Tuesday, March 31, 2015
1 Corinthians 16:13 Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.
15 Now, brothers and sisters,[b] you know that members of the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints; 16 I urge you to put yourselves at the service of such people, and of everyone who works and toils with them. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence; 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such persons.
19 The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord. 20 All the brothers and sisters[c] send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22 Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come![d] 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.[e]
This letter from Paul closes with these very personal remarks. He dearly loves the people of Corinth and that love oozes from the beginning to the end of his comments. Everything is to be done in love — this is his desire for those who are a part of the Corinthian church. The love of Christ is to be a very part of their nature in their work, day in and day out.
Paul becomes practical when he speaks of particular individuals who have been faithful and who have served in love. He encourages the loving response to these and the proper recognition.
Paul shares the love which comes from other servants who have served in the city. Greetings and the sharing of Christ’s love are witnessed in the holy kiss shared among God’s people.
Finally, the entire section concludes with Paul’s love overflowing to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus. Love defines his leadership from beginning to end.
There are lots of conversations, seminars and books on servant leadership these days. Why should that surprise us when servant leadership defines the way in which Christ served us, his people. This is holy week and we are living that life with Christ, day by day as we watch him go to the cross. It’s an incredible reminder of the kind of life lived by a servant leader — one who loved his people that he was willing to die for their very lives.
To be a servant leader we need to be filled with the love of Christ. This is the language that we hear from beginning to end with Paul. The love of Christ had to define who he was as a person and it also influenced who he was as a leader.
Being a loving servant leader isn’t always easy. There are times that you can hear the pain and struggle in Paul’s voice. How do you discipline those whom you love? At the same time, how do you not discipline those whom you love — for you want to see their lives changed! Paul knew that not everyone would like him for his tactics and yet, his love for the people compelled him to be consistent.
What do we take from Paul’s leadership style?
Willingness to discipline
Desire to praise
Encouragement to do particular tasks
Words of love for those with whom he served
I believe that those who knew him must have seen how genuine his love was for all of them. Did he always get everything right? No. Did he ever give up? No. He just kept loving these people and encouraged them to keep moving in their faith. The love of Christ filled him from his opening words of encouragement to the final words which expressed his deep connection to the love of Christ. He was a transformed man. The former persecutor of Christians now led his people in love.
Lord, thank you for the example of Paul. Please help me to know your love in such a way that it spills out on those whom I am privileged to lead. May I lead in your love. Amen.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Psa. 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
There were plenty of times that the Psalmist could have been discouraged. Life was difficult and much time was spent facing enemies. It seems that there should have been plenty of reason to complain — so why not?
Because God is our hope!
The early church fathers wrote much about this one small verse. They saw discouragement as a form of temptation, one which would snuff out the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Jerome wrote, “You must never let suggestions of evil grow on you or a babel of disorder win strength in your breast. Kill the enemy while he is small, and, that you may not have a crop of tares, nip the evil in the bud.” ( LETTER 22.6) The temptation is to feed the negative thoughts and when that happens, they grow and discouragement wins the day. I love the vision of a "babel of disorder" ruling your life. No way!
Therefore we are to “quench our discouragement…do not despair of salvation…you have God as Savior; in him you gain sound hope.” (Theodore of Cyr, Commentary on the Psalms 42.7). We are to make an effort to not be discouraged! Look for ways to be encouraged because God is our hope.
The secret to this Psalm lies in the final section, “for I shall again praise him.” It is when we praise God that we take our eyes off of ourselves and our personal problems. God is our help and our provider in times of need. He is the one that we worship and praise.
When I become far too focused on the details of my own personal life and the things that I believe could go wrong I get my eyes off of Jesus. Our lives are to be ones of continual worship and praise of him. When the focus of all our being is on lifting up Jesus, then the rest begins to fall into order.
Does everything come out just right or perfect? No, but the focus is different when it becomes about him and not about me. Quench the discouragement — don’t let it overwhelm. Don’t succumb to the temptation to feed discouragement but immediately look to God. Intentionally praise and worship him in the midst of discouragement and in that moment we will find a deep and abiding hope.
Lord, thank you for the hope you give us each and every single day. Amen.
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Psa. 52:8 But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
9 I will thank you forever,
because of what you have done.
In the presence of the faithful
I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
The Psalm is one of comparison; those who are faithful and those who are not. David is faithful and like a green olive tree; young and full of life! Surgeon says, “But I, hunted and persecuted though I am, am like a green olive tree. I am not plucked up or destroyed, but am like a flourishing olive, which out of the rock draws oil, and amid the drought still lives and grows.”
David has seen spiritual drought and the onslaught of enemies and yet, he still lives and grows. The secret to that growth comes in the second half of the verse, “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.” David trusts, but God’s love is steadfast, enduring throughout all of eternity.
God’s love for the olive tree is the sustenance which makes the tree fruitful, even in the midst of trials. The sustenance is possible as we are grafted into the main branch. He is the vine and we are the branches and as long as we remain in him, then his steadfast love pours through us and keeps us green and new and fresh, bringing forth new and fresh fruit. Because God loves the olive tree!
Today is Palm Sunday and we will celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into the holy city. People will be excited about Jesus and what they thought he might have to offer them. However, the week will make a swift departure from this scene into a garden where Jesus will be found among the olive trees. The olive trees will bear witness to his preparation for death.
While there will be olive trees around Jesus when he is praying, so there will be disciples. Sadly, the disciples will fall asleep as Jesus travails in prayer.
Just as this Psalm is one of contrast so are the disciples and the olive trees. Which kind of follower will we be?
God’s nature, holy love springs from him and to those who are grafted into the family. His love flows through his children and they are fresh and vital! They are the beloved olive trees.
Then there are the children who try to make it on their own who try to look green and fresh, but are not grafted into the Father. They are the palm branches which will be waved today. There is nothing in them to sustain them and while they may look good at first, they will soon wither up and die.
Oh for the love of an olive tree! God needs more olive trees, not more palm branches. Faithfulness for the long run, grafted into the family, and flowing with God’s holy love. This is the invitation for this holy week.
Lord, may the celebrations of this day be seen in rootedness in you. Amen.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never ends.
The great chapter on love is one that moves us and that we enjoy reading again and again. The reality is that it reveals to us the very nature of God — holy love. In these three words, found in verse eight, we catch a glimpse of the quality of that love. It goes on forever.
God reaches out forever in holy love, drawing all of his creation to himself.
God’s love for those who have turned their backs on him never ends.
Love never gives up and always keeps on trying.
Holy love is optimistic and believes that all may be transformed as his holy children.
God’s nature cannot be changed — he is love, and that never ends.
What we tend to call love is incredibly shallow compared to God’s nature. We think that we love our house, or our new car, but what kind of an emotion is that compared to God who continually gives of himself to us so that we might be children of God. The things of this world are simply trinkets in light of what God has to offer. And yet, they capture our attention and distract us from true love which comes from God alone.
Jesus instructed us to love God and love neighbor. This becomes a channel — through God to our neighbor — in which holy love reaches out to this world. It is in the depth of these relationships that the love of God is revealed.
Holy love never gives up on the wayward child.
Holy love continually reaches out in reconciliation.
Holy love is patient.
