Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Watching and Waiting along with a Little Hogmanay



Scripture

17     The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
    And let everyone who is thirsty come.
    Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

Observation


The bride, the Church is the gathering of those who have fallen in love with Jesus Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. These Spirit-filled believers are ever moved to pray for those who would “Come.” Yes, it is a prayer for the second coming of Jesus Christ, for we await in great anticipation his coming, but his coming is already revealed when he enters the lives of individuals and they experience his transforming power even now!

The Spirit, along with the individual hearers of the prophecy unite together in the invitation to “Come.” Just as the woman at the well was invited to drink of the water that would eternally satisfy her thirst, so all are invited to join the bride. This is the final call of the word of God, an open invitation to have your needs met by the Creator. The free gift of the water of life is already prepared.

This invitation is not only found at the end of this book, but it is found throughout the word of God. The Spirit has continually inspired the written word so that it remains, for all eternity, an invitation to come. The bride is challenged to become actively engaged in the calling process. We watch and we wait for the coming Messiah, but also for those who will respond to the invitation. We are invited to participate by being ministers of the gospel and daily putting the ordinances of God before the people. The church is to be living, active and breathing on a daily basis so that the watching and waiting world will already see the light of Christ’s coming within the actions of the bride. This calls for consistency among the members — those who are called by the family name, “Christian.” Hypocrisy has no place in the life of the bride that is watching and waiting with great anticipation the arrival of her loved one. And so as she awaits, she does good and reaches out to bring others into the life of the Church. No one would want their loved ones to miss out on what is going to happen and so we invite our family members, friends and neighbors to “Come” and experience the living water.

The anticipation of the event is so great that heaven and earth unite together in the invitation. We are watching and waiting together and not wanting anyone else to miss the celebration, we cry out, “Come!”

Application


Tonight it is expected that 75,000 people will gather in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland to celebrate Hogmanay. This is the Scottish word for the last day of the year and is now synonymous with the Scottish celebration of the New Year. The city of Edinburgh has spent £30 million on the event. A number of people dress up like Vikings and, carrying torches they will lead people through the streets of the city. All of this, in anticipation of a New Year — 2015! And yet, tomorrow morning people will wake up and it will be another day and their lives will not have been transformed by the events that will transpire tonight.

Lit up for Hogmanay: A group of Vikings take part in a torchlit procession through the streets of Edinburgh to usher in a new year
http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/12/30/article-2254963-16B23E58000005DC-23_634x423.jpg


Or will they?


There used to be Watch Night Services in my tradition — this was a service that was held leading up to the midnight hour as believers prayed in the New Year. I’ve heard the stories of individuals who attended these services and gave their lives to Christ. There were times when these services made individuals evaluate the priorities of their lives as they moved into the New Year. The event was a time to think about Watching and Waiting on the Messiah.

A quick Google search of Watch Night and Nazarene will reveal that the only thing we watch at night is the on-line version of last Sunday night’s service! And yet there was an interesting result that appeared — a Lodi, California Newspaper article from 1957. The headline read, “Nazarene Church Plans Watch-Night Service Tonight.”

The Lodi Church of the Nazarene will be among the 4500 congregations of the international Protestant Church that will pray at special Watch-night services around the world today, opening the denomination’s golden anniversary year. The service in the local church will start at 9:30pm and conclude with prayer around the altar at 12:05 a.m. Special features of the service will be a “Love Feast,” a Communion service, and a Candlelight Testimony service…The denomination stands for the spread - and conservation of the Wesleyan doctrine and experience of entire sanctification, or heart holiness. Among U.S. Protestant denominations, it is 30th in membership, 15th in Sunday school enrollment, and 9th in its publishing house sales.

A city will spend £30 million tonight with 7,000 people dressed up like Vikings to celebrate Hogmanay. I know that many friends will gather with others in their homes to play games, eat, watch a ball drop, and shoot off a few fire works. I don’t know very many that will be gathering around an altar to celebrate a “Love Feast” and spread the invitation to “Come.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

God help us to be so filled with his Spirit and passion that our desire to bring others to Christ would be more passionate than a celebration of Hogmanay. Let’s watch and wait together, inviting others to join us in passionate anticipation of our Savior’s return. Knowing Christ is more transformational than waking up on New Year’s day with a hangover!

“Come!”

Prayer

Lord, please fill me with the passion of your Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Prophetic Words. Kingdom Words.



Scripture


Rev. 18:21Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,
    “With such violence Babylon the great city
        will be thrown down,
        and will be found no more;

Observation

Living life under the on-going oppression of Rome had become more than the people of God could bear. Rome, the great Babylon, was crushing the Christians as the people went about about their daily lives, round and round in circles being ground down as they rode the millstone of secular society. John has Rome in mind and his prophetic words point to the overthrown of the earthly kingdom of Rome, which is eventually replaced by the Roman Catholic Church. These are prophetic words…kingdom words, for the worldly kingdom is to be overthrown by the heavenly kingdom.

But before we get too far, just a few centuries later the words again become prophetic. Interestingly as you read later commentaries you discover that no longer is the Rome of Nero seen as the Great Babylon, but with the corruption of the Church, the Church of Rome is seen as the great Babylon and the Pope as the one who needs to repent. Prophetic words which lead to a Reformation of Christianity. Prophetic words, kingdom words, which remind us that whenever human kingdoms try to take over God’s intended heavenly kingdom, they will fall.

The original earthly kingdom in which the prophetic words apply is a Babylon established with the blood of Abel. It is that kingdom which is established when proud and arrogant Cain spills his brother’s blood. Kingdom after kingdom is established that will persecute the followers of God. These are the prophetic words, but also the kingdom words, for eventually those kingdoms will be thrown into the sea as God’s kingdom takes root and is established. Jeremiah spoke the same prophetic words, “When you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it, and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates,  64 and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disasters that I am bringing on her.’” (Jer. 51:63 )

Application

The lesson is for us to learn from the past. Mystical Babylon will continue to raise her ugly head whenever the grind and draw of secularism become a force with which to be reckoned. This is the prophetic word for we must live in a state of awareness. At the same time we are challenged to live in the kingdom, for Christ’s death has brought about the ultimate victory over the power of this world. We don’t have to live in the centrifugal force of Babylon for she and her stone have been thrown into the sea. We are set free to live in the power of the kingdom. These are the prophetic words, the kingdom words.

Prayer

Lord, may the power of your Holy Spirit lead me in your kingdom today.  Amen.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Participating in the Virtues of God



Scripture

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  12 singing,
    “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
    and thanksgiving and honor
    and power and might
    be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Observation

We experience an interlude in the breaking of the seals, one which serves as a bit of encouragement to the followers of Jesus Christ. Suddenly we have a picture of the heavenly realms in which we discover the Church universal where those who have been martyred are standing around the throne, along with all the elders and the angels.  It is a vision of everyone worshipping God.

The "Amen!" is declared — the “so be it” of the event. God will provide eternal protection for those who are united with him.

This leads us to the seven-fold praise of the virtues of God, signifying the never-ending praise of God and a revelation of his nature.

Blessing.

Glory.

Wisdom.

Thanksgiving.

Honor.

Power.

Might.

This is also a recognition that humanity is invited to participate in the very nature of God, receiving these virtues by participating with him. Notice this list does not mention omnipotence, or eternity, for those belong to God alone. But, the Church and Christ’s followers are invited to participate in all seven of these good things. Amen!

Application

This scripture is bittersweet. It is those who have experienced the pains of suffering and martyrdom who are also experiencing the joy of participating in the virtues of God. Life can be overwhelming at times and discouragement can set in. We can only begin to imagine what life was like for those first-century Christians who were beginning to face martyrdom at an alarming rate. Viewed as enemies of the State, the Christians were experiencing hostility at a level they had never anticipated. The brutality and suffering which they faced was more than they could express.

