Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Suffering From Fear



Scripture:


Psa. 27:0   Of David.
1     The LORD is my light and my salvation;
        whom shall I fear?
    The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
        of whom shall I be afraid?

Observation:

David had plenty to fear, spending much of his time either fighting or staying away from enemies. Even those who professed to be his family and friends could push him to the very brink. As a young man he learned to face his fears with God’s help. He shepherded his flocks and protected them from wild animals. The giant Goliath was no match for this young man who was filled with courage from the Lord. However, now, a bit later and more experienced he could have felt like all of life was crashing in on him. He needed to be reminded again that he did not need to fear.

This is the only place in the Old Testament where the LORD is referred to as light. For David, God is the source of life and strength. He had become a great warrior because God had fought with him and given him all of his vitality and courage. Therefore David poses the rhetorical question, “Whom shall I fear?” The point is that he recognized that everything he had came from God, therefore there is no one and nothing that is to be feared.

He again affirms his confidence in the LORD by referring to him as “the stronghold of my life.” This is a place of refuge where God is in control and protecting him from the enemy. God is the fortress and we are to be safe within his walls. Again the rhetorical question, “of whom shall I be afraid?” If the enemy cannot reach him in the place of refuge he has no need to fear.

It is the LORD alone whom David fears and he recognizes that fear of God casts out all other fear. There is no one and nothing to fear if David is faithful in following the LORD. He refuses to allow fear to win the day because of his confidence in the LORD.

Application:

Fear has a way of creeping into our lives. The enemy knows how to attack us and make us fearful about all kinds of things. David knew what that was like and this Psalm seems to be a counter attack. Fear is nothing that ought to control our lives if we our confidence is in the LORD.

Just as the LORD was David’s light, salvation and stronghold — so he provides the very same for us. The only thing we have to fear is God. A healthy respect and understanding of God’s promises and work in and through our lives means that we can trust in him wholeheartedly.

David didn’t get to experience the light of Jesus Christ. As we continue to celebrate the Christmas season may we remember that Jesus came as the light of the world providing peace and shelter for all who would follow that light. We have nothing to fear when we place our trust in him. The enemy is locked out of the fortress when we are hidden in God. The promise for David becomes even more real for us. Jesus came to destroy all fear and so we wholeheartedly put our trust in him.

Prayer:

Lord, you are our light and salvation. Thank you that we have nothing to fear.  Amen.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Sacrifice of the Mighty



Scripture:

2Sam. 23:13   Towards the beginning of harvest three of the thirty chiefs went down to join David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim.  14 David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem.  15 David said longingly, “O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”  16 Then the three warriors broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it; he poured it out to the LORD,  17 for he said, “The LORD forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. The three warriors did these things.

Observation:

David was a mighty man but he was not alone. He had partners in the work that he did and here we read the story of the three mighty men. They were devoted to him and to the work that they had before them. The men had been on the run for quite some time and found themselves in a cave of Adullam. There they quietly hid and, probably under his breath, David mentioned the water of Bethlehem.

The loyalty of his co-warriors is evident when they hear the words spoken from their leader’s heart. He had no intention of sending anyone to get water from Bethlehem and nor did he intend for this to be any kind of real request — but rather a longing which slipped out. His partners decided they would do what they could to support him and they sneeked out, made their way behind enemy lines, sacrificing themselves to bring their beloved leader some fresh water.

David’s response may seem unusual, but lest we are too quick to judge, just imagine that this is not a wasteful act, but an act of sacrifice. David pours out the water as an act of self-discipline, not taking it for himself, but giving it to God. It becomes an extravagant offering to the Lord, just as we later find the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume. The mighty men sacrifice for their beloved leader, and their beloved leader sacrifices for his Lord. They have all discovered that those things in life that are of great value are worth the risk. The mighty are willing to sacrifice it all in service to the Master.

Application:

The idea of sacrifice doesn’t sound pleasant and is not something that we talk about much in today’s world. We’re just passing through the Christmas season and I remember stories from our past when parents would sacrifice to do something very special for their children. These days we see pictures of gifts stacked under the tree — and even some that show piles of gifts as tall as the tree. Are we actually experiencing what it means to sacrifice to help others or have we developed a level of affluence in which sacrifice no longer has any real meaning?

I would like to suggest that we need to recover the concept of sacrifice. Maybe we need to begin with self-denial. Society tells us that we don’t need to deny ourselves of anything. I’ve even heard plenty of Christians scoff at the idea of self-denial but I think it’s something that’s missing in conversations about our spiritual growth. These men, David and his three mighty men, all knew about sacrifice. It was through sacrifice that they grew and developed into the mighty men that they were.

For the mighty to once again surface there will be need of sacrifice. Spiritual growth requires sacrifice, putting God first in our lives. Those who have gone before us would often sacrifice time, their sexual desires, food and other comforts to follow God. Where are the spiritually mighty today?

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the challenging words of those who have gone before. Please, help me be willing to sacrifice to serve you.  Amen.


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Monday, December 28, 2015

Capable Through Christ



Scripture:

Colossians 1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

Observation:

The hope provided for God’s children is brought to us by the birth of his son. That tiny baby, Jesus, made it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family. With that adoption come rights as children, as true members, not just with a title but with the power and strength. Therefore, not only do we receive position, but also empowerment. This is empowerment for the long-haul. As we are united with him it is in eternal service to the kingdom that we live out our lives.

There is no promise of an easy life but there is strength provided to endure, all the while with a joyful spirit. We remain joyful, not because we enjoy what’s happening, but because we are united with our Heavenly Father. Because of Christmas we may become children of God and through Christ we are made capable of that position.

