Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Charade of Caring




Scripture:


Luke 13:31   At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Observation:


At first glance it would appear that there were Pharisees who had a genuine concern for the well-being of Jesus. This would seem rather unusual for most of the time we read about their contempt for Jesus and his ministry. Why this sudden show of concern and what was their motivation?

Things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. Most commentaries suggest that these Pharisees were not genuinely concerned about Jesus’ safety, but instead were motivated by their own sense of greed or jealousy. On the pretense of concern for Jesus, they were actually looking for a way to get rid of him. Some suggest they may actually have been working with Herod to set a trap for Jesus. Others write that they were simply using the fear of Herod to keep Jesus from ministering in Jerusalem.

More than likely the warning to Jesus came from the hearts of those leaders who were self-centered. Their motivation was not for the sake of Jesus or others, but for their own personal preservation and with this driving force they were willing to carry on a charade of caring for the son of God.

Application:

The Pharisees had become skilled at looking spiritual. They knew when to go to the synagogue, what they ought to be reading and how to practice all the rituals in their personal lives on a daily basis. All of this was being done in such a way that these practices had become of absolute importance in their lives. They were professionals at keeping the charade going so when it came to sounding spiritual about caring for Jesus, they knew just how to do it!

But Jesus could see right through them. He wasn’t impressed with their practices of piety, nor their attitudes of spiritual superiority. Their charade of caring was simply that — a charade. They knew how to make themselves sound good but their lives were hollow and empty. There was no real truth lived out in the way they responded to others.

Jesus was looking for authentic followers then — and also today. There can be no charade. There can be no pretending to be spiritual for Jesus sees through it all. Sounding like we care about Jesus but actually trying to protect our own little religious life is a problem.

The Church is in danger of becoming irrelevant if she sounds spiritual but is really only concerned with her own self-preservation. Jesus was looking for followers who were willing to take up their cross and follow him -- for those who were willing to lose their lives in service to others. Jesus saw past the charade and the world does too.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to walk with and follow you in genuine and authentic service and ministry.  Amen.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

No Fear


Scripture:

Luke 12:32   “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Observation:

The Lord’s little flock did not need to be afraid. Although they were small and the surrounding enemies seemed far greater, they could trust in the Father. The little flock was to dwell in the kingdom, living as kingdom citizens. Therefore there was no need to concern oneself with the temporal things of this world that could weigh one down. A lifestyle of simplicity would free one up to minister and give to the poor. Purses with eternal treasure don’t wear out and no one can steal from that wallet! That’s why there’s no fear. It’s God’s security system, and when we don’t have to worry about our stuff, then our heart can be focused on the things of God.

Application:


One of the greatest challenges to kingdom living is our stuff. Earthly treasure can become a distraction to kingdom business. We may not feel comfortable admitting it but we have become accustomed to a particular lifestyle which may not always be compatible with kingdom living. Interestingly the issue of student loans for education is a case in point. The majority of a student’s loans today is not for tuition, but for what the industry calls “lifestyle loans.” There is a certain lifestyle with which we are comfortable and so we are willing to go into debt for this practice.

What does this mean for the Christ follower? Too often it means that there is no freedom to do ministry. Where is your heart? It’s having to work to pay off the debt for a particular life-style.

What would happen if we began to simplify our lives and pay off our debts? Maybe that’s today’s interpretation of Jesus’ words. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Maybe we need to downsize our lives, leaning into simplicity, so that we can be generous ministers of the gospel.

It is in living this life of simplicity that suddenly we have no fear. Instead we experience glorious freedom and joy in serving the Lord. Our Father lovingly cares for his dear little flock and it is his “good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” If he provides the kingdom — why should we fear?

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for the promises that lead us into kingdom life.  Amen.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Morning After the Lunar Eclipse



Scripture:

Luke 11:33   “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.  34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness.  35 Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness.  36 If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.”

Observation:


Jesus had been alone with the disciples where they had asked him to teach them to pray. After that scene we move to a more public scene where Jesus is teaching the people who are wanting a sign. He tells them the only sign they will receive will be that of Jonah. Jesus is the sign, the Messiah who will spend three days in the darkness of death, but will be raised again. He is the light of the world, if only the people will give space for his light to shine.

Really the question becomes, “what will they do with Jesus?” The good news of Jesus is like light which ought to be turned on in all the dark spaces. Unfortunately there are those who are uncomfortable with the light of Christ shining into the dark recesses of their lives. Just like sunglasses can filter out light from our eyes, too many are filtering out the light of Christ so that he doesn’t make them uncomfortable.

Remember the woman with the lost coin? She used all available light to search her house until she could find her lost coin. The light is provided for us to find our way back to Christ. We are to walk in that light, allowing it to shine the path for us, the pathway which leads us into a transformed life. John Wesley says, “Let your eye be singly fixed on him, aim only at pleasing God; and while you do this, your whole soul will be full of wisdom, holiness, and happiness.”

Application:

Last night we stood gazing up into the sky watching the moon grow dark and red. What we were watching was the absence of light as the earth came between the moon and the sun. While the moon may often shine brightly in the night sky, little by little the light disappeared until darkness covered the face of the moon. The appearance was still visible but in an odd form, covered in the darkness of the earth’s shadow. Any light that shone on our street was bright in the darkness of the night.

Pondering the lunar eclipse this morning I am more drawn to the light of the new day that is dawning, than to the darkness of last evening. The sun is just coming up and there will be a lot of activity around our place the next few days but that is nothing compared to the light of Christ which dawns in our own lives. When the light shines, it brightens up our entire lives and leads us, just as Wesley has said, to “wisdom, holiness, and happiness.”

In the beauty of a new morning we use the light to be productive. This is the time for work. The same is true for our spiritual lives. The light opens new opportunities for spiritual growth and development, if only we will walk in that light. Now is not the time to hide in the shadows, but for Christ followers to lift up the light and allow it to shine in and through us. A lunar eclipse is interesting — but the light of Christ changes everything!

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to walk in the light of your day.  Amen.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Signet Ring



Scripture:

Haggai 2:23 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.

Observation:


The signet ring was of great value and importance to the king. The ring was generally made of gold and possible encrusted with precious stones. It represented the legal authority of the owner and was pressed into wax to seal official documents, marking the authenticity of the work.

For Zerubbabel to become like the signet ring for the LORD was a covenant promise for both Zerubbabel and God’s people. The mark of God’s kingdom was peace and now, God’s people were to be a people of his peace. They were to carry the power and the authority of the kingdom within their very beings and they were to be the symbol of the authority of God on earth. This was a foreshadowing of the arrival of Christ who would make this prophetic word a possibility for all, for God has chosen all to be his ambassadors in the kingdom.