Holy love is not stuff — it is transformative.
God’s nature is to be revealed in his holy children, those who are in a right relationship with him and reflecting his nature to the world. His nature, reflected in our lives is this unending love.
Lord, may I be a reflection of your love today. Amen.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Joshua 24:16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.
Joshua was concerned that the Israelites would not remain faithful to God. I find this whole passage quite troubling. In verse 16 the people respond to Joshua, acting almost astonished that he would suggest that they might not be faithful to God. “Who us?” “Does Joshua really think that we would serve other gods?” They said all the right things — “God…brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Yes — those were the right things, but Joshua knew that their words didn’t match their actions!
In verse 23 he has to point out to them that they have foreign gods among them. They are already an unfaithful people!
But they insist they will do the right things, and a stone is put up to remind them of this covenant between the people and God. But were they serious? The foreign gods were still in their homes and when Joshua and the elders passed away they forgot to serve God.
It’s easy to say the right things in an emotional moment. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
We are in an amazing worship service with the presence of the Lord and we we say, “yes,” I’ll commit myself to serve God faithfully.
Or, we are at the funeral of a relative who has meant a great deal to us. They’ve been faithful, serving the Lord, and praying for years! In the emotion of the moment we say “yes,” “I’ll follow in their footsteps and serve God.”
But let’s be serious! Do we really mean it, or are we just like the Israelites, saying one thing while harboring foreign gods in our homes?
To be truly serious followers of Christ, action must back up our words. They should have brought out the foreign gods and destroyed them in front of the entire company. The people of God needed to be accountable to take actions that would lead them to a place of faithfulness, rather than simply saying what a dearly loved leader wanted to hear on his deathbed.
Serious followers of Christ are needed today.
More than lip-service is needed.
Lord, please help me to live in the power of your Holy Spirit that enables us to live transformed lives. Amen.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Josh. 24:31 Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel.
This is the end of Joshua’s life and the result is a great turning point in the life of the Israelites. As long as those who had experienced God’s work in freeing the Israelites from the Egyptians and had experienced his protection and leading through the wilderness and into the promised land were alive, the nation publicly worshipped God. There may have been some individual worship of pagan gods but as a people, they were directed toward God.
When Joshua and his contemporaries passed away it seemed that the collective memory of society passed as well. God knew that the people would forget and he had established ways in which to keep the memory alive by annual festivals and events — which slowly they stopped celebrating. The blessedness of the founding generation gave way to the wretchedness of the succeeding.
Under Joshua’s care and influence the religion stayed alive. Sadly, those who had not experienced the work of God (for numerous reasons) did not remain faithful.
Each generation must have their own experience of God! Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live and move among us so that we could experience the work of God in our lives and in our world on a daily basis. The Israelites had the opportunity to be a faithful people and to be obedient to God’s laws. He would be their God and would supply their needs but they didn’t call on him. They chose to be more like the world and the corruption and decay came swiftly.
We need to keep our relationship with God fresh and alive, experiencing him in our lives on a regular basis. God is good and faithful to his people and we are blessed when we live in the movement of his Holy Spirit.
But just like the Israelites we can get caught up by the distractions.
We don’t spend time with God so we don’t experience God.
There are no stories to tell the next generation and far too quickly we, as a people, fall away.
We cannot live on the experiences of those who have gone before us. I’m a historical theologian and believe me, I love the stories of the past, but they are not my stories! I cannot survive spiritually on the things that happened to my parents and grandparents. My religion must be mine — alive and fresh for me and my life.
We cannot expect the younger generation to survive on our stories but we must walk them into the promised land of a fresh and vital relationship with God. Each generation must experience the work of God and this must be our prayer. May God use us to lead others to a place where they truly experience him and his mighty activity in the world.
Lord, thank you for the incredible experiences of your leading and power. Please help me to live a life of faithfulness that points others in the direction of you. Amen.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Psalm 47:9 The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.
This Psalm celebrates God’s uniting activity in the world. There is only one God, one King, and one people and this will be revealed throughout history. In many ways the Psalm is prophetic, looking forward to a time when Christ will come and in him, the peoples of the earth will be united.
The shields of the earth represent the different nations and secular authorities. Looking prophetically into the future the Psalmist sees a time when every nation of this earth will submit to the authority of God through Christ. The influence of the gospel will be extensive reaching to those from every walk of life. Not only the poor will come to know Christ, but those who are wealthy and in positions of authority.
The promises to Moses will be fulfilled and God continues his work in the world today, leading to the day when every shield will willingly submit to his authority.
It seems as if we are still waiting around and wondering when the day will come — when the shields of the earth will belong to God. It certainly doesn’t look like that’s happening very well today. There’s far too much fighting going on and much of it being done in God’s name — which must drive God crazy! However, we know there will come a day when all the shields (rulers) of this earth will bow their knee and submit to his authority.
In the meantime, maybe we need to look to ourselves and our own personal shields. The shields represent the family coat of arms. Royal families and their coat of arms or shields, are quite proud of their heritage. Interestingly, Princess Kate didn’t come from a royal family and didn’t have a coat of arms. Her parents were business people who became quite successful and so, just before the royal wedding, her father petitioned (and paid a sum of money) to have a coat of arms and family shield designed. Not everyone gets to have a coat of arms of a shield. “The late Peter Gwynn-Jones, a former Garter King of Arms, once said: 'In practice, eligibility depends upon holding a civil or military commission, a sound university degree or professional qualification, or having achieved some measure of distinction in a field beneficial to society as a whole.’”(Read more)
Shields are produced for those who are successful and who have money. Therefore, you don’t have to be born royal to come into possession of a shield. You and I can, physically or metaphorically have a shield and it can become a sense of pride in our own lives. I don’t think the Psalmist was only talking about nations coming under complete authority of God. Every person, every bit of pride and desire for worldly success needs to submit to God. This is God’s plan for his people, for the shields of the earth belong to God. Our lives, our successes, they are his to be used for his purposes in his kingdom — under his shield. That’s why our shields should submit to the authority of his shield. He is our leader, we are his servants and all that we have is truly his.
Lord, opportunities abound as they are submitted to you, your working and your authority. Please help me to be a servant today in your kingdom. Amen.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
1Cor. 9:24 ¶ Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
1Cor. 9:25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
1Cor. 9:26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
1Cor. 9:27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
I wrote about this a couple of years ago but the scripture grips me again. Paul was talking to the Corinthians about the need for spiritual discipline in their lives. He spent quite a bit of time around the athletes of the day for there was a major sports arena between Athens and Corinth. Paul, as a tent maker would have been kept busy at such events making tents or repairing the tents of different participants. Can't you just envision the brightly colored tents surrounding the stadium where each participating athlete stored their equipment and made themselves at home during the events? And there was Paul, in the midst of it all.
Paul had watched as these racers had disciplined their bodies day in and day out. They were cautious about everything that they ate, they exercised regularly and would push their bodies to run further and faster than ever before. And all of this was to win a prize -- a wreath of olive leaves! Multitudes of athletes participated and were willing to show this type of self-discipline and yet, only one would win the prize.
And now Paul switches scenes and brings us to the life of the believer. The hope of winning for the believer was much greater than that of an athlete. Everyone can win the prize -- and if that is so -- why wouldn't we want to bring self-discipline to the spiritual life. Paul is making an example of himself. He knows that he must show self-discipline in his daily life so that he can continue to live the life of faith.
