Saturday, January 31, 2015
Ex. 28:6 They shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, skillfully worked. 7 It shall have two shoulder-pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. 8 The decorated band on it shall be of the same workmanship and materials, of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 9 You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. 11 As a gem-cutter engraves signets, so you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; you shall mount them in settings of gold filigree. 12 You shall set the two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance. 13 You shall make settings of gold filigree, 14 and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.
This is one of those passages that we don’t often spend too much time reading. It’s a description of the garments that Aaron and his sons were to wear before the Lord. Yes, it’s a physical description of a garment, but could there be more? One of the reasons I enjoy reading the Church Fathers is because of their ability to see beyond that which is just in front of you. In this description of the ephod they see more than just the design of a piece of clothing, but begin to probe into what God may be saying to his people about the virtues of those who serve in the priesthood.
Gregory the Great challenges those in the priesthood to shine with great virtue. The very conspicuous nature of the colors which are selected for this ephod are conspicuous and so the priest should understand that there is a standard for service before God which is greater than that of the ordinary person. Their lives will stand in contrast to the world around them. The world, and God, have a higher expectation of these individuals.
The color of hyacinth represents the brilliant color of the sky, so that the priest is not driven by the things of this earth, but raises their eyes to God in heaven. There should be a love of heavenly things so that one is not captured or ensnared by the praise of the people of the world. Gregory goes on to explain, “With the gold and blue of the vesture there is also a mingling of purple. That is to say, the heart of the priest, while hoping for those high matters about which he preaches, should repress in itself the remotest suggestions of vice. He should, as it were, with kingly power reject them, ever setting his gaze on the nobility of his interior regeneration and safeguarding by his way of living his right to the heavenly kingdom.” PASTORAL CARE 2.3
The “twice-dyed scarlet” reminds us of the true nature of God, which is love. This is the “flame of love coming from the heart.” (Gregory the Great) This flame of love leads us to love of God and love of neighbor, for there cannot be simply a love for God without that reaching out as the “twice-dyed” to the world around, and the priest is to exemplify this behavior.
The “fine-twisted linen” is pure and white. There is an issue here of the purity of the priesthood as well — a purity of moral behavior. And all of this becomes a precursor that points the way to Jesus Christ who will come as our High Priest.
I remember speaking with a friend one day about those who are serving in the ministry. She said something about them just being ordinary people and “I guess we shouldn’t hold them to a higher standard.” I’ve thought about that statement because I think that would probably be the sentiment of many people these days. We have become so accustomed to the idea of “the priesthood of all believers” that at some point we may have lowered the standard or possibly not seen the role of ordained ministry. At the same time I don’t think that is correct. I believe that there has always been a higher standard for those who have been called into the ministry. Here, in the life of Aaron and his sons there was an expectation of a life of virtue that was quite different from the rest of the community. The life of the priest was to point one in the direction of God.
The vocation of ordained ministry is a call — and it is a call to something that is not ordinary. There is an expectation that this individual will help point people in the direction of Jesus Christ, not just by their preaching, but by their very life. The virtues above should be practiced in the life of one serving God in ordained ministry. This is the outward sign of those who are serving God in vocational ministry and we are in desperate need of these kinds of ministers and leaders for the Church today.
Lord, please help those of us called to ministry to serve you faithfully, and may you raise up and entire new generation of priests who will point us in the direction of you. Amen.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Acts 6:10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
Stephen had been called to testify before the synagogue of the Freedmen. They wanted to argue with him but they became frustrated with his response. He was far too eloquent for them and the combination was a one, two punch. His knowledge of the Scriptures overwhelmed them because he was skilled in Jewish wisdom. He was well acquainted with the sacred writings and opinions of scholars who had gone before. This was a man who had given sacrificially of his time and energy to become well educated and thus be able to articulate his faith.
At the same time Stephen had been filled with the Holy Spirit. This empowering of the Spirit made a radical difference in his life and he was filled with a boldness that came from God. Not only was he bold, but the Spirit working in and through his life resulted in signs and wonders being performed in his midst. Not only could Stephen argue the case for Christ, he was able to reflect Christ in the very way he interacted with the world around him and when they looked at him, even his appearance was “like that of angel.”
This powerful combination of a Spirit-filled, educated man of God was more than the religious leaders could bear. Because they were unable to argue against him they devised another plan, bringing in individuals to simply lie about what Stephen had said or done. He was far too powerful when everything that he had was given in full service to Christ.
We need some Stephens today, people who are willing to dedicate their time in thoughtful and in-depth study of the Scriptures which will result in an ability to articulate the gospel message in a way which is both compelling and provocative. At the same time, this study must be brought in humility before the Lord, with a genuine desire to know more of Christ and to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore we must commit ourselves to spiritual disciplines which include study and immersion in the presence of God himself.
And when we see this being lived out in others, we should not fear these individuals!
Unfortunately, too often we respond to this powerful combination in the way of the Freedmen. Surely this man (or woman) cannot be for real! How could he know the Scriptures and do so much good? The Spirit of Christ becomes intimidating to those who refuse to walk in the Light. Not only is it intimidating but it also begins to make one very uncomfortable because it digs at our own personal roots of complacency. Because people like this make us uncomfortable and we may begin to try and pick away at them — just like they did with Stephen. They brought in people to lie about him. In the case of the well-educated and Spirit-filled believer we may become overly critical, imagining that if they’ve studied they have been exposed to ideas that will lead people astray! Remember, the Freedmen were convinced that Stephen had been blasphemous. The result is that we throw metaphoric stones at those individuals who are needed to help lead us through this time of immense change within Christianity and culture. Isn’t that exactly what the enemy would want us to do?
May we support the upcoming Stephens of our day and nurture them to take us into a new future by the Spirit’s leading.
Lord, please help me to know you more today. Amen.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
This verse stands out in the middle of a section which speaks about the sharing which was taking place in the new church which had been birthed in Jerusalem. Great grace was being showered upon each individual within the community as they shared their worldly goods and no one had any need. The faith community was living and growing and ministering together. The result was great power which flowed through the apostles as they gave their testimony. Daily they shared the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his ability to transform lives and the church grew rapidly. The lifestyle of the new believers was all consuming and as they shared and cared for one another power and grace resulted.
We wonder why we don’t see New Testament type results in the church today. There are so many aspects of the New Testament church which are hard to imagine putting into practice in today’s society. This includes sharing all of our goods together with the community of faith and making sure that none within our midst had any need. However, if the church were to behave in this way it would be transformational within society. The more that a community of faith can be engaged in tangible ways within the society as a whole, somehow great power and great grace begins to abound.
This is more than speaking out about political issues, this is becoming personally engaged on the ground level with the issues and needs within a community. Just as Jesus went about ministering; preaching, teaching and healing — so are we called to reach out to our world. As we pray about our engagement with those around us I believe that something synergistic will happen when we take action. We begin to see God’s hand at work in a transformational way and we, ourselves, become more empowered by the Holy Spirit. We personally experience great grace as God uses us as channels of his grace to others. This was the place in which those early apostles found themselves, sharing their material goods and empowered to share their faith. It is a challenge to us today.