This Christmas season there are Christians who have faced overwhelming persecution similar to what those had happened for those early Christians. We are invited in, as the Church universal, to continue worshipping God — taking a break to praise and worship him, participating in his virtues. Then, we are encouraged to carry those virtues out into the world so that others might experience God’s blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might! Eventually the State which persecuted the Christians praised God. It took a few hundred years, but it happened as the believers refused to give up.

Being a Christ follower can be a bit discouraging these days. There are on-going reports on the demise of Christianity and the church. Christians are being martyred, butchered and murdered in parts of the world and we wonder how to respond. Sometimes there best thing to do is to join with John — take a break from the plagues and violence — and gather around the throne, worshipping God and his virtues. Over and over the remnant remains faithful and suddenly blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might break out. A little glimpse of heaven is revealed in our worship of God and in this we find encouragement — that God remains on the throne and is victorious.  It is then that we are empowered by the fact that we are participating in something much greater than ourselves and his virtues fill us with encouragement.

There is no promise here that life will be easy. There is simply an invitation to worship in the midst of despair, and in worshipping we experience the Amen! And we go on to face the next plague or seal, participating in the virtues of God.

Prayer

Lord, we worship you and your virtues today.  Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Love Lost


Scripture

Rev. 2:1   “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
Rev. 2:2   “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.  3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.  4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  5 Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Observation

The city of Ephesus was an amazing place with the temple of Artemis and all that she had to offer. This was a place famous for providing refuge for fugitives, but the situation was abused and the region around the temple became known as a criminal sanctuary and a headquarters for organized crime.

The Christians of the city worked hard to minister to those who who found themselves around the decaying margins of society. The Ephesian Christians persevered in their faith by ministering to the needy, but also in overcoming false teachers.

It could be however, that their desire for theological “purity” soon began to outweigh the ministry on the margins. Could it be that the loss of love for others resulted in a loss of love for Christ? Jesus, in his preaching, constantly brought the people back to the place where they would understand that Loving God and Loving Others were intrinsically connected. The Ephesian Christians got to a place where they hated the practices of those who erred, but somehow this grew into a hatred of those who erred. Their faith became perverted as they veered from the trajectory which would have led them to the continual and ongoing redeeming love of God which was found in Christ Jesus.

By not loving others, they rejected Jesus. They also began to believe that they were better than those who were living in the sin-filled shadow of the Artemis’ Temple. The lampstand, the very presence of Jesus was in their midst but if they didn’t love him and love others, he would come and move it! There had to be actions that coincided with their repentance and this repentance included a return to ministering in the dark places of society from which they themselves had come. Without this action, their love would be forever lost.

Application

We are spending our holiday in Flint, Michigan with our children. Our youngest daughter, Cara and her husband Justin serve on staff at a church here in town. Some people have asked them why they would want to move to such a city as Flint! A report from “Business Insider” in June 2013 reported, “We've been ranking America's most dangerous cities for several years, and there's one city that keeps making the top of the list — Flint, Michigan.” Read more. In reality, it could be viewed as a rather depressing place.

We spent time today driving through the downtown and then into some of the areas which have suffered as a result of the downturn in car manufacturing which used to rule this city. There is the entire space along the river where the Buick factory used to exist. Today it is a brownfield — the largest one in North America, with just barren ground and a fence around it. North of downtown are the now decaying neighborhoods that used to be bustling centers of family life. Since 1960 half the population of Flint has left. There are far too many houses and not enough people. House after house is boarded up, burned or simply sits in ruins.

Housing in a neighborhood of Flint





What happened to this city?

After arriving home I thought I would read up on the religious history of Flint. Many towns in North America were founded by religious groups coming for the sake of ministry or freedom to worship. That doesn’t seem to be the case for Flint where it was established as a trading center along the Flint river. However, religious groups soon came and ministered to those here on the frontier and established missions to the native peoples. Eventually the city became more established and churches were built along the downtown streets with a clarion call for those within the city to come and worship the Lord. A religious history of the county, written nearly 100 years ago seems to have prophetic words.  “So those of like faith, and education early formed themselves into societies or church, and began planning for permanent influence. Hence, the fine church edifices which now adorn our community stand, and will stand, for spiritual excellences which are of more value to humanity than the highest towers which trade and commerce can erect or the most exquisite works which genius and art can produce.” (The History of Genesee County, MI. Chapter XXVII, Religious Organizations,Part I. Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton)


Genius and art produced the General Motors Company, Buick and Chevrolet automobiles, and the United Auto Workers. All of these found their home in Flint, Michigan. Huge edifices and towers were built in their honor and in the hey-day of the post WWII era, the city was alive with commerce. But then the temporal things of man began to change and decay hit the city hard. The great city — the great things that she had to offer — today they are all gone.
Genesee Towers being demolished in December 2013.

But interestingly, the churches of 100 years ago, they remain. We walked the streets today and saw the United Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic and Presbyterian churches of downtown. In the midst of the ups and downs and changes of the world around them, for more than a century they have stood and they have borne witness to the presence of the Lampstand. They remained in their locations and through thick and thin they have continued to minister to a city in need of the love of Jesus Christ. Probably some days they’ve done better than others, but they are there — present and ministering.

Court Street United Methodist Church, Flint


But then I have to ask myself a very difficult question. Where are the churches that come from my religious roots? Where are the Wesleyan/Holiness churches who were birthed a little over 100 years ago in a desire to bring together spiritual renewal and transformation? Wouldn’t we be those who would have remained in the shadows of the margins, bringing the love Christ to a city when things got really rough? Honestly, there are a number of churches in the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition in the Flint, Michigan area and they are doing a good job of ministering — but many moved out to the suburbs when things got rough in the city. It’s what we did.

Could it be that’s what the church in Ephesus did as well? Forgetting that they had come from the shadows of the Temple of Artemis they were now wanting to have a ministry where it would be nice, safe and convenient for their children. They built their church on the other side of town. No one wants a church where organized crime has control of the streets!

The call to the church in Ephesus is a wake up call. They were good people. They had good ministry. They were theologically sound. But they forgot what it meant to love the ones living in the shadow.

It’s Christmas week and we have celebrated love revealed to us in the presence of a tiny baby, born in a space for animals and laid in a manger. There he was — born in the shadows, in the margins where no one wanted him. He is calling to you and to me. We have lost the love because we don’t want to go to where he is.

The good news for the Ephesians was that they could repent. They could return to their first love.

So can we.

Love is found in the decaying shadows of a city.

Love is found in the lonely neighbor.

Love is found when we allow God’s holy love to pour from every bit of our being, bringing him to a lost world.

Love doesn’t have to be lost — today it can be found.

Prayer

Lord, may you empower me to love the world with your love.  Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Love Revealed



Scripture

1John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Observation

The birth of a little child made the adoption of others possible. God the Father in his overwhelming love for all of humanity continually reaches out, trying to draw us back into his loving arms. Children who have wandered off, far away from him have sold their birthright, and yet, he does not want to abandon them. God stretches out in our direction with love which pours from his very being, offering to one and all adoption into the family. The past can be forgiven, the sold birthright repurchased and the inheritance restored. His love is lavished on his children.

His children are transformed by his holy love and they take on a family resemblance. The older brother, the one who came and was born in a humble setting among the animals, he is the one we are to follow. Seeing Christ gives us a glimpse of what is ahead and we will be like him if we follow in his footsteps. And all along the way, love is disclosed as it pours from the very nature of the incarnate God. God is with us — Emmanuel — love revealed.

Application

Today we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. But that word “Savior” sometimes creates a bit of a distance between him and us. Jesus didn’t come to create distance — but to close the gap! This is the love we are to understand. Jesus didn’t just come to “save” us, but God loves us so much he wants to save, and adopt us into his family.  When we celebrate the birth of the baby, we are celebrating the birth of the one who makes our adoption possible.