In the west we will soon celebrate Palm Sunday, a day in which the Church celebrates Christ's entrance into Jerusalem. The crowds were chanting and the palm branches were being waved as he entered the city to prepare for the final lap of his mission. Jesus, the incarnate one, knew very much what it meant to be human and to live life in the flesh. Jesus Christ is our ultimate example when it comes to self-discipline. He was going to face the greatest challenge of his life and we know that later in this week he will struggle with the temptation to run from what he knows lies ahead. And yet, he knows that he is in this for the long haul with his eyes on eternity and the salvation of all humanity. He showed incredible self-discipline as he began the holy week and then ran with perseverance the final lap of the race -- in incredible pain and humility.
No one ever promised that the Christian life was going to be easy. There are the uphill runs and the flat open wide territories, but all must be run with perseverance. As followers of Jesus Christ we must be willing, just as Paul was, to discipline ourselves. Just as the athlete cannot survive without training his/her body, neither can the Christian survive without discipline for the spiritual life. How much time did Jesus spend in prayer during that final lap? He had to go to the Father again and again for the strength and power to make it through that final lap. If Jesus needed that kind of help and support -- how much more so do we? As we run the laps of life we need sustenance. This will only come from the One who provides all that we need for life and that can only happen as we set-aside time to be in his presence in prayer and in Scripture reading and study. We are not asked to run this race without the training of a skilled athlete. However, if we take off and run without working at getting into shape we will slip and fall laying on the ground in agony.
My oldest daughter and her husband ran a half-marathon this last Sunday. For them to prepare for this event they had to train for months. Every day they ran a different distance as they trained their body for what would lie ahead. They were careful about what they ate and drank and studied up on just the right things to do. All of this was in an effort to run the race well!
Just as Palm Sunday was a great high in the life of Jesus, we will celebrate highs, but then came passion week, and so come our weeks of distress. They will come and we need the grace of God to take us through. The grace of God was with Christ because he continually disciplined himself to be with the Father. If we are to make it through the final laps of life, we must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the one who has already run this race before us, and is cheering us on into his presence. The grace of God will sustain us as we dwell in his holy presence. Make time for him -- and he will bring us through.
Lord, please help me in the weaknesses of my flesh to bring them to your feet, to be graced by you as I run this race. Amen.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
1Cor. 7:17 However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.
Even a follower of Jesus Christ can struggle from time to time about the place in which they find themselves. This was happening in Corinth and there was a certain amount of pressure to climb the social ladder. Too often the focus of life became acceptance by the world and promotion rather than reflecting Christ. Paul wanted the Corinthians to be content with where they found themselves in life rather than striving for the world’s approval.
One of the biggest challenges in the social strata was being a Jew. Circumcision meant that there was a visible sign that one did not belong to society — even for a Jew who became a believer. There was an instant social divide — even in the church, depending on your personal history.
The gymnasium was a major focus of Greek social life and the men wanted to be able to participate — but gymnasium literally meant “to train naked.” The pressure to “fit in” meant that Jewish Christians were considering plastic surgery so that they could climb the social ladder! The power and draw of the world continued to infuse the world of this church filled with new believers. Paul knew that becoming God’s holy people was possible, no matter the circumstances and it was vitally important for believers to be content with the life that the Lord had assigned.
Plastic surgery — really? Can we imagine people going to such extremes to fit in with society? Of course we can! I heard once about a young adult Sunday School class where every woman in the class chose to have some work done — and it became the centerpiece of conversation on a weekly basis! What would Paul have thought and/or said?!
We may have other temptations that push us to live a lifestyle that reflects a certain social standing so that we gain greater acceptance. Far too many are overextended in life because of the lifestyle they’ve chosen to live!
The goal and focus of life is to know Christ. Seeking success in the world and acceptance can become a distraction from that goal. The response of the believer may not be what the world expects, but that’s the whole point! Jesus followers are to be different. The things that the world sees as successful shouldn’t really matter to us.
Jesus is what matters to us — and living our lives as his holy people. We must learn to be content with all the rest.
Lord, I thank you for the life you have given me. May I rest in you and live in and through what you have provided. Amen.
Saturday, March 21, 2015
1Cor. 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
The people of Corinth were accustomed to very pagan forms of worship and lifestyle. The pagan festivals surrounding worship were accompanied by gluttony, followed by sexual promiscuity with temple prostitutes. It was an entire lifestyle which a community had come to accept as normal.
The influence of Plato meant that people had conveniently divided humans into two parts — their body and their soul. Therefore it was okay to do things “in the flesh” because it wouldn’t necessarily affect what happened “in the soul.” They could be a good person in relation to a higher being while being engaged in all kinds of activities with their bodies. This concept continued to influence the thinking of Christians (both then -- and today!).
Jesus changed all of that! His resurrection was a bodily resurrection. He was not just raised as a Spirit — but as a resurrected human being. The life in the flesh is directly connected to life in the Spirit — there is no way to take the two and disconnect them.
And this is what brings us to sexual activity for it is a very intimate and physical act done in the flesh — and not without the presence of the Spirit. When a believer is filled with God’s Holy Spirit then the Spirit of God dwells in us, so when we unite ourselves outside of the bounds of marriage, we drag God to that very place.
God was not to be dragged to pagan festivals of gluttony and prostitution. Followers of Jesus Christ were challenged to be radically different from the world and self-discipline and purity were to define their lives as they lived for Christ. The Spirit-filled Christ-followers became radically different from the world around them; not condemning but simply living as people entirely indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
When I was a child my parents would quote this Scripture — about being the temple of the Holy Spirit — as the reasoning for some of the “rules” that we had at church. We didn’t smoke or drink alcoholic beverages or dance and that was because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we back up and see what Paul is referring to here, it’s something much deeper than even these issues — it’s about sexual purity.
Just as the people of Paul’s day were still trying to live “in the world” and be engaged in the pagan practices and yet call themselves Christians, so we find ourselves today. The goal should not be to see how much we can get away with “in the flesh,” but living the entirely Spirit-filled life on a daily basis. The focus must be on becoming like Christ and not on being like the world.
Sexual immorality of Paul’s day was rampant and a part of the culture. Christians were to lead lives of sexual purity in marriage. There was to be no sexual practice outside of that relationship for marriage itself was to be a holy place of intimacy.
I still hear the voice of my mom, “Remember, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Might we remember that our body and soul, knitted together are saved and infilled with God’s Holy Spirit and that as God’s people we are genuinely his temple. The standard is a high standard — sexual purity is called upon for God’s holy people.
Lord, you guide and strengthen us as your people to lead lives pleasing to you. Amen.
Friday, March 20, 2015
17 There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.
The people of Ai had already defeated an overly self-confident group of Israelites in battle. This time however, the Israelites took the time to discern God’s leading and strategy for his people. The result was a small group of Israelites who came out in front of the city, while another group waited in ambush behind. The men of Ai went out to fight the Israelites who were in front of the city, thinking the same small band had come again to try and attack them. When the men of Ai approached, this group ran back into the wilderness and every man in Ai chased them. No man was left in the city, nor was there anyone left on their temple mount — Bethel — to protect their place of worship. They chased this group of detractors far from home.