Lord, may you lead us into an all-consuming lifestyle of following you. Amen.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Ex. 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
From the top of Mount Sinai God provides the ten commandments for his people. This is a sign of God’s covenantal relationship with his people. Observation of the Sabbath was a visible witness of the commitment of the people to their God. If the Sabbath was not observed it showed disrespect for the God of the Israelites. Christ inaugurated a new covenant by way of his life, death and resurrection and the actual day of the week, Saturday, was replaced by the day of his resurrection, the Lord’s day, Sunday. The New Bible Commentary tells us, “The strict observance of the Sabbath, like circumcision, is no longer binding upon Christians.”
While this newer commentary says it is no longer binding, which may be technically true, it is still useful. It is in the older church Fathers all the way to Wesley that we read about the importance of continuing to have a time of Sabbath in our lives. Augustine says:
This third commandment imposes a regular periodical holiday—quietness of heart, tranquility of mind, the product of a good conscience. Here is sanctification, because here is the Spirit of God. Well, here is what a true holiday, that is to say, quietness and rest, means “Upon whom,” he says, “shall my spirit rest? Upon one who is humble and quiet and trembles at my words.”21 So unquiet people are those who recoil from the Holy Spirit, loving quarrels, spreading slanders, keener on argument than on truth, and so in their restlessness they do not allow the quietness of the spiritual sabbath to enter into themselves. SERMON 8.6.
Therefore, while it is no longer binding, Sabbath is necessary for our spiritual development. I love the line by Augustine that this is “sanctification, because here is the Spirit of God.” There remains a place for sabbath in the lives of God’s followers today, a slowing down that takes time to be in Christ, and only by participating in him will we discover sanctification and be transformed into God’s holy people.
I remember when I was young that we were rather legalistic about Sundays — our Sabbath. There could be no Sunday paper. Television was not to be watched on Sundays. You never went out to dinner because that would make someone else work hard on that day and you wanted them to be able to be home. Shopping was absolutely out of the question. Laundry was never to be done. It was a time to relax and rest in God’s presence and to enjoy the fellowship of the believers.
From my childhood I remember Sundays in Germany, not the legalistic part, but the part I enjoyed . They were special days in which we had a time of worship at church in the morning and then always had company for Sunday dinner. Never knowing how many people might need to be invited over to the house mom always had some extra potatoes baking in the oven. The time of fellowship and conversation around the table was stimulating.
We had the choice of going back to the English speaking service on Sunday afternoons with the American servicemen, or going to the evening German speaking service. We didn’t have to go to them all. In between the afternoon and evening service we had 4:00pm coffee hour, which was when you had dessert. It was yummy! There might be a whole different set of company over for coffee hour and again, wonderful and joyful conversation.
Often Sunday nights ended with mom playing the piano and the rest of us gathering around, either playing instruments or singing along. The “big boys” would play the trumpet and trombone and we would become caught up in the joy of praising God together as a family. It really was a marvelous time.
I’ve thought about what has happened to Sundays. Gradually we have allowed the world to creep into our Sabbath space. Chuck and I had to create our own Sabbath space on Mondays. As ministers Sundays simply became too busy and filled with the “work” of the church. It was all good stuff, but a lot of work. We had to find time to carve out space for slowing down and reflecting on the Lord. Our pace needed to be slowed and time needed to be spent in the Lord’s presence.
I return to the words of Augustine, “here is sanctification.” We all need a Sabbath in our lives if we are to be God’s holy people. Find space. Slow down. Soak in him!
Lord, please help me to carve out that quiet space of Sabbath with you. Amen.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Ex. 14:30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
The Israelites witnessed one miracle after another. The plagues had consumed Egypt and the Israelites watched as one thing after another brought destruction upon the Egyptians. Now, this final and decisive act is brought upon the Egyptian army before their very eyes. This time it’s the total destruction of the symbols of Egyptian power which are brought down. God is the decisive winner and he is leading his people to freedom. Finally we read that the “people feared the LORD and believed.” They had witnessed incredible miracles.
The sad truth about the Israelites was that they seemed to soon forget this miracle. Before long they were grumbling and wondering whether God could take care of them. They had witnessed things that may be beyond our imagination and yet, they wondered if God had abandoned them in the wilderness, or whether he had thought about how to feed them, or whether there would be good water. Hadn’t God thrown the horse and rider into the sea? This was their hymn of thanks after all of this happened. But then what happened to their faith?
I think of the ways in which I’ve been blessed to see the hand of God at work. Especially while we were living in the former Soviet Union there seemed to be miracle after miracle. And yet, here is my confession, there are days when I begin to doubt. It’s in those moments that God reminds me what he has already done in the past and that he will continue to care for and make provision into the future.
We are somewhat like the Israelites. While God may have provided in the past, there are days that we struggle to hold onto that faith going into the future. We must go back to the shore of our personal Red Sea experience and hold onto the faith.
The LORD who parted the Red Sea and saved the Israelites is the same God that we serve today. He is able to do more than we can ask or imagine but we must trust in him. We have witnessed miracles in the past and we will see them again, as long as we continue the spiritual journey with him. Don’t forget what he has already done!
Lord, thank you for presence and leading in life. Amen.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Acts 1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Jesus had just told his followers that they would be his witnesses around the world. They had been commissioned to go and make a difference but now, suddenly, Jesus was taken up into heaven from right there in their midst. They were absolutely stunned, and so we find them staring up into heaven. They are stargazing, looking for something…and there may have been something improper about their response. Just imagine what they were thinking:
1) He didn’t restore the kingdom to Israel.
2) If we keep looking we’ll be able to see him.
3) We need him back here with us.
John Stott writes: "There was something fundamentally anomalous about their gazing up into the sky when they had been commissioned to go to the ends of the earth... Their calling was to be witnesses not stargazers" (The Message of Acts [IVP, 1990], p. 51). The duty was not to stand by in idleness staring at heaven and hoping for Jesus’ return. The apostles had great work to do and they needed to get out and do it. The angels spoke words of truth, helping them refocus their attention, shifting from stargazers to witnesses.
The early leaders in Christianity spoke in strong words about this passage of Scripture. God’s followers were to be engaged in his work in the kingdom here on earth. One was not to waste their time trying to discern when Christ might return again. This was considered stargazing.
Let’s be honest, there’s been a lot of stargazing going on. We like to stand and look up into heaven and wonder when Jesus will be coming back. In the meantime there is work that needs to be done in the kingdom. We are called to be witnesses to what God is doing in this world. There are more and more people every single day who need to know about Jesus. People are leaving Christianity in droves and it just might be because we became too engaged in stargazing and not enough in going to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Jesus had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come. This empowerment of the Holy Spirit transformed the lives of those simple witnesses into powerful voices in the kingdom. God needs powerful Spirit-filled voices witnessing in the kingdom today. We, too, must respond to the challenge of the men in white robes, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It’s not the time to be a stargazer.
Lord, please help me be your faithful witness today. Amen.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Luke 24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
My mind is filled with random thoughts this morning as I read again through the resurrection story. There are those moments when it dawns on you that you’ve never paid attention to all the names mentioned somewhere. Mostly when we think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ we think about Mary Magdalene’s presence at the tomb. She’s the one who’s made it into all the Easter musicals and lives on in our memories. Today my eyes fell on the name of Joanna. Nobody sings about Joanna. Her name is never really mentioned and yet, here she is captured in the gospel written by Luke and she goes with Mary to the tomb, only to discover that it is empty.