Application:

This morning I was rocking my baby granddaughter and singing to her, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” It’s a familiar little song that we may have learned in our childhood or in Sunday School. However, this morning it hit me in a profound way. I want my little granddaughter to know how much Jesus loves her. He loves her enough that he entered this world as a vulnerable baby — just as she is. God took a chance by sending his beloved son into the world as a human infant. He had to trust young Mary to love, care and nurture him so that he could grow up and fulfill God’s plan. It is through the life, death and resurrection of Christ that we are empowered to be God’s children. This is an amazing miracle!

One of the most frustrating things in life is to be given an assignment, or a position, without being empowered to do the job. Just conferring a title, giving responsibility, without authority is exceedingly difficult. That’s not what God does to his children. Instead we are strengthened by his glorious power. Jesus loves us -- this we know! The empowering presence of the Messiah transforms our lives. Our heavenly Father loves us with such love that he sent his beloved Son to us.

We can endure and we may be joyful. We have been made capable through the gift of Jesus Christ.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your empowering presence in our lives.  Amen.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

His Holy House



Scripture:


Psa. 93:5        Your decrees are very sure;
        holiness befits your house,
        O LORD, forevermore.

Observation:

The dwelling place of God is in his temple. In the Old Testament this was the physical temple but the promise of Christmas was that as adopted children, we would become the temple. Just as the earthly temple was to be holy, so God’s children are to be holy. The temple was holy because God, in his holiness, was present. God, who by nature is holy, has made his dwelling place among his people. Therefore, because of Christ,  we live as God’s holy people, forevermore!

Application:

Holiness befits the house of the LORD. We may think that this sounds good in regard to the holy temple of long ago but we may not be willing to embrace what that may mean for all of us. It’s Christmas and we are excited to celebrate the birth of our Lord. However, moving from celebration to participation is the goal. We are to participate in the life of our holy God, and as such we become partakers of the divine nature. If his nature is holy love, then as we participate with him we should also take on his holy love. Holiness befits God’s people who are actively partaking and participating in the divine nature.

To deny that we are to be holy is to deny all that Christ did in coming to earth. Holiness is not some kind of optional way of life, it is the whole way of life! If we are not holy then we are not befitting temples of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that we have thought that somehow we were to demonstrate our own personal holiness. We have no holiness without God’s holiness. We can never do enough to be pure and holy and if we think that we can then we are only fooling ourselves.

Emmanuel — God with us! That’s the promise of holiness. You and I have the incredible privilege to serve as God’s temple. When he dwells within us his holiness permeates every room and we are holy, because he is holy!

Prayer:


Lord, we continue to celebrate your birth. Thank you for all the potential that was wrapped up in what you brought to us!  Amen.


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Friday, December 25, 2015

His Great Lovers are His Great Preachers



Scripture:

1John 4:7   Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Observation:

The revelation of God’s nature came in the incarnation of his son, Jesus Christ. The birth of the Savior exposed God’s love in a way in which humanity had never before understood love. That the Creator would empty himself and become a vulnerable human in an effort to reach out to his creation is almost incomprehensible. His desire is for us to know him and in knowing him to experience his nature — holy love.

Augustine reminds us, “Love is from God, as have declared those whom he has made not only his great lovers but also his great preachers.” (On the Gift of Perseverance 21.56) It is in experiencing the deep love of the Christ-child that we are united with him. We become lovers of God and this cannot be contained. That love must overflow to others. It is that overflow which becomes our sermon. True preaching can only come from the overabundance of knowing and loving God.

Application:

I’ve been asked on numerous occasions to help people know how to share Christ with others. I’m grateful for this desire on the part of people but at the same time it seems as if this Scripture may be telling us that the secret to sharing the good news about Christ with others is a more intimate relationship with Christ, himself.

I’m afraid that far too often we have been trapped by “religion” which has kept us from “relationship.” First and foremost we are called into a deep relationship with that babe that was born so long ago in Bethlehem. His birth signaled a new era when we were to be welcomed in and adopted as members of the family — God’s family.

Just as families around the world are celebrating Christmas this day and enjoying the warmth and fellowship of sharing together, so our heavenly Father gathers us into his fellowship. He lavishes his gift of love on us and as it naturally spills over it reaches out to others. If it’s not naturally spilling out of you, maybe you need to get closer to him and relax in his love today. Only his great lovers will be his great preachers.

Prayer:

Lord,  thank you for your great love which spills out on us today.  Amen.


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Thursday, December 24, 2015

In the Fullness of Time



Scripture:


Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Observation:

This is a crucial turning point in history and it had all been a part of God’s plan. The fullness of time was a moment when everything would change. Just as a young person comes of age and may claim their rightful inheritance, so Christ would enter the world and claim that which belonged to God.

The connection here is between understanding the incarnation of Christ and what that means for the salvation of humankind. The two inseparable because Christ comes to claim his inheritance - his people! By living life in the flesh he makes it possible for all of us to be adopted into the family. His birth brings rise to our new birth as his siblings. The great moment had come and from now on everything would be different. It was the fullness of time.

Application:

It’s easy for us to read over those words rather quickly and not recognize how life-changing, or even world-altering they were. There had never been a God before or since who entered into the world so that we might become like him. The fullness of time was God’s plan and it was to usher in the “already” of the kingdom of God. Here on this earth things were to “already” begin to change and become radically different than they had ever been before. The “fullness of time” was a statement that would provide an unbelievable opportunity for you and for me!

Today is Christmas Eve and many of us will gather to celebrate and remember the birth of our Messiah. This is the day in which we remember the “fullness of time.”  The gestational period would be over and Mary would give birth to a son. In him would be the hope of all humankind and we would be welcomed into his family. The gifts under the tree are simply a symbol of the inheritance which you and I have received since the fullness of time. We are children of the King!

