Saturday, February 28, 2015

Daughters of Zelophehad: Rerun

Scripture

Num. 27:1 ¶ Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
Num. 27:2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said,
Num. 27:3 “Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons.
Num. 27:4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Num. 27:5 ¶ Moses brought their case before the LORD.
Num. 27:6 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Num. 27:7 The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them.
Num. 27:8 You shall also say to the Israelites, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter.

Observation

This story is one which fascinates me and I wrote about it exactly three years ago. In reading this text again today, I continued to be fascinated. Therefore this post is a rerun -- a slightly updated version of my post from three years ago.

We are taken back to the Israelites who are traveling in the wilderness, but will soon cross over into the promised land.  Before they enter each family is to receive their inheritance and their assignment in the new country will be based on the census which is being taken. In the culture of the day, the clans or families were all appointed according to the male head.

However, here we encounter a family where the males have all died out.  Only the women are left.  The daughters of Zelophehad must have been amazingly strong women.  They were their clan leaders. This word didn't just mean that they happened to end up in charge, but that they actually served in the positions of leadership just as the leaders of the other tribes. These women courageously came and spoke to Moses regarding their concern.  They were being left out, simply because they were women.  Moses took this concern to God and God told Moses that the women were correct and that this was unfair.  From that time on the laws would be changed and if there were no male heirs, the women would receive the inheritance. 

Application

"Downton Abby" has been a popular television show for a few years. While the storyline has moved on it began around the theme of the inheritance. Less than 100 years ago in England a daughter could not receive the inheritance of her family.  A distant male heir, sometimes someone unknown to the family may the recipient of the family fortune.  If this was still true less than 100 years ago, we must recognize how revolutionary God's response was so very long ago. 

Often it is cultural norms which keep us from all that God truly has for us.  In the culture of Moses' day it would have been unacceptable for the women to be the heirs.  Something remarkable happened in this story.  One is simply the courage of the women.  They didn't wait around for someone else to right the wrong, but rather, they gathered themselves together, and as a team went before Moses, presenting a very logical and well thought-out argument.  Interestingly Moses didn't just give his approval.  He was probably a little thrown by the unusual request.  Therefore he had to go and meet with God and get advice from him.  The response of God reveals how counter-cultural the kingdom of God really is.  The kingdom of God is counter-cultural for there is a new culture within the kingdom.  Here we catch a glimpse of God's intended future for his people where there is equality among the genders which is not provided within the contemporary culture of the day.  It is a foreshadowing of Galatians … Gal. 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Gal. 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The foreshadowing was that the inheritance would be available to all!  Thankfully, that is the day in which we live.  The inheritance truly is available to all, no matter who we are or where we fit within the social strata of the day.  We may all come before God and claim our inheritance.  We must not allow the structures of society to keep us from all that God intends for us.  We must step boldly before the throne as his sons and daughters, and claim our inheritance, serving him faithfully in his kingdom.


Prayer

Thank you for the inheritance you have provided.  May we not be shy about what you have given us, but rather, may we walk boldly before you.  Amen.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Be Opened



Scripture

Mark 7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Observation

Jesus heals the man who has been deaf. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then the man’s tongue, touching him at the point of his exact need. Could the man not speak because he could not hear, or could he not hear and therefore could not speak? Jesus knew, and the symbolism of his touching brought healing.

However, Jesus did not only touch this man, but he looked up to heaven and then he sighed. Jesus sighed! Was he tired and worn out from ministry? Did he need strength from God in that moment? We don't know but then, Jesus speaks just one word, “Ephphatha,” which the gospel writer quotes for us. This word is spoken in Aramaic and is here transliterated for the Greek audience. A big sigh — looking up to heaven and breathing out one word in this man’s native tongue, “Be opened.” This was Jesus’ word of healing spoken over this man. Whether it was his mouth or his ears — he had been closed up, unable to be in touch with the world around him and now, he was being set free.

From deep within himself Jesus breathes out — “Be opened.” Immediately the man is set free.

Application

This is the promise of Jesus for all of us who find ourselves closed. It may be that we are closed, or that we are in contact with others who are closed and we all are in desperate need of a touch from him.

Jesus’ touch to the world today comes through his Spirit-filled followers. We are challenged to reach out and touch the world at the point of their deepest need.

And yes, there may be times that we are tired and worn out. We sigh a big sigh along with Jesus. I actually find his sigh somewhat comforting. I’ve been known to let out a big sigh from time to time because sometimes the work in service to the kingdom is simply exhausting. I think Jesus was exhausted and so he looked up to heaven for a bit of encouragement from the Father.

The words are plainly spoken in the language of the community of this man. Some would think that the word was spoken for the man to understand in his own language — but if he was unable to hear and/or speak before the healing — why would it have mattered? But was the healing also a gifting of language for this man — the language that he would need in order to communicate with the community to whom he belonged? The healing of “be opened” was one of wholeness, not just physically, but emotionally and socially. May your senses be opened, but may also your life be opened up to be accepted as a whole human being within society. You will hear and speak and fit in because you will be able to communicate in the local tongue. Wow!

Be open. A word of healing breathed over not just the deaf and mute physically, but the deaf and mute spiritually. The promise of wholeness is for all who are willing to present themselves before the Master healer. Today, the promise of “be open” can bring total transformation for all.

Prayer

Lord, may you lead me to the place of being open every day.  Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Duplicity



Scripture

Psa. 28:3        Do not drag me away with the wicked,
        with those who are workers of evil,
    who speak peace with their neighbors,
        while mischief is in their hearts.
4     Repay them according to their work,
        and according to the evil of their deeds;
    repay them according to the work of their hands;
        render them their due reward.
5     Because they do not regard the works of the LORD,
        or the work of his hands,
    he will break them down and build them up no more.

Observation

David was struggling for his enemy sought to destroy him. God was his place of refuge and the one in whom he placed his trust.

He had experienced those who pretended to be his friends, who spoke peace with him, but only did so for their own personal advantage.  They were duplicitous in their behavior, their words not matching their actions. Hypocrisy is considered abhorrent, a special type of wickedness that will be punished.

Application


Hypocrisy, or duplicity may be one of the worst sins of “Christians” these days. It is the inconsistency between the words spoken and the life lived that drives a wedge between the world and Christianity. At the same time I believe the world is desperate to witness genuine Christianity — if only we could truly live what we say.

In my own tradition we have defined a holy lifestyle in a particular way — one that describes the things that we avoid. Sadly, it has not been defined by the things that we do. The result has been, at times, duplicity. I may avoid smoking and drinking, but I speak poorly of my neighbor, destroying their reputation. There are more examples that I’m afraid most of us can envision or have personally experienced.

The problem is that this type of duplicity has been destructive to Christianity. Unfortunately, it’s been going on for a long time. It was happening in David’s time. It happened when Christ was alive. It’s happening today — and yet, God is still on the throne. God’s reputation will ultimately not be tarnished by us — but our lives and those around us will be affected by how we choose to live our lives.