This Joanna should not be new to us. She has been serving Jesus for a long time. She is the wife of Chuza who manages the household of Herod Antipas who lives in Galilee. We first hear of her in Luke chapter 8, “2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. “ These were women of influence and financial resource who traveled with Jesus and were his disciples. Later on they were included in the list of the Apostles. Two contemporary scholars, Ben Witherington and Richard J. Bauckham believe that she is Junia who is mentioned later by Paul in his greetings in Acts 16.
The conclusion that can be drawn is that Joanna is a successful woman of great means who consecrates her life in service to Jesus Christ. She gives what she has to follow him and becomes one of the first evangelists —sharing the good news about Jesus to the world! Among those who knew her and her reputation in the early centuries of Christianity, she was considered an apostle.
The other random thought that fills my mind today is the way in which we have understood Augustine. There have been some things that he has written about women that make us a bit uncomfortable. This is especially true regarding some of his comments in regard to the image of God and whether the image can be restored in women or not. However, his writings on today’s passage are an encouragement to me. In Sermon 232 he writes about this Scripture and notes that humanity’s fall through a woman is now restored through women.
So in this fact we have to reflect on the goodness of the Lord’s arrangements, because this, of course, was the doing of the Lord Jesus Christ that it should be the female sex which would be the first to report that he had risen again. Humanity fell through the female sex; humankind was restored through the female sex. A virgin gave birth to Christ; a woman proclaimed that he had risen again. Through a woman death, through a woman life. But the disciples didn’t believe what the women had said. They thought they were raving, when in fact they were reporting the truth. SERMON 232.2.
Augustine was writing near the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th century and these were words of affirmation for the women who were suffering under the changes within Christianity. Christianity was aligning herself more and more with the official government authorities and while women had been leaders in the early centuries of the Church they would now be pushed into obscurity as the Church adopted the government’s power structures. Augustine’s sermon was radical when placed within the context of his time.
Random thoughts on a woman named Joanna and a great church Father by the name of Augustine. Two individuals who helped to shape Christianity.
Random thoughts, or blessings of individuals who were willing to make a difference by giving their lives wholeheartedly in service to God?
This week has been filled with encounters of individuals who are making a difference by what they were doing in the kingdom. Every day we are blessed by random encounters with people who are serving God faithfully and are continually pointing the way to Christ.
My random encounter today was in the word. Maybe there will be another random encounter in an airport. Or maybe you’ll encounter someone through whom God can speak and minister to you. I’ve overlooked Joanna for a very long time. Who else have I overlooked in my life? Maybe we have overlooked too many who could have not just been random encounters but regular ministrations to our spiritual well-being.
Lord, thanks for this morning’s encounter and may there be more throughout the day. Amen.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Ex. 7:14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. 16 Say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened.’ 17 Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD.” See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood.
The water of the Nile was vitally important to the life of the Egyptians, just as water is important to all life. We need both physical and spiritual water and contamination of either will be life threatening. The Egyptians had shed innocent Hebrew blood when they had determined to kill the small children. That river had been stained with their blood and now God made them drink from the bloodied waters of their sin.
It is the power of God that turns the bloody water into the drinkable water that brings life. It is the power of the Messiah who can turn water into wine, or wine into a symbol for new life in Christ. In the physical sense human blood in the drinking water, living in the flesh, was destructive. In the spiritual sense the presence of the blood of Christ turned the ordinary into the extraordinary, the water was transformed into living water which provides for life eternal.
When you go to a restaurant these days you can become overwhelmed with the options of water which may be purchased. All kinds of bottled water may be available, both still and sparkling, heavy in minerals and light. Some quite expensive and other quite cheap. I pretty much just like good tasting tap water but I do like a bottled water from Armenia called Jermuk, however it’s rare to ever find it outside of it’s homeland. But the variety of options is a vivid example of what we do spiritually — as we search for good water.
The Egyptians were hung up on the “source” of their water, which was the Nile. These were the material and human resources which were directly in front of them on a daily basis. Our temptation is to look for the “source” of what we need right in front of us. The Egyptians had no idea what God might be capable of providing.
I’m not sure we have any idea of what God can really provide for us for we, too, find ourselves on the journey, looking for good water. We are tempted to try out all the things that the world places in front of us, failing to realize that the really good water is plain and simple and comes from God. For all the fancy bottling of water in the world, often the best someone can find is right in front of them, coming out of their own tap. Sadly, we aren’t attracted to that water because it doesn’t come in a fancy bottle! Isn’t that the way the world works — enticing us by fancy packaging?
We need the living water found in Christ. This is transformative! This is good water.
Lord, please keep me from the fancy bottling of the world and may I enjoy what you have to offer. Amen.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Luke 21:1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
The treasury was really the bank for the poor. It was the place where people donated so that the poor and needy, the orphans and widows could be cared for by the religious community. This wasn’t just the offering plate being passed at church, but it was the place from which this woman would have received her help and yet, instead of asking for help, she gave with a heart of generosity. She represents the Church, called to help the poor. With generous hearts, out of our her own poverty the Church is called to give all that she has to minister to the needy.
What would happen if the Church gave “all that she had to live on” to the poor and needy? That’s not really the picture of the Church today and it forces us to ask some hard questions of ourselves.
In the early years of Christianity’s acceptance within the Roman Empire the Church received its “tax free” status because she cared for the poor. The intent was to keep the Church free to be able to be the system by which the needs of the sick, poor and needy were met. It was the church that through the centuries provided the hospitals, orphanages and often schools.
The attitude of society toward the Church has changed and the role of caring for the poor and needy has been abdicated to the government. Today the Church struggles with giving away very much and prefers to keep a larger percentage for herself. No wonder the government wants to tax her! Sounds like the picture that Jesus was painting on a personal level. We only want to give away so much — or as much as we feel comfortable giving away. The wealthy gave away money to the poor but probably never sensed the loss to their income. The widow gave away that which was precious to her — she gave up her own resources to help others. She gave up all she had to live on.
I’ve been a leader over a group of Churches and the issue of money is a serious one. Things are tight and sometimes it’s hard to keep the lights on. Sadly I see a culture developing where the Church is becoming more concerned about herself and her own survival than about what she can do for others. Rarely would one find a church who was willing to give the last of what she had to help others but instead, would cut her help to others to make sure she could take care of herself. This seems to be the instinct and yet, that’s not what Jesus wanted, either on a personal or corporate level.
The call is to be generous as a Church. The call is to good stewardship and a generous heart that gives away all that she can. I believe that out of her generosity the widow’s needs were provided for she put her trust in God. So should we.
Lord, thank you for the timely reminder today. Amen.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor— let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. 4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”; all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5 Their ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of their sight; as for their foes, they scoff at them. 6 They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved; throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. 8 They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9 they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
10 They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. 11 They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. 13 Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”?
14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. 16 The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.[a]
This is not a very pretty Psalm, but instead serves as a reminder of the encompassing corruption of evil. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of this Psalm, this is “the picture of a proud sinner who lives their atheism.” —Class Notes on the Psalms Therefore it stands for us as the anti-example, or the true vision of the anti-Christ.
The tone of the entire Psalm changes around verse 16 when suddenly the Lord, our king appears and his eternal nature becomes abundantly clear. He has been and always will be! For those who are living under the oppression of the wicked, there is a call to prayer. The Lord will hear the desire of the meek and strengthen their hearts, doing justice for the orphan and oppressed. This is the foreshadowing of the coming Messiah who will break the bonds of evil forever! Wickedness will not prevail.