In the meantime the entire city of Ai and their temple were left unprotected. Joshua lifted his sword and the group in ambush knew it was time for them to move. They entered the city and did as they had been commanded — destroying it all. The smoke of the burning city finally caught the attention of the men of Ai and they discovered their folly. Everything was lost because they were chasing the wrong enemy.
One of my greatest concerns for Christianity these days is our hunger to devour our own. I’m afraid that we, at times, wait for one of our own to publicly make one little mistake and then we turn them into our enemy, spending all our time and energy in bringing them down.
Could this be the ambushing plan of the enemy?
When we become distracted with fighting our own we just may leave the entire city (church) unprotected. The men of Ai left the city open while they thought they were pursuing an enemy. The result was complete and total destruction. Within the body of Christ, if we spend our time and energy pursuing the wrong enemy we will leave ourselves completely unguarded. We may think that we are doing a great thing and zealously go after people who aren’t quite doing things the way we think they should but in that pursuit our time and energy may be depleted for the real spiritual battle — our own. Our unprotected lives then become fodder for the enemy and it can all go up in smoke.
Paul’s focus of life was radically changed. He was a man who fought the wrong enemy, actually persecuting Jesus Christ in his zealous religious behavior. In the end he became a man who prayed continually and wanted to know only one thing — Christ!
The plan of the enemy is to distract us from what is really important. Falling in love with the Lord day after day will leave us in the loving arms of God. This is where we find ourselves surrounded by on-going and eternal protection. We won’t fall for a decoy. We won’t be ambushed. We won’t be left open for God will be with us.
Don’t be caught unprotected, chasing the wrong enemy!
Lord, may the focus of my life today be on you. Please help me not to become distracted by what could be a wrong enemy. Amen.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
1 Cor. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power. 21 What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
A loving leader, hoping to visit his disciples again was pointing out what was of greatest importance. Living a Spirit-filled, God-graced, Christian life meant that lives would be transformed. Being a part of the community of faith had to be more than just a bunch of talk. Some had the gift of gab and were using it to their own benefit.
Eloquence of speech could be used to gather the crowds and there were a number of speakers who had become quite popular. Unfortunately, for all of their personal giftedness and skills, there was no power present in their ministry — no kingdom power. There is a difference between the power of personal persuasion or speech, and the movement of God’s Holy Spirit. Paul was concerned that too many in the church had become enamored by the former. There was no real power present and he struggled with helping them understand their need to refocus. Correction was seen as unpleasant discipline, and yet it came from Paul’s heart of love for his people. He wanted to draw them away from the distraction of fine talk and into the depths of a relationship with Christ in which the Spirit’s kingdom power would be exhibited.
On any given day we can flip the channels on our television and find a popular evangelist who seems able to fill the pews and their coffers by those who are enticed by their words and popularity. We are encouraged to be discerning. Popularity because of an ability to speak well is not an indicator of the presence of the power of the kingdom.
Kingdom power is found not in words, but in the daily lives of those who are willing to humble themselves before the Lord and allow him to do the leading and the guiding. It is in this circumstance that God gets the glory — and all the credit for what is happening in and through someone’s ministry. When the kingdom is at work, power will be evident. This will be evident in God’s kingdom activity in the world seen in transformation.
Lovingly Paul was chiding the Corinthians, and I believe he is chiding us today as well. His loving spirit is reaching out to his disciples though the centuries and encouraging us to move beyond talk. Bible studies and small groups are nice things, but if they only result in talking about spiritual things and there is no action, then the kingdom is not being revealed.
Where is the power?
Lord, please help me to keep my focus on you and may your kingdom power be revealed in my daily life. Amen.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Psa. 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
There is an admonition in this Psalm of David that speaks to our busy and frenzied lives. Slow down, be still, and wait with quiet patience for him.
Over and over again we have tried to articulate what we are being told in this passage. We are to rest and submit to the will of the LORD while we wait for his help.
We are to be still and with longing wait for the LORD.
We are to be silent and without complaint as we submissively rest in the Lord. This truly is quiet patience!
Christy is our oldest daughter and when she was little she sometimes had a hard time taking a nap. She simply enjoyed being awake far too much and would rather talk or have us read a book to her than to miss out on something and go to sleep. To try and stay awake she would keep on moving and wiggling and the more she did that, eventually, the fussier she would get. She desperately needed sleep to feel better, but she intentionally was keeping herself from falling asleep. I learned that the best thing I could do for her was to take her in my arms and hold her tight. She would wriggle around but if I held her snug, eventually she would sigh a deep sigh, and then drop off to sleep. She needed to be still to be able to rest.
To be able to rest in the LORD, we need to slow down and stop moving. We need to close our mouths; no more complaining -- try spending a little time in silence. God will work things out in his time!
I think quiet patience may be one of the hardest things for us to practice in this day and age, but just as it was important for David, so it is for us.
Turn off the noise.
Don’t do all the talking in prayer.
Listen in patience and there you will find God!
Lord, please help me to slow down and hear you. Amen.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
1Cor. 2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Could there be anyone more eloquent or intellectual than Paul? He could have argued theology with Greek leaders better than anyone and yet, he intentionally made the focus of his testimony Jesus Christ, and him crucified. The argument really didn’t need to be fancy, it simply needed to point in the direction of the incarnate God, revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection were the pivotal moments for all of time and eternity and Paul knew this truth. Anything else about which he could argue would be frivolous in light of God becoming man.
It was far too easy to become proud and self-confident in the world. This was not God’s plan for humanity and Paul was committed to pointing people in the direction of Christ. Human wisdom was fleeting, but the mystery of Paul’s testimony was Christ. There is no need to strive for human wisdom, but to know Jesus because in knowing him, all mysteries will be revealed. The Corinthians may have been embarrassed by this simple faith, but it was the direction in which Paul wanted to take them, because there is no power in human wisdom, only through the demonstration of the Spirit. Chrysostom tells us, “Faith not only gave them the truth, it also encouraged them to glorify God.” (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 6.3) There was nothing to know but Christ!
I’m not sure that the temptations have changed that much since the time of Paul. Even today we become concerned about what others think about us. We don’t want to fail in their eyes, nor do we want to be embarrassed. Sometimes sticking our necks out in faith can seem a little embarrassing when all the world is working hard to look and sound so knowledgeable. And yet, God is asking us to move forward in our lives in simple faith.
There is nothing more important than knowing Christ, and him crucified. Jesus must be the central focus of our day, no matter where we may find ourselves. Whether we are working in the home or office, laboring or relaxing, we ought to know nothing but Christ. Christ is present in the Spirit as we go about our daily activities. Therefore even when we are interacting with others we want to know Christ. I want to know Christ in you and through you. I want you to know Christ because of how I act and/or respond.
If I am overly concerned about my own reputation, I will not know Christ. If I want my life to point in the direction of him — if I want others to know him — then I will be willing to live a life of simple faith. It may not always be filled with eloquent speech or incredible personal skill, but I want to know nothing more than Christ. He is the focus of all things and only through knowing him and pointing toward him can I live my life in the world in the power of God. His work is transformative in and through us as we get to know Christ.