There is so much more to what God has done for us than we often realize. His desire is not just a snatching away or saving from destruction, but he wants us to enjoy the benefits of transformation and adoption into his family. Jesus came, pure and holy, so that we too could be pure and holy. That’s the family resemblance.

Today love is revealed in a tiny baby who makes it possible for everything to be different. His birth signals the pathway into a new family — God’s family. It’s not just the holy family of Mary, Joseph and the baby that we see today, but God revealed with arms wide open, loving and adopting us. The baby is born today, and we may now be called children of God. This is love revealed. Let us celebrate!

Prayer

Lord, thank you will never be enough for what you have done for me.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Declaring Your King!



Scripture

John  19:15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Observation

Pilate gave the Jewish leaders every opportunity to declare Jesus as their King. Here he was, their Messiah and yet the rejection of him is complete and total. The absurdity of this verse and their declaration “We have no king but the emperor” is astounding. The chief priests are confessing a loyalty to Caesar which was greater than Pilate’s. He is absolutely astonished and in this statement they are not only rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, they are rejecting their God. They have declared that Caesar IS their God and in a sense are selling their birthright. They are giving away their blessing to the Christians who will come after them.

Application

It’s easy for us to look at those religious leaders who have gone before and pass judgment but at the same time not look at ourselves critically enough. Are there more subtle ways in which we may be declaring that Caesar is Lord, instead of our Messiah?

For many today is Christmas Eve and we will go to worship services and sing about the coming of Jesus — our Messiah and King! It should be a time in which we evaluate the ways in which we are living our lives. Are we truly willing to declare Jesus as our King? Or, has life been filled with far too many options — ones which have become distractions and has there been a subtle declaration that Caesar — or the world — truly is King.

To follow the Jesus of the manger is to be counter-cultural. It means that we do not conform to the opinions and influences of the world around us. That idea made the religious leaders extremely uncomfortable and they were willing to conform, above and beyond the level of the ordinary. I believe that Christians today are being pushed to conform to the patterns of the world and some are succumbing beyond the ordinary. Just as the Chief Priests embraced their role as supporters of Caesar, there are ‘Christ-followers” who are, without thinking, supporting the world more than they are God. This may be for personal reasons or gain, or out of an innocent ignorance which has simply allowed them to become influenced by the world’s thinking.

Just as the chief priests were given the option of declaring their King, so we are given that same choice. What will we do today? It’s Christmas eve and we can declare that Jesus is our King. What will we do with that option?

Prayer

Lord, may you rule as King in my life.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It’s too easy to give up



Scripture

John 18:25   Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”  26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”  27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Observation

Peter had been with Jesus for years, but human weakness is great. When Jesus is not present, or when Peter distances himself from him, it’s far too easy to give up. Peter doesn’t even seem to realize what is happening as he is drawn into the events of the night and suddenly he discovers that he is far from Jesus. The cock crows and he becomes aware of what he has done.

Application

To think that Peter stepped away from Jesus in just one night is rather mind-boggling. How could this man who just a few hours earlier had been in the garden with Jesus in prayer now deny him. Is it that easy to give up?

I feel like I’m hearing about far too many who are giving up on Christianity these days. There are those who are disappointed in the behavior of particular Christians. That’s always happened throughout history! There are those who don’t like the way the church does its business and would like to see a more ideal model of worship and ministry to the world. Yes — we would, but when we step out of the church community and head off on our own spiritually we may find ourselves like Peter. The temptation is to give up on Christianity and it happens far too quickly and easily.

Peter was stunned when the cock crowed. Stunned because he discovered that he had denied Jesus! Stunned that he had given up in such a short period of time.

If we are not careful, we will find ourselves giving up far too easily.

This is Christmas. Instead of being drawn to the activities of the world, may we use this season to come back to the real focus of Christmas. Instead of denying Christ through the secular activities of the days, may Christ intentionally be in the center. Use this as an opportunity to draw back to him. He is near.

Prayer

Lord, please help us to draw near to you this day and may we not give up on you.  Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

For Which Good Works Will We Stone Him?



Scripture

John     10:30 The Father and I are one.”
John 10:31   The Jews took up stones again to stone him.  32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?”

Observation

Jesus declares that he and the Father are one and this sets up a reaction from the Jewish leaders. In this statement he is saying that he is, in fact, God. This unity of the human and divine nature found in Jesus Christ was completely foreign to the officials. While they had observed his good works they could only attribute them to the good nature of a human. They could not see his divine nature. Jesus’ response to them is interesting when he reveals that his good works are from the Father. In other words, the things that he’s been doing have not been his doing alone, but because of his unity with the Father.

Because they could not see the source of Jesus’ good works they wanted to stone him, not for what he had done, but for his words. They missed the whole direction in which his life was leading. His actions were pointing the world toward salvation and toward the Father. By focusing so narrowly on his words they missed what he had to offer them.

Application

Something happens when we miss the big picture of God’s activity in the world. The big picture for Jesus’ day was to hear his words and see his actions combined to reveal the way to God. Sadly the religious officials chose not to look at the big picture but to focus on being critical in every way possible.

The gift of the Christchild was the most unusual gift of all time. Jesus came as the son of God, able to do good works because he and the Father were one. Understanding the all encompassing nature of that gift means that we realize that we are invited into this holy relationship, where we too can participate in God. Think about this - - and the fact that we are also invited to do good works which come from the Father. This is truly the life of holiness, God’s holy people, participating in his holiness and revealing the good works of the Father to the world.

The world will not always appreciate the things which those who are in Christ will do. Just as they wanted to stone Jesus, so there will be those who will react strongly against those who are in Christ. Therefore we are encouraged to wear the badge with honor and wonder, for which good works might we be stoned?! Remember when the disciples rejoiced that they had been worthy to be persecuted. Do we live that kind of an active Christian life where we can rejoice for being treated as Jesus was treated? It seems that we are looking for things to be a bit easier but that’s not what Christ brought to the world. To be in Christ means that we are different, and that we belong to the new kingdom. The world won’t understand, but we rejoice in serving and suffering together with the Christchild who came to set us free!

Prayer

Lord, may we be drawn into a deeper relationship with you in this Christmas season.  Amen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Are They Saying Now?



Scripture


John  7:12 And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”  13 Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.

Observation

Jesus’ brothers had encouraged him to come to the Festival but he told them that it wasn’t the right time yet. He wasn’t going to go and do a lot of public works. Later on he simply went to the events, slipping in without people noticing. However, he was able to overhear their conversations about him. People were saying all kinds of things, wondering where he was and contemplating his character. On one hand there were those who felt that he was good while others saw him as being deceptive.

The religious authorities were jealous of him and somehow could not accept his nature as good. Instead they leaned toward the idea that his words were deceptive or seductive. His words were influencing people and they hadn’t give him the authority. They could not see the authority of God in his work because that would mean that they did not have ultimate power and authority over the religious affairs of their community. The ordinary folks who saw Jesus through their innocent eyes could see that he was good while the priests and rulers were corrupted and this corruption created a filter through which they saw him — and ultimately, spoke about him.

In reality his words were seductive because people were responding and lives were being changed. This greatly disturbed the leaders for it eroded their power base. Their concern was not with God or his message of salvation but with keeping their personal positions secure. The best way to tackle this influence was to talk about Jesus and present their corrupted perception of his work.

Application


Society seems bent on presenting a corrupted version of Christianity — one that is viewed through a corrupted filter. It seems that in the United States, Christianity is under attack in ways that I have never experienced. Everything that a Christian does, or doesn’t do, is scrutinized through a particular lens or filter. Just as Jesus walked among the crowd and could hear the people complaining about him, so the Christian finds the world complaining. Now, to be quite honest Christianity hasn’t always gotten everything right and there is some deserved criticism but at the same time, it seems that there is an open season on criticizing Christianity, as if everything bad in this world has come from Christian.