As we live into the life of the Messiah, we become overcomers! Clothed with Christ we become his ambassadors on earth and the things that we touch are the things that he touches. In the process, the bonds of the wicked are broken and the picture of the proud atheist begins to fade from popularity, but only as we are genuinely clothed in Christ and used by God to answer the prayers of the meek. This is what happens as God’s holy people live into Christ! The picture of wickedness in the world begins to fade — but only, if we are genuinely living in Christ. The powerlessness of Christians could be a result of an external form of Christianity without truly being “in Christ” and if this is the case, the picture of wickedness will continue to grow. We must live into Christ and therefore live out our faith, touching the world with his power and presence.
Somehow I’m afraid that we’re awaiting God’s moment when he will “zap” evil from the face of the earth. We are God’s secret weapon, God’s people united with Christ and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. If we refuse to reach out to the places where evil resides then God will not be there. For the picture of wickedness to fade, God’s Holy Spirit filled people must be willing to be used as instruments of transformation to his glory.
Lord, please use us, your children, today. Amen.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Luke 18:15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
Luke is the only gospel writer that refers to the children as infants and it is in this place that we must find ourselves. I think it may be easier to try and put ourselves in the place of children because they are already at a level of independence. Infants on the other hand, are completely and totally dependent upon their parents. Luke’s emphasis here is on the need for complete and total dependence upon God when one is living and serving in the kingdom.
I remember with great joy the day that we brought our first-born, Christy, home from the hospital. It’s amazing how that little person was able to change our lives. Everything about life had to revolve around caring for her if we wanted her to grow up and be healthy. She had to be fed at regular intervals. She had to be changed when the diapers were wet or dirty. But beyond the physical care, we wanted to sing to her, read books to her, pray with her, play with her, hug her and just generally love on her. She didn’t resist any of it and as she began to grow and develop, her response to us gave us great joy. That first little smile was amazing. The first words came quickly and were followed by many, many more. The voracious hunger for books started from an early age and just snuggling with her on the couch was such fun!
|Here's Christy a little older, helping her daddy with the newer infant -- Cara!|
Our heavenly father is providing everything we need to be healthy. He loves us and just wants to snuggle on the couch with us! He rejoices in our smiles and laughter and spiritual growth and maturity.
We are to be as an infant, completely dependent upon the sustaining strength and leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is God’s desire, not just children, but babes in his arms, looking upward, cooing and smiling at the loving face of the father. He will provide all that we need, if only we relax in his loving arms.
Lord, thank you for what you do for us — which is more than enough. Amen.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Psa. 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
so that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O LORD;
you cover them with favor as with a shield.
The Psalmist seems to understand the deep need to be connected to God. The idea of participating in God becomes a part of this Psalm. As we take refuge in God, we are united with him. God’s protection spreads over those who are deeply in love with him and they exude with that overwhelming sense of passion for the Lord, exulting in him. The protection comes from those who are crowned as children of the kingdom. The crown itself becomes a shield of protection as the vision of the eternal supersedes the present.
David boasts in his love for God, which is of far greater importance than love for the things of this world — riches, power, or luxury. Jerome reminds us that this love and honor is “not interrupted by disease, by old age, by the pressures of affairs, by variety of seasons, by death itself.” We are blessed for we are in him.
This week has been a time of blessing as I look upon the lives of the students who come across our campus. It is my reminder of the eternal for the investment in those who will come after us is a way in which to participate in God’s eternal nature. We participate together and pass along what we have to those who will continue to share in these truths.
I sit with the students who have just returned from nine months abroad and they share in the richness of their experience. They are not the same individuals who were sent out from this place last January. They have grown in their walk with Jesus Christ and return transformed, passing along the excitement of feeling blessed in knowing God. In wonder those who are awaiting their placements listen and try to grasp what their own personal experience will bring. And yet, it’s all connected to being in Christ and experiencing the call when covered with his shield.
In another room the Doctoral students have gathered and are wrestling with projects which will speak into and transform the very places in which they are serving. The communities are diverse, rural, urban, North American, Middle-Eastern, hospital, church, and educational. Hours are spent in prayer and allowing God to shape and form the way in which they are to minister and all of a sudden we, too, discover that we are connected in Christ. Together we participate in him and the experience becomes transformational for the entire community as we have the privilege of participating with those who will go places where we will never go.
This fills my heart to overflowing and makes me want to sing for joy.
Lord, I thank you for the incredible privilege that I have to be with those who are passionate about you. Amen.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Luke 16:15 So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
The Pharisees were overly concerned with what people around them thought about them. It’s why they were hung up on all the rules and trying to look just right. They were also hung up on the fact that they loved their money. All of this resulted in them working hard for just the “right look” so that people would think of them as being spiritual. The problem was that this had nothing to do with what was going on in their hearts.
It may seem easy to condemn the Pharisees but the reality is that throughout Christianity there have been Christians who have also fallen into this trap. Whenever people come to a place of prosperity there is the temptation to follow the ways of the world or money to look good for others and to have a decreased sensitivity to the voice of God.
What might we do these days to look spiritual?
*We go to church at least 2-3 times a month!
*We put something in the offering plate when it is passed!
*We choose particular political battles that seem to “fit” the right image.
*We give to the right causes.
*We use the right language when we are with particular people.
*We wear religious jewelry.
*We put religious sayings up on our walls (both real and virtual).
And the list could go on and on…but the real question is “what’s going on in your heart?” When Jesus asks us to do things, they may not fit the image of the crowd, including the “Christian” crowd. We must be obedient to the still small voice which may result in us not always “looking good.” This is what it means to be a true follower of Jesus Christ!
Lord, may I listen to and obey your voice today. Amen.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Luke 15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
The older son was frustrated with the party that the father was throwing for his returned brother. He saw this as such a waste and felt that his father was doing more for the other brother than he would for him. The sad truth was that he couldn’t see what he really had. Once the younger brother had taken his portion of the inheritance with him, everything that was left was the inheritance of this older brother. As far as the eye could see, it would all belong to him! Every day he lived and worked among the riches of his father’s household, enjoying everything that it had to offer and yet, he failed to appreciate its value. He was the heir to all that remained and as such, he had a right to use it. He could have thrown a party any time that he wanted with the fatted calf, he had simply not chosen to do so. Instead he was living within the limits of the boundaries of his own making.
As children of the kingdom we are heirs of all that God has to offer. I’m afraid that too often we choose to live in spiritual poverty and complain about the abundance we see in the life of another.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if today, we began to live as children of the inheritance. All the resources of God are at our disposal and yet I’ll admit, far too often I forget to go to God for that which I need. I try to be self-sufficient, caring for daily needs and concerns on my own. The next thing I know, I’m like the older brother, complaining when I see God’s resources being utilized in someone’s life. Why would I complain? All the resources of the inheritance are available through Christ!
I am encouraged today to live into the inheritance. The older brother chose to live in a poverty of his own making. I don’t want to live in a spiritual poverty of my own making and so I must pray and ask for the Lord’s guidance in embracing the inheritance of the kingdom, utilizing his resources as we partner together in kingdom work. I believe that God wants to do abundantly more in and through us than we can ever imagine, but we must lean into our relationship with him and be good stewards of the inheritance.
