2Cor. 8:9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Observation:

Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be a generous people and his arguments seem to always have an illustration which comes from the life of Christ. For Paul, Christ is the example, he is the road map for the believer. Yes, a follower of Jesus Christ is to genuinely follow the example of Christ.

This verse is an echo of the kenosis passage in Philippians 2 — where we see the self-emptying of Christ on behalf of you and me. Again, we see that Jesus gave up the richness of God’s kingdom to enter earthly poverty on our behalf.

Could it be that we see Christ in the beggar who stands on the road carrying the hand-written cardboard sign? The word Paul uses here for “poor” is at its root the word for “beggar.” Yes, our king became a beggar and so we must recognize that in the beggars we may see Christ.

At the same time we must know that Paul is constantly calling us to follow him as he follows Christ. The followers of Christ are called to be a generous people — a people who will give to the poor. The case for generosity is based on the example of Christ.

Application:

If we are to follow the example of Christ then I think we must evaluate what that looks like for us on a daily basis. Obviously this has been a part of the Christian culture. Putnam tells us, “half of all charitable giving in America is religious in nature.” ( Bowling Alone (Kindle Location 2077).  But we should not give, just because it has been historically true for Christians to be generous, but we should be generous because it is the way of Christ.

This really relates to discipleship. Are we learning what it means to be true disciples and followers of Jesus Christ? Jesus was willing to intentionally live a life of poverty to provide a way for us to come to God. Jesus’ entire incarnational life was an act of generosity. As we are living and growing in him, participating in him, we are to be transformed into the likeness of his image, which includes generosity, and while Christians are generous, they still, on average, only give away less than 2% of their annual income. That’s not even a tithe! What does that say for us as Christ’s followers?

Jesus was born into a poor family and he worked hard to help the family. He never aspired to a job that would pay him great amounts of money, but instead lived and worked among the poor so that he could minister to them. At the same time he was comfortable with wealthy folks who were “poor in spirit.” He had wealthy supporters of his ministry and they helped him and the disciples as they did their work.

What do we learn from Christ?

*Intentionality — “he became poor”

*Generosity — he gave away what he had

*Love for the lost — he did this so that we might become rich — rich in becoming partakers of the divine nature.

May we follow Christ practicing intentional generosity from a heart overflowing with love for the poor.

Prayer:

Lord, mold me in your image today.  Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Singing Off Key



Scripture:

2Cor. 6:15 What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever?

Observation:

This verse is found in the middle of the section where Paul talks about being unequally yoked. The scripture is usually utilized when talking about marriage and dating relationships (at least it was in my life!). However, this reaches beyond the idea of marital relationships and speaks to the way in which we live our lives.

The word here “agreement” comes from the Greek word symphoneisis, the root of which gives us the word symphony. Just imagine the beautiful music which is created when the symphony begins to play. However, before they ever play they tune up so that they are all playing exactly in the same key. One person plays the note and all the rest tune up to this note so that the music is harmonious and produces a sound which is glorious.

The vision of this verse is of two people who sing in different keys. This is a sound which is literally painful to the ears. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. It makes you cringe!

This is what happens if Christ and Beliar are playing music at the same time. Who is Beliar? This is a name for Satan but the name actually is more of a description of behaviors. It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for worthlessness or wickedness. The Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) translates the word as transgressor, impious, foolish, or pest. Therefore, living a life of foolishness, or wickedness is like singing a song in a different key from the life in Christ.

This is an intentional singing off key! This is the anti-Christ, for the behavior of this type of unbeliever is one that is deliberate about creating discord in the life of the believer. This is not a non-believer who has not heard about Christ, but this is the individual who feels it is their calling to work in a calculated manner to be destructive to the life of the believer. And Paul wonders why the Corinthians are hanging around with someone who is bent on their personal destruction. There is no harmony in the relationship and the music produced cannot be used for it becomes repulsive to the world as they both belt out a tune in two different keys.