As ambassadors in the kingdom, as signet rings, we are to be image bearers. The image of the ring is the image of the kingdom and God’s people are to bear the image of peace to the world.

Application:

In all of this we see the gracious act of God in the lives of his people. It is not we who shape our own lives into that of the signet ring. This is no cheap knock-off which can be bought at the dollar store! No, God actually works his gracious act in our lives and molds us into his signet ring. We become the official ambassadors of God in this world. Not only are we ambassadors but we are empowered to do the work. Just as the signet ring carried with it all the official power of the kingdom, as God’s signet rings, we too carry with us the official power of the kingdom of God realized through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, we live in a world that is all too happy these days with cheap knock-offs. Designer copies are being created on a mass basis for they can be created quickly and are very inexpensive. But in the long run, you get what you pay for and the same is true spiritually. To be a true signet ring takes time, energy and a genuine desire to be shaped and formed by God. This is what had been missing in the lives of God’s people and it may be missing today. We may be slipping on the cheap imitation, pretending to be God’s holy people but when the trials come, we crack and fall apart. God’s true workmanship survives the tough times and continues as an authentic authority. This is an authority which bears the mark of the kingdom of peace.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be the bearer of your image of peace today.  Amen.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Resting in the Lord



Scripture:


Psalm 127
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to[a] those he loves.

Observation:


Imagine how this Psalm spoke to the Hebrews as they were trying to rebuild Jerusalem. They faced setback after setback, as their enemies tried to stop them from their work. They tried on their own and it just wasn’t coming together -- but God had a plan.

The need to trust in the Lord was very basic to their survival and success. The Lord would be the one who would provide a way for the city to be rebuilt. They didn’t have the resources on their own either for building, or for security. Their enemies were ready to pounce at a moment’s notice! Staying up late and getting up early wouldn’t solve their problem -- they could never do enough on their own. By trusting in the Lord they would not need to struggle. He would provide what was needed and they could lay their heads down at night and get much needed rest to face another day.

Application:

Just as the Hebrew children found themselves rebuilding the temple, we may find ourselves rebuilding in our own lives. Whether it’s a relationship, a church, or work, the principles remain the same. Unless God is in the midst of it all, we labor in vain.

The priority for those who follow the Lord is to get to know the Lord! This must be first and foremost and in getting to know him, we begin to understand his direction and leading. We can rest and trust in what God has in mind -- and when God has the plan, he also has the resources.

All that frenzied work — it’s in vain. Getting to know and trust in God — that’s worth it all. Go to bed, sleep well and know that God loves us and will take care of us and our needs.

Prayer:


Lord, thank you for your promises of the past that reach to us today.  Amen.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

A Foot in Two Kingdoms




Scripture:

Luke 8:1   Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Observation:

Men and women comprised the inner-circle of Christ-followers. Here we see that the twelve were with him as well as some of the women, identified as Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna. It is the woman Joanna who finds herself in a very curious position. Her husband is the steward of Herod Antipas, the very man who had Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, beheaded. She would have been a woman of means financially, but also her husband’s position and status could result in great tension in her life.

It is assumed that Luke’s “insider” knowledge of the house of Herod probably came from Joanna. We don’t know too many details of her life be we can speculate. She is mentioned both here and at the empty tomb and yet, she is usually overlooked and most would not even recognize where she is found in scripture. But when we stop and ponder a moment one has to wonder what the balancing act was like — trying to be a faithful follower of Christ while still connected to the kingdom of the world. Somehow she must have been able to leverage funds from her husband to support the work of Christ. And so here we find someone living with the tension of having a foot in both kingdoms.

Application:

We don’t really know how Joanna’s life plays out but there is some speculation. Ben Witherington (Bible Review, 2005) provides us with an interesting suggestion regarding her life. He postulates that she is the woman whom we find in Romans 16:7 by the name of Junia. Joanna is a Hebrew name, which is the name that Luke would have used. Junia is the Latin version of the name Joanna, which Paul would have used. Most scholars agree that Junia and Andronicus are listed as a couple, a husband and wife team. This would not fit with Joanna’s husband’s name, Chuza for Andronicus is Greek. However, it is highly likely that the strain on the marriage may have been too great for Chuza. We never read that he becomes a follower of Jesus Christ and financially supporting Jesus’ ministry while serving Herod may have made him angry with his wife. It is suggested that he divorces Joanna because of her faith and that she ends up remarrying Andronicus, a fellow follower of Christ — both of whom are well known among the apostles. 

Whether this is the scenario for her life of not, she was a woman who found herself trying to live faithful to Christ while in great tension with the kingdom of the world. The world is not our home and the kingdoms of this world are not the ones whom we are to serve. When the Church and the governments become intertwined it can be difficult to discern where we belong. Joanna had to try and figure this out for herself and it probably cost her everything. In those early years of Christianity it cost many people everything!

What does it cost us to follow the Lord? We may fail to realize that in many parts of the world Christianity has been living with a favored status for a long period of time. This, however, seems to be changing at a rather rapid pace. The uncomfortable nature of the changing climate is that we have somehow become accustomed to having one foot in each world and we have thought we could get by living in this way. Joanna had to ultimately make a choice. Along the way many of the disciples left Jesus, but not Joanna. She and Mary go together to the tomb and discover that he is risen! She chooses the kingdom of God over the kingdom of the world.

Trying to juggle two kingdoms, to keep them both happy doesn’t work. Ultimately we have to make a decision one way or another. This family may have ended up divided. Chuza going with the world, and Joanna with God. If Ben Witherington’s suggestions are true, we never hear of Chuza again, and Joanna/Junia goes down in history as an apostle of Jesus Christ. She chose the eternal kingdom.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me have the courage to serve firmly and entirely in your kingdom.  Amen.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

When There Is Harmony




Scripture:

Psa. 85:10        Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
        righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11     Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
        and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12     The LORD will give what is good,
        and our land will yield its increase.
13     Righteousness will go before him,
        and will make a path for his steps.

Observation:

God’s promises are far reaching, bringing about peace and harmony among his people and the earth which he so beautifully created. It is the life of faithful love expressed toward our holy God that brings together righteousness and peace. The two unite in the heart of the believer, living and reflecting the righteousness of God which results in a great sense of peace.

The harmony of earth resonates to the heavens above and the result is seen in the fruitfulness of the earth. The yield of the earth is God’s truth and as his people walk in that truth the land becomes increasingly productive. Salvation changes everything and just as we are reminded in John 3:16, it is the whole world for whom God sends his only begotten son. Therefore, ultimately, salvation includes the restoration of the garden of Eden together with the New Heavens and New Earth. This is the harmony of heaven with earth.