Look around, open your eyes and ears and take in the Father’s world and all that it entails. May we never complain about our limited resources when we are children of the great inheritance.
Lord, please help me to trust in you and the resources of the kingdom. Amen.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Luke 14:34 “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
The role of salt has been vital throughout history as it has been used as a preservative for food. It has kept and sustained humankind over prolonged periods. Not only has it been a preservative but it has seasoned food, making it more savory. When it loses its saltiness it has no use. It is believed that salt may have been used for weed killing and also for slowing down the fermentation of dung. In other words it had a use, even beyond what we would see today and yet, without its saltiness it couldn’t even be used those purposes. It was useless and had to be thrown away.
Christians are supposed to be salt, filled with words of salvation for the world. Origen proposed the idea that the “people of God are truly the salt of the earth. They preserve the order of the world.” That is a lofty statement but his contention was that “society is held together as long as the salt is uncorrupted.” (Origen, Against Celsus 8.70) When the people of God lose their saltiness the result is disastrous and they will be cast away as useless.
We tend to interpret this scripture as God casting away the tasteless and useless Christian. At the same time the world has an expectation of Christians. There is a desire for Christians to look and act like Jesus and in doing so, that they would hold together the very fiber of the world. It is Christians who should be asking the questions about moral codes and justice and God’s love infusing the world. Christians should question the issues of corruption, evil and abuse of power which so easily permeate the culture. If we don’t do this, we will be cast aside by the world who will consider us unsavory.
The salty Christian is filled with words of salvation because the very actions of their daily lives are Jesus filled. The nature of God is revealed in and through the salt filled Christian. When Christians are not genuinely Christian, even the world will discard us and see us as irrelevant.
Salt must be genuine salt. Christians must be genuine Christians!
Lord, lead me today to be your savory presence in the world. Amen.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Gen. 33:1 Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2 He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3 He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.
Gen. 33:4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
The last time these brothers met things were extremely rocky in their relationship. Jacob had stolen the blessing from his brother Esau and there was much anger between the two. Now, knowing that they would meet again, Jacob prepares for the visit. He wants to be reconciled to Esau but before that can happen he spends the night wrestling with God. This wrestling is a foreshadowing of God’s work of reconciliation among his people that continues throughout history.
After submitting himself to God, he humbles himself before his brother. The arrogance of the past is gone as he works to bring down the barriers which had developed in their relationship.
There are those in life with whom we need to be reconciled and the two-fold process found here with Jacob can be a lesson to you and to me. First, he realized the need for complete and total submission before God. After this he was willing to take action to humble himself before his brother so that God could bring about healing in their relationship.
For there to be genuine reconciliation of relationships in our world today, we must be willing to take the actions necessary for the love of God to flow among us. The divide which remains among people of different religions, race, and gender need not exist if the people of God submit themselves to God and actively work toward reconciliation.
Lord, please lead your people today to be a people of peace. Amen.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Luke 12:39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Luke was speaking to followers of Christ of all ages, both physically and spiritually. Everyone was to be vigilant in spiritual preparedness. Using the metaphor of a thief coming to a home, so the Christian was to protect their spiritual dwelling. This teaching was especially significant for those in leadership, for the servants who were left in charge of the Master’s household. The overseers had responsibility for the house being in order, for being ready. Unfortunately unfaithful stewards neglect their duties and look for ways to find short-cuts. Augustine says they are “worthy of utter wretchedness.”
Basil the Great reminds us that watchfulness defines the Christ-follower. “What is the mark of a Christian? It is to watch daily and hourly and to stand prepared in that state of total responsiveness pleasing to God, knowing that the Lord will come at an hour that he does not expect. “ (The Morals)
Many of my family members and friends have alarm systems on their homes. The Seminary has an alarm system that is set every evening. Most churches have alarm systems which have to be armed when you leave and unarmed when you enter. It’s one of those things that creates a bit of stress in your life as you try to remember codes and patterns which must be done in the correct sequence. However, for the place to be secure, the system must be set.
But how often are those systems really turned on? I’ve heard people say that it’s effective to just have the appearance of having an alarm system. That’s why people buy signs that say they have an alarm system and put them in their front yard, or they put a sticker on their front door, while in reality there is no security system.
Jesus hated the hypocrites, those who pretended to be something when they really weren’t. Spiritual hypocrites are those who purchase the sign to put in the front yard but never take the time to fully install the security system. They want people to believe that they have one and they will fool some of the people but not all of the people. The moment of truth comes when the intruder discovers that it’s all just a sham and it’s so easy that you can almost walk right into the front door of the house and take absolutely everything that you want.
Imagine the consequences if you’re a spiritual leader and you’re just putting the sign outside the church building or the sticker on the door, but there is no real security system for those who enter your doors. A false sense of security is being created for those who enter, who trust the leader and that the sign actually means something.
The signs outside of a church must mean something! Just a sign will fool some people but it will not fool Jesus when he returns. A genuine security system involves daily and hourly watchfulness and responsive to the leadings of the Lord. To be a well-oiled machine, a well-functioning security system it must be armed, receiving continuous power for preparedness. This is God’s intent for his people.
I’m challenged today because I know far too many who only have security stickers on their doors, or they have alarm systems which have fallen into disrepair and they have failed to get them fixed. The Alarm can no longer be set and they're left with a meaningless sign.
Lord, please help me to take care of my alarm system on a daily basis. Amen.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Luke 11:37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
The Pharisee was not inviting Jesus to dinner because he was honored by his presence, but because he wanted Jesus to be the entertainment. He was using Jesus, but Jesus was completely aware of what was happening. Jesus was also quite aware that he did not wash before dinner, for this was a part of his intentional plan to witness to the Pharisee. Jesus had a point to make regarding the behavior of the Pharisee who was so focused on the external that he was ignoring the internal and eternal.
The Pharisee wanted to look good among his guests. He did all the right things including washing before dinner. He had brought Jesus to be the excellent entertainment — also making himself look good among his guests but Jesus knew more. He would take this opportunity to intentionally witness to them, turning their “right behaviors” into an object lesson regarding their faith. He was insinuating that the host had cleaned the outside of his own cup but was completely self-centered on the inside.
Jesus never wasted an opportunity to bring home a truth.
I have been challenged to think about the opportunities that I have in life to share about the truth of Jesus Christ. Do I take advantage of every opportunity that I may encounter? Jesus was keenly aware of his responsibility and was constantly looking for opportunities to reveal the truths of God to those around him. There were stubborn audiences, such as the Pharisees. They didn’t want to listen to his preaching so he used their daily lives as an object lesson.
Passion for Christ means we make the most of every opportunity. Our responsibility is to join Christ in revealing him to the world. Every single day there are opportunities which slip through our fingers if we are not intentional.
The Pharisees needed to hear words of truth. We will encounter someone today who needs truth revealed. Jesus wasn’t always preaching, he was sometimes just living the ordinary moments which became object lessons for transformation. This was his intentional witness.