Application:

If we understand this scripture passage correctly we need to understand that we are not to run from people who need to know Christ. We need to be a part of the world around us in a way that Christ was — he helped to lead people to God. At the same time he didn’t hang out with the Scribes and Pharisees who were actively discordant against his work. When there were those actively working against Jesus’ work around him, such as in his home town, his work was limited. The music was not attractive because there were those singing so loudly in another key that no one could hear the beautiful music created by Christ.

We must be discerning about those with whom we partner in life. This certainly is true when it comes to marriage. When we are married to someone who is an active non-believer, who is openly against our faith in Jesus Christ, there will be a lifetime of bad music! It doesn’t work.

When we try to have business partnerships with those who are actively working against the kingdom of God we will discover many a sour note. Just like the fingernails on the chalkboard there will be times when we can barely stand the dissonance that is created.

Does this mean that we do not love these individuals and we do not pray for them? No! On the contrary Jesus prayed for and died for those who had persecuted him. But at the same time he went to places where he was able to do his work and ministry without continual disruption.

This is really about discernment. May God give us his wisdom and the ability to perceive the heart of those with whom we partner in life for his kingdom work. The result will be a beautiful tune which is played artfully and clearly. At the same time, may we be willing to minister and reach out to those who may be playing a different tune.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to play your tune today.  Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Need to Be Consistent



Scripture:


2Cor. 1:15 ¶ Since I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a double favor;
2Cor. 1:16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea.
2Cor. 1:17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?
2Cor. 1:18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.”

Observation:

Paul was constantly under pressure from some of the folks at the church in Corinth. Evidently he had been accused by them of changing his mind and being fickle about returning to visit them in Corinth. It is in this passage that we hear Paul’s response. The “Yes, yes,” and “No, no” to which he refers is really the way of the world. We will say “yes” when we might mean “no” if something better comes along. So, we don’t really know if a “yes” is a “yes” or a “no” is a “no.” It frustrated Paul that he might be compared to this kind of human response.

Ryrie paraphrases the verse as follows:

Did my change of plans indicate that I couldn’t make up my mind? Am I like a worldly man who says yes and no at the same time?

Then he declares the consistency in his ministry and testimony — he has not been responding as the world would respond. His “yes” has been “yes” and his “no” has been “no.” His change of travel plans had nothing to do with finding something “better” to do or “better” people with whom to hang out! When he says that he’s making every effort to come and visit them, he means it sincerely and plans to come and see them. Paul wants his words and his life to be a consistent message to the people.

Application:


There is a need for the words of our mouth and the ways in which we live our lives to be consistent. We are called to the deeper Christian life, one which profoundly changes the way in which we live our lives and this includes a call to consistency. No one wants to hear someone declare something from their lips about what it means to be a follower of Christ and then watch them live their lives in a different way.

This is one of the problems that Christianity has been facing in the last number of years. There has been a lack of consistency between the words spoken and the actions taken. Too many “spiritual” leaders have fallen because of sexual immorality, greed or lavishness of lifestyle. Eventually people become discouraged with what they see and begin to ask themselves, “is this all there is?”

This is the reason Paul was so defensive. He was careful to be consistent and he wanted people to see Christ in and through him.

We, too, must be careful that Christ be seen in and through us. There must be consistency in the way in which we live. Ours should be a life that will give glory to God. If this is an area in which we struggle, may we pray that God gives us the strength for our “yes” to be “yes” and our “no” to be “no” and to live out our salvation in faith and a daily life that reveals the consistent character of God.

Prayer:

Lord, may you lead today and may my life reveal the consistency of who you are.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Community



Scripture:

1Cor. 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Observation:

Paul was trying to help the church in Corinth understand the implications of being the “body.” The interconnectedness of the individuals within the body of Christ needed to be understood as the community together served to reflect the Triune God. The pain inflicted on one part of the body would be felt by all. John Chrysostom in the 4th century explained, “When a thorn enters the heel, the whole body feels it, and is concerned: the back bends, the belly and thighs contract themselves, the hands come forward and draw out the thorn, the head stoops, and the eyes regard the affected member with intense gaze.” In other words, when pain enters the community of faith, the entire community of faith feels the shocks in one way or another. The whole system is jolted.