Prayer:

Lord,  thank you for your incomprehensible gift.  Amen.


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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Great Reversal



Scripture:

Luke 1:46     And Mary said,
    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47         and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48     for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
        Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
        and holy is his name.
50     His mercy is for those who fear him
        from generation to generation.
51     He has shown strength with his arm;
        he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52     He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
        and lifted up the lowly;
53     he has filled the hungry with good things,
        and sent the rich away empty.
54     He has helped his servant Israel,
        in remembrance of his mercy,
55     according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Observation:

The young pregnant Mary has met up with her cousin Elizabeth and in a moment salvation history is brought to its fullness in the lives of these women. They are carrying within them the hope for all of humanity and the culmination of prophecy. This “Magnificat” of Mary is a pause in the story — a moment to be savored and on which to ponder. God’s holy love is revealed by this incredible act of salvation, as he brings about the great reversal.

Mary’s song is a revelation of the theological significance of this event as her hearts soars with the message of the great reversal, or the arrival of the new kingdom.  Her soul magnifies the Lord, or reflects the Image of God. The Image is the baby that she is carrying and his life will usher in a new era when all of humanity will have the capacity to reflect him. This is the new story in salvation history and it is brought to us in the prophetic voice of a woman. 

From the time of the fall women had suffered and now the child which Mary carried would come to set things right. Because of the babe, the image of God could be restored in both men and women. This is the hope of the great reversal.  When God’s hand is at work then the lowly become great and the relationship between men and women is restored to the equal status found in creation.

The great reversal reveals the grace of our holy God who reaches out in mercy to the generations to come who will fear him. He provides for those who reflect his image.  Worldly kingdoms will come to an end but the great reversal is eternal.

Application:

We live into Mary’s song for it was alive with anticipation of that very first Christmas day. Not only does Mary’s soul magnify the Lord, but you and I reflect the Image because of what he has done for us.

The great reversal has brought hope to all of humanity. Worldly systems and values are to be undone in the kingdom of God. We rejoice for the lowly are lifted up and worldly thrones are of no meaning in his scheme. Mary, a poor pregnant Jewish teenage girl, that’s about as lowly as it gets! Yet, because of the presence of the babe she is transformed for all of time. She is remembered and called blessed because of him.

Because of the Savior we are lifted up and transformed as children of God. This life-giving miracle takes our simple lives and makes them extraordinary because of his presence. Mary wasn’t sure what all of this might mean but her song exclaims a turning point in history. The depth of the great reversal is hard for us to grasp and there are times when the world may feel like it is crashing down upon us. Just like Mary we are encouraged to pause and reflect on where we find ourselves. God is at work in and through his children ushering in the new kingdom. The great reversal has already begun and therefore we are not to fear the things of the world but we are to live into what he, in his holiness, wants to accomplish.

May our souls magnify the Lord — or reflect the Image! That’s the hope of the great reversal.

Prayer:

Lord,  thank you for the possibility of reflecting you. Amen.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Faithful Characters



Scripture:

Luke 1:5   In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.  7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Observation:


In this account by Luke we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are to play a special role in the coming of the Messiah, for their son was to be the prophetic voice that would call people to attention and preparation. Zechariah and Elizabeth were not ordinary characters in their day, but they were specifically chosen because of their heritage, and their faithfulness. They were both from a priestly ancestry. Priests were required to marry virgins of Israelite birth, but a priest did not always marry a woman from a priestly family. To marry the daughter of a priest was considered significant and for Elizabeth to not only be the daughter of a priest, but an actual descendant of Aaron, was remarkable.

These two were faithful in their service to God. Luke makes note that they lived “blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.” This is significant for they were a remnant that embodied the best of the Old Testament law and they would now serve as a bridge between the old and the new. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not in conflict with the Old Testament law, but becomes the fulfillment as the law as revealed in Christ.

Finally these two had no children, and yet they were viewed as being righteous. This is unusual because barrenness was often seen as a sign of sin, or a punishment from God. Zechariah and Elizabeth must have lived exemplary lives for this to be the case. As a result, God was able to use them just as he had other barren couples in the past, to bless them with a child who was called to fulfill a divine task. The readers of Luke’s gospel would remember women like Sarah, barren and beyond child-bearing years and recognizing that only divine intervention would make pregnancy possible. Elizabeth’s son would be born to fulfill God’s purposes and this was possible because his parents were faithful characters in God’s story.

Application:

God is still in the business of using faithful characters. We may not be called to birth a divine messenger, but we are called to carry the divine message. Faithful characters desire to know him in such an intimate way that he becomes a part of their very being. They carry the divine messenger into a very hurting world that needs a touch from him. It may be that you will be the only faithful character who will carry the Messiah into the gas station, the hair salon, the dry cleaners, the grocery store, the call center, Starbucks, etc.

This is a season of hope and anticipation. Many people think they are awaiting the gifts under the tree. Maybe what they’re really waiting for is you, a faithful character, bringing them the hope found in the Messiah. Think about what you do today and how you can live as a faithful character, carrying hope to a hopeless world.

Prayer:

Lord,  please help me to be faithful to carry you. Amen.
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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Pilgrim Finds A Home



Scripture:

Psa. 84:10        For a day in your courts is better
        than a thousand elsewhere.
    I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
        than live in the tents of wickedness.
11     For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
        he bestows favor and honor.
    No good thing does the LORD withhold
        from those who walk uprightly.
12     O LORD of hosts,
        happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Observation:

As the pilgrim makes their journey they discover their home is in the courts of the Lord. No matter how long and arduous the journey, finding the way home brings with it an overwhelming sense of peace, and just one day in the house of God makes it all worthwhile.