Application:


Christ’s entire life is a salvific act — bringing about the salvation of the whole earth. From the moment of sin in the garden there has been discord in God’s creation. Man’s relationship to the earth and creation became distorted, as was the relationship between man and woman. This discord or disharmony is played out every single day in the conflicts we see around the world. Some of these conflicts are on a small personal scale and then there are those that escalate and begin to take in the world around them. This may include a family of discord, a community, or even an entire nation.

When God washes over a people or a situation the result is the kiss of peace. Literally — peace breaks out! Therefore where there is no peace we don't see God. Just imagine that as God’s holy people, we are called to be the channels of peace or harmony to places of conflict. If we are reflecting his holy image, then we are the bearers or reflections of salvation.  But how can the world experience this salvation if we will not go?

Examine the world around you today. Where is there conflict? Then pray for God’s leading and direction for your role in bringing his peaceful harmony to the situation. This is God’s desire, that his righteousness and peace will kiss in the place of steadfast love and faithfulness. God’s people, called to go and carry his harmonious tune into the disharmony of life.

Prayer:


Lord, may your beautiful tune be heard in my life.  Amen.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Golden Rule



Scripture:

Luke 6:27   “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Observation:

The first portion of Jesus’ message had been about loving God, or the challenge of a personal relationship with God. Now, he moves into this second section in which he challenges God’s people to love others. The difficulty is that it’s not just about loving other people who are around us who may like us, but loving those who don’t like us.

Loving others is not just a state of mind, it must include action. Jesus makes practical suggestions for a response and wraps it up with the reminder to “do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Application:

That final phrase is the golden rule that I’ve been taught ever since I was a child. It’s one of those things that’s been drilled into me by my mother. She seemed to say it frequently when I felt that my brothers were picking on me!

The reality is that my brothers were not my enemies and nor was their treatment all that bad. We were just being kids! But that phrase that mom used over and over again sticks with us and now I have to think about it in the context in which I live.

On a personal level there will probably always be those who are difficult and may not like you. I will never forget the woman in apartment #28 in Moscow who really seemed to hate us. She would sit in the apartment below us and beat on the ceiling with a broom if she ever thought we were making too much noise. She let everyone in the building know how much she disliked the Americans upstairs and she even called the police on us when we had guests over. She frustrated me and it made me upset, but I also felt I was to pray for her. She was probably very lonely and didn’t have much going on in her life. The girls and I wrote her a note of apology and took her cookies. She wouldn’t open the door but we left them there for her. I put the woman in apartment #28 on my prayer list and prayed for her on a regular basis.

I don’t know what happened to the woman in apartment #28 but she did stop beating on the ceiling. She stopped sending the police our way and we ended up moving to another building. I do know that my attitude toward her changed when I started praying for her. I began to see her in another way and sensed that she was a woman with a great deal of pain in her life. I wasn’t her enemy, I was just a symbol of something that brought out her frustration. She needed love.

On a larger and more corporate level Christians need to take the words of Jesus to heart. God’s people were constantly persecuted by the government officials. The Romans did not love the Jews. Jesus’ hearers understood what he was saying and that he was challenging them to love the Romans. Not only were they to love them, they were to behave kindly to them.

For a very practical view of this issue take a few minutes today and read this blog post by a Christian believer in the Middle East who is questioning our response to Muslim refugees. What would Jesus ask us to do?

The golden rule was not just for Jesus’ day, nor for the way I interacted with my brothers, it is for all Christ-followers who want to reflect him in the world.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me live into my faith with your love.  Amen.



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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Intercessory Work of Prayer




Scripture:

Daniel 9: 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying,
 “Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments,  5 we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.  6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Observation:

The people of God had broken their covenant relationship by way of their disobedience and the result was seventy years in exile. Daniel, a man of great faith, found himself reflecting upon all that had transpired and his heart broken by the infidelity of his own people. With great humility he turned to prayer and interceded on behalf of his people.

Daniel repented for the peoples’ failure to live in covenant relationship with God. He took upon himself their guilt, as if he himself had been unfaithful. It is in this action that he reflects the very heart of God. Because of his intimate relationship with God he began to take on the characteristics of God.

Daniel recognizes that God is to be feared, but also trusted. In this place of prayer he made confession for his own people. The people were guilty of sin and this had become the barrier to the covenantal relationship and now it was in need of restoration. This would come about by way of repentance and confession and while the entire community did not join Daniel in this prayer, his intercession on behalf of his people was instrumental in the restoration of the covenantal relationship between the Israelites and Yahweh. The prayers of confession expressed the guilt of God’s people and a genuine desire for restoration.

Application:

It’s easy to point fingers at others whom we may think have done something wrong. We seem to be able to identify the weaknesses in others before noticing what may be happening in our own personal lives.

I remember years ago being challenged by the words of Oswald Chambers who reminds us that God doesn’t allow us to see the weaknesses of others so that we can be critical, but so that we will know how to pray! Daniel saw the weaknesses of his people and he went to prayer. The time in exile and the faithfulness of a few became a turning point in the lives of God’s people. They returned home as a people committed to worshipping the one true God.

Daniel reveals the very heart of God in his prayer. He knew that intercession was not just about putting yourself in the place of the person needing prayer, but reflecting the place of God in prayer.

What has broken your heart? What has frustrated you about the people of God and left you critical? As we draw closer to our holy God and reflect him more and more in our lives we take on his nature. No longer can we be critical, but our hearts will break and we will intercede on behalf of the needs of those surrounding us. This is the work of intercessory prayer.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to learn to intercede from your heart.  Amen.


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Monday, September 21, 2015

A Rhythm for Life



Scripture:

Luke 4:14   Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.  15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
Luke 4:16    When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.

Observation:

Jesus had just completed his time of fasting out in the wilderness where he had been tempted by Satan. He returned home to the region of the Galilee, “filled with the power of the Spirit.” We read about the ways in which he entered into a rhythm of ministry in which he taught and worshipped in the synagogue on a regular basis.

Application:

If it’s good enough for Jesus, it seems that it ought to be enough for us! Jesus entered into a rhythm for his life and ministry, ones which provide a pattern for his followers.

* Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting. This time in the wilderness was not the only time that Jesus practiced this discipline. This one is well recorded but we know that he often went off by himself to pray and to fast, spending time with the Father.

* Jesus ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s probably not coincidental that when Jesus returned from his time of prayer and fasting he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus needed the power of the Spirit to do his work, how much more do we?! We are not to be engaged in our life work on our own but in the power of the Holy Spirit who leads, guides and directs.

* Jesus placed a priority on teaching and ministering in the synagogue on a weekly basis. Considering all that Jesus was doing and the reaction he often got at the synagogue it seems like he could have easily skipped this part of his work. Why not take the Sabbath off! Watch a few football games and be rested up for the week ahead when he would “really” be ministering! Nope, Jesus made it a priority and a part of his rhythm of life to be in synagogue, ministering to the people of God.