Lord, I pray for your wisdom in helping me be intentional in my witness. Amen.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Luke 10:41 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
It is fascinating how history views Mary and Martha and what happened when Jesus came to visit. More contemporary commentators are quite critical of Martha and her “preoccupation” with hospitality. Interestingly the early Church Fathers are not critical of Martha, nor do they believe Jesus was being critical of her. Instead, they see the ministry of hospitality in which she was engaged as being vitally important. Augustine says that “with deep concern, she prepared what the Holy of Holies and his saints would eat and drink in her house.” But Jesus is also trying to make a point, just as he did with the woman at the well. She had to come and draw water on a daily basis and yet, he had water so that she would never thirst again — the water of eternal life. Martha was engaged in hospitality, temporal food for the visitors of the day and this was a good thing. At the same time Mary had discovered the eternal bread of life. She was eating on truth, on Jesus, the “bread that came down from heaven.” (John 6:41)
We must all engage in the things of life which are temporal. The food which I prepare today will be eaten today and tomorrow the work must be done again. I have e-mails to answer today and tomorrow there will be more to answer again! But the spiritual food which I devour today, the time I spend with the Lord will continue to feed me and transform me into the woman of God that he desires. If I am not careful, the temporal issues of today can become a distraction to God’s long-term action/work within my life. The question really becomes one of priorities and giving attention to where attention is needed. The food did need to be served, but Martha also needed to learn to slow down and devour the eternal bread of life. So do you and I!
Lord, may I feast on you today. Amen.
Friday, January 9, 2015
Luke 9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Jesus took his inner circle of disciples with him up to the mountain where he was going to pray. We’re not totally sure what happened up there on that mountain but it was not uncommon for Jesus to go off to have a time of prayer with the disciples close by. We see that they are often extremely tired and have trouble staying awake, but this time they do. As they look up it seems as if the curtain is drawn back and they are able to see into Jesus’ prayer life. They see what they’ve never seen before as Jesus is transformed before their very eyes and is suddenly having a conversation with Moses and Elijah. But is this what normally happened when Jesus spent time in prayer, is this actually a glimpse of Jesus’ participation in the heavenly kingdom in prayer that is being revealed to them, initiating them into a future mystery!
Peter was amazed at what he saw but the real significance was not in the presence of Moses and Elijah, but rather the cloud which was the symbol of God’s presence and the heavenly voice. The ability of the disciples to see what Jesus saw in prayer and to experience the presence of God and to hear his voice was further assurance of the divine majesty of Jesus — the Messiah. This is to encourage them as Jesus moves toward his final time in Jerusalem and to help them understand that he and the Father are one. The vision is one of “the mystery of the future resurrected life in Christ.” (Gregory of Nazianzus)
We are invited to the mountain to prayer with Jesus and in that place prayer becomes a transfiguring and transforming experience. Those who spend time in prayer, spend time in God’s presence. It isn’t about a list of wants and desires, but about being united with God in intimacy.
The invitation to us all is to the mountain and a deeper understanding of prayer. It is in prayer that we participate in the already and not yet of the kingdom of God. It’s the place where we see the kingdom and are encouraged by the words spoken by God and yet are empowered to return to the valley of daily life.
The disciples struggled with understanding the depths of Jesus’ life of prayer. They knew it was something that he did but this moment for them became transformational as Jesus allowed them to see his participation in the heavenlies which he experienced in prayer, allowing his transfiguration to be an invitation to a deeper understanding of prayer.
Prayer is a mystery. Prayer is abiding. Prayer is participating in God. Prayer is transformational.
Lord, please help me to dwell in your presence in prayer. Amen.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Luke 8:22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Here we find Jesus in the boat with the disciples again. Time has passed from that first encounter when Jesus climbed in the boat and told Simon where to fish. It was then that Jesus called the fishermen to become fishers of men. This had to do with their calling and vocation, but this test has to do with their personal safety and the realization that Jesus has power over so much more!
This encounter becomes a test of the disciples’ faith. Interestingly, this is the place where they feel comfortable. This is their world — back in the boat. They were fishermen. They had practically lived on the sea. Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth! Suddenly their world was rocked by a terrible storm and Jesus was sleeping through it all. They had expertise to deal with these kinds of situations and yet it had moved beyond their control. In their panic and fear they cried out to Jesus and his response was probably much more than what they had imagined. He revealed to them that he had power over everything — even in the places and situations where they may have felt that they knew more than he did! Cyril of Alexandria tells us that in that moment “he worked a calm in them, smoothing the waves of their weak faith.”
It was in that moment of tranquility that they looked at each other and asked, “Who is this?” And this became the moment in which they began to understand who it was in the boat with them. Jesus is not just a rabbi calling them to a vocation, but so much more, as he displays his power over nature. Ultimately they are beginning to understand that the Jesus in the boat with them — is the son of God.
Our spiritual lives are ones of growth, not a static state. The disciples had to move on from that initial call from Jesus — and obedience to that call — to serving with him on a daily basis. We must do the same, but then come the moments when our world is rocked.
I find it interesting that this storm comes when the disciples are out on a boat on the very waters that they knew so well. Our world is often rocked when we are out in the very places where we feel comfortable and at home. We think that we know how to handle the situation better than the Lord and so we don’t look to him for help. We try to take care of everything ourselves until that very moment of crisis when there seems to be no other option. It is then that we cry out and hope that he will do something.
Jesus is in the boat. He is with us in every single moment of life and we don’t need to wait for a crisis to develop to call upon him. Instead, we ought to be relaxed, trusting him to be in control of every aspect of our lives. But this can only happen when we acknowledge that we are living day by day, moment by moment, in submission to the One who has the power to control nature.
He’s got this. He can handle what it is that we are facing today.
Lord, I honor and worship you today as the Son of God. Please help me to trust in you for all you want to accomplish! Amen.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
The woman, who was probably a prostitute, had made her way to the banquet table. Here Jesus was reclining, enjoying a meal following the gathering at the synagogue. She came to him and anointed his feet with the perfume in her alabaster jar. She bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Simon, the Pharisee and master of the household was appalled. Why would this woman react in this way, and surely, if Jesus were a prophet he would have known what kind of a woman she was and would have stopped her before things had gone this far!
Love follows forgiveness. The woman felt a great need for forgiveness from Jesus. Her humble act came from the desire to reach out and touch him, and to be forgiven by him. In that very moment, the great need of forgiveness was replaced by love. It is only those who recognize the depths of their sin who can experience and appreciate the complete forgiveness that is offered in Christ.
Simon, the master of the home was appalled and couldn’t understand the depths of the woman’s love. He thought so highly of himself that he could never humble himself to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus explained, “the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Simon would love little because he would never accept the depths of his own sin. He didn’t think that he needed to be forgiven.
Society has essentially determined the codes of moral behavior. People are dependent on society providing for their personal needs. Many people live good and decent lives and ultimately see no need for God in their lives. This is increasingly true as we believe that we can be self-sufficient. I believe that this may be the case when it comes to the majority of Anglos in North America today. I would argue that an attitude is developing both inside and outside of the church that we no longer feel that we need forgiveness. The result is that we no longer experience God’s love. If we don’t believe that we need God’s forgiveness in our lives, there will be no space to be filled with his love.
On the other hand there is shift that is occurring in Christianity, and one that I believe will continue to occur and this is the influence of the immigrant population. In a 2004 study from Pepperdine University you find that there is a shift in attitudes in congregations. “In them [the foreign-born congregants] I see more dedication and a real reverence for God because of their tradition, and they show more seriousness about evangelism and outreach in support of other people than those born here.” Pastor John Saenz That quote sounds a bit like what Jesus said above. The woman who sensed a great need for forgiveness loved much.