Along the way God has provided the sun and the shield. He has been the pillar of fire and the cloud which have led the way and they have faithfully brought the pilgrim to the presence of the Lord. While the journey may be difficult the one who trusts in God is filled with his joy.

Application:

Pilgrim wandering is nothing new. As we see refugees traveling from country to country trying to find a new home we consider the struggles of their lives. They are simply trying to move on to find someplace better than where they have been, seeking protection along the way. Ultimately they want to find a new home and even one day there will bring great joy as compared to the journey.

Mary and Joseph were pilgrims on a journey both physically and spiritually. They were young and quite unaware of what everything meant. Mary was pregnant and yet had never slept with a man. There were angels who had promised them both that this was something special and unique from God. Great with child they were forced to travel to Bethlehem and so, as pilgrims, they arrived and found a very humble space for the King to be born. His presence transformed a stable into a throne room, and the pilgrims found themselves at home with God.

The journey may be strenuous and tiring. The obstacles along the way may seem insurmountable, but just as the sun rises from day to day so God is our guide and our shield. He will not let us down as we make our own personal pilgrimage. Ultimately the journey will lead us into his holy presence where we will find peace and rest. It may be a day or it may be years that we get to enjoy that holy presence, no matter, he is faithful.

On our pilgrim journey of anticipation of advent, may we travel with joy. Our trust is in him who leads and guides us, and will usher us into his holy presence where the pilgrims find themselves finally home.

Prayer:


Lord,  thank you for your promises and your protection. Amen.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Loving Your Enemy for the Sake of God



Scripture:

Matt. 25:29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Observation:

This verse comes at the culmination of the parable on the talents. The one who had the most took those talents and was able to make incredible use of them, bringing back twice the amount in return. On the other end of the spectrum was the individual who was afraid of what might be asked of him and so he just buried his talent in the ground, protecting it but not using it for the Master’s purposes.

In the season of Advent this parable suggests that we are to be engaged in active waiting. This active waiting means that we look at the opportunities which are afforded us and the ways in which we may engage. We are to make the most of the creative opportunities we encounter and not hold back, but use the gifts of God adventurously. If we do not use the gifts that God has given us, we will forfeit them.

The good that we possess is the nature of God, his holy love. His talents flow through us, his children and his love is that which we are to use adventurously. Gregory the Great tells us, “True love is to love your friend in God and your enemy for the sake of God. Whoever does not have this loses every good that he possesses.” (Forty Gospel Homilies)

Application:

When talents take on the character of God we begin to see them differently. I know that I have often thought of them in terms of money and being good stewards of God’s resources. While that may be true maybe we need to also see God’s resources as being the overflow of his nature in and through us.

As we experience God’s overflowing and abundant love which he gifts us through his grace we must imagine what it would mean to share that love for his sake. God is generous with us and expects us to be generous with others. There is far too much rhetoric about fear these days and not about love. Fear results in burying our talents; taking God’s love and keeping it all for ourselves. Jesus referred to this as being “wicked.”

Enemies are not easy to love, but the things in life that are of the greatest worth are not easy. Adventurously following the opportunities provided by God may be some of the hardest work we will ever do in life, but it will also reap the greatest rewards. These are not material rewards, but they are eternal rewards. Therefore we are to radically love our enemy for the sake of God. He has lavished his love (talents) on us and we are to go and do the same.

The faithful servant loves radically in the time of active waiting (Advent). We are never to protectively guard that which God has provided for us, but we are to lavishly give it away. Remember, “perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18)

Prayer:

Lord,  please help me to spread your love today and every day. Amen.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lamps Burning with the Reflection of His Glory



Scripture:

Matt. 25:1   “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;  4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’  7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’  10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’  12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’  13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Observation:


 The virgins were all to be prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom. No one would knew when he was coming but their lamps were to be burning bright. The lamps were probably sticks wrapped in rags which were lit on fire. To keep the fire burning from time to time they had to be dripped in oil. Those who were prepared had oil and so their lamps kept burning, but those who did not had a problem. The result was that they were not prepared when the Bridegroom returned.

Application:

There are many different thoughts regarding the oil and what it symbolizes in the life of a Christ-follower. But let’s just imagine for a moment that the light from the lamp is a reflection of the glory of Christ. The lamp remains lit when we are reflecting him and this is only possible when we are in a relationship with him on a regular and on-going basis. Regularly we dip ourselves or bathe ourselves in the anointing of his holy love. It is this holy love that radiates from our lamps and provides us with the opportunity to carry the kingdom into a darkened world.

All of the virgins took time to sleep and rest, so this isn’t about staying awake at every single moment. It is, however, about remaining connected to the Holy One. Five of the virgins stepped out of that regular relationship and let their lamps go out. They thought they were waiting but they were no longer a reflection God’s love to the world. The faithful virgins never gave up on their walk with the Lord. 



We are in a season of waiting during Advent, awaiting his second coming. It is during this time that we are to be an ongoing reflection of his love to the world. Our lamps are to shine bright, fueled on my his glorious presence in our lives. May we burn brightly in the darkness of this world so that his glory is reflected and the world is drawn toward him. The Bridegrrom is coming, let's do all that we can to be ready!

Prayer:

Lord,  may my lamp burn bright for you today. Amen.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Resting in the Branch



Scripture:


Zech. 3:6   Then the angel of the LORD assured Joshua, saying 7 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.  8 Now listen, Joshua, high priest, you and your colleagues who sit before you! For they are an omen of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.  9 For on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day.  10 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.”

Observation:


The words of the prophet Zechariah brought hope to the beleaguered people of Jerusalem. They had returned from exile in Babylon and were weary, wondering about all that the future might have in store. The promise of a Branch was powerful for them for it was the continual and on-going commitment of a Messiah who would set God’s people free. For a people who had been held captive this was really good news.