There are always times when I have to step back and evaluate the rhythm of my life. Sometimes it gets out of sync and I have to spend time with the Lord and have a little readjustment. This journey is not one which can be handled on my own, but only in the strength and leading of the Lord. Today my desire is to journey in his rhythm.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to follow in step with you.  Amen.


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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Life of Anna


Scripture:

Luke 2:36   There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.  38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Observation:

Jesus’ parents had brought him to the temple to be circumcised. It is there that two people are encountered, Simeon and Anna. The first is a man who speaks a word of blessing over the child. Next they encounter a woman, Anna whom we are told is also a prophet. Her words are not recorded but there is something of her description which becomes prophetic for those who will be touched by Christ.

Her encounter with with this baby, the Messiah, was life-changing for she had met the one who would redeem Israel. But there are other clues as to Hannah’s presence here in the text, clues which speak to us even today. She is the daughter of Phanuel. The name means “face of the Lord.” She and her father are from the tribe of Asher. This is a tribe which was celebrated for its beautiful women and considered fit to become the brides of high priests or kings for they were blessed with many children. And finally, Anna had fixed her abode in Jerusalem, worshiping God, fasting and praying day and night.

From Simeon we received words about the Messiah. From Anna we receive a which life becomes the prophetic voice, the acknowledgement of the deeds which are the result of the encounter with the one who brings redemption to his people. 

Application:

Anna’s presence here in the text becomes a challenge to all of those who will encounter the Messiah. Her earthly father was named Phanuel, “the face of the Lord.”  Our Father in heaven is the one who draws us toward him and desires that we would reflect his holy image to the world. In this momentary meeting with the Messiah there is a glimpse at what adoption really means. Suddenly his father becomes our father and there is the realization that we are all welcomed into God’s family.

Anna is also from the tribe of Asher and suddenly another metaphor is thrown our way. We are called to be the bride of Christ, beautifully adorned to love and to serve our bridegroom. Anna’s life was already filled with this activity as she had been preparing herself for years for his arrival. She had committed herself wholeheartedly to abiding in Jerusalem. We don’t have to physically go to Jerusalem these days to experience the presence of God but we do have to make time for God in our lives. The Holy Spirit comes and dwells in and among us but we have to take the time to abide in him — and he in me! Anna had learned this secret and it included times of prayer and fasting. These are spiritual disciplines which lead to a deeper walk with our Lord; practices which are to be a part of our routine as well.

Finally, after abiding and encountering the Messiah, this bride of Christ could not be silent. Her life had been transformed and she spent her time praising God and telling others the good news of salvation. The Messiah had come and redemption awaited his people. Anna’s life became consumed with living out in word and deed all that she had been created to be. It was in that encounter with Christ that she was made perfect — or, all things were brought to completion. Now her name, her tribe and her behaviors all made sense — in light of her meeting with the Messiah. She was the beautiful bride who would bring many children into the family. She had to go and share the good news!

Our encounters with Christ will change the way in which we view everything. Our lives will become ones of proclaiming his good news and living as reflections of his holiness as we seek his face. Just a brief encounter with a woman and her life becomes a roadmap for all that God intends for his people. May our encounter lead us to live like Anna.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your touch in my life.  Amen.


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Friday, September 18, 2015

Barrenness and Virginity



Scripture:


Luke 1:8   Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty,  9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.  10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.  11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.  14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.”  19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Observation:


Augustine brings and interesting perspective to this passage:

The church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred…. When we celebrate John’s, we also celebrate Christ’s….
    John is born of an old woman who is barren. Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin. Barrenness gives birth to John, virginity to Christ. The normal and proper age of parents was lacking with the birth of John. No marital embrace occurred for the birth of Christ. The former is announced in the declaration of the angel. With the angel’s annunciation the latter is conceived. That John will be born is not believed, and his father is silenced. That Christ will be born is believed, and he is conceived by faith. First of all faith makes its entry into the heart of the virgin, and there follows fruitfulness in the mother’s womb.
(Augustine, SERMON 293).

Application:


For both Elizabeth and Mary the conception was truly a miracle and especially significant as a symbol to women. All women had suffered from the time of Eve’s sin and very specifically as prophesied, in the area of childbirth. Pain was associated with childbirth, not just because of the delivery process, but even in the desire to have children. Children were the hope of the future, the hope of your old age. To not have children might mean that a woman would be cast aside. A husband could divorce his wife for not producing children. Just imagine that the woman at the well may have had as many husbands as she did because she was infertile, having been thrown away time and again.

This message of good news is not just to Elizabeth, but it is God reaching out to his daughters and his sons in an incredibly loving and holy touch of restoration, for her barrenness was symbolic of the barrenness of God’s people. They had not been producing spiritual children in the way which God had intended. Now, there would be a new era and her child was to be the voice of one calling in the wilderness — make way for the Lord! Israel was about to become fruitful again as the barren woman gave birth to the prophetic voice pointing in the direction of the Savior.

There is hope when we feel barren. Spiritual barrenness has a cure and it comes from the loving touch of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God’s children can again bear fruit when the miraculous and majestic power of the Holy Spirit does its work.

When we find ourselves in that dry space and wondering whether there is any hope, the one who dwells in the presence of God comes and ministers to us at our point of need. Elizabeth responded in obedience to the call and God’s promise was fulfilled. We are called to obedience in all things to the will of the Father and he will provide the fruit. Barrenness and virginity were no obstacle to the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing a people to a place where they were again healthy, fruitful and multiplying.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to live in obedience to your call on a daily basis.  Amen.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

There Will Be Consequences



Scripture:


Ezekiel 44:10 But the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment.  11 They shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the temple, and serving in the temple; they shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall attend on them and serve them.  12 Because they ministered to them before their idols and made the house of Israel stumble into iniquity, therefore I have sworn concerning them, says the Lord GOD, that they shall bear their punishment.  13 They shall not come near to me, to serve me as priest, nor come near any of my sacred offerings, the things that are most sacred; but they shall bear their shame, and the consequences of the abominations that they have committed.  14 Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its chores, all that is to be done in it.
Ezek. 44:15   But the levitical priests, the descendants of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me; and they shall attend me to offer me the fat and the blood, says the Lord GOD.  16 It is they who shall enter my sanctuary, it is they who shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge.

Observation:
 
Sadly, even the priests had wandered far from God and the people had suffered as a result. Now they were returning from exile, but there would be consequences as a result of the decisions that had been made by those who had been entrusted with the spiritual care of the people. They could minister, but only from a bit of a distance. They could not approach God. That responsibility was left to those who had been faithful.

Application:

I actually find it quite amazing that God was willing to restore a priesthood that had led people astray! The repercussions of those in leadership who wander are great. They not only hurt themselves but they take down a whole lot of people with them. There is a great responsibility which is laid on their shoulders and therefore the consequences of their behavior has far reach.