There is a filter that changes the entire perspective. It’s why the religious leaders couldn’t see anything good in Jesus. Their filter said that he was deceiving people — that he was seducing people. Isn’t that similar to what people say about Christians these days as well. My concern is that we are reacting to what the world is saying, instead of continuing to do what is right. Jesus heard the things that they were saying about him, but he never allowed this to influence who he was or to keep him from his mission. The reality was that his message was seductive because it led people to the love of the Father experienced in a restored relationship.

This leads me to concern over the message of Christianity that we are hearing today. Are we being too cautious about what the world might be saying about us that we don’t want to be too seductive? Could we be afraid of encouraging people to come to Christ because some might complain!

This advent season is a time when we should proudly proclaim the arrival of the Messiah who provides for us a way of transformation, and yes, there ought to be something seductive about our message! Will there be those who talk about us? Of course there will be — but it didn’t stop Jesus and it shouldn’t stop us either. What the world is saying now is not much different from what has always been said. The truth about Jesus remains timeless and no matter what others say about us, as followers of Christ it is our responsibility to continue sharing his light to a darkened world.

Prayer

Lord, may your words through me, be seductive to those who need to know you.  Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Biblically Literate. Spiritually Desolate.



Scripture


John 5:39   “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.

Observation

The Jewish leaders were profoundly capable of reading the Scriptures and they carried them around in their hands so that people would know how educated and literate they were. They were able to quote long texts from memory and they believed that their knowledge of the word of God would lead them to eternal life. The sad truth is that they became consumed by the Scriptures themselves believing they would be their source of eternal life, instead allowing the word to lead them to the real source of life.

They were extremely bright individuals who knew the Word, but did not recognize the fulfillment of prophecy, the one who stood right before them. They were literate but spiritually desolate. They undervalued Christ because they overvalued themselves, rejecting him because they thought they were too smart for him.

John Wesley encourages us to search the Scriptures as a means of grace. It is the Scriptures that are not an end to themselves but are a channel of God’s grace that leads us to the Messiah. This is what the religious leaders did not understand. They could quote long passages and yet they were missing the point that they were to “search the scriptures” because in searching — they would find what they needed!

The word which has been translated as “search” actually means to seek diligently or anxiously. It’s the same language that Homer used when describing the lioness whose little ones have been taken by the enemy. There is an intense and anxious search until the little ones are found. The mother doesn’t focus on the journey but on what will be found at the end of the journey. Just so, we are to anxiously and intensely search the Scriptures as a means of grace that leads us to our Messiah. When the Scriptures are searched in this way, then the Scriptures testify on behalf of Jesus! When we seek him, we will find him — but we must truly and earnestly seek him.

Application

This Christmas season we can enjoy all kinds of festivities and events to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. We can know all the songs and recite parts of the Christmas story. The house can be decorated and the presents wrapped under the tree but if none of these lead us to Christ, himself, we are lost.

Just as the Scriptures become channels of God’s grace to humanity so can the activities of this season. This, however, will only be possible if we don’t focus on where we are in the journey, but anxiously and diligently search for the true meaning behind all the “stuff.”

Too many people who call themselves Christians will celebrate this season as Biblically literate, but spiritually desolate. We may be just as guilty as those religious leaders of the past.

Only when we get to know the Christ of Christmas will we be transformed by his holy love. This is when the Christmas story comes to life, not in the book, but in you and me.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the revelation of you that we discover in your word.  Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Prejudice in the Kingdom



Scripture


John 4:27   Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Observation

We are jumping into the scene of the woman at the well. Here she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus has been spending time talking to her. All of this was improper. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans! The disciples were quite appalled at the action of Jesus and their own prejudice informed them. While some commentators suggest that the disciples’ response (or lack there of) was out of respect and awe, there are others who would like us to consider that that they didn’t say anything because they were embarrassed by Jesus’ behavior. How in the world could he sit and talk with someone of another race or group of people that they looked down on — and besides that, the person was a woman. Their prejudice was showing.

Jewish rabbis were to avoid women because they were considered a distraction from the study of the Torah. These “other” people — a minority group, Samaritans — and then a woman — were considered of much less worth than the higher class of Jewish rabbis. The prejudices had been instilled in them since their birth and suddenly they were confronted with the behavior of their rabbi Jesus.

In their own minds they were probably concerned that Jesus had some how not understood how this would look to the rest of the world. Rabbis were to avoid women — not even to talk to their own wife on the street so that no one would think that there were any sexual innuendos or advances. In essence women were thought to be evil temptresses that would drive men astray and therefore they were to be avoided at all cost. Conversation with them might open the door for temptation and yet, here was Jesus embarrassing them all.

Origen, one of the great leaders in the early church challenges us on this scripture. He says that we become “carried away with pride and arrogance, despise those below us and forget that the words, ‘Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness’ apply to each person.” Jesus was breaking down long-held barriers of prejudice and revealing to the disciples that there was a new kingdom being ushered in where the barriers would be destroyed and everyone would have access to the Messiah. Cyril of Alexandria says Jesus shows here that he is the Creator of all, and as such, “ he does not give men only this life through faith but imparts this faith to women as well. Let him that teaches in the church follow this pattern and not refuse to help women.” And I would hasten to add — and not refuse to help anyone. There can be no prejudice in the kingdom.

Application


Today’s passage challenges us to look at our own potential prejudices. The events in the United States in the last number of weeks have asked us to examine ourselves and recognize that we may have our own preconceived notions of how we “see” certain situations and circumstances. The woman at the well becomes a context in which we may examine our own response because we may be one of the characters in the story.

The woman — she had grown accustomed to being treated poorly. She was a Samaritan! She was born into the wrong people group. A Jewish rabbi would never talk to her because she was considered so far beneath him. This woman knew how to act in the presence of a man like Jesus — like she wasn’t even there. Compared to him she had been taught that she wasn’t much of a human being and she knew this is what he would think of her. I can imagine her downcast eyes and steeling herself for the encounter — or lack there of — where she might just be invisible to this man.

The disciples — followers of Jesus Christ who were blessed to encounter teaching from him on a daily basis and yet, they carried with them their cultural bias and prejudices. How could they not recognize that their response was something that should happen in the kingdom? They are embarrassed by Jesus!

Jesus — is ushering in a new kingdom in which all the barriers are removed. There is no more walking on the other side of the road away from the Samaritan. No longer does he avoid the woman because she might contaminate him! Instead, Jesus carries his holiness with him, reaching out and touching a needy world and bringing holy healing along the way.

This becomes the vital difference of those living within the kingdom. Christ’s holiness is contagious as we walk the highway of holiness and the result is that the walls of prejudice are destroyed. Reflecting Jesus means that we bring Christ’s holy healing to a needy world, not afraid to encounter those that others may view as being different. Jesus’ behavior is an example for us — there can be no vestige of prejudice among God’s people. Jesus intentionally went to a Samaritan well and then began talking to a woman who was stunned by his loving response.  We are challenged to go and do likewise.

When the holy love of God consumes his followers there is no room left for prejudice and Christ’s holy healing overflows. This is God’s kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, please help us as your followers to be intentional about breaking down the barriers which have been created.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where The Holy Journey Leads



Scripture


2Pet. 3:11   Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,

Observation

Recognizing the temporal nature of this life the readers are exhorted to focus on that which is important — “leading lives of holiness and godliness.” Reading before and after this text we realize that focusing too much on the creation account or the return of Christ is not the intention of the life of a believer. Instead we are to be united in holy relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, participating in godliness resulting in a life of holiness. Wesley encourages us to become persons engaged in “holy conversation — with men. And godliness — Toward your Creator.”

This scripture leads us to a type of challenge — questioning whether we might be prepared for the amazing scenes that God has prepared for us, should they actually burst in on us in this lifetime. There is something more for which we are living than that which we can see with our human eye. This becomes increasingly visible as we lead lives of holiness.