Already God was preparing his people for the type of Messiah who would come, for he would not be a political leader, but would be a spiritual leader. He would be able to remove the guilt of his people in just a single day.

Not only is guilt to be removed but there is an invitation to rest. The vine and the fig tree are a place of comfort and relaxation for those who are not at war. This is the place where there is no anxiety for there is peace. It is an invitation to rest in the Branch.  

Application:

As God’s people awaited the Messiah they weren’t exactly sure what all of that would mean for them. In reality it was more than they could have ever imagined for the Branch, while sounding like something small, would become mighty.

Just imagine a branch as compared to a beautiful and mighty tree. Aren’t we drawn toward the things that appear great from a human perspective? Of course we are, and yet those things may not provide for us what it is that we truly need. Jesus was to be the Branch and he would provide a place of rest for his people.

As we anticipate the Advent of our Savior we are invited into that rest. In one day Jesus brought salvation to the whole world, if only we would rest in that Branch. With the hustle and bustle of life we become so caught up in doing things that we forget about slowing down and resting in him.

Jesus came as the “Prince of Peace” and that was to be realized on may levels.

If all of God’s children would live into his peace there would be no need for war.

If all God’s children would live into peace there would be no political turmoil or school shootings, or terror attacks.

If all God’s children would live into peace there would be no discord in interpersonal relationships.

If all God’s children would live into peace we wouldn’t worry about tomorrow.

The only time people had the opportunity to relax and sit under the fig and vine was when there was peace. The anticipation of the Savior was an anticipation of rest from anxiety. The Messiah has already come and as we celebrate his advent we are invited into his rest. It’s time to take a load off and relax under the Branch who brings us his peace.

Prayer:

Lord,  thank you for the comfort of your Branch. Amen.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Faithful Stewards



Scripture:

43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Observation:


Jesus confesses that he doesn’t know the day nor does he know the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, and if he doesn’t know, why would we think that we ought to? Speculation about the time of the return of Christ can become all consuming and Jesus knew that this could be how his people would respond. He wanted his followers to be faithful stewards, those who would not be engaged in speculation. 

We have been left in charge and our responsibility is in caring for the Master's house each and every single day. There is to be no deferred maintenance because it will be under continual care. That’s what good stewards do, they monitor and care for the master’s house day in and day out. If the master arrives, everything will in order and no thieves will have broken in for the steward will have been on guard. 

Application:
What does readiness really look like in our lives? Last evening a gentleman from the power company came by to tell me that they would have to be replacing a pole nearby and therefore our power would likely be out for most of the evening and much of the night. We were going out for a few hours but in preparation for the event we placed candles near the door and chose to use a car not stored in a garage using a garage door opener. We also made sure we had a regular key to get back into the house. We wanted to be prepared for all that it meant not to have electricity last night.

If you knew that Jesus would return today, what would you do to prepare? If there would be a sudden frenzied flurry of activity to catch up on things that you haven’t been doing for him, then we have a problem. Being prepared is recognizing on an on-going basis what it means to be ready. Jesus wanted his followers to know that readiness was active on-going daily participation in his kingdom. Active participation in the kingdom means that when you know that something may be happening to the master’s house — such as the lights going out — you prepare. You are good stewards, you take notice of what is happening and you constantly adapt so that you are managing his affairs the best that you can every single day. That way, when he returns you don’t have to get caught up on things, but things are always up to date.

We have been given a great responsibility as stewards of God’s kingdom. For us, advent is not just a season of the church year, but it is the way in which we live our lives on a daily basis. We are living in the anticipation of the Advent of our Lord — yes, at Christmas — but yes, every single day! The religious leaders of Jesus’ day should have been living in a state of preparedness for the advent of the Messiah. This is our day and our time to be faithful stewards of the house, meticulously caring for the needs and serving in the kingdom. This is advent.

Prayer:

Lord,  please empower me to be a faithful steward. Amen.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

It May Be Smaller — But It’s Better



Scripture:

 Haggai 2:9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.

Observation:

The foundations were being laid for the new temple. Those who had seen the previous temple were saddened for this one would be smaller than the one built by Solomon. Sadly the original temple had been destroyed and now that they were returning home from exile it was time to build a place of worship. The promise that God brought them at the moment of their despair was that the splendor of this new, and smaller house, would be greater than the one built by Solomon. That was hard for the people to believe because they knew that they didn’t personally have the resources to make this a gorgeous temple.

This new temple would be far greater than the old because the Messiah would eventually visit this very place. The long awaited one would sit along the colonnades and teach those who would be willing to listen. The prosperity to be received would be in the form of eternal life and transformation in the here and now for the Christ-followers. The new temple may have been smaller, but it would be better, for Jesus would be found there.

Application:

I can only imagine the disappointment of those who had experienced Solomon’s temple. It had been impressive. Now, it was gone and they wanted things to be the same as they had been in the past.

Times are changing and when we cling to the things of the past we may not be able to see the advent of a new future. When we cling to the things of the past and are disappointed because of the changes of the current moment or of the future, we may just miss out on what God has for us. While the earthly treasures of Solomon’s temple were certainly beautiful, they were nothing compared to the presence of the Messiah! He would become the living temple, the one that would be torn down and rebuilt within three days. You and I would then be invited to become living stones in the temple of our God, empowered and strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

If we are looking at earthly systems or structures that just aren’t what they used to be, it’s not time for us to be discouraged. It may, however, be time for us to open our eyes to God who is at work in our world and may be leading us into a new future that we cannot even imagine. The people staring at a new and smaller foundation could not have imagined what would happen when Jesus would arrive. Jesus is coming again and all of earth is groaning in anticipation and in the meantime God is still to be trusted. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways higher than ours. It’s not time to doubt God, it is time to trust him even more. It may be smaller — things may be much different — but could it be that they will be better? Our shortsightedness could mean that we overlook the Messiah.