In simplicity Jesus came forward to be baptized in the Jordan and the Holy Spirit came upon him. We need to come before God in simplicity, the Spirit descending upon us, empowering us to live genuine lives of faith. Complete and entire infilling with the Spirit leaves no room for duplicity for we will be the same through and through.

Prayer

Lord, please lead me this day and may my words and life reflect you.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

God’s Call to the Ministry: A Work of Grace



Scripture

Numbers 17:5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you.

Observation


The Israelites were complaining again and this time it was because they all wanted to be able to approach God at the tent of meeting. Why should only some have that privilege?  They decided to grumble. They had no respect or reverence for the Priesthood — a foreshadowing of how the Jewish leaders would later treat Christ. They were also certain that Aaron’s ministry as a priest and that of the Levites was simply nepotism.

It was time to show the community that the calling of Aaron and the Levites was God’s calling. They had not chosen themselves to this vocation and it was not simply a voluntary offering. The calling to the ministry was a work of grace, revealed in the sprouting of Aaron’s rod. It was a work of grace in the Levites, but also for Christ. It is a heavenly calling for one to “suffer on behalf of sinners” and “offer gifts on behalf of sins,” and as Ambrose continues, “in this way even Christ did not claim the priesthood but received it.” (Letter 14, Extra Coll.)

Application

There were many among the company of the Israelites who wanted the call to ministry. Somehow they felt that there was a privilege present and they wanted it. They did not see it as service in the kingdom, nor as God’s call, but as their own personal right and privilege to approach God. There was no understanding of the call as a work of grace.

There may be a temptation to border on this same behavior today. Unfortunately I’ve seen a real lack of respect for religious leaders. Now, there would be some who would say that they deserve it, and maybe some do — but do they all? I’m afraid that the sins of a few have created a very negative situation for those called to ministry as a whole. There seems to be very little distinction between those who are called and the laity and as a result the respect for the office of the ordained elder has slipped.

Aaron and his sons didn’t always get it right, but God still wanted to use them. It was a mystery and this was God’s grace at work. God is still in the business of calling children into ordained ministry and yes, it continues to be a mystery. We desperately need those who are willing to respond to the call. Aaron and his sons were willing to respond and serve and God called the people to treat them with respect.

We should respect the called leaders because we revere Christ. At the same time we must provide opportunities for them to serve Christ faithfully. Chrysostom tells us, “the priest or prophet promotes what is truly beneficial rather than what is merely enjoyable.” This is a work of grace and one that extends from the one who is called, to the congregation. Together we become the holy people of  God.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the ministers who have shaped my life.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Choosing Captains!



Scripture

4 So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.”

Observation

The Israelites had made it to the promised land and were spying it out, ready to move forward with God in the lead and suddenly the people stopped. Fear gripped them and they refused to listen to the good reports of the some of the spies. Instead they began to measure their own strength, forgetting about God and determined they could not survive.

Moses was their spiritual leader but they were rejecting him. They wanted a “Captain” and they wanted to “go back to Egypt!”

Application

Think about going back to Egypt and all that meant. They had gone through the plagues, the passover, the Red Sea, the wilderness, the manna….and they would want to undo it all and go back! Had they forgotten the fact that they were slaves and they were making bricks without straw? Life had been miserable back in Egypt and yet, they seemed to forgot all that God had done and continued to do for them! They wanted a captain…for all the wrong reasons.

As a kid I hated playing sports where you had to pick teams. One reason I hated it was because I knew that I would be one of the last to be picked. I wasn’t an athlete; I was more of a nerd. Also, there were times that picking teams felt more like a popularity contest — one which I would never win! Decisions were not always made on the wisest basis.

What is the basis for our personal decisions in life? Moses was the leader and he had been faithful to God and interceded for an unfaithful people. Time after time he had saved them from a destruction of their own making.

Jesus is our leader and over and over again, with great patience and grace he tries to save us from personal destruction. Moses was not the popular leader. He wasn’t cool. He talked funny. He didn’t do things the way that a great “Captain” would and so they rejected him.

Jesus wasn’t the popular leader. He wasn’t cool. He said things that made people feel really uncomfortable. He wasn’t the military “Captain” that people wanted him to be so they rejected him.

My pastor isn’t cool. Sometimes his/her sermons aren’t as entertaining as what I can find on YouTube. My pastor needs to learn how to function like a CEO. If only he/she would have spent more time in the business world and followed their models we’d know how to do better marketing and sales!

Let’s be like the world and have an awesome looking Captain. Let’s go back to Egypt…where we will live like slaves and die.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for genuine spiritual leadership which I have been blessed to experience in my life.  Amen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Recoiling with Horror from the Word as Preached



Scripture


22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Observation

Jesus was teaching on fasting and he never condemned the practice. Actually, he fasted often but the way in which the Jewish authorities fasted was so compulsory that it didn’t fit with a life lived in the freedom of the Spirit. Chrysostom tells us that Jesus’ preaching, just as any fresh preaching may actually make people “recoil with indignity and horror from the word as preached.” This is because the message that Jesus preached was one of servanthood and accountability before God, and not for the benefit of the religious authorities.

The Jewish leaders had become stiff, just like old wineskins and they could not stretch to adjust to the new wine that Jesus brought with him. His message of servanthood was not something that they wanted to hear and nor could they celebrate his presence as their Messiah. He didn’t fit the paradigm and they simply found themselves frustrated with him and the activities of his disciples. They seemed to be constantly breaking the rules, pushing the wineskins beyond the bounds. The leaders were about to burst because they truly did “recoil with…horror” when they heard him preach.

Application

When the Holy Spirit is poured out among God’s people there can be a time of stretching and growth that seems to pus the boundaries. It’s when one of those sermons hits a little too close to home and a bit of conviction begins to gnaw at us that we too may recoil with horror. What do we do? We try to justify ourselves or our responses. We attack the preacher of the word and convince ourselves that he/she was wrong. This is exactly what the religious officials did to Jesus!

God wants to pour out his Spirit today on all flesh and in doing so the new wine may not take on the same shape as before. If our wineskins become old and inflexible then they will burst when filled with new wine, but if we remain spiritually fresh our wineskins will remain pliable. It is then that we can take on a new shape and new channels will be exposed for the Spirit to work in and through us. We may not fast when others fast. Instead, we may feast when they fast!

“Our Daily Homily” by F. B. Meyer says that if we live and work within the new wineskins we may even frustrate those within our churches. He goes on to say, however, that we must not think that new wineskins are of our own making. We are not to “follow the promptings and suggestions of our undisciplined wills.” We are to ask the Lord to show us what we are to do and “let the methods in which our hearts’ devotion shall express itself be so lovely, so befitting, so helpful to the world, and so full of God, that men [and women] may recognize” the hand of God and adore him alone! God’s love is not to be spilled, but stored up in our new wineskins for the “refreshment of others through our lives.” This wine which fills the new wineskins is the overflowing love of God…and our prayer is that God might give us that love so that we do not recoil with horror at the true Word which is preached.