This scripture has to lead us to an honest conversation. I hear far too many people these days who believe that they can wander off into sin but when they return to God everything ought to be restored in their lives. Unfortunately there are consequences to sin and even when a priest is restored — there remain the wounds and damaged individuals from the previous behavior. The Israelites had suffered in captivity as a result of spiritual infidelity. The people of God suffer as when there is spiritual infidelity and wounds and scarring result.

The priests were restored, but not to the full status they had previously experienced. Only the descendants of Zadok would be allowed to minister to the LORD.

When you choose to walk in sin, you can’t have it all back! But the good news is that there is restoration. The priests, even after leading the people astray were allowed to serve again. The people, even after serving other gods were welcomed back home. After so much infidelity — the bridegroom graciously and lovingly embraced his people. Yes, there will be wounds, but the greater healer and physician will be constantly reaching out and lovingly inviting us back into a relationship with him.

Prayer
:

Lord, may we live in the peace of your presence every moment of every day and lead us into faithful service before you.  Amen.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This — and so much more!



Scripture:

Rev. 21:1  ¶ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
Rev. 21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev. 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
    “See, the home of God is among mortals.
    He will dwell with them as their God;
    they will be his peoples,
    and God himself will be with them;
Rev. 21:4     he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
    for the first things have passed away.”

Observation:


We are coming to the climax of the story of God.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth.  All that has been talked about — all that has been revealed. It will be like this, and yet it will be so much more.

On this new earth there will no longer be any sea -- whether physically or metaphorically speaking. God will provide springs of eternal living water — he will be the source. The metaphoric water will no longer create enmity on the earth.

In John's vision the sea had been the source of those who were the enemies of God and mankind.  That source will be removed and the result will peace on earth. Jesus’ rule which began with his birth will be brought to completion in the new heaven and the new earth. The prince of peace will be able to rightfully reign.

It’s God’s plan for this and so much more. No longer will God dwell in heaven, but his dwelling place will be the earth where there will be no place for tumult between God and his people. The future is a deeply intimate, face to face relationship with God. In that relationship all the things that the sea had done — bring death, mourning, pain and tears — will have evaporated. God will be on the throne in the very midst of his people.

Application:

As a child we crossed the Atlantic ocean twice on ocean-liners.  (Yes, I really am that old!)  It was a great experience as we traveled from New York City to LeHarve, France, returning home to Europe after months of furlough in the United States.  I remember those ships and for the most part, I have pleasant thoughts.  On the other hand, I remember a day when we hit stormy seas -- rough water!  All day the big ship rocked back and forth as the huge waves pounded us.  The swimming pool was closed because, as we bobbled in the ocean, the water of the pool would angrily shift back and forth, pouring over its boundaries and across the ship.  It was a day in which you held on for dear life and wondered when it would all end. 

There are seasons when we feel that we are adrift on the stormy seas of life.  The wind whips up and the waves begin to rise and we feel battered on every side.  Sometimes we wonder if we can ever make it!  And then the "already" of the kingdom of God breaks in on us.  We are able to catch a glimpse of what will be in the future, and begin to participate in this new heaven and new earth in a small way, even today.  The Holy Spirit is here among us and unites us in a holy relationship with God now -- today.  This means that in the seas of life, when we are being beaten by the storms, God can come into that space and remove the sea.  Already, now, God wants to come and wipe the tears from our eyes.

Until Christ comes again the seas will exist and there will be the unrest of life, but we have the promise and the foretaste of the destruction of that sea when God breaks into the here and now.  Hang on, for God is already with us.  What we are experiencing in the already is a beautiful relationship with God because in Jesus’ resurrection he ushered in the already. This is the foretaste of what is to come. It’s this — and so much more. Already we are invited into a more intimate space with God. In the “so much more” nothing will be able to separate us from him. Live into the “this” of today, knowing that there is “so much more to come.”

Prayer:

Lord, thank you that you ride the storms with us, and that you are victorious.  Amen.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

A Display of Holiness


Scripture:
 
Ezek. 36:23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.

Observation:

The people of God were to be holy representatives of God. Sadly their infidelity had resulted in not only their own demise, but the smearing of God’s reputation in the world. They were to have been the light and hope for humanity but instead of drawing people to God, they became attracted to the world. God’s own reputation was sullied by their behavior but God had a promise of a new hope and future. He would send the Holy Spirit who would sanctify his people so that his holiness could be displayed throughout the world.

Application:

For far too long in my tradition we tried to be God’s holy people by following a list of rules. Legalism nearly ate our lunch because somehow we came to believe that holiness was about us and not about God. Holiness is the reflection of the work of God in our lives. God was reminding the Israelites that they carried about his name and that it was his name and reputation that was at stake. It It is his holiness which is to be revealed, not our own personal holiness. The lives of God’s people are always to be pointing others in the direction of knowing God.

Walking daily with the Lord, getting to know him and fellowshipping with him results in transformation. The more time I spend with the Lord, the more I become like him and when the Spirit does his work in our lives, we are changed. His desires become my desires because I love him! Suddenly we realize that our lives aren’t bound by lists but are instead bound by desire, and then the standard becomes much higher than any list, because our desire is for Christ, himself! Together with Paul we declare, “I want to know Christ!” And as we walk in that passion and desire, suddenly the holiness of God is on display for all the world to see.

Prayer:

Lord, Please help me walk in you today and may people see you, not me. Amen.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Leadership and Responsibility


Scripture:

Ezek. 34:1   The word of the LORD came to me:  2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.  4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.  5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.  6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Observation:


Whether secular rulers or church leaders, one carries on their shoulders the needs of those in their care. In this case Ezekiel was called to prophesy against them because they were not taking their responsibility seriously. Just as a good shepherd cares for their flock, so leaders are to lovingly care for those for whom they are responsible.

Responsibility included several factors. The sheep were to be fed, strengthened, healed, treated for their wounds, and the lost sought after.

But the leaders failed in their responsibility.

Application:

One of the greatest complaints I receive about spiritual leaders and pastors these days is that some seem to be in a maintenance mode. Week after week we may go through the motions, preaching, preparing the bulletin, having the regular programs but somewhere the passion is lacking. I believe passion is lacking because there is not a sense of responsibility for the people in our care. When there is a sense of responsibility then we will do everything possible to keep the flock together, and help it to grow.

This prophetic voice gives us some practical handles for leaders.

1) Feed the sheep. This must be done both physically and metaphorically. People need to have their physical needs met so that they can hear the word and be fed spiritually. To be able to feed people spiritually, the leader needs to be feasting on the word as well.  We cannot share with people when we have nothing ourselves.