If we find that we are in the place of Simon the Pharisee, then maybe we need to step back and examine ourselves. In reality we do not have to live a wild life of sin to experience the overwhelming love of God. Nicodemus, also a religious leader recognized his intense need for Christ and humbled himself, coming to Jesus and learning about God’s great love for the world. Pride and a lack of humility may be barriers to experiencing God’s love in our lives. When individuals and society as a whole no longer believe that they need God they will suffer from a lack of his loving and holy presence.
Lord, may I recognize my need of you every single day! Amen.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Luke 6:43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
Jesus was providing instructions for those around him, helping them understand the growth necessary for their spiritual lives. Growth would not come on its own, but growth would come from the place in which they were grounded. No matter how hard one tried to bear good fruit, it wouldn’t happen if not from a good tree.
The Greek word used here for “bad” is also translated “corrupt.” The Early Church Fathers would often talk about lost humanity as being corrupted humanity. God had created humans in his image and likeness but then sin entered into the world, creating a state of corruption within humanity. Jesus came to bring healing to our corrupted state. In that case, Jesus is saying that the corrupted flesh, that which has been made ill by the presence of sin, will ultimately only be able to produce corrupted fruit. The world will only be able to produce a corrupted vision or response.
Jesus’ entire life was one of healing. Simply arriving in human flesh he began healing the corruption by everything that he touched. From the moment of his birth until his resurrection he was setting aright and healing the corruption that had been growing in an infectious way since the sin of Adam and Eve.
Those who continued living in the corrupted state — in the bad tree — would bear corrupted fruit. At the same time, those who were united with Christ would experience complete and total healing which would result in good fruit.
One of my favorite fruits this time of year would be the Clementine. I love buying a bag of them and enjoying one anytime I want to grab one. They are so easy to peel and are generally juicy and satisfying to eat. However, if you’re not careful there can be a bad piece of fruit in the bag. There is that one that will grow mushy and moldy, often overnight. If I’m not careful this bad piece of fruit will suddenly seem to infect all of the good fruit that is around it. At the first hint of one of the Clementines going bad I have to remove it and throw it away. I don’t try to eat around the bad stuff - -it’s not worth it. It would be far too dangerous to try and find something good in it, instead it is tossed so that it won’t infect the rest of the bag. That piece of fruit is no longer useful.
God’s intention is for us to be united with Christ and in doing so to be transformed into producing his healthy fruit. His healthy fruit will look like him, act like him and taste like him! There will be no corruption or “bad” in his fruit.
Unfortunately, like my Clementines, there are those that go bad. The original corruption of humanity happened when good fruit went bad. (Oddly, by eating fruit!) We are challenged as God’s children to remain connected to the good tree. This is the tree that continually gives us life, feeds us and forms us. When we remain connected to Christ, then we produce his fruit.
The world has expectations of what the Church should be like — because they really do expect the Church to look like Christ. There is an innate understanding that Christ's fruit will be like Christ. If our good fruit has gone bad, it could be because we have choked ourselves off from the source of life. We may no longer be connected to the tree and we are going bad. We may be like the bad Clementine, infecting the other good fruit around us.
The good fruit of the religious leaders had gone bad. They weren’t producing genuine lovers of God. They were producing corrupted individuals who were leading people astray. Jesus knew it. Others knew it.
Don’t let your fruit go bad. Remain connected to the source and don’t let corrupted fruit infected your way of thinking.
Lord, please help me be connected to you in all I do this day Amen.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Luke 5:1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Jesus sees the boat there along the shore and needing a place from which to preach, he gets into Simon’s boat and goes out a little from the shore and uses it as his pulpit. When he’s finished he tells Simon how to do his job — how to fish. The fishing language used here is quite technical and Jesus is telling him to do something that fishermen don’t do! You fish at night when it’s cooler, you don’t fish in the middle of the day when it’s too hot to stay out on the lake and the fish don’t bite. However, Simon is obedient and he does what Jesus suggests. The result is that he catches more fish than he could even imagine and they had to get help.
Simon immediately realizes that Jesus is much more than what he appears to be on the surface. What happened that day was highly unusual and transformational and when they reached shore the fishermen gave up their nets and followed Jesus.
When Jesus got into the boat everything changed. The ordinary boat became the extraordinary and the impossible became the possible.
We must take seriously this fishing imagery as a metaphor for Jesus’ work in the church today. Throughout history many have believed the boat to represent the church and Simon (Peter) and the other disciples as those who would do the work or ministry of the church. And what was that ministry? — to catch people.
Now, interestingly, the idea is not about catching people in human nets. The fishermen had already tried that all night long and they had found nothing. They tried all the human strategies that they could and they knew what they were doing. They were professionals! And yet through sheer human effort, they had not caught anything. A good lesson for those who believe that they are to build the church on their own, and far too many are trying to do it that way. The problem is that Jesus isn’t in the boat! Or, quite possibly, Jesus isn’t in the church!
Something dramatic happens when Jesus gets into the boat. They caught so many live fish that their nets began to break — and the grace of Jesus Christ that goes before and reaches out to needy humanity began to draw them in. Jesus was in the boat and the nets were filled! When Jesus is in the boat, or in the church, his grace will reach out to those who are ready for the catch and the nets will be filled.
Simon recognized immediately that there was something unusual that happened when Jesus was in the boat. We need Jesus in our boat today. Without him there can be no real ministry! May we fall on our knees and cry out to our Lord, asking for his forgiveness if we have been trying to fish without him. Only when Jesus is back in his rightful place in the boat will we be able to minister the way in which God intended.
Lord, may you be in the middle of my boat today. Amen.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
Luke 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
Jesus had arrived home in Nazareth and, as would be his normal custom, attended the synagogue. He was participating in the scripture reading and he opened the scroll and read the prophetic words of Isaiah. After he had read them, he let the people know that these words were now being fulfilled in their very midst.
The Spirit of the Lord had come upon Jesus Christ when he was baptized and he was anointed by his Father to bring good news to the poor. The poor included all of those who were spiritually poor — those who did not know God. The words had another prophetic bent to them as the good news about Jesus would eventually reach to the gentiles as well. For the Jews, the gentiles were considered especially spiritually poor.
Jesus’ ministry would include healing the sick and numerous times we hear witness of the blind receiving their sight. Over and over again we are reminded that this is physical but also spiritual. The spiritual blindness of the religious leaders is a constant reminder and warning for those who view themselves as “religious.” It’s possible to receive our spiritual sight and our “nearsightedness” (self-centeredness) can be healed when we lift up our faces and fix our eyes on Jesus! Sight is restored and those who have been oppressed by the legalism of a religious system will be set free.
The freedom is the year of the Lord’s favor — a year of Jubilee. Jesus’ arrival announces a real year of Jubilee, in which all debts are paid and all slaves are given their freedom. The Jews had been instructed to celebrate Jubilee, but they had not. Now, Jesus was coming to bring a real Jubilee.
Origen, a great spiritual leader and scholar of the 3rd century was a man who wanted to know Christ. In his preaching he challenged his hearers to fix their eyes on Jesus and as he contemplated this very passage.