At the same time there is that moment of honor for the community. Chrysostom goes on to say, “When the head is crowned, the whole man feels honored, the mouth expresses, and the eyes look, gladness.” Again, this honor is not just placed upon a singular individual but upon the entire community and together there is celebration.

These descriptors provide us with a distinct understanding of the corporate nature of living the life of faith. We are created to live in community and as members of the body of Christ we are drawn into the recognition that we suffer with those who suffer and we rejoice with those who rejoice. If our sensory receptors are not receiving impulses from those around us, we are not living in the body the way God intended.

Application:


This is a very challenging scripture to God’s followers for implied is a very intentional relationship with others within the body. For far too long we have made our religious or spiritual lives about ourselves and the ways in which we personally engage the scriptures, our prayer life, the Lord and even our worship. Instead of looking to the interests of others, we worry about whether my personal needs are being met. It is important that our personal spiritual needs are being met because when we are lacking spiritually, then the entire community will be lacking spiritually. However, if we do not see ourselves as contributors to community life, and only consumers, we have a problem.

I was recently heard of a church where people had left because the church wasn’t meeting their needs and specifically, one family member was suffering.  Sadly, this family had been at the core of some of the ministries of the church and when they left a large gaping wound could be found in the church community. This shows the interconnectedness of this community. There are a couple of questions to be asked here — what could the community have done to help a family with a felt need. There was a thorn in their heel and it needed to be pulled out. It probably wasn’t pulled out and it became infected and was festering. As that area became more painful — it became almost unbearable and finally a solution had to be found. The foot needed treatment and so the foot left. The problem is that the body is left without a foot and now they find themselves limping along and wondering if they will be able to survive.

Unless we recognize the interconnectedness within the body of Christ we will be unresponsive to the needs around us. The problems in the youth department are the problems of the Senior Adults — because we are part of one body. The type of worship music we have does matter because if one part of the body is miserable, then we all suffer together.

The spiritual journey of a community of faith is one that leads toward wellness. The goal is a healthy body and that means that we must respond to the symptoms that come along. I’m afraid that our individualistic attitudes have made us immune to the pain and suffering that parts of the body may be encountering. Gangrene is setting in as we refuse to treat the problems. We must listen to the voices that are crying out and take them seriously. Just encouraging the foot to leave is not a solution, but it is one we have practiced and the result is a crippled body of Christ, limping along in the world and wondering why we aren’t making a difference.

Prayer:

Lord, please, help me be sensitive to the entire body.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Let’s Go!



Scripture:


Psa. 122:1     I was glad when they said to me,
        “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

Observation:

There is something communal about this call to go to the house of the LORD. There is joy when others make the invitation for us to join them in worshiping God.

Application:


This is one of those Psalms that my grandfather knew by memory and I remember him quoting it when we would come and visit. His eyes would light up and he would say these words with great joy.  He had spent his entire adult life as a minister of the Gospel in little churches across Nebraska. He had literally built the churches with his own hands and I don’t think that he could imagine much else in life that would have brought him joy, but to be serving God.

As I thought about this scripture I realized that worshipping together with others whom I know does bring joy or gladness to my heart. On Sunday I was attending the church where I had spent my teen years in Kansas City. Someone asked me if I had decided to make this the church I would attend when I'm in Kansas City. I said that yes, this would be my church -- because it is my church! These are the people who know me and I them for forty years now. They have prayed for me, loved me and supported me, even in my absence. It is the community that speaks into me and my life and it is here that I feel at home.

There is something of significance that occurs when we are invited into fellowship by others. This is why we ought to be inviting others to join us in the house of the Lord. There is something comforting about worshiping the Lord with friends and loved ones — especially if you are new to the experience.

I think that we are often afraid to invite people to the house of the LORD. Maybe we are afraid of their rejection but should that be more important than an opportunity for someone who may get to know God through the worship experience? We may discover that there are many who would speak the words of the Psalmist and are simply waiting for that invitation to the house of the LORD.  Spread some joy and do some inviting.

Prayer:

Lord,  thank you for the joy of worshiping in your house with friends.  Amen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Knowledge, Wisdom and Love



Scripture:

1Cor. 8:1 ¶ Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
1Cor. 8:2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;
1Cor. 8:3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Observation:

The people of Corinth were educated and proud of the fact that they all possessed knowledge. Something like standing around and proclaiming your graduate degrees and institutions to one another, this was a pedigree which some of the people of Corinth enjoyed.