Prayer

Lord, please keep my pliable to your leading.  Amen.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Rabble Among Them



Scripture


Num. 11:4   The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat!

Observation

Every morning when the Israelites awakened fresh manna lay on the ground, ready for them to consume. No one had to work for their daily bread, except to collect enough for their family. This special food from God provided all the nutrition they needed to be a healthy and satisfied people, and yet, they were not satisfied. Evidently a core group of individuals decided to grumble and complain that they didn’t have any meat to eat. They are referred to as, “the rabble among them.” These individuals had a “strong craving.” We might even say, “they had a hankering for barbecue!”

So strong was their “hankering” that they began complaining and this negativity was contagious. The rabble infused the entire camp until finally they were all grumbling, “If only we had meat to eat!” In the following verses they list a menu of food items which they enjoyed in Egypt. In essence they were saying, “Everything was awesome when we lived in Egypt.” They missed the onions, garlic, cucumbers and melons that they used to eat there and this memory suddenly overwhelmed the memory of a faithful God who had rescued them from the hands of their oppressors.

They refused to put their faith and trust in God and the “rabble” were willing to take their grumbling and negativity back to their homes. Their own families began to complain and the attitude of the rabble spread through the camp like a contagious disease. It was a disease which could ultimately lead to the death of their own children who would turn their backs on God. These people were enjoying their time of complaining.

We find the word “complaining” used again on rare occasions in the New Testament but it is used by the gospel writer, John in 6:35, 41-61. This is when Christ is explaining to the Jews that he is the bread of life which came down from heaven. Jesus is the manna and the rabble go home and “complain” about who he is. They are repeating the exact same behavior which we have seen here in Numbers. The power of the “rabble” is immense for negativity is highly destructive.

Application

The frightening part of this story is the influence of the “rabble.” This may have begun as a small handful of discontented individuals but it soon infused the entire camp. The destruction seen to their own families and households as a result of their selfishness is overwhelming.

Today is Sunday and there will be many around the world who will go to church and participate in a small group and a worship service. What will your children hear on the way home today? Will there be criticism of those who led the lesson, or the pastor’s sermon? Over and over again I hear of young people who are turning away from the church and Christianity because they do not see it as being authentic. I’ve heard them tell me that the way in which their parents behaved at home had nothing to do with the way they behaved when they were at church. The Israelites’ grumbling would eventually lead their children to death. This was the reality in the Old Testament and they were still doing the same thing by the time Jesus arrived.

Do we understand the destructive nature of our negative criticisms? Are we willing to drive a wedge between our children and their faith in God because we want to complain about the Pastor?

Being a member of the “rabble” is highly infectious. It may win us some attention today and the crowds may be turned on by our negative rants but it will lead us back to Egypt.

Prayer

Lord, please keep me from the temptation to be rabble.  Amen.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Considered with Contempt



Scripture

Acts 28:22 But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

Observation


Having finally arrived at Rome, Paul calls together the Jews of the city. Coming to his home they begin a conversation in which Paul is curious regarding what they have heard about Christianity. Their response gives us a small glimpse of the news that had spread. This group, the Christians, were considered a sect and they were viewed with contempt. Justin Martyr writes that the Christians were cursed in the Jewish synagogues and that an organized band of Jewish men was sent out to inform the entire world of the heresy of Christianity. Everywhere this new sect was considered with contempt.

The reality is that for most of her history Christianity has been viewed with contempt. The message of the Gospel is counter-cultural and there are facets which will make society uncomfortable. Paul was not surprised by their perception for he was in Rome for precisely this reason. It was the Jewish leaders’ contempt of the Gospel which had brought him to Rome. He simply saw it as another opportunity to spread the good news. The contempt of one became the opportunity of another and he never allowed the attitudes of his adversaries to deter him from his divine commission.

Application

If, as a Christian, we are hoping to win a popularity contest, we have it all wrong! These days Christianity is often viewed with contempt. Sadly, there have been a few who have abused Christianity, not living like Christ and have drawn very negative attention. The result is that all of Christianity has to live with the pock-mark that places greater pressure on true followers of Christ. Paul had to live with the negative attention and all that had been done to drum up bad press for the Christians. Ultimately he paid the price with his own life.

How do we respond when we are considered with contempt? Paul becomes a great example for us in this closing chapter of Acts. Actually, it all closes rather abruptly and leaves us without closure related to Paul’s life. But this we do know, he continued to preach about Christ. Even in the face of those who viewed him with contempt, he would not give up! Everything he did was in a desire to tell others about Christ. He paid his own expenses and organized intentional meetings with leaders so that he might discuss with them all about Christ. He helped to disciple new leaders and always ministered to those who were his guards. No opportunity was ever wasted when it came to sharing the good news and in this he rejoiced. Contempt or no contempt, it was never an excuse. There were no excuses — he just kept moving forward!

In the face of Christianity being viewed with contempt we must remain focused on knowing Christ. This was Paul’s number one passion and everything else grew from there. Nothing should be able to separate us from God’s love as we seek him in the face of difficulties. Don’t try to argue or persuade without knowing the majestic depths of the love of God found in Christ, our Savior. Let the world look upon us with contempt, as we respond with God’s holy love. This is the mystery.

Prayer


Lord, thank you for the depths of your love which transforms your people.  Amen.

Friday, February 20, 2015

No Compromises



Scripture

Acts 27:33   Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing.  34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.”  35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat.  36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.  37 (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.)  38 After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.

Observation

For days on end Paul and his companions had been struggling to survive in the midst of a troubling storm. Knowing that the ship will soon run aground Paul brought the crew together and urged them all to eat. Paul, the prisoner had suddenly become the leader, and it’s wasn't about his mastery of the skill of piloting a ship, but his demeanor when all the world around him was in chaos. His calm and sure presence became a comfort to those who were terrified and they were willing to accept his advice. He had proven himself true, through and through, and there were to be no compromises. He never gave in to the frustrations of the storm, nor did he ever step out of character. His love and concern continued to extend to those around him and finally he wanted them to eat and be strengthened for the extremely taxing hours ahead.

While the language we read here may sound as if Paul extends the eucharist to those on the boat, that is unlikely. However it may speak more to us about Paul and the fact that he will not compromise who he is, even when the world around him is falling apart. They need to eat and the entire crew is now following his lead. They are not believers, but they are willing to listen and be influenced by this genuine follower of Christ. So Paul just does what he always does when we he eats — he takes the bread and gives thanks to God in the presence of all of them and then breaks it and begins to eat. Here, in the midst of a sinking ship, Paul never compromises who he is or his relationship to God.

Application

The storms of life provide plenty of opportunity for compromise. A friend of mine who lives in the Pacific Northwest recently told me that secular society in his area worries about Christians because they seem to have a lower moral standard than they do! The divorce rate among Christians is the same as non-Christians. Christianity and western culture are almost seen as inexplicably one…and I think we have to ask ourselves whether we have compromised! Have we succumbed to the tempest of the world around us, giving way to the chaos?