Lord, please help the distractions be few that I might keep my focus clearly on you. Amen.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Psalm 40:17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.
David was keenly aware of his daily need for God. While he may have had strength for yesterday, he was in great need for fresh mercies and renewal. He recognized his poverty and need, which made him ever dependent upon God.
Jesus would later preach, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Poverty and need are daily reminders to place our eyes on God who renews us day after day as our provider. It is this sense of dependency, regularly revisited, that allows us to draw upon the kingdom of heaven. Fresh mercies come like manna from heaven to the one who is depending on God.
The prayer is for today — that today God will deliver and not delay. An every-day, every-moment dependence upon the Lord is the life that David lives. Matthew Henry sums up David’s thought; “the best saints see themselves undone, unless continually preserved by the grace of God.”
This is where we must find ourselves every morning. We need to be in a new, fresh and vital relationship with our Lord on a daily basis. If we don’t recognize how poor and needy we might be, we will miss out on all that God has in store for his kingdom work. We will be too preoccupied with the things of our own making.
God's grace preserves us when we recognize our need for dependence upon him. Isaac Watts the great hymnwriter was moved by this Psalm and penned the following words of comfort.
When I ‘m afflicted, poor, and low,
And light and peace depart,
My God beholds my heavy woe,
And bears me on his heart. (Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts)
Take it all to the Lord today. Place the burdens and the needs at his feet and allow him to make his mercies new and fresh again, today, tomorrow and every day.
Lord, thank you for the reminder to have a fresh and vital relationship with you on a daily basis. Amen.
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Gal. 6:14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
The cross of Jesus Christ is not something that most people would want to boast about. Think about it — this was an instrument of execution. Something like boasting in an electric chair or a firing squad. Surely this was a crazy thing to do, but Paul knew that it was pivotal to his life and the life of all believers. However, it was not attractive nor appealing to the world around them.
The Galatians were drawn to life in the flesh. It’s why there had been an entire argument over circumcision. This was life in the flesh — or trying to satisfy the material world. Christians were wanting to be accepted and look like the rest of the Jewish world. This was respectable religion and why not be able to compare oneself with the things of the world? Look like the world. Act like the world. Boast about your accomplishments and be accepted by the world.
Paul rejected them all and declared that he would never boast in himself, but only in “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This was the turning point on which everything else in life was measured. The things of the world; the life of the flesh had been crucified. Paul’s life was now entirely focused on living life in the Spirit, or living the Spirit-filled life. This change meant that he too had died another kind of death. Because of the cross, he had died to the world and was given new life in the Spirit. The life of the flesh had already been left behind and boasting in those things was meaningless in light of Christ. Why boast of anything — except Him!
Why do we boast of anything, except Christ? Probably because we are still living with one foot in the flesh and struggle with walking entirely in the Spirit. John Wesley said that when we are crucified with Christ, then “I am dead to all worldly pursuits, cares, desires, and enjoyments.” In other words, the things that the world sees as successful are not the things that are important.
Many of us will take time today to go to church. What will the conversation be in the corridors as we sip on our cup of coffee? Will we boast about Christ or focus on this weeks’ sporting events?
The temptation is to be constantly “in the flesh.” Paul’s comment is strong — “may I never boast of anything...” This happened as he continually lived life in the Spirit. Let’s pay attention to the conversation today. Where is the focus? If it is entirely on the world or flesh, then may we be convicted to turn our attention to Christ and him crucified and may we intentional boast about him!
Lord, thank you for your continuous and on-going leading and guiding in my life. Please help me to focus on and boast in you alone. Amen.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Gal. 5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
For those who are filled with and living by the Spirit there is a natural life which reveals the very nature of Christ in everyday behaviors. Reflecting Christ becomes natural and is revealed in love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, etc. There is no need to dictate these behaviors or list them by some kind of law. They become the norm for a Spirit-filled Christ follower.
At the same time, when one is living in this way there is no need to fear. No law will be broken for there is no law against these behaviors. This is the desire for God for all of humanity — to live a life that is reflective of the Image.
I know that many of us lived through a very legalistic period of Christianity. So much of what we did or didn’t do had something to do with what was perceived to be Church law. I know that I lived in fear of punishment for doing things wrong. I wanted so badly to be a “good girl.” But living in fear of the law or rules is not what God intended for his people. Instead this scripture is pointing us to that higher law — to that place where we are challenged to live like Christ. He becomes the higher standard for our lives.
The beauty of reflecting Christ is that we will find no law, either civil or religious, discriminating against these behaviors. The challenge is for us to live into this new life in Christ. Sometimes it’s easier (or, at least we think so) to live by a set of rules, rather than living by Christ. Living by Christ requires a close relationship with him on a daily basis. It also requires being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in, what may be, difficult circumstances. The law can’t always give us an answer — but Christ can. Sometimes laws can be wrong — but the Spirit is not. That is the challenge for a Christ-follower, to lived filled with the fruit of the Spirit.
Lord, I am challenged to live filled by you today. Amen.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Deut. 22:1 You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.
In these few simple statements we find an illustration for a community of faith that practices loving their neighbor. Initiative is to be exercised among the members as they reach out to care for one another. When one observes someone’s sheep straying — it is not to be ignored but brought back to the owner. The well-being of the donkey is everyone’s responsibility. Your neighbor’s daily needs are your responsibility! It is not yours to judge how your neighbor lost their personal goods, it is your responsibility to help.
The community is to protect the livelihood of their fellow Israelites. Their lives are inter-connected and there is an obligation to love one’s neighbor, no matter the cost. They are, collectively, God’s people, and as such, are to intentionally care for all within the community.
My mother used to always tell me to “use your initiative.” When we are presented with situations which need a response, we are to respond. However, our individualistic world tends to encourage us to take care of ourselves, and not worry about others. Therefore we let the sheep go astray and the donkey wander off.
As a community of faith we are to take initiative in helping one another. Just this week I heard the testimony of Leo Morton, the Chancellor of the University of Missouri at Kansas City in which he shared about the community in which he had been raised. They all looked after one another, and he specifically shared that his teachers (who also attended his church) and the neighbors down the street would have all had permission from his parents to keep him in line. That’s what the community did — they all watched out for each other and took initiative to keep them on the straight and narrow. In his neighborhood divorce was not a part of the vocabulary, and neither was staying home and not working an option. The result was an entire community who had the best interest of the whole in mind.
As Christian communities we are compelled to respond in this way. We are to take initiative when we see things going in the wrong direction. That child who has strayed or that believer who is suddenly missing from the community of faith. Take initiative. Pick up your phone and call or text them, let them know they are loved and missed. Pray for them. Lead them back home.
The command is clear and direct. “You may not withhold your help.” John Wesley often talked of sins of omission. It’s not just about what you do wrong, but what was the right thing to do and the fact that you didn't use your initiative! We are challenged to intentionally care for the community. Let’s do it!
Lord, may I follow through and use initiative to make a difference. Amen.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Deut. 16:21 You shall not plant any tree as a sacred pole beside the altar that you make for the LORD your God; 22 nor shall you set up a stone pillar—things that the LORD your God hates.
God hates it when other gods are placed before him and this was a constant and on-going struggle for the Israelites. He had to spell it out for them — stop doing the things that the pagan world around you likes to do!