Don’t be discouraged because the landscape is changing but be excited, for the coming splendor will be greater than the former.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in Thee

Israel’s strength and consolation

Hope of all the earth Thou art

Dear desire of every nation

Joy of every longing heart
    Charles Wesley, 1744

Prayer:


Lord, may I anticipate the new with great joy. Amen.


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Friday, December 11, 2015

Lament



Scripture:


Matt. 23:37   “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  38 See, your house is left to you, desolate.  39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Observation:

Jesus is lamenting over the beloved city of Jerusalem for she is destroying herself by her own sins. His cry is one of great affection for he dearly loves his children and this city which they call their home. Sadly, as a result of their infidelity he knows that the city will be lost. It is in the new Jerusalem, the new kingdom where his children will recognize that he is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. In the meantime, his heart is broken for his people and he laments what they have become for they have lost the hand of protection from God.

Application:

Lest we become too critical of the citizens of Jerusalem and think that we are somehow “special” — how much more special could Jerusalem have been?

I believe that even today God may be looking over his people and lamenting their unfaithfulness. The scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem thought that they were being faithful because of the ways in which they followed the letter of the law. Laws do not make us faithful! And — the faithfulness of God’s people is not dependent upon the laws we do or do not pass. The faithfulness of his people depends on the ways in which his children live out their lives every single day. We are hypocrites if we argue against what we see as being incongruent with God’s laws, but refuse to respond to a needy world with the spirit and attitude of Christ.

Jesus just may be looking over us and crying — “My children, my children” — you just don’t get it. The scribes and the Pharisees were consumed by the law and they didn’t get it. They couldn’t see the Messiah and nor could they understand the spirit of the Law which God intended to be reflected in their behaviors.

Jesus’ advent meant a new understanding and the Spirit enabling God’s children to be living reflections of him. When this happens there should not be a need for lament.

Prayer:

Lord, may your Spirit empower me to bring your law to life today. Amen.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Is the Motivation?



Scripture:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Observation:

Jesus was very clear about how he viewed the scribes and the Pharisees. They were far too concerned with their outward appearance and the way in which they were treated by others. Sadly they didn’t see that what was on the inside really affected what was on the outside.

Jesus didn’t just say that they had a few impurities on the inside, he hinted that they were FULL of greed and self-indulgence. They were filled to overflowing with their own selfishness and this was revealed on the outside, no matter how hard they tried to look clean! What they failed to understand was that the outside would be clean, if the inside were clean.  External purity is not true holiness because true holiness can only come from a clean heart. Behaviors are controlled by internal motivations.

Application:

It seems that so often we are worried about the externals. We want to be sure that we present a positive appearance but simply trying to keep up appearances can be tiring! What we do needs to come from the heart. The external must be controlled by the internal.

I remember as a teenager that there was a lot of peer pressure to carry our Bibles at school. It was one of those topics of discussion in Youth Group — who would be strong enough to publicly carry their Bible through the halls? In reality — was that the best witness? In some ways it’s not that hard to carry a book, but it can be much harder to live out our love for God on a day to day basis with our family and friends. The external is not important if it does not flow from the internal.

The scribes and Pharisees were filled with greed and self-indulgence. This motivated them and the result was selfishness on a scale that would crucify the Messiah. The very one who could provide the heart cleansing which they so desperately needed was the one they were destroying.

The life empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit begins with cleansing within. This is God’s plan and it’s why he sent his son. We await with anticipation the joy of transformation because of the presence of a tiny baby. He reaches down, touches our hearts and begins a work that cleanses from the inside out. When his work is done in us, he is reflected through us. The external we want the world to see is Christ. This is our motivation.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you that you are patient with us. Amen.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Facebook Official



Scripture:

Matt. 23:1   Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,  2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

Observation:

The problem with the religious officials was that their faith was only skin deep. Everything that they did was for others to see. They wanted the praise of people but they weren’t very interested in being genuine before God. They were skilled at good sermon preparation and presentation and therefore they could be critical of others, but their sermons never made it to their own hearts. They did not practice what they preached and so their lives were simply a facade, a fake exterior, trying to look good and impress the world around them.

Application:


The temptation of this day is to provide the world with a view of our lives on social media that is not real. There’s a bit of a joke that a relationship between a couple of people isn’t real unless it’s “Facebook official.” The humorous side of this is that often I find a relationship becoming “Facebook official” about 10-20 years after a couple has already been together. It’s just a piece of software getting the update or a new piece of information. What it doesn’t have is the reality of the day to day relationship between two individuals.

The life portrayed by individuals on Facebook is often not real. We want people to think that everything is perfect and that there are no difficulties and so we photoshop and work hard to remove every blemish possible. The problem is — this isn’t real, nor is it real life!

Just imagine what the scribes and Pharisees could have done with social media! I can only imagine all the wonderfully religious tweets and posts. They would have looked good and sounded super-spiritual but it would not have changed their behavior. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what kind of eloquent words we use or the pictures that we post, what matters is how we live on a day to day basis. Our lives become a living testimony to Christ.

The problem with being “Facebook Official” is that it doesn’t have to be based in reality. What matters to God and to the world around us that needs us, is reality! We are to practice what we preach. So the next time (preaching to self here) you post something or tweet something, think about the implications in our own life. Are you willing to actually live out your public opinion? If someone were to observe you on a daily basis would they see the same thing that you portray in social media?