Bede tells us, “No one escapes the tempests of this world except those who are nourished by the bread of life, and one who in the night of present tribulations depends for all his strength on wisdom, fortitude, temperance and justice will soon, with the shining forth of divine help, reach the port of salvation which he had sought, provided that, unencumbered by things of the world, he seeks only the flame of [NT Vol. V, p. 308] love with which he may warm his heart.” There can be no compromise. We will only persevere as we are “nourished by the bread of life.”

The lenten journey must lead us to the “bread of life,” where there can be no compromise. There must be one focus and one focus alone in our lives — and that is to know Christ. For Paul, even in the midst of a life-threatening storm he remained calm as he refused to compromise, and remained faithful to Christ.

Prayer

Lord, may there be no compromises — only you.  Amen.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Being Judged



Scripture

6 And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors,

Observation

Paul found himself being judged yet again. Here was Paul, still in prison in Caesarea, and Festus brought him out in front of King Agrippa, so that he might present his defense. Paul continued to focus on the core value of his faith — that he believes Jesus is the resurrected Messiah. This is why he has hope, because he believes in the hope of the resurrection as a result of his own personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. The leading doctrine of the party was a belief in the resurrection.

The reality is that Paul was being judged for other things, small things that the religious rulers obsessed over because they didn’t want to talk about the real issue. They refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and they certainly refused to believe the resurrection accounts. Paul kept bringing the argument around that if they were a people who believed in the resurrection, why could they not believe all the resurrection accounts regarding Jesus and accept him as the fulfillment of the promise made by God so long ago to his people?

Paul was being judged for what he truly believed, not for the little things that the religious leaders were making up. He refused to argue the little points and kept the main thing the main thing! The discussion had to be about the resurrected Christ for this was the essential that changed everything. Unfortunately the constant nagging and complaining of the religious officials landed Paul in jail with essentially no charges. He was being judged over something he had never done, or maybe just because he had pricked the consciences of those who had heard his preaching.

Application

I was sitting with a group of individuals at a church and we were having a discussion about a ministry within that congregation. I had shared a few thoughts when suddenly one of the group members asked rather accusatorially,  “Are you saying that you think we ought to be studying the Bible?” “Are you saying that you think we ought to be reaching out to new people?” I sat there, guilty on both counts.

Sadly there will be those who will get off track and who will try to distract us from the central focus of our faith. The challenge, when being judged, is to keep our focus on what is the most important. Paul is a great example of someone who refused to be distracted. He would not go down the path of doctrinal differences because he focused on the main thing — Christ Resurrected!  There are times in life when people are judgmental and critical of us, but usually those criticisms are not about the main thing. Or maybe we’re the ones who’ve become distracted by all the periphery and allowed it to consume us to the point that we’ve lost sight of the main thing. I think that could probably be said for the religious officials. They were so obsessed with Paul that I can’t imagine that they had much joy in their own personal lives and they missed the very Messiah whose theological position they were trying to defend.

Being judged? Keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t get caught going down rabbit trails but, using the example of Paul, keep the focus on Christ. Our message and our hope is the resurrected Christ. We are to be living that cruciform life brought to us by the risen Savior.

We are walking the lenten journey and we must not allow distractions to keep us from the place where God wants to take us. Sure, there will be those who judge, but as for you and me, let’s keep the main thing, the main thing.

Prayer

Lord, please help me keep my eyes on you as I follow you in this journey.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Obsessed with Revenge



Scripture

Acts 25:3 and requested, as a favor to them against Paul, to have him transferred to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, planning an ambush to kill him along the way.

Observation

Can you imagine the hostility of the religious leaders who two years later are still plotting Paul’s demise! They were obsessed with this follower of the Way and were certain to plan his demise. Forty conspirators had approached the Sanhedrin two years before with a plot to kill Paul. Now they didn’t need anyone else to suggest the idea but on their own initiative they misled a government official and planned their own execution of Paul. They were certainly obsessed!

Application

To what lengths are you willing to go to get your way? For the Jews in Jerusalem to continue their hunt for Paul and devise such a scheme for his murder two years since he had been in the city clearly reveals that they were obsessed with the idea of punishing him. It leaves us wondering whether they had been plotting the entire time as to how they would be able to get rid of him. Sadly, this obsession with Paul could have become so all-consuming that it had an effect on every part of their lives.

Paul was living quite peaceably as a prisoner in Caesarea. This is a beautiful sea-side town and he seems to have had pretty decent quarters with people who cared for his personal needs. You don’t get the sense that it was altogether uncomfortable. However, for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem — they just couldn’t let it go! They and their family members had to suffer the consequences of their obsession while Paul went on sharing his faith with everyone he encountered.

If someone has done something to you, legitimately or not, holding a grudge for an extended period of time will do nothing to help the situation. Those with the grudge were the ones unhappy — not Paul! Their obsession led them to lying, manipulation and a planned murder. That’s a long way to go for a religious official and gives us a glimpse of the depths of their obsession with revenge. They hated Paul!

Today we celebrate the beginning of Lent. This is a special season of reflection, a time when we intentionally deny ourselves so that we may participate in the life of the suffering servant, Christ. We don’t need any distractions and for that to happen we just may need to let some things go. Let go of the pain of the past and the damaged relationships. Let go of the people who have mistreated you. Let go of the frustrating limitations placed upon ourselves by our own self-doubt.

Obsession with the past is self-destructive. Leave the things of the past behind and move into a season of focus on Christ. Today we are challenged to “repent, and believe the Gospel.” Repent of the obsessions and leave them behind, moving into a new future where we live united with Christ, the one who sets us free!

Prayer

Lord, please help me keep my eyes on you as I follow you in this journey.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Just the Right Words



Scripture

Acts 24:24   Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus.  25 And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.”

Observation

While Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea he was called to speak before Felix and Drusilla. He had a moment, an opportunity to share with these people, and he would need to use just the right words. His words reflect the passion of his heart. This is no defense of Paul’s behavior, nor is it a request for freedom. Instead, Paul’s focus was on the spiritual lives of the two individuals who sat before him, listening to what he had to say. Another angle would have been to argue doctrine, but he wanted them to come to know Christ, and so putting away any selfish gain, he began to preach to Felix and Drusilla.

He basically preaches a three point sermon — one that hits home with the audience. Why would Paul preach a sermon on “justice, self-control, and the coming judgment” to these two individuals? Justice was a topic about which they needed to hear — for Felix was a corrupt leader. He was disappointed by Paul’s words because he was really waiting around for a bribe. He would have set Paul free for the right amount of money. He did not follow the laws, or conveniently founds ways around them when it was in his best interest. He did not practice justice with those around him, but did as he pleased. Point one of the sermon hit him hard for he was listening with a corrupted hand outstretched, awaiting under-the-table funds to pay for Paul’s freedom.

Point two was far too personal! These two had thrown away all self-control, for when they had met Drusilla was married to another man. She left her husband to marry Felix and this was known far and wide. In addition to this, she was Jewish and would have been raised according to the law. Now she was married to a pagan, and a corrupt pagan at that. More than likely their lives were defined by a lack of self-control, ruled by their passions and self-serving desires.