In trying to “fit in” with their neighbors they thought they might adopt some of their practices, mixed in with what the LORD was commanding them. The neighbors would plant a tree around or near the sacred altar to worship Ashera. These were the Ashera poles or trees. Sometimes an entire grove of trees would be planted around the altar, and this might be for the altar to be hidden and also so that impure sexual acts might be done in the presence of the altar as a form of worship.
Not only was worship of Ashera prohibited, so was the worship of Baal. Often in Baal worship stelae or stone pillars were erected, possibly to signify the visitation of a god.
Worship of God was not to resemble any kind of pagan worship. It was to be done out in the open, in public — nothing hidden from view! Divine worship was to be for the edification of all. Obstructing the worship of the LORD with things of the world, or trying to look like the world was offensive to God and this was made known to the people in the clearest of language. This is what God hated!
This language of hate is pretty powerful. If we were to place this into our contemporary context, what is it that God might hate?
What is it that we have placed around our worship that makes it look more like the world? This may not be something physical that we have placed around the church, but I’m thinking it may be something along the lines of the priorities which we have placed around the worship of God. I think our calendar may say more about what we’ve placed near or around worship than what happens in the church building.
Have I set up Ashera poles or a grove of trees around my altar to the extent that no one sees my worship? Sundays have suddenly become filled with all the things that our neighbors down the street do on the Lord's day. There is no clear path to the altar because it is obscured with sports and brunch and other quite lovely activities, but the worship of God has become hidden. It may still be there, but it is hidden in among the things that make us fit in with the world around us.
Worship of God is to be unobstructed and our lifestyles are to be a living testimony of our love for him. In this way our lifestyle of worship before God becomes edifying to all who are around us. God hates anything short of this vision for the people of God.
Lord, please help me keep my life and worship uncluttered. Amen.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Deut. 13:12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the LORD your God is giving you to live in, 13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” whom you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation.
The power of influence is strong and God is raising his awareness and concern about the behavior of the Israelites. An individual can be led astray, but not only an individual, entire towns can be led astray by those who do not follow God’s commands. This is the crowd being infected by the influence of “scoundrels. ” These “scoundrels” are people who have yoked themselves with evil; who are vile, lawless, and without any reverence or fear of God. The concern is over the reach of their negative influence and when this is recognized it is to be stopped immediately!
I think that most would recognize the incredible power of negativity to influence a great group of people. We love a juicy, negative story! It is these negative stories which make their way around social media these days and can create such a flurry of attention that it can be almost mind-numbing. Sometimes the flurry in the virtual world of Facebook is much greater than in the real world. Sadly, the negative power of the virtual world is often having a negative effect on the real world. Scoundrels — leading the virtual town astray.
But, let’s turn this around a minute! What would happen if those who are on-fire for Christ, those who professed his name with inspired zeal, were to exercise their influence. Could positive influence help to lead an entire community toward Christ? Instead of scoundrels leading people astray, could saints lead people to sanity? I think that is very much within the real of possibility as we live and move within the activity of God’s Holy Spirit.
Being led by the Spirit of God we have seen in the past that there is the power of God’s influence to bring about change in entire communities, and even churches. Just as the scoundrels exercised their zeal-filled influence to bring people down, so may God use spirit-filled passionate influencers to change the world!
Lord, please fill me with zeal for you. Amen.
Monday, March 9, 2015
Deut. 11:10 For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden. 11 But the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, 12 a land that the LORD your God looks after. The eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
Looking over into the promised land God reveals to them a major difference when compared to Egypt. The land of Egypt was fertile, but it required huge amounts of human labor. There was little rainfall and so the only way to have enough water for the crops was through a complex irrigation system. Channels needed to be dug and maintained so that water could flow to the fields. Everything was dependent upon maintaining and trying to control the Nile and it took the backbreaking work of thousands of workers to make it happen.
In contrast to Egypt God was showing them the promised land before them. This was a different kind of land where no human labor was to be required for watering. God would do the watering for them, providing them with rain from the sky. This was a place where God would look after them and their success would not be determined by the power of a human workforce.
The two alternatives are seen as “blessing” and “curse.” It wasn’t just about the land, but about a covenant agreement with God. It’s also about perspective. Both Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16:12-14 had claimed that Egypt was a fertile land and couldn’t see what God was promising in the new land. They didn’t understand that the promise was about the land and God’s people. It was a relationship in which the people would not trust in their own human abilities, but place all of their trust in God who would care for them. The promise was not just for them, but for the generations who would follow after them. The care of the land is a symbol of God’s love for his people. He will provide for the land and love his chosen people.
Turning back to Egypt is symbolic of turning to other gods. Trusting in gods of human hands, or simply in human hands is not blessed by God. Rather it becomes curse for those who refuse to walk in the land of promise with their Beloved.
The land was not to be possessed by the sheer will of the Israelites who were following the law. God was placing it before them as a gift, one which they could take if they simply moved forward, following God’s loving grace into what he placed before them. The early rain from heaven came through the law, and the later rains would come in the time of the incarnation, but always, God would provide the rain and the people had the potential to flourish. This was the choice of blessing.
We have a choice to live life in the land of curse or blessing. We can, by sheer effort, try to make things happen. The reality is that the Egyptians had a pretty amazing system of irrigation and it worked. The problem was that it took much time and energy. The things that we are doing in life on our own, they may be taking all the energy that we have. The result is that we feel that we have no time for God, because we don’t allow God to be a part of what we are doing on a daily basis. We are working so hard trying to get it all done that we have no time for him. This is living in curse. It’s not what God expects for his people.
I’m afraid that we fail to see or understand God’s work which is already ongoing in our world. His grace goes before us like the beautiful spring rain, preparing the way for us. If we live in the promise of blessing, then we move through life, following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Just like the rains which come from heaven for which we do not need to labor, we do not have to expend energy on the rains!
In a very practical sense it means that we need to spend time walking with God in the land of Promise. While we fellowship with God we learn more about God’s heart and leadings. Even in our daily work, we discover the hand of God present, providing rain. In our relationships, God is there, providing rain. In our ministry, God is there providing rain.
We may choose the curse of trying to make it rain on our own. We will become tired and worn out for it will be backbreaking, or we may walk in blessing as God provides the rain for what he has prepared for us in advance.
Lord, may I trust in you, walking in the rain of your leading and blessing. Amen.
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Mark 14:65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.
The religious leaders had Jesus in their custody and were disgusted with him and his responses to their questions. The high priest tore his clothing in response to Jesus’ words which he received as blasphemy. The plan was to have Jesus put to death for his words but having to wait until morning for his sentencing the religious leaders began to mock him.
The behavior displayed should have been horribly out of character for religious leaders. Can you imagine that they began to spit on him? Then, in a terrible show of human depravity they tried to turn their king, their Messiah into some sort of circus act. Blindfolding him they began to hit, slap and punch him with their hands, taunting him to identify who it was that had hit him. This was their idea of “Prophesy” — a type of show.
Their behavior reveals what they really thought of their Messiah. They had no idea what it was that he could do for them and sadly, they probably would have been satisfied with a few “magic” acts. Their disappointment in his unwillingness to perform in the way they desired only made them angrier and they turned him over to the guards to be beaten. The prophesy of Isaiah was fulfilled in the awful things that were done to Jesus that night.