But Paul knew that this was also a problem.  Those who had this human knowledge were also tempted to be “puffed up.” Somehow that looks a little bit like someone with their chest out and nose in the air — a bit of arrogance and pride in what they have personally accomplished. This may fill someone up with a bunch of hot air but it does nothing for those around them and that is the crux of the matter. Human knowledge makes the person with that knowledge feel better, but love spills over and makes others feel better.

While Paul doesn’t use the word wisdom here, I think that we’re still on that wisdom track because we get to the point of being known by God. We have wrestled with the idea of having the mind of Christ and again in this passage we realize that we are invited into a deeply personal and intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity. There is this mutual indwelling where we can know the mind of Christ, but also God knows us, and as a result, we are filled with his love.

There is a direct correlation between wisdom and love, for they come from God and result in the betterment of those around us, while knowledge alone puffs us up.

Application:

God’s wisdom lived out in our daily lives will result in love. It’s that plain and simple.

While there is a place for knowledge and education, I believe that Paul was challenging the Corinthians to go to an even deeper place. What would happen if that human knowledge and education were to become submitted to the wisdom and love of God? I believe something synergistic would happen that could be world changing.

If you want to be blown away by a list of world changers, just look at this article, “List of Christian thinkers in science.”

These are world changers, those who have gained incredible amounts of knowledge, but have remained rooted in their relationship with God. Many have developed scientific techniques that have improved the lives of others — for “love builds up.”

We never can get away from God’s love being poured out in and through us. This is God’s plan for his holy people. Human knowledge becomes God’s wisdom when we commune with and are infused by the holy love found in the Trinity.

Prayer:


Lord,  may your love be in me today.  Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finding Wisdom



Scripture:


1Cor. 2:6  ¶ Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.
1Cor. 2:7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
1Cor. 2:8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1Cor. 2:9 But, as it is written,
    “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
        nor the human heart conceived,
    what God has prepared for those who love him”—
1Cor. 2:10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

1Cor. 2:16     “For who has known the mind of the Lord
        so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.

Observation:


We continue on this journey of seeking wisdom and in this passage to the church at Corinth we find the end— it is through the mind of Christ.

Paul is speaking words of wisdom because he has found Christ. Through Christ, God’s wisdom is poured out in the life of Paul. The mysterious becomes known and God’s ways are revealed to humanity. Unfortunately those who are powerful in their own human strength often do not see this because they are clouded by their own egos. The rulers could not see who Jesus was — and so they crucified him. Not only did they lack wisdom — they really appeared to be pretty stupid.

In Philippians 2:5 Paul admonishes us to have the same mind in us that is in Christ. Here, he again refers to having the mind of Christ. Paul has discovered the pathway to true wisdom and this must always point us to Christ. It is only in being united with him that we will discover true wisdom. For wisdom to be found we must have the mind of Christ.

Application:

The challenging question for you and for me is how do we find the mind of Christ? But is the mind of Christ something to be found, or a relationship to be discovered!

God’s grace is constantly reaching out to you and to me and inviting us into an intimate relationship with Christ. This is a unique relationship in which we are invited to fellowship with God, and in this fellowship there is an intermingling, or ever-increasing participation in our Holy God. The more that I participate and fellowship with God, the more I get to know God; I in him and he in me. Through the presence of the Spirit, the mind of Christ can be at work within me, and it is in this that the ordinary human can reflect the extraordinary wisdom of God.

This is the mystery that can be frustrating, at times, to those who have spent their lives in gaining knowledge. How can it be that suddenly an ordinary individual exhibits such extraordinary wisdom? Because the ordinary individual may have spent more time knowing Christ than the academic has. Human knowledge updates their personal library one book at a time. Getting to know Christ connects us directly to the creator of all things. There’s a big difference there.