When Jesus had read this passage, he rolled up “the scroll, gave it to the servant, and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” Now too, if you want it, your eyes can be fixed on the Savior in this synagogue, here in this assembly. When you direct the principal power of seeing in your heart to wisdom and truth and to contemplating God’s Only-Begotten, your eyes gaze on Jesus. Blessed is that congregation of which Scripture testifies that “the eyes of all were fixed on him!” How much would I wish that this assembly gave such testimony. I wish that the eyes of all (of catechumens and faithful, of women, men and children)—not the eyes of the body, but the eyes of the soul—would gaze upon Jesus. When you look to him, your faces will be shining from the light of his gaze. You will be able to say, “The light of your face, Lord, has made its mark upon us.” (Origen, HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 32.6.)
Today the word will be proclaimed in our hearing. The challenge comes to us from Origen. When the scripture has been read and proclaimed, will we then fix our eyes on Jesus? All preaching and proclamation should point in the direction of Jesus Christ. Every person in every congregation should be turned in the direction of Jesus. Our eyes are to be fixed on him and when this happens the prophesy is revealed in our very presence.
The mystery of God is greater than we can comprehend, and when we refuse to look to Jesus, we will join the religious leaders of old in spiritual near-sightedness. The word is proclaimed, now may we lift up our heads and fix our eyes on Jesus.
Lord, may I seek you and find you, keeping my eyes focused on you. Amen.
Saturday, January 3, 2015
Luke 2:49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus had gone with his parents to Jerusalem to participate in the religious festival. It is here that we get a glimpse of the sanctified twelve year old, already providing for humanity a vision of life in the kingdom. Jesus is preparing a holy highway for those who will follow after him and giving us various snapshots of the holy life. His entire life becomes a holy example for us to follow.
What Jesus provides for us is total transformation as children adopted into his family. We are to take on the family resemblance and this brings us back to Jesus as a twelve year old.
From an early age Jesus was aware of the intimate relationship between himself and God as his heavenly Father. He realized that this relationship was of utmost importance and was to be the priority of his life. While this was the case, he did obey his parents and it is in this that we find his humility. The greater became subject to the lesser — Jesus subjected himself to the leading of Joseph and Mary. He revealed humility which was appropriate for a twelve-year old!
The entire incident is also an anticipation of the resurrection narrative and the three days in which he will be “lost” — and those who love him won’t understand or know where he has gone.
When Jesus is found by Joseph and Mary he is in the midst of teachers where he, this boy, is sanctifying and instructing them — by asking them questions. The questions are appropriate for a twelve year old boy to be asking because it reveals a lack of arrogance on his part. At the same time we already see Jesus’ teaching style where, by his questions, he is really probing the doctrinal understandings of the religious leaders. He was asking questions but also providing answers, an example of holy wisdom, knowing what to ask and what to answer. This was to be a foundational education for him as he would later be able to reveal the kingdom to those who were willing to listen.
And this becomes for us just a little glimpse of what it means to be a sanctified twelve-year-old. A holy example for you and for me.
What can we take from Jesus’ holy example?
Even at a very young age we may begin to understand the mysteries of partaking in the divine nature. This is not just something for the wise and aged, but instead, is God’s intention for us all - to be his holy people! Why do we wait to talk about these kinds of spiritual depths until people are older? May this should be the common conversation for Christ-followers, that God’s intention is for all of humanity to be intimately related to him, united with him, and growing as holy children.
Jesus learned obedience to the kingdom and the structures of this world. The holy life is not about chaos, but about order. This was reflected in Jesus’ daily life as well as his later preaching life. Not too much is written about these early years which would lead us to be that they are rather ordinary. Leading a holy life on a daily basis can be a part of the ordinary. Not everyone is called to do the extraordinary, but instead may be challenged to live the holy life in what may seem as the regular routine of life. The reality, however, is that nothing is truly routine when it is united with God.
Looking back there really was nothing routine about those early years of Jesus’ life for nothing is wasted on God. Everything he was doing was pointing in the direction of a new life lived in God. This included his desire to learn and to teach. Our passion to know God and share him with others comes to us from Jesus himself. When we know him intimately we want to ask more and more questions, getting to know him on a level that simply overflows to the world around us.
Yes, he was just a little boy who seemed to have strayed away from his dad and mom but so much more was happening. The potential wrapped up in that little boy is the holy example for us to follow. Paul said to follow him as he followed Christ. We are challenged to follow in the footsteps of a holy pre-adolescent who ultimately changed the world.
Lord, may I follow you and your holy example. Amen.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Luke 1:1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Luke works very hard to give us an intention Gospel account. This introduction is written in beautiful literary Greek utilizing the same format that would be found in the writings of historians and educated writers of Luke’s era. Christianity was bursting onto the scene, not just as the religion of a small sect of uneducated individuals from Galilee, but onto the world stage. It was time for a carefully crafted account that could help spread the good news about Jesus Christ.
This is not just a simple, nor unbiased view of the Gospel. Ambrose tells us that this is a confessional and persuasive writing that is “filled with Christological meaning.” The desire is for people to understand more about Jesus Christ and his role as the Messiah. There had been others who had tried to write an account but were unable. Luke took the time to research and to carefully investigate the stories which he had been told. His work provides a template for us but also a caution, for you cannot rush into writing an account without the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit.
The account is written for Theopilus, and this represents a particular audience. This name can be translated lover of God, or the one whom God loves. Ambrose says, “If you love God, it was written to you.” Therefore this message is not just for an individual or group of individuals living in Luke’s time, but it’s written for you and for me, if we are lovers of God.
Living in God’s love we experience the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit in and among us and our lives become living Gospels of Jesus Christ. This is the account which we are to be writing.
Today is the first day of the new year and for some we would like to begin with a blank slate. We would like to begin writing a new account, beginning from this very day. At the same time, we may be challenged to write our account. However, there can only be an account, if there is something that has been experienced. If we were to take a blank piece of paper today and begin to write our own account of our experience with Jesus Christ — what would it look like? I think there are some serious questions which we need to ask ourselves.
1) Am I a Theolphilus? We are all challenged to be in a deeply loving relationship with our Creator. God is love and this love is overwhelming. We become consumed as both those who love and those who experience love. It is a two-way street and this name helps us to see the importance and value to being in that loving relationship when it comes to grasping an understanding of the Gospel. Jesus was the good news and a new era had been ushered in with his life and presence and in the world.
2) Have I sufficiently experienced the moving of God’s Holy Spirit in my life that I could write a testimony? The old watch night services were places where people took the time to reflect upon God’s working in their lives during the past year. They praised God for what he had done and how he had led them. What would I have to say?
3) Am I willing to take the time to do the job well? Luke didn’t write a half-hearted testimony about Jesus as some others had done. He took the time to do it right. He did the research and checked on his data so that what has now survived for nearly 2000 years would be as accurate as he knew. This mattered for Christianity! In this “instantaneous” era we are tempted to do things too quickly and get it out there without checking all the facts. People are leaving the Church in droves because they are tired of the “instant” junk that they’ve been given over the last number of years. We have taken too many short-cuts and we have tried to write an account without putting the time and effort into it that is required. It won’t last! The other “gospels” didn’t last either — but this one did!
I want to be able to write an account — I want my life to be a living gospel. As I move into this new year of 2015, I pray that I will fall deeper in love with my Lord and that the Holy Spirit will open my eyes to God’s activity in and among us. May my words and my actions point in the direction of Jesus! And may the things that I do be done for the long run — to last for this generation and the ones to come.
Lord, please hear my heart and my prayer for 2015. Amen.