Application


We are called to join those who have gone before us on the highway of holiness. The road has a destination — Jesus Christ! Our focus, day in and day out is to be on him — our beloved who is awaiting us.

In the early years of Christianity there were enormous distractions. The secular or pagan world was full of its own religious imagery and was constantly pressuring the beliefs of those new Christ followers. Christians were an oddity who found themselves being persecuted for their faith. The secular world loved lengthy arguments and debates. Often these were held simply for the benefit of entertainment and so in the middle of it all were these simple Christ-followers, living in a new kingdom that the world could not see.

We are citizens of that same kingdom but the secularization of our world is also pressuring us to come out and join the arguments and debates. All these things will dissolve away! The charge in this scripture was not just for those believers 2000 years ago, but to us today. Keep the main thing the main thing! We are to be people who are genuinely transformed by our participation in the holy relationship found in God. We are to become travelers on the holy journey who are no longer distracted by the things of this world. The holy journey will lead us to a simple manger where we will discover a loving and humble Savior, reaching out to a dying world in holy love.

Prayer
Lord, please continue to lead me on this journey today.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Feeling Intimidated



Scripture

1 Peter 3:14b Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,  15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.

Isaiah 8:12 Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.  13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

Observation

The Gentile world had issues and concerns — anxiety inducing incidents which could strike fear into the lives of the believers. The believers were living lives contrary to the world and this came as a word of encouragement. In the mist of difficulties and persecutions there was a call to hang on- to persevere. The scripture in 1 Peter is a reflection of the one found in Isaiah and it is again a call to live above the fear and dread that can be found in the world.

The focus for the believer is not to be intimidated by all that they may be experiencing in the world, but instead, to focus on holiness. When the journey of the believer is to find themselves on the highway of holiness, following after and reflecting Jesus Christ, then the intimidations of this world begin to vanish.

Application


There are plenty of things happening in the world that can be intimidating to us. There is instability in the economy. Just watch the stock market on a daily basis and it’s enough to make you fear.

Then there are the news headlines, and they are awful. There is unrest in our world, both abroad and at home. It is troubling and unsettling, and it can cause fear and dread. We can feel intimidated by the loud voices clamoring around us, each wanting to get our attention and pull us in their direction. The political voices on all sides can be, at times, deafening, each one calling for a conspiracy and the result can be all consuming and dread inducing.

During the time of Isaiah there was a call to turn aside from the fears of the world. The children of Israel were suffering and there did not seem to be much hope. Fast forward to the time of the Messiah. The long awaited one had finally come and yet here they were, continuing to suffer for their faith. People were being martyred for their new-found faith in Jesus Christ.

And now, nearly 2000 years later the message rings out to us. Don’t be afraid and don’t be intimidated by what you see happening around you. Instead, keep Jesus before you, ever and always seeking his face. May he dwell in our hearts, sanctifying us by his holy presence within us. If there is anything to fear, it is not following him — losing sight of the Christchild during this holiday season.

The things of this world are nothing in light of following the holy footsteps of our Messiah. No need to feel intimidated!

Prayer

Lord, may I seek your holy presence in all things today.  Amen.

Monday, December 15, 2014

For All Those Aspiring Teachers Out There



Scripture

James 3:1   Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Observation

Being a teacher in the Jewish system was a prized role. It was one that brought with it the admiration of those around and as the fledgling new Christianity began to grow there were those who sought out this position of honor. People wanted to become teachers. The problem is that a number of them weren’t willing to take the time to be sufficiently educated to be the teachers they needed to be. For example, Apollos was traveling around as a teacher and yet he only knew the teaching of John the Baptist. He was smart enough, however, that when he discovered he was lacking, he was willing to sit under the teaching of Priscilla and Aquilla.

James was concerned about the quality of the teaching. The tongue is a very powerful tool and can be used to lead people in the direction of Christ, or astray. That’s why James was encouraging people to be discerning about this call to teaching. The other point that is brought up by many of the Church Fathers is that teaching without living out your teaching by example is worthless. All teaching that is merely words should be rejected.  A teacher should embrace the very words that they teach because they will “judged with greater strictness.”

Application

Let me just combine this comment — not just about aspiring teachers, but preachers as well. Or, let’s expand that to small group Bible Study leaders — or leaders within the church of any kind. It’s not good enough to just talk about your faith or be able to teach from a booklet or show a DVD. For teaching to have value there must be a depth behind the words. If you are to teach, you must believe and live what it is that you are teaching.

The world is tired of all the fluff and wants to see that our faith is genuine. There are far too many people these days who are popular just simply for being popular and not because of the depth of anything of significance that they have accomplished. This is a real shift in our culture but the reality is that eventually the empty house will begin to fall down. Look at the scandal of the tele-evangelists of the 1980’s. They rose to fame and became popular because they could — because they learned how to use the media to their benefit — and yet, their lifestyles left much to be desired.

For all those aspiring teachers and preachers out there — don’t seek after that kind of a position because you want to be up front and get the attention. Only do the job if God is calling you and then, take the time to know your profession well. Know what you don’t know — and then seek to learn more. May the speech of your tongue be seasoned and the acts of your life be a shining example to all those around you. Don’t just speak words, but practice what you preach.

There is a higher standard for those who put themselves before a group of people to be their influencers. That’s the warning here. Beware — for the enemy will do all that can be done bring about your demise. The only way to remain faithful is to keep seeking the face of God, day in and day out. Aspire to know God — and then aspire to teach the God whom you have come to know.

Prayer

Lord, help me to know you more today.  Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Time To Get Into Shape



Scripture


Heb. 12:12   Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Observation

There are to be difficult times in the life of a believer and these can either make us weaker or stronger. After going through a particularly troubling time it may be easy to feel defeated and frustrated. Our hands are drooping — we simply can no longer lift them up in praise and worship of the Lord, or as Moses — they can no longer be lifted up for the battle. It’s all just been too hard. The hard knocks have also made our knees weak or feeble and somehow we wonder whether we can continue on with the race.

For the follower of Christ there will be difficulties and we have a choice to make in terms of response. Will we allow ourselves to continue to be defeated and for us to become weaker, or will we get into shape? We are encouraged to fight the tendency to allow our arms to droop — instead, pushing against the odds, lift up our drooping hands. Praise and worship God in the midst of the difficulties. Look for others who may be willing to help prop them up when we feel that we no longer have any strength.

Our weakened knees need to be strengthened so that we can continue the race. The only way to do that is to exercise so that the surrounding muscles will provide the needed strength. Our spiritual muscles must be exercised so that we can continue the race and when the pathway before us is strewn with rocks and pot-holes, we may need to stop and clean the path before us before we can go on.

Only by intentional effort, exercise and discipline can that which has been damaged be healed and the journey continue.

Application

Personal confession here — it’s been a year of getting out of shape! I was elected to this position January 3, 2014 and I feel like I’ve been running a race ever since that has had very few moments for catching my breath, let alone exercise. Before I started this particular lap of my journey I used to exercise at least five mornings a week. Now, my entire routine has been shot as I have discovered how consuming my current responsibilities are and how day after day I wake up and wonder where I am as I travel to represent this great institution. Physically I can feel it — my clothes are tighter and my joints are weary. I need to get back into shape, and quite honestly the Lord and I have been having a conversation about how that is going to happen!

The same thing can happen to us spiritually. We can come to a period of time when things simply change and as we move through that transition we can get out of shape. We are tired and weary and the energy is sapped from our bones. No longer do we feel that we can keep going and little by little we get out of spiritual shape.

Just as it takes discipline (ouch!) to get back into physical shape, so it also takes discipline to get into and remain in spiritual shape. No one said it was going to be easy but there is something about perseverance and self-discipline that makes a difference. If our metaphoric hands are drooping — maybe we need to begin by finding others who will help to prop them up before we can find our own strength to continue.