If we desire wisdom — it can only be found through a deeply intimate relationship with Christ. It is the mind of Christ which becomes, for us, a portal into the deep mysteries of God. Only by humbling ourselves and realizing the limits of our  own sufficiency, following the self-emptying pattern of Christ can we get to know true wisdom, in Christ.  If we seek Christ, we will find Christ, when we seek him with all our hearts — and thus, wisdom.

Prayer:


Lord,  may I live within the relationship of your grace and wisdom.  Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Seeking Wisdom



Scripture:


1Cor. 3:18  ¶ Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.
1Cor. 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
    “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
1Cor. 3:20 and again,
    “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
        that they are futile.”
1Cor. 3:21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours,
1Cor. 3:22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you,
1Cor. 3:23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Observation:

Earlier this week Job taught us about wisdom and now Paul does the same. Human wisdom is nothing in comparison to what is possible to receive from God.

We do seek wisdom and we fool ourselves when we think that we are able to become wise on our own. There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge.

True wisdom comes from God alone and this becomes a reality to us through Christ.

Application:

Why is this lesson so hard to learn? Too often we try to find the answer to things on our own. We try to solve the problems at the end of a pencil (or in a spreadsheet). Sometimes that is not the place where the answers will be found.

Could it be that the answers come in the stillness of the moment when we listen to that gentle voice of God. It is his leading and nudging that gives us a glimpse of what he wants us to understand.

True wisdom only comes in knowing Christ — and this is what he wants us to know — Him! In knowing him an entire kingdom of possibilities opens up for us — more than anything we could have ever imagined and this is where we begin to touch the wisdom of God.

Slow down. Listen to the still small voice and let God lead and direct.

Prayer:

Lord, please lead today as we seek your wisdom.  Amen.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Nature of Justice



Scripture:

Job 31:16      ¶ “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
        or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
Job 31:17     or have eaten my morsel alone,
        and the orphan has not eaten from it—
Job 31:18     for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father,
        and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow—
Job 31:19     if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
        or a poor person without covering,
Job 31:20     whose loins have not blessed me,
        and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
Job 31:21     if I have raised my hand against the orphan,
        because I saw I had supporters at the gate;
Job 31:22     then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
        and let my arm be broken from its socket.
Job 31:23     For I was in terror of calamity from God,
        and I could not have faced his majesty.

Observation:

Job is defending himself before his “friends.” One of them has suggested that he is being punished for his behavior, or injustice toward the poor and needy. This, however, has not been the case. Here, hundreds of years before the incarnate Christ walks on earth, Job is displaying a life which reflects the very character of God. He has not withheld good from the poor or widow. He has extended hospitality to those who were needy — to the widow and the orphan. He has fed them and clothed and protected them.

His language is interesting when he declares “If I have raised my hand against the orphan then” …. “let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.” In other words — had his arm been offensive to those in need, then led his arm be ripped from him. Every part of his being is to ooze with the justice of God toward those who are in need. 

Application:


Integrity through acts of justice become evident in this scripture. We can learn from the way in which Job has lived his life. It is these acts which reveal the presence of God in his life, and so they should in ours as well.

We are to give to the poor
    Support the widow (never make her situation worse!)
Show hospitality to the orphan
    Guide the widow through the systems and help them the resources they need to improve their situation
Provide clothing for those in need
    Never do anything to hurt those in need
Don’t ignore the needy because you have found yourself in a position of power

We are called to be stewards of the resources God has provided to us. Over and over again we see the nature of God being reflected in characters found in the Old Testament. Job is one of those who is an example for us which spurs us onward to actions in our own lives. Job tried to do this on his own, without the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit in his life. Just imagine what is possible for us living in this day!

Acts of justice are required of God’s people because God’s Spirit lives within us and compels us to respond in the same way in which God would respond. The nature of justice will never lift a hand against the needy but will always seek the good of others. This is the reflection of Christ in us.