Awful things continue to be done to Jesus today and yes, even by religious people. You may ask when and where that happens? I think that Jesus already told us:
Matthew 25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Who is that stranger among us in which we find Jesus? It’s anyone that we meet along the way today and that might make us quite uncomfortable. There seem to be so many gray areas out there in the midst of the tragedies of the world.
What do we do with immigration issues?
What do we do with war in the Middle East?
What do we do with issues of human trafficking and slavery?
What do we do with the poor in our neighborhoods?
Dorothy Day, journalist and devout follower of Christ says, "The Gospel takes away our right, forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor." And maybe we could go on to say that the Gospel takes away forever any right to discriminate between those who are worthy and those who are unworthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
You see, even as Christ followers we are frustrated with what we see in our world and there is the temptation to respond like the religious leaders. We want to spit at those causing the problems in the world. We want to blindfold and hit them and ask them to perform for us in crazy ways. But what if the religious leaders would have treated Jesus with the dignity he was due? What if they would have begun to see God in him? Things would have been different.
What if we ask God to open our eyes to see Jesus in the stranger? How would we treat those who are moving in next door? How would we view the young lady looking quite lost at the truck stop? What would we do for the person of another faith that needs help?
The awful things that we do to Jesus!!! We are stunned because we can’t imagine treating Jesus the way the religious officials treated him.
We will all encounter Jesus in someone today who does not fit our image of Jesus. The religious leaders were angry that he wasn’t what they wanted or anticipated. Be careful that you have not created your own image of Jesus and you are missing him, or mistreating him along the way.
Lord, forgive me for the times that I have missed you or mistreated you, and may I have eyes to see you in the stranger among us. Amen.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Mark 14:10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
We see the greed of Judas in little glimpses of his life. These two small verses are sandwiched between two other incidents. The one that precedes it is the story of the woman with the alabaster jar and the one that follows is the last supper. Judas is incensed that the woman would pour out something so valuable on the feet of Jesus Christ. He complains that the money could have been given to help the poor, but that wasn’t really his concern. His love of money may have led him to becoming the group’s treasurer, not out of a desire of generosity but of control. When the woman opens the alabaster jar, he is suddenly out of control and she is going to “waste” something of great value on Jesus. His love had blinded him and he could not see the value in the woman’s action. Judas’ love of the things of the world far surpassed his love of Jesus and he took off to find a way to make more money.
Judas goes to the chief priests and there, a disciple, and the religious officials plot the doom of their Messiah. It is the love of power and money that brings together this dangerous combination. Each player in the scene willing to compromise everything they’ve ever learned about God and the scriptures for their own personal desires. The price on which they settle is thirty pieces of silver. This is the fine which must be paid in the Old Testament when a man or maid-servant is accidentally killed. (Exodus 21:32) That’s it — the value of the Messiah, that of the accidental death of a servant.
Judas couldn’t understand what it was that the woman was doing, and nor would he understand the cross. His lack of comprehension leaves him here, in the middle of the story where his love of money drives him to sell so much for so little. He couldn’t look beyond the obvious to see the real value of the Messiah and as a result, he lost it all.
“The supreme ‘offense’ was planned and perpetrated by no desperate criminal. It was the work of an apostle, and his accomplices were the heads of a divinely given religion. What an awful example of the deadening power, palsying the conscience, petrifying the heart, of religious observances devoid of real trust and love.” (Chadwick on Mark) They all gave up so much for so little!
Money and power were at the root of the behavior we see here and most of us would not want to believe that these two would be a factor in our own lives. We don’t want to believe that we might be seduced by them and yet, I’m afraid that we may be.
Sharing of resources and power is a difficult thing. If we were completely honest with ourselves we’re uncomfortable with this topic because it hits too close to home. Allowing others to have control over our resources is a scary thing. Allowing people into decision-making roles who do not look and talk just like us makes us extremely uncomfortable.
Judas was uncomfortable with what was happening and so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He couldn’t comprehend the Messiah who stood daily before him. Anointing him to do his official work was invisible to him, and a passover celebration leading to the end of slavery for all was beyond him. With his eyes fixed upon the things of the world he gave up the most valuable man ever known to humankind, and sold him for the price of a slave. If we do not allow God to open our eyes to what lay beyond the material we will give up the greatest of gifts for almost nothing. So much for so little. Judas lost it all.
Lord, please help me to keep my vision through you alone. Amen.
Friday, March 6, 2015
11 (Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites. By the common cubit it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide.)
Once again the size of an individual is noted. The Rephaim were known as giants who had originally occupied Palestine. Reference is made to his “iron bed,” which we are not sure whether is truly a bed on which he slept, or his coffin. Whichever it is, the very mention of this item gives us a clue about the might of this individual. If it was an iron bed, this would have been significant for only the very wealthy could have afforded something this extravagant. Most people slept on mats on the floor but an iron bed would have prevented issues with bugs, been expensive, and difficult to move!
The size of the bed or coffin itself speaks to the size of Og. Translated it was 13.5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, or 4.1 meters long by 1.8 meters wide. If this was anywhere close to his personal size, the man was quite huge! At the same time, because size was to be feared, this bed or coffin may have been made unusually large simply to exaggerate the size of its owner and intimidate enemies. Certainly the rumor of its size had reached the Israelites and they were suitably impressed and feared the Rephaim.
In yesterday’s reading we discovered the fear of the Anakim and today the Rephaim are mentioned. The Israelites were impressed by size!
In comparison, what were they saying about themselves?
They were small.
They had no impressive army.
They had no great reputation.
They didn’t have a fancy bed.
They didn’t work with iron.
They didn’t have a museum.
Seriously, in light of the world around them they were an insignificant people who did not personally have the resources to be victorious. And yet, with God they were able to do far more than the world around them would have imagined.
What are we impressed with? The Rephaim and the giant bed? What is that in relation to God?
Look beyond the Rephaim. Look beyond the things of the world. Look to God above and him only, trusting in him and his greatness. The things of the world will become museum relics compared to what God wants to do in and through you and me.
Lord, may the things of this world grow strangely dim. Amen.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
28 Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’”
The spies had been sent out to look over the promised land. Much of the report was positive. It was a beautiful land “flowing with milk and honey.” But while there was much positive, there were those who could only see the negative!
Big and tall people seemed to be frightening to the Israelites, as well as the thought of fortified cities. It is an ancient saying that a city is walled up to the heavens! These people, the Israelites, had no weapons and they could see no way in which they could destroy a walled city.
The offspring of the Anakim were frightening to them. These people have appeared from time to time in the Scriptures and they were a race of people who were tall! Goliath is thought to have descended from these people. The emphasis is interesting, having already mentioned the stronger and taller people they reiterate, “We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!” Evidently this was an especially horrifying thought.
Thinking of the Anakim makes me wonder what giants we see in our own lives. Looking over the current landscape, thinking and planning ahead, God may be moving and prodding, but might we be frozen while looking in fear at our own personal Anakim!