Looking at the road in front of us we need to make sure we have straight paths for our feet. What are the stumbling blocks which need to be removed? Possibly there are distractions in life that keep us from the spiritual disciplines which we need to exercise in life. Maybe we simply need to remove them from our lives so that they are not a temptation to us and we need to do everything that we can to make the path smooth. That may include surrounding ourselves with those who will encourage us in the journey — friends who want us to succeed, rather than those who will be the stones that lead us to slip and fall.

Today we will celebrate the third Sunday of advent. Christ came into a very difficult world and there were times that he was battered and bruised by what he had to encounter. He regularly went off and took time to remain in shape spiritually, getting recharged by his time alone with the Father. May we use this season of advent to get into shape, anticipating the arrival of our Messiah. Then as we venture into the new year may we persevere in the journey, traveling on the highway of holiness to places where we have never yet been because of the strength that we find in him. Don’t give up — get into shape.

Prayer

Lord, may your Spirit empower me to continue onward with you.  Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I would like to provoke you today!



Scripture

 Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Observation


The writer to the Hebrews understands that there is a connection between meeting together and living out the Christian life. One commentator states that the scripture “implies that people who deliberately and persistently abandon the fellowship of Christian believers are in danger of abandoning the Lord himself.” (New Bible Commentary) Our holy God is Trinitarian — Father, Son and Holy Spirit and as such is a community of holy love. From God spring love and good deeds for they are God’s nature.

As God’s people we are to be reflections of this holy love and it is only found in relationship. God is a relationship. We are called to be in a relationship and this happens when we gather together and the love we have for one another grows until we are able to provoke us to live in the world overflowing with God’s love and good deeds. The urgency to this behavior is added when placed in regard to Jesus’ day approaching. We don’t have time to waste — but we must make it a priority to be gathering as God’s holy people so that we will know how to live and act in this world. We need to be provoked and it will only come from gathering.

Application


Over and over in the scriptures we are reminded that something unique happens when the people of God gather together. We are told, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20) Something about that fellowshipping of God’s children together seems to make a difference.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the need for accountability and Wesley’s small groups. Here is the same idea again. If we do not meet together, if we do not hold one another accountable we will not be able to live in the way that God has intended for his children.

The temptation to attend church only occasionally these days is far too common. Even those who consider themselves regular attenders only attend a couple of times a month. On the whole church attendance in the western world is on the decrease. Somehow we have become far too busy to be bothered with the physical connection to a community of faith. We convince ourselves that an electronic link or connection may be good enough and so we sit down to the pod-cast of the service or watch it live streamed, if we participate at all.

I want to provoke us today — provoke us to an understanding that we need to be regular attenders of a community of faith. We have to stop lying to ourselves and convincing ourselves that if we show up from time to time it will be okay. I’m preaching to myself today because nearly every Sunday I’m out somewhere — preaching! However, I have also come to realize that I need a community into which I can be connected and be held accountable. I have returned to live in Kansas City where I lived in my youth. I didn’t church shop — I just decided to go home. The community of faith — and no, she’s not perfect — is more important to me than “what I like” in a church. There are people in this church who have known me since I was 13 years old and still love me and pray for me! I was there a couple of weeks ago and I ended up going to Sunday dinner with my former youth pastor (who stunned me when he told me he was 70!), the parents of one of my good friends from the youth group (they’re more than 70!) and a former denominational executive (also in the over 70 crowd). They were so kind and loving toward me and told me that any Sunday that I’m at “home” and have nowhere to go I can join them for lunch — the church family inviting me to be a part of a community. Another person at the church wrote me and said that she knew I needed a circle of intercessors who would pray for me and my work and that they’d like to suggest an overnight gathering and time of prayer in the spring — could I plan on that. Here are people who are provoking me on — people who know me and are worried about the schedule I am trying to keep. This is what the community of faith is all about — loving one another and provoking one another. And we give this up because there are certain ways in which things are done that don’t fit our “taste.” Really? The enemy is laughing all the way — because he knows that you’ve just given up meeting together and are perilously close to “abandoning the Lord himself.”

I want to provoke you today. Think about the priority of attending church and becoming active participants in a life of accountability before God and others. Become a reflection of our holy God.

Prayer


Lord, please help me to be willing to be provoked.  Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Are You Experiencing Drought?



Scripture


Hebrews 6:7 Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.

Observation


Spiritual instruction was the rain that fell on the Hebrews. They themselves were the ground, but they needed to wrestle with what type of ground they would be! Jesus had spoken in parables about the different types of ground and this theme is continued here.

Spiritual instruction was available but would the people soak it in? If they did and if it was used to provide for moist soil that would produce a crop, then they would be blessed by the Lord.

Application


Today’s news has images of rain falling on California. For months we have been seeing pictures of the drought — with reservoirs shrinking and ground becoming more and more dry and hardened. This rain seems like a blessing — an answer to prayer, and yet, there are places where they say that it is a real problem. Because of the length of the drought the soil has become so hardened that it is unable to absorb the rain. Instead the rain is simply running off and causing flooding. What could have been very good is turning out to be bad — at least for some.

Once we have come to know Christ we must soak in spiritual instruction on a regular basis. Just like the regular and on-going rains of Ireland truly do make it the lusciously Emerald Isle, so we can become blessed followers of Jesus Christ. Sadly, if we stay away from on-going instruction we will suffer from a spiritual drought. The rain won’t fall and our soil will become hard and dry. When we finally do choose to receive some instruction it may simply run right off of us and create more problems than help because we can no longer soak it in.

We can do something about the spiritual drought in our lives. We have the ability to soak in the healthy rain — little by little. On the western side of Ireland it rains an average of 225 days a year. That’s the majority of the time and if we are going to be blessed by God then we need to soak in that instruction a little at a time, day in and day out. Experiencing drought and then going in for a dumping of rain simply won’t work and this ought to make us question what we are doing to grow spiritually. Are we attending church regularly? Are we reading the word regularly? Are we praying?

If you have been experiencing drought, don’t try and fix it all in one fell swoop. Little by little, gradually introduce the rain back into your life and allow it to be soaked up into the dry soil until it becomes green and luscious again — blessed by God.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to listen to and receive your instruction daily.  Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Trust But Verify



Scripture

Philem. 22   One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.

Observation


Paul has been writing to Philemon about the run-away slave Onesimus. He is coming back home to Philemon and Paul is asking that he be accepted back into the household for this household has become one of faith. They are now a local church and are becoming well known as those who are refreshing the “hearts of the saints.” The concern for Paul is whether that grace which is refreshing the saints will reach out and restore the one who had run away.

In this final part of his letter Paul brings up the preparation of a guest room. It helps us to understand that Paul is hopeful that his imprisonment will be temporary but there also exists a possibility that this guest room allows for him to “visit” and check up on the ministry at Philemon’s home. This is just a little bit of added pressure to Philemon to restore Onesimus because if Paul comes to visit and Philemon is treating Onesimus poorly, that would be distressing. Knowing that Paul would like to come and visit would put additional pressure on Philemon to accept Onesimus back into the household.

There is the old saying from the Cold War era, “Trust but verify.” Paul seems to be using this tactic in what he is saying to Philemon. He seems to be saying that he trusts him to do the right thing with Onesimus, but at the same time, he is putting the possible visit in front of him as a fact that he would like to come and verify that indeed, Onesimus has been restored.

Application

This brings us to the point of trusting but verifying in the work of our Christian lives. There is something very practical about this when it comes to discipleship. There is a need for us to be accountable to one another — to verify!

John Wesley in his small group meetings gathered for this very purpose — to verify. People were growing in their faith and yet there was a great need for accountability. Weekly they gathered to answer rather probing questions.

1)  How does your soul prosper?
2) What opportunities have you had for ministry and how have you availed yourself of them?
3) What means of grace have you attended?
4) What temptations have you had and how have you dealt with them?