Prayer:

Lord, may you be reflected in my life as your resources are used to bring your justice to a needy world.  Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Finishing Well



Scripture:


Gal. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? (NRSV)
Gal. 3:3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (KJV)

Observation:

Paul is frustrated with what he sees in the life of some of the people of Galatia. They began their new lives in the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who breathes life into these followers and continues to fill their beings on a daily basis and yet, something has happened. They have turned to from the Spirit to the Jewish law and now have become legalists. Instead of the life-giving Spirit leading them they are allowing themselves to be governed by a set of rules. The second question of the verse is actually a bit tongue in cheek. Paul is saying — really — you began your new life by being filled with the Spirit and now you will finish it better than God can by your own strength, of your own will, by following a bunch of rules!

Notice the newer translation says “are you now ending,” while the older translation, “are ye now made perfect.” It’s that struggle over a Greek word that has telos is in — that word that means perfection, or bringing to completion. The point is that the goal of the Christian life is to live life in the Spirit and to be brought to completion through the work of the Spirit. We begin in the Spirit and we must live our lives in the Spirit so that “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. “ (Phil. 1:6) The Spirit is ever moving us onward to become all that God has for us. And this is finishing well — finishing in him!

Application:

The problem is that we become derailed from our life in the Spirit by the things of this world. When followers of Jesus Christ begin to be distracted and their Christian lives become nothing more than going to church on the occasional Sunday and yet, preaching a particular “brand” of Christianity to those around them — we are not finishing well.

This week I’ve learned of two young people who have not finished well. They would say that they were “Christians” — raised in Christian homes and yet today they have entirely rejected Christianity. They have “chosen” to become atheists — and very openly. Public statements made to family and friends, personally and on social media, announce their personal “decision” to be a non-Christian.

First of all I would wonder whether they even started well. Did they ever experience the Spirit or did they become tired of a Christian life in the flesh? Could it be that they only experienced Christians who had done exactly what the Galatians had done — started in the Spirit but were now living in the flesh. When it all becomes about our human desire to live a particular lifestyle without the Spirit, we will fail and it is our personal failure that has led to a generation of young people who want nothing to do with that brand of Christianity. If we live the Christian life in the flesh — then people will run. Just as we made becoming a follower of Jesus Christ about our own “decision,” so these individuals are making not following Christ a “decision.” What we are seeing is a result of our own actions and this should not surprise us. But let’s make sure that we are not pointing fingers at these individuals. Instead, let us examine ourselves and see whether we are living life in the fullness of the Spirit, or by the flesh.

For us to finish our lives well, we must remain in the Spirit. This means a connection to the life-giving Spirit of God on a daily basis and giving space for the Spirit to continually be at work in us. We are never “finished” with God’s work in our lives. Finishing well means that we allow the Spirit to be continually at work, forming Christ in and through us. If the world saw a little more of Christ and a little less of us they may not turn away. May we heed the reminder we have received from Paul, seeking to live in the Spirit every day and finish well.

Prayer:

Lord, may I be Spirit-led today. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Searching for Wisdom



Scripture:

Job 28:1      ¶ “Surely there is a mine for silver,
        and a place for gold to be refined.
Job 28:2     Iron is taken out of the earth,
        and copper is smelted from ore.
Job 28:3     Miners put an end to darkness,
        and search out to the farthest bound
        the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
Job 28:4     They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation;
        they are forgotten by travelers,
        they sway suspended, remote from people.
Job 28:5     As for the earth, out of it comes bread;
        but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
Job 28:6     Its stones are the place of sapphires,
        and its dust contains gold.

Job 28:12      ¶ “But where shall wisdom be found?
        And where is the place of understanding?
Job 28:13     Mortals do not know the way to it,
        and it is not found in the land of the living.

Job 28:23      ¶ “God understands the way to it,
        and he knows its place.
Job 28:24     For he looks to the ends of the earth,
        and sees everything under the heavens.
Job 28:25     When he gave to the wind its weight,
        and apportioned out the waters by measure;
Job 28:26     when he made a decree for the rain,
        and a way for the thunderbolt;
Job 28:27     then he saw it and declared it;
        he established it, and searched it out.
Job 28:28     And he said to humankind,
    ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
        and to depart from evil is understanding.’”

Observation:

The chapter opens with an interesting account of mining for precious metals and stones. Humanity knows how to dig and search for the things which we deem precious. The work is hard and arduous, and yet, we continue onward because we somehow believe that by human effort alone we can discover wisdom.