2) The sheep are to be strengthened. This means that there must be more than enough just to sustain the flock, but they need to receive enough nourishment that they are strengthened. Not just nourishment but also strength training. There must exercise and work-outs that help people develop their spiritual strength. Leadership must provide opportunities for this strength training to occur and self discipline is required to lead others in this direction.

3) Sick sheep are in need of a treatment plan for their healing. Diseases may creep in and begin to destroy the body from the inside out. There may not be any visible physical wounds but there is illness and disease. Jealousy, gossip, greed, selfishness — these are all illnesses that will destroy the body unless they find a cure. The leader is also a diagnostician — one who is able to discover the disease and then recommend the correct treatment. If the diseases are not dealt with and contained they will spread as a contagion and soon the entire flock will be infected and could die.

4) Being wounded is different from being sick. Wounds come when one has been under attack, not from disease, but from others or from the difficulties of life. One may have stumbled and fallen and hit a bad rock. The flesh is torn open and a wound exposed. Another may have experienced the destruction of a marriage and the gaping wound in their heart is almost more than they can stand. These wounds need the loving hands and care of their leaders. Wounds need cleansing, an ointment and then a dressing over the top so that they can heal. This is a process which takes time and intentional effort on the part of leadership.

5) One of my greatest concern these days is a lack of passion for the lost. There seems to almost be a passivity about those who don’t know the Lord. Somehow we imagine that if they want to know about the Lord they will come in our direction. But just imagine what it would be like to lose a child — to have a child get out of our grasp and become lost. You hear of the stories of those parents who become separated from their children at a theme park. Do the parents go on riding the rides and hoping that the child will simply show up at the end of the day? No! They stop everything that they are doing and all of their time and effort goes into searching for that little one. No one can be happy or settled until the lost one is found and back in their arms. In just the same way leaders are called to have the same passion for God’s lost children. We are to seek after them, searching high and low, diligent in prayer,  until they are safely back home.

The children of Israel were facing their own demise because the leaders had ceased to function as true leaders of the flock. The church today is challenged to heed the words of the prophet. May those who are called to any leadership role — from Sunday School teacher to Ministry Leader to Pastor — heed the words. Shepherds — stop feeding yourselves and show responsibility for those in your care.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the reminder and lesson. Please help me to serve you faithfully today and every day. Amen.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

The Need for Educated Leadership


Scripture:

Daniel 1:17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.

Observation:

Daniel and his three friends had been sent off into exile, but they didn’t let that keep them down. They were God’s children and they were ready to serve him, no matter where they found themselves. Selected for leadership training, they took their responsibility very seriously. Extremely self-disciplined they were careful with their physical bodies as well as their minds. Taking advantage of the great learning which they found there in Babylon, they applied themselves to an excellent education. Yes, they knew about God and the Torah but now, to be the leaders that God wanted them to be they needed to avail themselves of a great depth of learning. They studied way beyond their original sphere of knowledge and became skilled in literature and wisdom.

It was Daniel to whom God had given a supernatural ability and that was to apply all that he had learned to interpret visions and dreams. But all was done in humility and service before the Lord. The result was that these young men went on to become great leaders in the nation — even as aliens! They were respected and renown for their great wisdom and leadership. They invested in their own futures by studying to become the very best at what they were called to become.

Application:

There are many differing opinions about education these days. In our consumer driven world students see themselves as purchasing a product. That has changed attitudes which, at times, can result in demands for an end product which is easily within everyone’s grasp. The problem is that not everyone is as dedicated to their studies as Daniel and his friends, and yet, they want the degree without having to put in much effort. This is seen in programs across the United States as people believe that they are purchasing an education and therefore expect for the service provider to make things as simple as possible.

And while things are to be simple, they are also supposed to be cheap. And while they’re supposed to be cheap, they are supposed to be completed in as short of a period of time as possible. Let’s call it instant education and/or gratification. It’s as if we want to go to Wal-mart to purchase our education on the cheapest plan possible.

The problem with this plan is that in the long run it won’t produce the kind of leadership depth that we find in Daniel and his friends. These four men literally turned the tide of an entire nation of people toward God — and not only their own people, but the people of a foreign land in which they were living. They took the years that were needed to study the culture, literature and scientific knowledge of the Babylonians. Not only did they know their stuff, they become the best at it.

As a result of their education they were widely respected within the secular world and were able to have a voice toward major change. It does not mean that everything always went their way. They encountered a lion’s den and a very hot oven along the way, but they maintained their integrity and stood in the truth they had encountered. They knew the word of God, but they also knew the laws of the land and they were clever enough to use them both for good.

I fear that the shortcuts of today will not provide us with the kinds of leaders that we need for the future. Our world is not becoming simpler, it’s becoming more complex. For Christians to be able to navigate the major changes that we are facing, we need those who will be willing to pay the price, both financially and in time investment, to learn all they can and then apply those truths in leadership.

It’s a frightening enterprise and yet God is calling some of his children to make this commitment. Pay the price to become the kind of influential and well-educated leader that God needs for the future! There may be reluctance, just as Moses was reluctant, but God will help sustain and provide, if we give ourselves in service to him.

The world is in desperate need of Christians who can speak into the complex issues of our day. If God is calling, take the time, just like the four young men, and prepare for the leadership challenges ahead by studying well.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the opportunities you place before us. May we take advantage and give of our best to you. Amen.
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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trusting


Scripture:
 
Lam. 3:22        The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
        his mercies never come to an end;
23     they are new every morning;
        great is your faithfulness.
24     “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
        “therefore I will hope in him.”

Observation:


While there is great turmoil surrounding the life of the poet there is also a deep trust in God. The very holy nature of the LORD, his steadfast love and mercies are extended to his people day in and day out. This never changes.

Morning by morning we can reach out to LORD and experience his faithfulness in all things. We hope in him whose love reaches through the ages, ministering to his children and reviving them with a daily dose of hope.

Application:

Trust in the midst of uncertainty can be difficult. The people of God were leading uncertain lives, not knowing where the future might lead and yet, there was this sense that God could be trusted. That God’s holy love would reach out and minister to them in their time of need and lead them daily.

I was recently at a conference where a futurist was speaking about the changes we are facing in our world. Richard Swenson spoke of living in a state of profusion. In the last 30 years the development of technology has so perfused or permeated our lives that we are at a place of overload. Our human bodies don’t have the capacity to absorb it all.

More video uploaded to YouTube in 60 days than all 3 networks created in 60 years

Some new car manuals are “more than 800 pages”

The avg person checks smartphone ~ 150 times/day

Thousands of movies/month with satellite or cable

40,000 different products in grocery store

150,000 in Wal-Mart Megastore

1 trillion URL (resources) on the Web

Must learn to operate 20,000 pieces of equipment

55,000 configurations of coffee at Starbucks

But more and more of everything going faster and faster is on a collision course with human capacity and here is the reality:

Limits were built in at creation, designed by God.