In hindsight it’s so easy to be critical of the Israelites but we face our own Anakim on a regular basis. It may be a personal Anakim — we may be focusing on what seem to be the giants in our own lives. What if God is prodding us to move on — to take a new job, or get more education? It’s so easy to focus on the Anakim — we hear the negative voices! “You don’t want to do that — it’ll be too hard to change everything in life right now.” “You can’t do that school work — you’ll be a failure!”
We find Anakim in personal relationships and instead of confronting them, we allow the simple fear of them to keep us from entering the promised land. Too many marriages end because of the Anakim, when, with the power of God they can be slain and a marriage move on to incredible joy.
We find Anakim in our health. We receive bad news and it becomes overwhelming. How will we fight the Anakim?
We argue, “But God — ‘We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’”
Yes we do see the Anakim — but we are privileged to make the journey with our God who is more powerful than the Anakim. He brought down the walls that went to the heavens of Jericho without any human weaponry. David was able to slay the Anakim with a rock! God does not use ordinary means to bring down the Anakim, but it does require faith and trust in him. Look for the positive. Don’t focus on the giants and maybe we could say, “We actually saw there a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Lord, may we trust you to slay the giants in our lives. Amen.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Mark 10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The blind man cried out to Jesus — he wanted to be healed! While the man was physically blind, he had spiritual insight into who it was that was before him. This Jesus was the Son of David, he was the son of the King! The blind man was not worthy to be in the King’s presence, but he cried out for mercy that he might be completely and entirely made whole.
There is a sense in which we are drawn into familiarity with God, a closeness with him that breaks down the walls of formality. But there is also a place in which we are humbled in his very presence.
The awesomeness of God is beyond our comprehension. The blind man got it. His inability to see physically may have helped him to be more sensitive spiritually. Unfortunately our ability to see may create spiritual blindness for us. Until we are able to recognize the greatness of our God we may not be coming before him in genuine humility. Bartimaeus was healed for he recognized his need for God’s mercy.
We are in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace in our lives. When life becomes more than we can bear, we may face moments when all we can do is cry “out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
Lord, have mercy. Amen.
Monday, March 2, 2015
Mark 9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
This incident, known as the Transfiguration. is a moment where God bears witness to his son. The curtain is held back just a little for us to see what is happening behind the scenes. Jesus’ Divinity is exposed for those present where they catch a glimpse of the glory of God that is dwelling among them. The same voice that was heard at Jesus’ baptism again confirms his divine paternity and implores humanity to listen to him. It is the view behind the curtain; God dwelling among humankind.
The view doesn’t end on this mountain but points to the final resurrection. In this way the transfiguration is a place where, according to Ephrem the Syrian, “the divine glory is adapting itself unpretentiously to the disciples’ capacity to receive it.”
The Lord who is beyond measure
measures out nourishment to all,
adapting to our eyes the sight of himself,
to our hearing his voice,
His blessing to our appetite,
His wisdom to our tongue.
Ephrem the Syrian, HYMNS ON PARADISE 9.27.
This is humanity being allowed to peek behind the curtain, catching a small glimpse of what is to come.
It’s possible to peek behind the curtain and find places where we catch a glimpse of God’s glory intersecting with human life.
It may quite possibly be in the life of the redeemed and transformed drug addict.
The resurrected marriage brought to new life through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes a reflection of the divine glory present behind the curtain.
A quiet moment in devotion before the Lord when suddenly the Holy Spirit breaks in on our private worship and we experience God in a way we would never have imagined becomes a peek behind the curtain.
Corporate worship where God’s people gather together can be that place where suddenly we experience God in a way we never imagined.
Maybe the spoken word becomes transformational, or the time gathered around the table becomes a moment of transfiguration.
God is still in the business of revealing himself to us through Christ. We may be invited into more transfiguration experiences than we realize. The disciples on the mountain weren’t sure what they were experiencing and Peter’s response was a bit foolish. We may find ourselves in the very same place and yet, ultimately they realized that they had experienced something beyond themselves. We are invited to step into a relationship with Christ that leads us to something beyond ourselves, and something beyond human explanation. It’s just a little peek behind the curtain of the Divine and the mystery of God in us.
Lord, we want to live faithfully in you and with childlike understanding embrace all of who you are. Amen.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Num. 29:12 On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. You shall celebrate a festival to the LORD seven days.
The people of God were instructed to celebrate his intervention in their lives. These festivals were to be lived out, or acted out among the people. All work was to stop and the focus was to be upon God’s provision in their lives. In this case, the Festival of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, as this event was named, was to last for seven days.
Our precious Messiah celebrated these festivals as he grew up. They were a part of his life and activity with the family, helping to shape his humanity. Work was to cease and God was to be celebrated for seven days.
It’s been a long time since I’ve gone camping. When I was a little girl our family would go camping on vacation. I’m quite certain that it was probably the only way in which we could have afforded to go on vacation because we lived in Europe. I have fond memories of the different places that we camped. One year we headed down to Yugoslavia and ended up on the Adriatic sea. Along the way we stayed in a camp with gypsies and I was fascinated for I had never been around this group of people before. We all set up our tents and made ourselves at home for the time that we were there. My mother cooked for us on a small propane burner and we children ran around, played and went swimming. It was a great time and a fun memory, although it was nearly 50 years ago.
There was something special about camping with the family. We were disconnected from the world and we had to do some work along the way. The tent had to be taken down and put up as we journeyed. Food had to be prepared in ways that were more of a challenge than at home. The days were filled with being and playing outdoors. I remember laying on the ground and watching the fluffy clouds go by and imagining all the shapes that God was creating. It was a time of slowing down and being in the moment.
The Feasts that God required of his people were not a punishment, they were to be a complete change of pace from their daily lives. They were to go camping for a week and remember what it must have been like for the Israelites who wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. It was through this physical act that they could slow down and see the hand of God at work.
Something about this festival sounds appealing to me. I’m afraid that we don’t take many moments to put aside the world and simply remember and focus on God. We can hardly set aside Sunday mornings to go to church, let alone an entire week away from work, while camping and thinking about God’s provision.
What challenges me today is to imagine what would happen if we became intentional again about creating space for prolonged emphasis on God. What would happen if we took the time to make God such a priority that our children would take a break from the world and realize that God is real and has been at work in our lives?
For some within our ‘holiness’ tradition it’s interesting that camping was a part of our history. People began gathering at camps to hear messages preached and there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and spiritual renewal that occurred in those places. Today the camping and/or campmeeting experience is becoming a thing of the past. As I reflect on this scripture today I’m wondering if we may be missing something significant. Instead of seeing the need for camp to be great entertainment, could it possibly be the place where we return to our roots and we celebrate, remembering what God has done in the past and in doing so anchor our children to a future?
It seems that too much tradition is being done away with as we embrace this new world of electronics and busyness. Technology was to give us more free time, it’s simply sped up our lives in a way that makes us think we have to accomplish even more and yet we are reaching a limit of human capacity. We are on the brink of burning out as we try to keep up, but at the same time, losing the traditions which may provide some grounding.
God planned for the Festival of Tabernacles to be an intentional time of remembering what he had done for his people in the wilderness. We must be intentional about shutting off the world and celebrating what God has done. We need to find our way to “go camping” so that the memory of Christ’s intervention our lives is not lost on ourselves or future generations.
Lord, than you for a reminder today to slow down and celebrate your work in my life and others. Amen.