Point three would have made them both tremble. There would be a day of reckoning and they would be held accountable for their behavior! This was a prisoner telling the governing authority that they would be the ones who would be the one judged. Drusilla would have known enough about God’s coming judgement to be afraid and Paul spoke with such authority that even Felix “became frightened.”

Instead of responding to the words which had been spoken, they sent Paul away. But Paul had won the day, he had just the right words, speaking to them about the life that ought to be lived, and they were convicted.

Application

From Paul we can learn some simple ways in which to engage the world around us. Too many of us are fearful of sharing our faith while we are surrounded by the Felix and Drusilla’s of the day.

1) Paul spent time in prayer. He got to know the heart of Jesus Christ and prayed for wisdom.

2) Paul studied! He spent much time studying the Scriptures, but not only that, he was very well educated in many ways. He would have read numerous other pieces of literature and was able to adapt to his context. He was also a student of the culture and the people to whom he felt called. He knew the details of Felix and Drusilla’s lives so that he was able to use just the right words so that he might lead them to Christ.

I want to stop on that second point a moment. We make far too many excuses about not sharing our faith these days and it may be right there with the second point. It takes intentional effort on our part to share Christ. It didn’t just “happen” for Paul, and it won’t just “happen” for us. He took the time to know the individuals to whom he would be speaking. God didn’t just “give him the right words” out of the blue, but instead, Paul “knew” his audience. Therefore just the right words, were, in fact, a mini-sermon just for them. If we are preachers of the word, then this is a great lesson for us and the way in which we are to preach. We are to bring just the right words for our audience. If we are not preachers but God brings individuals across our path who need to know Christ, we don’t need to teach doctrine, we need to bring just the right words which relate to where these people are in life.

3) Paul spoke the words with power, so much so that Felix was afraid. When Christ is present in us, there is great power. We do not speak in our own words, but we speak as one who is filled up with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is more to this story and the sad fate of both Felix and Drusilla. You can read about that in another post, “Respond Now.” In the meantime, might we consider asking God to lead us to individuals who need to know him and be prepared with just the right words for God to do his work.

Prayer

Lord, may I be sensitive to your leading and may you give me just the right words.  Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Restoration of the Fallen



Scripture


15     My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
        for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Observation

There are two ways in which this Scripture can be read. By keeping our eyes on the Lord we are not watching where we place every step. When we go through difficult places we generally want to be walking with our heads down so that we can see where we we are going and not slip or fall. Instead, to avoid the pitfalls we are to keep our eyes on God for he will keep us from stumbling.

While at the outset this seems to be the most direct explanation for the verse there is another idea which can be found. David focused his eyes on heaven and yet there were times that he found his feet in the net. He wants to behold God’s glory but he’s having to live and endure the misery of this world. There are times when God will protect his people and keep them from falling into the net, but he also promises that if we fall, he will come and rescue us.

The word “net” is often used as a metaphor for temptation. Every single follower of God, even as they try to keep their gaze upon God may have the net of temptation near them. David had his weak moments and we know that he succumbed to temptation. God had to “pluck” at him. Plucking is not a gentle word and there are times that we need to sharply feel the pain of what it is that we have done. For saints who have fallen the process of restoration can often be painful and the Lord may pluck at us sharply so that we realize how bitter the sin was. David, after his experience with Bathsheba certainly felt the sharp pain and embarrassment of his behavior. His restoration was not gentle.

However, the good news is that mercy can be found here. As we keep our eyes on the Lord, he will rescue us from the nets that the enemy places in our path. Even if we have fallen into sin he rescue us, “plucking” us out of the dangerous net, if we keep our eyes on him. Too often when we fall we want to look around and seek out the advice and direction of others. God wants us to keep our eyes firmly fixed upon him and the God of mercy, the God of restoration, will pluck our feet from the net.

Application

I have watched too many good people fall. Probably the first thing they would say is that they failed to keep their focus on the Lord. They became too busy with the “good” things that they were doing and became so distracted that they lost perspective. Their eyes were not toward him.

The net of temptation was subtle. Little by little the net began to ensure them and it was not until there was a major problem that they realized that they were caught.

When caught in the net of temptation, how do we respond? The Lord says that he plucks out my feet. This can be a painful and uncomfortable process, but one which is necessary to be set free. Within the community of faith this corresponds to a process of repentance and restoration. Here I would like to caution the community of faith — there are times that we keep plucking for far too long! Notice the Scripture doesn’t say that it’s those around you who do the plucking, but God does the plucking. It is the responsibility of the faith community to make it possible to redirect the gaze of the individual toward the Lord. When David had sinned and the prophet came to visit him, the prophet was simply God’s messenger. He didn’t rub it in, but simply helped David recognize his sin. He then helped David find a way back to fixing his gaze upon the Lord. The punishment and pain which resulted came about naturally without needing to be heaped on by those around.

God forgave David and he was restored. If God can forgive David, he can restore us when we find ourselves trapped in the net. I have far too many friends who are afraid of the faith community for they have been plucked until they are bleeding. May we have mercy and remember that our responsibility is to point people’s gaze in the direction of the Lord.

Prayer

Lord, may we be a people of reconciliation and restoration through you.  Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Approaching God



Scripture

Psa. 24:0   Of David. A Psalm.
1     The earth is the LORD’S and all that is in it,
        the world, and those who live in it;
2     for he has founded it on the seas,
        and established it on the rivers.
 
Psa. 24:3        Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
        And who shall stand in his holy place?
4     Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
        who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
        and do not swear deceitfully.
5     They will receive blessing from the LORD,
        and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6     Such is the company of those who seek him,
        who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
 
Psa. 24:7        Lift up your heads, O gates!
        and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
        that the King of glory may come in.
8     Who is the King of glory?
        The LORD, strong and mighty,
        the LORD, mighty in battle.
9     Lift up your heads, O gates!
        and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
        that the King of glory may come in.
10     Who is this King of glory?
        The LORD of hosts,
        he is the King of glory. Selah

Observation


As Christianity began to take hold the Old Testament Scriptures took on new meaning for the Christ followers. In the Greek version of the Old Testament this Psalm eventually carried the superscription “On the first day.” Throughout the years it was often used as a text for Easter and foundational to an understanding of the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus. It is Christ, in this instance, who is displaying his nearness to God in and through his life, and we pick up on the theological theme of approaching God.

We end up with a series of questions surrounding the approach of God. Do we have a right to enter into God’s presence? How could we expect God’s presence to come and be among us? What does holiness have to do with approaching God?

God is the strong and mighty King of glory who he comes to us, but because of his very nature, we cannot force our entry into his presence. We can participate in worship which approaches God, one which arises and goes to where the Lord will be found. We are to worship and plead before him. Approaching his presence is wholistic as we are not to just worship him with our lips, but with everything about our lives. We are to have clean hands and a pure heart, a life which has been transformed by the all-consuming presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Our personal, spiritual and social lives are to be holy. Origen says that we will never see his face unless we have been changed.This radical transformation becomes our set of credentials, the documents which allow us to approach the LORD. This is the King of glory, the one who redeems his people, and overthrows the enemies.