We don’t need to apologize to God for limits; they were His idea.

That I have limits in no way means that God has limits.

Could it be that God is not all that interested in another record of extreme performance?

Perhaps the spiritually important things He is asking us to do lie mostly within the mid-range of our lives.
(Richard Swenson, presentation at the Development Officers Annual Conference San Antonio TX, Feb  25, 2015.)

And this brings us back to trust. We don’t have to do bigger and better, we need to trust in God who has no limits of capacity. God is faithful and his mercies and love are infinitely capable.

With all that is transpiring around us it may take renewed intentionality to slow down and re-learn the art of trusting in God. We simply do not have the capacity to do it all. Morning by morning we are invited to slow down, skip all that information overload, and put our trust in him.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to not be distracted by the overload and to seek your face. Amen.


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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Who Is Splitting the Rock?


Scripture:
 
Obadiah 3     Your proud heart has deceived you,
        you that live in the clefts of the rock,
        whose dwelling is in the heights.
    You say in your heart,
        “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
4     Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
        though your nest is set among the stars,
        from there I will bring you down,     says the LORD.

Observation:

The people of Edom had become arrogant because they were successful in the eyes of the world. They had wealth, homes, and fame. As a result they no longer thought they were vulnerable to any kind of attack from enemies, or even God.

Their safety seemed to have been in the clefts of the rock. More than likely these were physical rocks that they thought provided them with a sense of security and defense from their enemies. However, when we read the scriptures the rock usually represents the strength and safety found in God. Instead their hearts had turned to rock or to stone. This was as a result of trusting in themselves instead of trusting in God who hides us in the cleft of the rock.

In the New Testament we read about the Church being built upon the rock and Jerome wants us to consider what happens when God’s people arrogantly live in the fissures of the rock. The church must be aware of the watchful eye of the world and recognize that her fissures or squabbles will lead to her downfall. Arrogance will split the rock of Christ and the church. The prophetic words of Obadiah to Edom are a clear warning that arrogance will split the Church and the attitudes and behaviors of God’s people can never be hidden from the LORD.

Application:

The challenge of this prophecy is for self-examination. Let’s imagine this in light of the Church and Christianity and the ways in which the Church has felt she was “safe.”

In the fourth century the Church was given the equivalent of non-profit status by the Roman government. There was one simple reason for this — the Church provided charitable services to the people of society and this was seen of great value to society. The Church has historically provided for the sick, needy and orphaned. The Church’s funds were used for the good of the entire community.

Today people are concerned about the possibility of the Church in the United States losing her non-profit status. Has the Church been hiding in what she has believed was a place of safety? At the same time have there been behaviors among those who call themselves religious leaders which have created the fissures in the rock? Has this status been abused?

Hypocrisy is the greatest danger to the Church today and arrogance continues to create the cracks and fissures which could eventually lead to her downfall. God’s people must be willing to live lives of humility and transparency before God and the world. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God, unworthy of the gift we have received. May we extend the hand of grace to our sisters and brothers in the Lord, strengthening the rock — and to the world around us. At the same time may the Church be true to her mission and humbly share the love of Christ beyond her walls, touching our communities with the transforming love of God and may we not be found guilty of splitting the Rock.

Prayer:

Lord, may your Church be faithful in living for you. Search my heart and help me respond to your words. Amen.

If you would like to read more "Reflecting the Image"  click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.




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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

But It’s Not That Bad


Scripture:
 
Jeremiah 44:19 And the women said, “Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands’ being involved?”

Observation:


Jeremiah’s prophetic words were troubling to the people because they were not prepared to change their behavior. Instead of heeding his advice, they became defiant and made excuses. Their defense lay in the fact that things hadn’t gotten that bad while they were worshipping other gods. At the same time God had been patient, giving them warning and opportunity to return to him, but his patience was now wearing thin.

Family members became complicit in their defiance toward God. The women in the household brazenly worshipped other gods and their husbands tacitly approved. The result was that entire families would suffer the consequences of this sin which was contaminated the very hearts of God’s people. Instead of helping one another in their spiritual journey toward God, their excuses were leading entire families toward destruction while blinded by the idea that it’s just not that bad.

Application:

I hear this same argument used today as people are convinced that life just isn’t that bad and they don’t seem to be suffering the consequences of not following God. Not concerned with the depth of their influence, they are willing to drive their entire family and those within their sphere of influence away from God.

It’s easy to imagine those who are far from God responding in this way, but what about those who claim to be Christ-Followers. The greatest danger is that we are convincing ourselves that we don’t have to be all that committed to following Christ because, with minimal effort, things aren’t that bad.

The arguments…

Attending church a couple times a month is enough.

Giving 2-3% to the Lord, rather than a tithe, is enough.

Reading the Bible while at church is enough.

Praying a few times a week is enough.

Giving to a charitable organization a couple times a year is enough.

Volunteering a few times a year is enough.

And these practices begin to infuse the next generation telling them that this level of commitment to the Lord and our spiritual lives is enough, because things just aren’t that bad.

At the same time God in his graciousness is reaching out to us, drawing us toward him. His desire is for a deeply personal relationship with his children, and so he waits. Sadly, the longer we wait to draw closer to him, the more we will eventually suffer the consequences of our own actions. It happened to the Israelites and it will happen to us.

It’s not that bad can become really bad — really fast.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your incredible transforming love. Please help me lean into you each and every single day. Amen.

If you would like to read more "Reflecting the Image"  click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.



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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Living in the Tension of the Already and Not Yet


Scripture:
Rev. 11:15     Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
    “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
        and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign forever and ever.”

Observation:

As the seventh angel blows his trumpet more and more of the glory and power of God is experienced. It is in the midst of calamity that a glimpse of heaven is seen and the battle on the cosmic scale is revealed. While all around us the situation may seem dire, God is winning the day and the earthly forces or kingdom is giving way to the kingdom of our Lord. He has begun his reign and it will continue into all of eternity.

Application:

This is the very space in which we find ourselves today. We are surrounded by the evils of this world and at times it feels as if they are pressing in upon us in ways which are suffocating. This week the world has been overwhelmed by the crisis of the refugees coming out of Syria. Today’s gospel reading is from Mark 7 — the story of the Syrophoenician woman — a woman from Syria who came to Jesus asking for help. Jesus responded to her need -- how will we?

Today the people of Syria are coming to those who reflect Christ for help and it is in that moment that the kingdom of our Lord can be revealed. It is in and through us that the kingdom of this world is to become the kingdom of our Lord. As he begins his reign in us, his kingdom reigns here on this earth. It is in the presence of multitudes of Christ followers, reflecting the Messiah that the kingdom is already here. You and I are to be the kingdom response to the kingdom of this world.