Then there is the realization that wisdom will not be found anywhere here on earth.

There is a wisdom which belongs to God alone and this transcends all that we can see, touch and feel. This is a wisdom which we will never be able to comprehend for it belongs to God alone. Therefore human wisdom is found in this — to have a healthy fear (respect) for God that draws us closer to him and away from evil.

Application:


Yesterday was election day in the United States and I believe that somehow people were looking for wisdom in decisions which were to be made. Just like those who would like to mine for wisdom — pay for consultants and pundits — there will be no genuine wisdom found among the things of this earth.You cannot buy enough self-help tools or educational courses to become wise. True wisdom will not be found here!

You and I must look to the Lord on a daily basis and only in our relationship to him will we discover. This must be the prayer of our heart, as we seek his face.

It is in the healthy respect for the ways of God that we discover true wisdom for human desires for wisdom result in pride.  Fear of the Lord humbles us in the realization that any taste of wisdom which we may have from him pales in comparison to the wisdom of God.

Seek God - respect God — and trust in his wisdom alone!

Prayer:


Lord, may I keep my eyes directed toward you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

He Didn’t Respond



Scripture:

Mark 15:1 ¶ As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
Mark 15:2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.”
Mark 15:3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things.
Mark 15:4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”
Mark 15:5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Observation:

The chief priests were singularly focused — they were going to get rid of Jesus, no matter what! The result was a series of behaviors and actions that were totally unbecoming the priesthood. In the third verse we find that they accused him of many things. They were trying to convince Pilate to have this man put to death and as a result they bent the truth in an effort to manipulate the situation. Jesus could have defended himself against all that was being said against him because much of it made no sense and yet, he chose not to respond.

Application:

There are times in life when silence is the best response to a situation. Jesus knew the whole picture — he understood what it was that the Father wanted to accomplish through him. Jesus could have defended himself in the moment because he was being falsely accused, but this would have not served the Father’s purposes in the long run. Therefore, Jesus was simply silent and didn’t respond and sometimes this is the best for us as well. Our natural human instinct is to become defensive, and yet, there will be times when this will not help a particular situation.

The chief priests probably wanted Jesus to defend himself, but what would he have said? His defense would actually have made them look worse and this leads us to another point. We must be careful when we jump to conclusions regarding others’ silence. There are times when those in leadership, or in particular relationships must remain silent. Again, they see the big picture and while they could defend themselves, it may be counter-productive to the entire situation. The problem becomes people jumping to conclusions regarding someone’s guilt because of their silence. Was Jesus guilty of all the crimes for which they were accusing him? No — and yet he didn’t respond.

Asking for God’s discerning wisdom in difficult situations is important. We must allow him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to lead us into knowing how to respond, recognizing that sometimes silence will be the best answer.

Prayer:

Lord, may I seek you and your wisdom daily. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Awaiting His Coming



Scripture:

Mark 13:32 ¶ “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Mark 13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
Mark 13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
Mark 13:35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
Mark 13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
Mark 13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Observation:

Discussion surrounding the return of Christ was common in the early church. Jesus was letting his followers know that they would be left in charge of the kingdom. The word “slave” is the same word that Paul uses over and over to describe his relationship to Jesus Christ — he is a servant/slave to Jesus Christ in a very positive and passionate sense. Paul’s desire was to be completely sold out, belonging to Jesus Christ. This is our role as well, to be the ones who belong entirely to Jesus Christ and ire left in charge.

It is this idea of being left in charge that is particularly important in the lift of a Christ-follower. There is great responsibility and we are to be caring for the kingdom work, day in and day out. This is not a part-time job or something we do as a volunteer on the weekends. This is a full-time job, serving the Lord and keeping watch. We are to care well for the kingdom while he is gone for we never know when he will come.

Many people try to figure out when he will return but he says that no one knows — only the Father. So, who are we to try and figure that out? Instead, we are to be busy while we await his coming, keeping awake and caring for his house.