Because of Christ’s resurrection and ascension we have the possibility of approaching God. Christ has created the pathway for God’s holy people and as we step into that path we experience transformation and are made holy as we follow in Christ’s footsteps and draw ever closer to the King of glory.

Application


Life can become overwhelmingly busy at times — doing really good things. This past week was a case in point, it was a great week of worship and fellowship at our denominational meetings. At the same time the meetings overwhelmed my life and schedule. For the last number of years I have tried to set aside time almost every day to spend in the Scriptures and prayer. At the same time, I’m a person who needs to get enough sleep and when I get down to 5-6 hrs. of sleep a night, I don’t function very well. Trying to catch enough sleep, I found myself giving up this time in the word and here’s the confession — Oh how I missed it! I couldn’t wait to spend time here this morning and realized this is where I want to be — with my Lord, and soaking in him and his presence and glory!

In my own life, this daily time with the Lord has become foundational to living. What I discovered this week was that I felt that I was without my daily anchor — that grounding for the day. It is in approaching God that we are transformed by him. I can’t live on the transformation that I experienced last week for too long — because I will run out of energy. However, if I approach God on a daily basis and experience his continual and on-going refilling in my life, then I can pray for his leading in living-out his presence in every aspect of my life. He transforms my thought-life, my actions, and my attitudes!

I rejoice in him today and I’m grateful for a Savior who has made it possible for us to approach God.

Prayer

Lord, please continue to do your work in and through me as I approach you.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Help Comes From the Lord



Scripture


Psa. 121:0   A Song of Ascents.
1     I lift up my eyes to the hills—
        from where will my help come?
2     My help comes from the LORD,
        who made heaven and earth.
 
Psa. 121:3        He will not let your foot be moved;
        he who keeps you will not slumber.
4     He who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.
 
Psa. 121:5        The LORD is your keeper;
        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6     The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.
 
Psa. 121:7        The LORD will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.
8     The LORD will keep
        your going out and your coming in
        from this time on and forevermore.

Observation

It’s one of my favorite Psalms! The Psalmist looks up to the hills surrounding Jerusalem and they are filled with idols and he knows that they are not the source of his strength. His help comes from the LORD, the one who is above every idol, who is the very one who made the hills. This Lord is the one who goes with you through all of life, sustaining and providing.



Application


This has been a wonderful week with denominational meetings in Kansas City. We have been blessed and moved by the presence of the Holy Spirit and enjoyed fellowship with family and friends. At the same time I am drawn back to this, my favorite Psalm, for the time is also exhausting. 

We must never allow the things that surround us, even if they are good to keep us from lifting our eyes up to the Lord, the One who is our helper! He is our sustainer and the one who delivers.

Thanks be to God!

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your help, strength and sustaining power in our lives.  Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Power of Testimony



Scripture

 Acts 15:12    The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 

Observation

Peter had already stated the facts, now Barnabas and Paul were to confirm his statement. There was power in their testimony for they had experienced God working in and through them.

A great group of people had gathered. This wasn’t just a small meeting of the apostles, but the “assembly” would have been much larger. Peter had finished speaking and the entire group remained silent, waiting to hear the words of testimony.

While Paul had already been taking a leadership position among the two missionaries, it was Barnabas who was considered the leader in Jerusalem. He’s the one listed first in this instance and so there was an orderliness to the sharing of the testimony and the focus of the testimony was on all that God had done. There was no personal boasting when it came to their testimony, but rather, they wanted the leaders in Jerusalem to know that God had been a part of all that had happened among the Gentiles.

There was no arrogance among the church leadership. No one was fighting to speak, it was done in order and then James was able to wrap things up. The words of confirmation spoken by Paul and Barnabas had convinced those present that God was at work and the future of Christianity was changed forever.

Application

Our words can be used in a very powerful way in the kingdom. God may be wanting us to speak up, and those words may make an eternal difference in the lives of others. There is power in testimony when it is done in the right manner.

The orderliness of the gathering becomes quite apparent. You get the sense that the egos were held in check at this meeting. The focus is truly upon God’s activity and God’s leading — not on someone winning the day for their own personal opinion. Interestingly, after the words of testimony it is James who leads the group through to their decision — not Peter, nor Paul.

When we see God at work in this world, we need to speak up! When the opportunity arises and we are questioned about God’s hand working among the people — speak up! The power of testimony can be transformational and we need not fear sharing God’s activity, for he is at work in our world today.

Prayer

Lord, please give me the courage to share the testimony of your work.  Amen.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Very First Missionary Meeting



Scripture

 Acts 14:27 When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.  28 And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

Observation

Paul and Barnabas had been sent out as missionaries from Antioch. This group of Christians had laid their hands on them, believed in them, and sent them out. I’m sure that they continually supported them in prayer during the entire time of their mission and now they returned back to this church to give their report.

This aspect of reporting back was vitally important to the on-going and future work of Paul and Barnabas. Without this network back home it would be difficult to venture forward on another journey. Gathering the church together they had the first missionary meeting. They reported what “God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.” They did not take credit themselves but reported what it was that God had done in and through them. This was a time of giving God the glory for they had been guided by the providence of the Holy Spirit.

They must have been excited to share this good news for they knew that the church had been behind them the whole time. McGarvey expresses the emotion of one returning from the hard-fought mission field and bearing good news as one who “pants beneath the burden of his untold story.” In other words — they were dying to let people know what had happened.

The church in Antioch had done something no other church had done before. This was an experiment in which they raised financial support and sent out missionaries. They prayed for the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit and now they were rejoicing with their success. This engagement with missionary activity signaled a shift in the center of Christianity from Jerusalem to Antioch. The very first missionary meeting pointed to the place where God was moving.

Application

If a church is to be alive and have a vital ministry, she must be engaged in missions. Whether the mission field is in the same town, or around the world, to be engaged in taking the good news to others life will be brought to the sending congregation itself. This is what happened at Antioch.

Within this simple experiment of a new and young church in Antioch you can find a plan for missions ministry.

1) Pray that there will be those among you who will feel the call to go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

2) Be willing to send your very best! God won’t forget about the sending congregation.

3) Raise financial support for those whom you are sending out. Make sure they know that there is a complete network supporting them and their ministry.

4) Pray continually when they are out and engaged in their work. From day to day we have no idea what they will be facing. Paul and Barnabas had been in prison, mistreated and beaten and yet God was with them and they were able to continue forging ahead, moving from city to city and sharing the good news of Jesus.

5) When they come home — have them share their stories of what God has done! Rejoice and give God the glory for the way in which he is moving in the world.

6) When the missionary comes home tired and weary, give them time and space to regain their energy.

Some 2000 years later these same principles apply. Too many churches are complaining about sending their resources to “other” people and don’t want to continue to give to the mission of God around the world. Why — the mission field has come to us! While that’s true, it was also true in Paul’s day. The church in Antioch chose to intentionally support a new missionary experiment. It was not to the detriment of that congregation. On the contrary, as they supported the missionary work of the church, so their own church grew and was strengthened. It is when we give away and help others that God helps us to grow into who we are supposed to be!