Yes, there was a sense of trust but there was also the verification. These questions boiled down to asking people whether they were truly growing spiritually and probing for the nitty gritty! Are you reading your Bible? How much? Did you go to church last week? How many times? How often did you talk to someone about Jesus? Were you tempted to watch things on your computer that you shouldn’t have?

What would happen if these types of questions of accountability became a part of our small group studies? This is what verification was all about. It was about accountability before one another.

Many churches adopted the concept of Sunday School that came from the era of John Wesley. While John’s intention would have been this type of verification we have moved this to a time to hear a lesson — to receive teaching from the Bible. While that’s not bad, I’ve wondered whether we shifted because it was simply too uncomfortable to spend time verifying! It sounds rather spiritual to gather for a Sunday School lesson — but that’s a whole lot “safer” than being asked difficult questions about our spiritual lives.

This scripture challenges us to think about our need for accountability within the community of faith. This is not something from which we ought to shirk, but to partner together and determine ways in which we may be able to verify together that we are a growing community in the Lord.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for this challenge today.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Those Who Choose to Undermine


Scripture

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

Observation

No one is immune from those who will harm you. Alexander seems to have intentionally undermined the ministry by what he had done. The sad part is that at one point and time he had been a part of the church but had then taken it upon himself to attack the doctrine and created a great deal of trouble. Considering his occupation he was probably not very well educated and so we can imagine the great gusto with which he may have attacked the church, thinking he knew what he was talking about, but in fact becoming terribly destructive.

Sadly many people were hurt and probably walked away from their faith in God as a result. The concern here in terms of harm was not the personal struggle or damage to one's own reputation but the fact that people were being led astray. 

The message is clear. We are not to personally retaliate, but we are to allow God to judge according to the person's own actions or deeds. At the same time we are not to be ignorant of the damage these types of individuals may be able to do and so we must be wise and beware to give them space to continue to do harm within the church.

Application

Most of us will experience people in life who may not like us or who may try to make what we do difficult. It's not our job to get back at them. There is a graciousness which must come from growing in our walk with the Lord. 

At the same time we are not to be ignorant. When there are those who are harming others, we need to think and pray about a wise response. We cannot allow individuals to come into the center of our fellowship and absolutely decimate the faith, especially of new believers. 

It would appear that trying to talk to this individual and trying to help him understand his misunderstanding of doctrine didn't help matters and that will often be the case. There will always be some who will not be willing to hear or learn and will be dogmatic about what they believe to be true. At the same time they may damage your personal reputation but that is not the greatest danger. Let them hurt our reputation, only let us beware and protect those whom that they may lead astray. Love and pray for those who choose to undermine you, and let God take care of paying them back.

Prayer

Lord, please help us to pray for and love those whom we encounter that may oppose us. Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Respecting Kingdom Citizens



Scripture

1Tim. 5:1   Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers,  2 to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.

Observation

It seems that there were issues of multi-generational worship within the church of Ephesus. Usually instructions or comments are given because some type of incident has occurred and more than likely it had to do with an older person, or a person within a position of responsibility needing to be rebuked. No one is saying that just because someone is older and more experienced that they will never do anything wrong. The question is how the issue will be handled.

The encouragement here is to imagine that all of those within the church or kingdom are family members. The general principle at work here is that we are always to imagine all of those with whom we are serving as members of the same family. It doesn’t matter who they are, what gender, nationality or race they may be, we are to be treated as family. There is no superiority within the kingdom but there is complete and total respect.

We are also to labor to keep the family together. This is not a family that gives up when there are difficulties. Instead, this family works hard and is willing to work through their issues to make a real difference. There is no promise that this will be easy, but that we are to work at the relationship, trying not to expel them from the community of faith, but to keep them in.

Application

This example in the life and ministry of Timothy could easily be repeated in the church today.  Sadly we see far too much segregation when it comes to worship on Sunday mornings. The church growth movement led us to consider building attraction churches that would bring people people of a very focused demographic to church. In other words — let’s plant a church for young adults — or let’s plant a church for Gospel music loving seniors — etc. The problem is that this has segregated the kingdom of God.

Not only are we segregated by age, but we have become segregated by nationality and race. Is this really God’s intention for the family of God? These instructions to Timothy ought to be instructions to us as well. The entire idea of these verses is of inclusion. How do we help everyone feel included and a part of the family? Intentional suggestions are given to Timothy.

Intentional instructions for us today would include never speaking harshly to anyone! Reaching out in an intentional way to be inclusive in the family — “there is no longer any slave nor free…” we are all one in Christ. As such, the unity found in God should be found in us. Instead of being driven apart, we ought to be united together. God is calling us to respect every single member of the kingdom and to reflect this love and respect to the world. If the world can’t see this happening within the church, then something is terribly wrong. Timothy needed to be reminded and we take his reminder today as a “not so gentle nudge” that we must be respectful of our sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, nieces and nephews — all kingdom family members.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to see the kingdom the way you do and to love the way you love.  Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Women Will Be Saved Through Childbearing



Scripture


1 Timothy 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Observation

This is one of those troubling passages of Scripture that we have to confront from time to time. Quite honestly the authors of numerous commentaries have differing opinions on what is being said here. Some write that this is regarding spiritual child-bearing, that those who are “in Christ” will help to bring birth to those who are being born again but those are the kind comments. Many others have been less generous.

We do know that this letter is being written in regard to the situation in Ephesus. This is a city that is ripe with goddess worship and the entire section leading up to this has to do with propriety in worship. It’s quite possible that in a city that has an over-emphasis on a goddess has also been bringing this idea into the church. Over and over again in the New Testament we understand that societal divisions have been destroyed, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. In the new kingdom, all things are made new and the fledgling church could not allow itself to be influenced by the worship of Artemis (or Diana) the Great!

Humanity had sinned and Eve had been involved in that sin. As a result, neither she nor Adam could bring salvation to the human race. That salvation had to come through Jesus Christ.

Application

Throughout the centuries women have carried with them the “shame” of being identified with Eve. Eve is the one who succumbed to the temptation of the Deceiver and ate of the forbidden fruit. Often women have been reminded that they have within them a little bit of Eve and as a result there is a distortion in the God’s original plan of male-female relationships. Instead of the equality that God had designed, a hierarchy has developed and in God’s prophetic vision he saw the pain with which women would bear children. It was in the place of her relationships with men and the womb that women continued to suffer the consequences of the fall.

Could it be that in this passage we simply see a reminder of this, or is there something new being said here?

Sadly, for centuries this Scripture has been a painful read for many women. Numerous women have struggled with issues of infertility and have been made to feel that they were incapable of becoming all that God had intended for them because they were unable to bear children. That somehow, this was the pathway to a woman’s holiness — by being a good wife and mother, and if that were not possible in her life, she might not be saved. Of course this was also troubling for single women who bore no children, although the stigma seemed to disappear if she were willing to serve in the church and birth “spiritual children.” Married women, however, were not given this grace and if she remained childless she was often made to feel that she had failed in her responsibility.

I would like to suggest that it’s time to look at this Scripture in a different way and it is Gregory of Nazianzus who can give us this clue. In his Epistle 101 he writes, “For that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” This concept is not mine but comes to us from Dr. Nonna Verna Harrison who began to explore this idea of the assumption and the healing of human flesh and what that might mean for women. What Nazianzen wanted us to understand was because of the fall, humanity had become corrupted. This corruption is to be understood in a wholistic way, that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical being of humanity, but we are one united whole. When this corruption occurred it affected the whole being in every way. Relationships were disturbed, human to human, and even humanity to the remainder of creation. This is why we read “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” (Romans 8:22) In deep need of healing, Jesus came as the great physician to bring about that healing process and according to Nazianzen’s understanding, as Jesus assumed human flesh, he brought about the possibility of humanity’s healing, salvation and sanctification. By living out the human life Jesus turned the tables on the corruption and made it possible for humanity to be healed. When we are adopted into his family we are grafted into the new life which he has made possible by his life.