As we anticipate the arrival of our Messiah, may we remember that he came in the flesh to redeem humanity. It wasn’t a virtual experience, but was incredibly real. He lived, suffered and died, for you and me. Therefore we are to practice what we preach, living out our faith in the flesh each and every single day.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to live in the power and presence of your leading in my life, every single day. Amen.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Questioning



Scripture:

Matt. 22:41    Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:  42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”  43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44     ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
    “Sit at my right hand,
        until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”  46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Observation:

The religious leaders were trying to figure out who this man was. If he was the Messiah he certainly didn’t fit the image that they had in mind. His words were far too controversial for they stung. A Messiah wasn’t suppose to come and make them feel uncomfortable, he was to become a political leader of their people. The concept that Jesus was espousing was difficult for them to grasp because not only was the Messiah to come from David, but what if the Messiah were also God. They were wrestling with this in their minds because they wanted to be able to provide all the right answers, but they simply couldn’t for they were limited in their thinking.

Application:

There are so many things to question. The things of this world seem to be changing at a speed more rapid than any of us could even begin to imagine. It feels overwhelming and sometimes we would simply wish for the good old days. In the midst of it all there may be this desire to question God and where he may be found.

Questioning God has been a practice since the first humans walked this earth. Ultimately there comes a moment, such as what occurred with the religious leaders, when one realizes that we don’t have the answers. We want to question but the answers may boggle the mind, so much so, that we aren’t sure what to do with them. The idea that this man in front of them might be God was certainly outrageous. They didn’t like the answer to their question and so they went away, unwilling to ask him anything more.

They were questioning Jesus because they were anticipating a different kind of Messiah. Are we questioning the kind of Messiah we are awaiting now? Is our anticipation in Advent for someone other than the Messiah who has ushered in the kingdom of heaven? At some point the questioning needs to stop and the faith, trust, and acceptance must begin. Our longing for the Messiah is fulfilled when we accept him and rest in who he truly is.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your love which continues to reach out to your children. Amen.


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Monday, December 7, 2015

My Friend the Refugee

I can’t really remember where I was going that day, but I recall the bus was very crowded. Eventually I found a seat and the woman next to me was trying to ask me something. Her Russian wasn’t very good and mine wasn’t that much better. She wanted to make sure she knew when to get off and it would be in a few stops. The attempt at communication continued as she seemed a bit scared and confused by everything. I knew how she felt for so often there were times when Russia felt a bit frightening. I carried my documents with me at all times and from time to time was detained by the police for document checks, whether walking, or driving in the car. Luckily I was able to blend in with much of the population but not this woman on the bus. Her skin was just a little darker and her clothing gave her away — she was a foreigner. She wasn’t just any foreigner either, she was a refugee from Afghanistan, trying to get documentation to be able to move on. She, her husband and her children were only hoping for a better life, one far away from the war in her country of Afghanistan and her hometown of Kabul.

Before she got off the bus we exchanged phone numbers. Somehow, in those few minutes on the bus we had connected, foreigners in a foreign land, trying to live our lives. Me, a young mom with two little girls. She, a young mom with with a brood of little ones she was trying to raise in a place that was quite hostile to their presence. I was invited to come over some evening and get to meet the family.

It was a few weeks later when the girls and I made our way to the other side of town. Where the refugees lived could have been called a “ghetto.” The housing was gray and very Soviet — a Krushev building with five floors and no elevator. These were to be “temporary” buildings, torn down and replaced when the Soviet Union had reached the state of Utopia. It had never happened and now, these buildings were filled with people in need. We ventured up the dark stairwell until we arrived at the door. The foul odor of the stairwell was suddenly mixed with the scent of dinner cooking somewhere behind the door. It was an odd sensation of good and bad that erupted into a flavorful aroma when the door was opened and we were welcomed into the small one-room flat. We took off our shoes and we were ushered into the room which had a sheet spread across the floor. All of the families’ possessions had been pushed into the corners of the space and we were going to sit down for dinner. As we made our way to the floor my new friend began bringing out platters of food. The cut fresh vegetables were arranged on a tray. Steaming rice and chicken filled out the meal. We enjoyed an evening of food and fellowship, my girls trying to talk with my friend’s children and somehow all of them figuring out some way to communicate. It was a blessed evening of fellowship and warmth.

We kept in touch through the months. Life was hard. They couldn’t get the right documents because things were in limbo with Afghanistan and the USA and the European Union couldn’t figure out the status of these people. They couldn’t go home and no one would have them and so they continued their poor existence in a land that didn’t want them.

My friend got very sick and called for the doctor to come to her home. She needed an antibiotic but pills were too expensive so she was given an injection. It caused an abscess in her hip and she became even sicker. Finally she was sent to the hospital to do surgery on the abscess that had formed where she had gotten the injection. She wondered if I could come and check on her. My mother happened to be visiting and I told her we needed to go visit a friend in the hospital. We rode the subway and then the bus, arriving back in the ghetto. Two men smoking heavily and playing checkers controlled the door to the hospital. A little bribe was required for them to let us past the door and when our eyes finally adjusted to the darkness inside we were sent to the Coat Room. There stood a woman selling vodka, cigarettes and grocery shopping bags. I was informed we would each need to purchase two grocery bags, which we did and were then told to wear them over our feet, to keep the floors clean. The bags were tied around our ankles, then we made our way back out to the lobby in our new protective gear. The elevators were broken and my friend was on the 7th floor. My mom was in her mid-70’s but she trekked all the way up those stairs when we finally arrived to find the room where my friend was recovering. It was a ward with fourteen women and the restrooms hadn’t been cleaned in possibly months. She was so grateful that we had come. We talked and visited, laughed and shared together. Meeting my mom was a real joy for her.