Tired of missionary meeting? Maybe we ought to think that over again and make space for the one returning, panting beneath the burden of their untold story.

Prayer

Lord, we give you the praise and the glory for what you are doing around the world. May we rejoice in the story.  Amen.

Friday, February 6, 2015

How Do You Deal With Rejection?



Scripture

Acts 13:48   When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.  49 Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.  50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region.  51 So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.  52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Observation


Paul and Barnabas were working hard for the Lord, doing all that they could to minister and bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who needed to hear. The Gentiles were excited to hear about the Lord and to become believers. The Jews were quite unhappy with this turn of events and they made life miserable for Paul and Barnabas. No longer were they able to stay and minister.

Rather than being discouraged by the rejection, they remained filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. They didn’t let the attitudes of a few individuals deflate their sense of urgency or calling. I love the idea of one commentator who says that they were filled “with holy and elevated emotions.” (Jamieson, Fausst & Brown) Rejected, and yet filled with holy emotion! Persecution had the opposite effect on these disciples.

Application

We all have to confront rejection from time to time. Not everything happens in life the way that we would like and not everyone is going to like what you do. In ministry it can often be this way but the important take-away here from the lives of Paul and Barnabas, is that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Every part of their being was filled with God’s Holy Spirit and it was the Spirit who continued to lead them on to the next place of ministry. As long as they allowed the Spirit to bring peace to their hearts and they kept their eyes on God, they were okay. Had they allowed their focus to be on those who opposed them and who were trying to sabotage their ministry, they would have been miserable.

I love the way that being filled with the Holy Spirit and joy are connected in this passage. There was this sense of “holy and elevated emotions.” The Holy Spirit is able to help us with our emotions. Much of our emotional instability may come from the fact that we are allowing others to control how we feel, instead of God. Complete surrender to the presence of Holy Spirit in every part of our being results in a healing of damaged emotions, for the Spirit brings joy. When we do not allow the Spirit to reign, we do not have the privilege of experiencing God’s joy.

So, how do you deal with rejection? Does it get you down? Do you allow it to immobilize you? At the very core we must understand the need to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit-filling which brings great joy to our lives. May he lead us and guide us from day to day.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for joy in the face of rejection.  Amen.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Just Trying to Make Other People Happy



Scripture

Acts 12:1   About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.  2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.  3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.)  4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover.  5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

Observation


King Herod who is mentioned here is the grandson who had all the infants of Bethlehem put to death. He was also the nephew of Herod the Tetrarch who had John the Baptist put to death. He had been raised in Rome where he spent the family fortune on living like a prince and getting in tight with Caius Caesar who went on to become Caligula. He took over the leadership of Rome after the death of Tiberius and gave his friend the territory of the Jews and beyond.

This murder of James would have been at the zenith of Herod’s career and why he decided to begin this persecution of the Christians, we don’t know. However, one must assume it was instigated by the Jews who continued to be enemies of the new church. By responding to their request, he made them happy. This is the first time that we see the persecution of a Christian being done at the hands of the secular government authority. Stephen was stoned by “religious” people. The resultant power must have been intoxicating for Herod because he saw that it pleased the Jews and went after Peter as well.

Luke doesn’t gloss over the difficulties the fledgling church was facing. James is the very first apostle to be put to death. Interestingly, it is his brother John who is the last to die. These are the two who had the conversation with Jesus about who would sit on his right or on his left. Here we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words that they would drink from the cup together with him. They would all suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

Why James was chosen at this time we can only speculate. More than likely he was quite prominent in leading the work in Jerusalem. Why else pick him? What began was a pattern of persecution which fell on those in the most prominent positions of leadership in the church, and this was done to keep the religious leaders happy.

Application


Making others happy resulted in power which was intoxicating to Herod. This was done at the expense of the apostles. Herod had enjoyed the response of James’ death so much he just thought he’d go after Peter too!

Sometimes we can be motivated in life by a desire to make other people happy. We want their words of affirmation and applause. It makes us feel good. But is that really what ought to be motivating our activity?

James didn’t compromise the Gospel to save his own neck. He served the Lord with boldness and this didn’t make people happy. The contrast in this story is the faithfulness of the apostles as compared to Herod. Herod just wanted people to like him, he wanted them to be happy. James and Peter were willing to die for what was right.

We live in an era where people are simply famous for being famous, not for what they’ve accomplished. Instead of celebrating real heroes, we celebrate stars of reality shows who have never really accomplished much of anything in their lives. They have worked hard to make people happy. As a society we have become drawn in a rather voyeuristic way into the lives of these individuals and we watch them, hoping it makes us happy.

But where are the people who really stand for something? What do we do with them?

In the era of early Christianity — we killed them. Might we also be killing them today? Maybe not physically, but do we destroy the emotions and life of true followers of Christ because what they say and do makes us uncomfortable? They’re not trying to make us happy, they’re trying to point us in the direction of Christ. True worship was a sacrifice for those who loved God. We have made worship about us being happy. When what happens at church doesn’t conform to making us happy, we are ready to destroy the leader — sometimes killing him/her off with our words and actions.

I’m afraid our world is filled with Herods and what it really needs are more James’ and Peters. When Peter was arrested the church began to pray and God thwarted Herod’s plan. God is more powerful than what the world has to offer. Don’t give in to making the world happy. Join with the church in prayer and stand firm and bold in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Lord, may the desire of my heart be to live in faithfulness to you.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Transformational Prayer



Scripture


Psa. 19:14        Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
        be acceptable to you,
        O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Observation

In Psalm 19 David has prayed against all kinds of sins, those that are practical, which we do in the body and now finally what may come out of our mouth. It is a prayer of cleansing, that the person of God may be entirely and wholly clean, and living in service to God. This is a prayer of penitence from one who realizes that the actions of his life spring from the motivations of his heart. There must be complete reliance upon God who hears the prayer, provides the foundation and redemption. This is a prayer for radical transformation.

Application


E. M. Bounds provides some of the best advice when it comes to prayer. Here is an excerpt from his book “Selected Works on Prayer.”

In Psalm 19, David magnifies the Word of God in six statements concerning it. It converts the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures eternally, and is true and righteous altogether. The Word of God is perfect, sure, right, pure. It is heart-searching, and at the same time purifying, in its effect. It is no surprise therefore that after considering the deep spirituality of the Word of God, its power to search the inner nature of man, and its deep purity, the Psalmist should close his dissertation with this passage:

“Who can understand his errors?” And then praying after this fashion: “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults. Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”

Prayer invariably begets a love for the Word of God, and sets people to the reading of it. Prayer leads people to obey the Word of God, and puts into the heart which obeys a joy unspeakable. Praying people and Bible-reading people are the same sort of folk. The God of the Bible and the God of prayer are one. God speaks to man in the Bible; man speaks to God in prayer. One reads the Bible to discover God’s will; he prays in order that he may receive power to do that will. Bible-reading and praying are the distinguishing traits of those who strive to know and please God. And just as prayer begets a love for the Scriptures, and sets people to reading the Bible, so, also, does prayer cause men and women to visit the house of God, to hear the Scriptures expounded. Church-going is closely connected with the Bible, not so much because the Bible cautions us against “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is,” but because in God’s house, God’s chosen minister declares His Word to dying men, explains the Scriptures, and enforces their teachings upon his hearers. And prayer germinates a resolve, in those who practise it, not to forsake the house of God.