Now, let’s see what this understanding does to this passage of Scripture. We are in the midst of the Advent season, and with great anticipation we are awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child. The angel came and spoke to Mary incredible words, “‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’  Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’  The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.’”  (Luke 1:31-35) As we are told in Matthew’s gospel,  “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Those are very profound words, “God with us.” God, in the form of Jesus Christ was to come, assuming human flesh and heal all that which he would assume. And now in this moment we get a little glimpse of the incredible love of God, stretching from the moment of humanity’s fall into corruption and the sin of Eve to Mary. From the womb of the woman who would have “greatly increased pangs in childbearing” (Genesis 3:16) we find the very first place that Jesus assumes human flesh, for he is conceived in the womb of Mary and the healing of humanity is begun and in that moment God’s love for his daughters and sons abounds. Salvation begins at the place where sin began its corruptive force and then reaches out in the new kingdom, bringing healing at every point of contact.

Women are not saved because each and every single woman gives birth to a child or because a woman is a good wife and mother. Rather, women are saved through childbearing because Mary carried the Messiah in her womb! This is an inclusive statement — because while Jesus is born a man, he is conceived in the body of a woman and therefore, all of humanity has been saved, including and very specifically women who have carried the brunt of guilt for the sin in the garden. Not only are women saved, along with men, but they are called to live as God’s holy kingdom citizens. The standard for holy living is just as high for women as it is for men; for slave as it is for free; for Jew as it is for Greek.

No longer does this passage need to trouble us, but instead give us the hope of the season. Just as we celebrate the advent of the Christchild we gratefully acknowledge the way in which the little babe began his salvific activity from the very moment of his conception letting us know that yes, women would be saved through his birth!

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your incredible love for all of humanity.  Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

It’s Time To Grow Up!



Scripture

Col. 1:9   For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.  11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.  13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Observation

Again, Paul is praying for his spiritual children and his prayer becomes a gentle hint as to their need for continued growth. They are already participating in the kingdom of Christ and yet they have not arrived at the end. Paul’s prayer reveals his love for these people and yet he wants them to grow up spiritually. Notice that he uses the term “that you may be filled,” showing an on-going action within the lives of these believers. He does not say, “that you may receive” because, according to Chrysostom they “in fact had already received.” But while they had received they needed to continue to grow so that they could “lead lives worthy of the Lord.” This would only be possible as they grew “in the knowledge of God.”

This “knowledge of God” is not about doctrine, but upon living life to its fullest when empowered by the Lord. We have been elevated to the position of family members. We are God’s children, but it should not just be about position. People can be elevated to positions but if they are not capable for the task they will be greatly embarrassed. God not only elevates our position but empowers us for kingdom service. In our adoption we have received our portion of the kingdom inheritance with the rest of the saints — or God’s holy people. As we grow up we become more skilled at utilizing the inheritance we have received and we can live as saints. The contrast here is quite amazing. We were living in the darkness of the world, lost and alone and we were rescued and made children of the king with all the rights, privileges and inheritance and now Paul’s prayer is for us to live as true children of the kingdom.

Application

Paul’s prayers continue to be a challenge as he recognizes this spiritual life is not a “done” deal, but that all of God’s children are encouraged to continue to grow up into that which we’ve been given.

Last night my husband and I were watching the Ohio State v. Wisconsin football game. It’ll probably be remembered as one of those epic games where everyone had their eyes on the young man who was brought in to play quarterback. The first string quarterback had hurt his shoulder and was unable to play. The second string quarterback had been playing most of the season and was absolutely outstanding but his ankle had been broken on the final play of game the previous week. Now, people were almost joking about the fact that the third string player was having to come in and try to lead the team.

Cardale Jones was elevated to a position — the position of quarterback of a football team playing in the championship game but just because he’d been given the position didn’t mean that he had the ability. Everyone held their breath to see whether he’d be able to live up to the expectations of the position. He came out and played with power and precision in a way that people were absolutely stunned. Not only did he have the position, but he had the right tools to play it well.

We have been elevated to the position of saint — we are called to be one of God’s holy children. All that we need to serve well in the kingdom is available to us but we have to reach out and grab it — and practice hard — and put everything we have into it — so that we will serve worthy of the position we have received. Just as Cardale Jones brought everything with him to the football game and showed the world that he was a true member of the Ohio State football team — just so we are to show up in the kingdom as mature, grown-up children who are using their inheritance well for the Father.

This is the simple prayer of Paul, calling for radical transformation both then and today. Will we play our position well?

Prayer

Lord, may Paul’s prayer continue to speak actively in my life today.  Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Deep Need for Interconnectedness



Scripture

Phil. 1:3   I thank my God every time I remember you,  4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,  5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,  11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Observation

Here, again, we find the Apostle Paul in prayer, and in this prayer we hear a mix of praise and prayer. Just because the dear believers in Philippi are excelling in their ministry and service doesn’t mean that he stops praying for them.

Paul recognizes the importance of on-going prayer in the fellowship of the believers and this is revealed to us in verse five. He sees the interconnectedness of the Philippians who are “sharing” with him while he is ministering in prison. The Greek word here for “sharing” is “koinonia” which we often translate as fellowship. The word has incredible depth as we think about the the on-going, day in and day out conversing, table-sharing hospitality of fellowshipping together. Chrysostom interprets Paul’s words,“The fact that you have been put in charge of one city,” he says, “does not mean that you care for that one alone, but you do everything so as to become partakers of my labors wherever I am. It is as though you are with me everywhere as my coworkers and companions in preaching.” Whether Paul is in prison in Rome or speaking to the Church leadership in Jerusalem, he is interconnected with his co-laborers back in Philippi, those gathered at Lydia’s house, and they continue to partner with him in his ministry.

They partner with him not only in prayer, but in their own spiritual development. Their spiritual growth brings strength to the aging Apostle. He commends them for growing in Christ. He does not flatter them with fancy words, but instead, is genuine in commending or praising them by stating the truth, without exaggeration. He needs real and genuine partners who are interconnected with him in his ministry. For this to happen he recognizes that he must pray for love, discernment, purity of life and righteousness. The goal becomes a people of God, interconnected, even when living great distances from one another that leads to the glory and praise of God. God’s holy people in “koinonia” with one another, reflecting the very “koinonia” found in the Trinity and this brings glory to God.

Application

Even before the days of social networking, God was uniting his children in a social network of prayer. This network is much more powerful than the one we find these days on the internet. While the internet may be useful to help us know how to pray for one another, the interconnectedness of disciples following God together is amazing.

Gregory of Nazianzus, a great theologian in the 4th century, had a mother that knew how to pray. Her interconnectedness with her son led to her to awaken in the middle of the night and realize the deep need to pray for him. He was out on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in the midst of a storm and thought he was going to die. As he was struggling, she was praying. He and the entire crew were eventually saved and when he returned home they discovered it was at one and the same time that all of this was happening.

We’ve heard these kinds of stories on numerous occasions for there is something that happens that connects us to one another in prayer. Paul knew that this was important and he recognized the interconnectedness of his relationship with the believers in Philippi. While they lived a long distance from one another they were sharing together in ministry.

We are also called to share together, or fellowship together in God’s work here on earth. We are interconnected — just as last evening I got a text message from a leader of another denomination asking me to pray for a particular meeting. We are interconnected! Or when I get a message that someone has been praying for me and it has been a particularly difficult time.

Paul lived and moved in this fellowship of fellow believers. Our calling is also to engage in the hospitality of fellowship found among our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. We are quite literally sisters and brothers and therefore we must embrace that relationship and live into it responsibly. We are created with the deep need to be connected.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to be attentive to the needs of those with whom I am connected and bring their requests before you.  Amen.