Application:


Throughout the centuries people have been awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. Surely he would come during the early persecutions when Nero was burning Christians as torches in his gardens! Or what about the Christians who were martyred in brutal public fashion — couldn’t Jesus have come then? Christianity has had its ups and downs and there have always been those who have been faithfully standing guard — couldn’t Jesus have come then? What about the great leaders throughout the centuries, — Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Palmer — couldn’t those seasons of tumult within Christianity been times when Christ would have returned? And yet we continue to await his coming. Instead of being preoccupied with knowing the date of his coming, we must join with those who have gone before and become the faithful servants who are busy working and caring well for the kingdom. This is our responsibility, not worrying about the day or the time. Preoccupation with the date or time means we will not be busy with kingdom work when he returns — spiritually asleep. Remaining awake is a place of engagement within kingdom life.

Sometime surprising things happens when we remain engaged in kingdom life and await his return — suddenly we discover his coming. We see him in the beautiful rays of the morning. We hear him in the worship song playing from our mp3. He speaks to us through the card we receive from a friend in the mail and he is in the hug that we receive on the day in which we are feeling battered and beaten by life. Maybe his coming is not that distant!

We await his coming with great anticipation and we are blessed by the glimpses of the already/not yet kingdom in which we are actively engaged and joyfully working as his slaves.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your coming and help me to await and work faithfully. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

How Far From the Kingdom?



Scripture:


Mark 12:28 ¶ One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
Mark 12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
Mark 12:31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;
Mark 12:33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Mark 12:34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Observation:


The religious leaders were constantly trying to “figure out” Jesus. They were accustomed to following many long lists of rules and so somehow they wanted to know where Jesus stood in regard to these. It is at this point that Jesus points out the priority of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is something that they would have heard their entire lives — it was nothing new. However, one of the scribes is then able to explain his understanding of the great command, to love God and love neighbor and says that this is far more important than all the “burnt offerings and sacrifices.” This is a new paradigm for God’s people and this man is “getting” it. Jesus affirms him by telling him that he is “not far from the kingdom of God.”

Application:

The new paradigm is the way to live into the kingdom of God. Jesus had come to usher in the new kingdom and this was very difficult for the religious folks to comprehend. They were awaiting a physical kingdom and yet he was talking about something they had not before experienced. This was a kingdom driven by holy love to be found in God.

How far we are from the kingdom is dependent on how far we are from knowing God. We are invited to become participants in a holy relationship with him and it is in participating with God that we become active in the kingdom. Loving God and neighbor is the key to the kingdom. There is no other way. It will never be by following a list of rules or trying really hard to be a good person, it will only be by stepping into and participating in a holy and transformational relationship with God.

Prayer:

Lord, please draw me nearer to you and use me in your kingdom today. Amen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Playing Favorites



Scripture:

Psa. 121:1     I lift up my eyes to the hills—
        from where will my help come?
Psa. 121:2     My help comes from the LORD,
        who made heaven and earth.
 
Psa. 121:3      ¶ He will not let your foot be moved;
        he who keeps you will not slumber.
Psa. 121:4     He who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.
 
Psa. 121:5      ¶ The LORD is your keeper;
        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
Psa. 121:6     The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.
 
Psa. 121:7      ¶ The LORD will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.
Psa. 121:8     The LORD will keep
        your going out and your coming in
        from this time on and forevermore.

Observation:

This Psalm is a reminder of the source of our strength. The hills around Jerusalem were dotted with foreign gods. Our help does not come from idols made with human hands, our help comes from God who made heaven and earth. It is this God who who cares for us day in and day out.

Application:

This entire Psalm is posted here because it’s simply one of my favorites. My grandfather knew this one by memory and when we visited my grandparents’ home, he would quote it almost every day. He was in his 90’s, not able to see or hear very well but he dearly loved his Savior. He almost died of pneumonia in his early 90’s and was disappointed he did not pass away, because he wanted to go and see his beloved Savior. However, he resigned himself to the fact that he was to stay around a little longer and pray. He felt that his life was a prayer ministry — quoting scripture and lifting people up in prayer. He knew where his help came from and he received strength from his beloved heavenly Father on a daily basis.

So yes, today I have played favorites with one of my favorites Psalms.

Prayer:

Lord, may I look beyond the skyline of the city and see my help. Amen.