We don’t sit around on our hands awaiting the return of the Messiah and the kingdom because we know the kingdom is already here. Yes, the Messiah will come again and that’s the “not yet’” part of the equation because when he does return it will be made total and complete. But until that time, we are to be active participants in the “already” of the kingdom.

The result is that we cannot be fatalistic about the places where the kingdom of the world seems to be exercising strength. Instead, we are called to prayer and seeking the face of God as we explore the ways in which the kingdom which we represent can engage. God through his wisdom and power flows through his people. That’s why the angels in heaven can say the “kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of our Messiah.” It’s happening — already — as God’s people live in obedience.

There is tension in this space. That tension is revealed even this week in the faces of those who are fleeing for their lives. You and I are called to that place of tension. It’s hard and we may feel squeezed between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of the Lord — but that is where we are called to serve. We are ambassadors of the new kingdom, called to faithfully work together with God in the expansion of his kingdom.

The seventh trumpet revealed the space where the tension of the already and not yet would exist. The promise is victory for God’s kingdom. We are to move forward in the power and presence of the already kingdom which is present. This is our calling. Live in the tension and reflect Christ and his kingdom.

Prayer:

Lord, may you encourage your people to live in the tension of your kingdom’s presence. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


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Friday, September 4, 2015

You will Become like What You Worship


Scripture:
Rev. 9:20   The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.  21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.

Observation:

The natural and human disasters which the earth faced in the prophetic words of Revelation were to bring about the salvation of the people. What would it take to have people turn toward God? No matter what was experienced there were those who would not repent and continue to worship the things of the world.

We will reflect that which we worship and therefore we become like that which we worship. When life is consumed with the worship of people who “live like the devil” and material goods that the world considers of value, then this will be reflected in a lifestyle of murder, sorcery and sexual immorality. We become like that which we worship.

Application:

What kind of a picture of worship does my life paint? Just imagine someone coming and visiting your home for a day, listening in on the conversation, eating your food, riding in your car, looking over your shoulder as you’re on the internet and relaxing in a chair and watching what’s on your television. Is there anything about that day that would reflect my worship of God?

The call of Revelation is to live as faithful servants of the Lord. It is a challenge to a deeper walk with God that is reflected in every single aspect of our lives. Worship of God is to be seen in what we eat, watch, read, and even how we use and treat the resources that God has provided for us. Worship of God is to be seen in how we love God and neighbor.

Is my life an ever increasing reflection of God? If not, then I may need to think about what it is that I am worshipping.

Prayer:

Lord, please replace the idols of this world with you.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.



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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Silence in Heaven


Scripture:
Rev. 8:1   When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Observation:

In heaven there was an on-going 24/7 prayer meeting. The sounds of praise and worship were all around but now, suddenly there was complete silence. A holy hush washed over heaven and as heaven was silent, the distant prayers and cries were heard coming from the persecuted saints on earth. Who would help them? Who would join in their prayers for deliverance from suffering? The profound silence in heaven created space for the cries of oppression. It was a silence of expectation for things were about to change!

Application:

There are moments when we experience the holy hush of God’s presence. We become overwhelmed in worship and are in awe of what it is that we have experienced. There are no words to be spoken, no “amens” to be shouted — there is just silence. And in the moment of that holy silence the very faintest of sounds can be heard. Those voices rising up from far away, crying out for help in the midst of disaster.

Today is just such a moment. It’s time for us to take break from our 24/7 praise, prayer and worship and in silence, listen closely for the prayers.

They are coming from the cities of Syria.

They are coming from the tiny boats fighting the angry seas as refugees try to make their way to safety.

They are coming from the train station in Budapest.

They are coming from the refuge camp in France.

And there are more — coming from every corner of the world and even your neighborhood. But, shhhh — listen. They are crying out and we are challenged to quiet ourselves long enough to listen to their voices, find them, and minister to their needs. They are hungry, beaten, sun-scorched and drowning — do you hear them?

The silence in heaven lasted only 30 minutes. Long enough for the voices to be heard and then all God’s people joined again in prayer, and only in that silence could they begin intercede together for those who were suffering.

There is suffering today on earth.  People are hurting. The silence of heaven awaits our participation in the deliverance of all God’s people. Stop and listen and then ask God to lead you into action.

Prayer:

Lord, may I hear the voices of your children today. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.


http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Living in the Midst of Chaos


Scripture:

Rev. 7:1    After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree.  2 I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea,  3 saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.”

Observation:


Suddenly there seems to be a respite from the calamities of the opening of the seals. The wind of the Spirit is no longer blowing, people are not listening and/or responding to the work of God in the world and the stillness is in and of itself destructive. But in the midst of it all God’s remnant remains — those who have been faithful. This is a pause in the midst of the chaos, a moment of gentle reminder that God’s people remain eternally in his care.

Application:

It’s interesting reading different commentaries on this passage because they all come at it from their own particular context. I love reading old commentaries, some that go back about 1800 years, and therefore they each see this scripture a bit differently. Many identify a recent or “current event” which can be related to this passage. Those events have come and gone and there have been new events which have been seen as apocalyptic. Therefore, if we are trying to use this scripture to identify current or future events then we are not looking at it correctly. The reality is that we live in a world of chaos where over and again this scene is played out before us.

As I write this morning there are thousands of refugees from Syria stranded in a train station in Budapest, Hungary. The war in Syria is affecting many people, including numerous Christians who have been persecuted because of their faith. And the hope of the message which we read today is that when things become so radically out of control and chaos breaks out all around us, God still remembers his people.

God’s people are marked with his seal. In ancient times people would write a letter and mark it with the seal of the author. Wax was dripped onto the document and then the signet ring of the author was pressed into that wax, leaving a mark that allowed all to know to whom this letter belonged. God’s children are marked by him — not physically, but with the identifying characteristics of the Father. When people look at and observe Christ-followers they know that they belong to him, because they look and act like him.

In the midst of the chaos of the world, we still look and act like him! Today people will worry about the economy in China. The refugees from Syria will need love and care and guidance. It feels as if chaos reigns — but it does not. God reigns. This is the hope that we find in this text.

Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God — his love which marks us with God’s seal and challenges us to live and move and reflect him today and everyday — even in the midst of chaos.

Prayer:

Lord, may you be reflected in me today. Amen.

Thank you to Nazarene Publishing House and Keri Mitchell for helping to create and publish Reflecting the Image. This is not a devotional book, but rather a collection of thoughts and stories which lead us in the direction of reflecting Christ. Click on the image to take you to the NPH bookstore.The book is also available in Kindle format on Amazon.com.



http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/nph/itempage.jsp?itemId=9780834135277