I like that line, “prayer germinates a resolve.” The resolve of David through prayer was that this prayer would be transformative in his life. His actions would reflect the one he loved. His words would be spoken as those acceptable to the Father. By daily encounter with David one would know whom he loved and followed.

Taking time for prayer is not easy in today’s fast paced world. Taking time for study of the word is also not easy. However, when they are combined there germinates a resolve that makes space for the transforming work of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. Then we join with the Psalmist in praying that our lives will be acceptable in the sight of the One who is our rock and our Redeemer.

Prayer

Lord, may my life and words be acceptable to you today.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Feeling Confused



Scripture

Acts 10:17   Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.  18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there.  19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you.  20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

Observation

Peter had a vision which resulted in his feeling utterly confused. The word for puzzled here means to be at a loss, in doubt or perplexed. One can see him scratching his head and wondering what in the world this means to him. However, just at the height of his confusion, the men sent by Cornelius appear at the door. His confusion will be turned into clarity as he follows the Lord’s leading. The answer is at the door, and now it is time to get up and follow through with the Lord’s providence.

Application

We’ve all probably been there, with Peter, on that rooftop scratching our heads and trying to make sense of what was happening. There may have been a change in direction didn’t seem to make sense and left us feeling confused. Someone said something that stunned us and we didn’t know what to do with those words.

While Peter was confused, he took his puzzlement to the Lord. He was up on the rooftop in prayer, asking God for clarity when God sent the answer. Peter was so absorbed in what he was doing that he almost missed the fact that the answer to his questions had been brought right to his home. It was an ordinary event — three men at the door. But it is often in the ordinary that God clarifies the extraordinary. Peter was to see the mission of Jesus Christ extended to the Gentiles and this was a major turn of events.

We will all have moments of confusion but God brings clarity. Peter teaches us to bring our confusion to the Lord, trust him for the answer, and follow him into the ordinary places to live out the life of faith. When we walk in faith with God, day by day, and step by step, the fog will lift and suddenly it will all make sense.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to trust in you, following where you lead.  Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pleading With God



Scripture


Acts 9:39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.

Observation

Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, was a disciple and a very good woman. Saddened by her death the women came in to mourn the loss of this one from their community. When Peter arrived the widows were overcome with their grief and, not knowing quite how to respond, were pleading with God. They were trying to intercede with God on behalf of this one who had died, praying for him to look upon her life and her good works. While their own hearts may have been filled with gratitude for all that she had done for them, they were also hoping that God would look upon her good works and have mercy. Dorcas had been a generous woman who had used her talents and abilities to help the poor. She had sewn clothing for them, using what she had to help others. Surely God would look upon her good works and save her.

Application
The response of the widows is not all that uncommon. I think of all the times that I have been around those whose loved ones are dying and they are trying to plead, or bargain with God. I remember the father of a teenager who was dying with cancer taking the pastor aside and saying, “I’ll start tithing now, if only God will save my son.”

The widows were standing beside Peter and showing him all that Dorcas had made for them. She was a good woman. She had done many good things, but that was not the point. Let’s read on:

40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 

Could it be that he put them outside so that there would be no distraction from the real business of faith? Peter stepped into the role of Jesus Christ in that very moment and was interceding as one who was a partaker of the divine nature. Becoming like Christ for both Dorcas and Peter was the goal, not doing good works. The good works were the result of a life lived in Christ. F. F. Bruce points out that when Jesus healed the little girl he said in aramaic, “Talitha cum.” In this case, if Peter spoke in aramaic he would have said, “Tabitha cum,” only one letter different from the exact words of Christ. The miracle was seen in Christlikeness, not in good works.

Pleading with God to see our good works will get no response. The widows were asked to leave the room. Their pleadings were to be no distraction to the real work of God. Our good works should never distract us from God’s true intent for our lives. The goal for our lives is unity with Christ and everything else can simply become a distraction, unless it comes from the outpouring of his love through us. Dorcas, or Tabitha had experienced that love and in this particular moment God chose to use her death and life as a sign of his unending compassion for all of humanity.

Prayer
Lord, may there be no distractions from your love today.  Amen.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

“It Planted Miracles Like Forts Among Them”



Scripture

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him.
 That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.  2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.  3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

Acts 8:4   Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Observation

And thus begins the persecution of the Church. Not much time had passed from her birth on Pentecost to this day, a day in which the full force of the religious zeal of those offended by the Gospel was unleashed upon the unprotected believers. But were they really left without protection? Stephen was a very devout man who was willing to give up his life in service to Jesus Christ. The result of his death had a profound influence on a young man named Saul who would go on to become the greatest missionary the world had ever seen. The persecutions did not stamp out Christianity, but rather fanned the flames of Christianity into something greater than they could have imagined. God did protect the Church.

The missionary work of the Church began on the day of Stephen’s stoning. It wasn’t a deliberate part of the Apostles’ strategic plan, but the persecution led to the scattering of Christ’s followers who preached the word everywhere they went. As the persecution gained strength, Christ’s followers went out into the world and miracles were witnessed in the very midst of community after community. People who were possessed were being delivered and, according to Chrystostom, the persecution resulted in the planting of miracles “like forts among them.” What the world would see as horrendous became seeds of faith that would transform the world.

Saul, later to become Paul, was one of those miracles, like a fort among them. His zeal in persecution was great. In verse three we read that he ravaged the church. The word translated “ravaged” is “lymaino,” which means to outrage, harm or violently maltreat. Barnes tells us that the word is “commonly applied to wild beasts, to lions, wolves, etc., and denotes the devastations which they commit.” The miracle was that the wild beast was tamed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, thus being planted like a fort among the people.

Application


Persecutions should never drive us away from the work of the Lord, but they may drive us to a new location. Faithfully serving the Lord is not about a particular location, but about wholehearted commitment to God, no matter where we may find ourselves. Wherever we may be driven in life, we carry with us the good news of Jesus Christ and as we reflect him, he is made known. The result is that persecution tends to promote the very thing that it seeks to destroy.

This is why we should not be discouraged by the barriers that may appear in our lives. Yes, there may be closed doors and there may be times that we feel as if we are being persecuted. Then move on, and take the Gospel with you. The real focus of our lives should be to make Christ known everywhere we go. Our conversations and lifestyles should be compelling witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ so that our lives too, may become miracles which are planted like forts in our world. Don’t worry about where you are, be concerned with how you will respond.

Prayer


Lord, may I be a faithful witness to your working in my life no matter where I may be.  Amen.