She recovered and a few months later we were planning for Christmas events at the church. We would hold a Yulka for the children in the community. I invited my friend and her children and they happily came and attended. The children all got gifts and loved their evening visiting with Father Frost and the Snow Maiden, as well as hearing the Christmas story. Before she left that night my friend wanted to give me something as well. She knew it was my holiday. She had told her mother back in Kabul about me and my mother. Her mom bought a beautiful piece of fabric and sent it to Moscow. It was from Afghanistan — a place where women had to cover from head to toe. In Kabul women were being beaten for wearing anything considered revealing. This fabric would never have seen the light of day on a woman in Kabul, and yet she went out of her way to send it to me.

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the piece of cloth and eventually had it sewn into a skirt. It is a beautiful reminder of a paradox. It’s from a woman who wasn’t allowed to enjoy its beauty and yet she wanted to share it with someone who could. That someone was me — a Christian — a foreigner in a foreign land. The gift was from my Muslim friend from Afghanistan — a foreigner in a foreign land. I believe that God allowed our paths to cross.


Soon after, we lost contact. I don’t know what happened to my friend but I know that for a number of months we had a connection that transcended where we were from, who we were, or where we were living. God doesn’t call us to be selective about those whom we may encounter on the roads of life but rather, to speak to those beside us. We are to love the alien among us and remember what it feels when we are one too!

This is Advent. As we anticipate the coming of our Messiah may we reach out in love to those who will cross our path. May we show the love of Jesus to the refugee, immigrant or person whose faith is different from ours. Remember, it’s better to give than to receive. Reach out — give the gift of Jesus’ love.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

All Cleaned Up!



Scripture:

Mal. 3:1   See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.  2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
 For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;  3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.  4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Observation:

The prophecy spoke of a time when the Lord, the anticipated Messiah, would come to his temple. God’s intent is that his people be holy as he is holy. Sinfulness has sullied the garments of the priests and those to whom they would minister. The fuller’s soap would be used to make white clothing their very whitest — and the refiner’s fire would burn out all impurities. The new era to be ushered in by the messenger and the Messiah would be a call to holiness and purity for all of God’s people.

Application:

The hope of the Messiah was a restoration of God’s people in his image. I’m not sure that we can comprehend the beautiful intent of God that we find here, for the hope of Advent is wrapped up in a Savior who would step into our messy and dirty world so that we could be made clean.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to a group of women about Christmas. I felt led to speak to them about the women in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The women in the list are not what we would consider “normal.” They aren’t what we we expect in the heritage of our Lord. Each one of them has a rather sorted story…a couple of prostitutes, a victim of rape, a foreigner, and a teenager pregnant out of wedlock. And yet, these are the only women listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. How do these women end up redeemed within the story of the Messiah and even become remembered as those who are faithful? The answer is the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap.

What Jesus offers to this world is forgiveness, but it doesn’t end there. The whole promise is for cleansing and restoration. Because of the work of Christ the prostitute’s actions become holy in the story of God. The pregnant teenager gives birth to the son of God. The message over and over again  is that God has the power to cleanse and restore his people. That which has been tarnished and nearly destroyed can be made absolutely new. This is the promise of holiness and the gift that the Messiah brings to all people.

We anticipate the good news. The message is one of wholeness and completeness. In the Messiah we can become all cleaned up!

Prayer:

Lord, I praise you and thank you for this incredible promise. Amen.


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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Looking for Earthly Solutions



Scripture:

Psalm 20:7    Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8    They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright.
Isaiah 31:1Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help
and who rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the Lord!

Observation:

The temptation to trust in the things of this world is nothing new. The people of God were warned through Moses not to desire the things of Egypt. They had learned about worldly strength through the might of the Egyptian army. Horses and chariots were symbols of power and victory. However, they were to remember that God had sent the chariots and horses to the bottom of the Red Sea.

The God whom we are to serve is more powerful than the things of this world. The horses and chariots signified military strength and a dependence upon human forces to make a difference. Human weapons — guns, bombs, tanks, missiles, airplanes and ships — they will all collapse and fall. Ultimately they are not the things that will resolve the issues that we face. We are to consult the Lord our God. Our pride is to be in the name of the Lord and our trust is to be in him.

Application:

This concept of trust in the Lord is quite radical. There would be some who might say that it was okay back in David’s time, or in the day of Moses, but certainly not today. Can you imagine trusting that God might intervene in the time of war against massive weapons?

There are plenty of folk who also say that they are tired of hearing Christians talk about prayer because that they don’t see Christians taking any action. This may be a valid criticism and it may just be because those who call themselves Christians don’t truly understand prayer. The reality is that when one engages in real prayer, the action of trust requires a response.

True prayer and trusting God are not inaction, but maybe they’ve been equated in that way because they are often seen going hand in hand. Action tends to be seen in trusting in chariots and horses. Could it be that God’s children have been reflecting the wrong kind of trust and hence there results inaction?

Prayer is not just bringing our shopping list of requests before God. Prayer is a place of intimacy with the Lord, where God begins to mold us and to shape us into his holy people. The result is a response and/or action to the things of this world that comes from the heart of God. It is not inaction. Prayer should never result in inaction but instead should result in action that is motivated by our personal relationship of trust in God. Let’s also remember that sometimes patient waiting is also an action!

A lack of trust is taking matters into your own hands, going back to Egypt to buy horses, and amassing as many chariots as possible. Our pride is not to be in the amount of earthly power which we can collect. Our pride is to be in God alone. We are to learn to walk faithfully with our God each and every single day. Jesus spoke up about the injustices of the world and actively ministered to those who were in need. We are to reflect Jesus today. That is why we look to the Holy One of Israel and we pray, taking time to consult with the Lord, and then we participate with God in his activity in the world.

God’s activity in the world never looks like the horses and chariots of Egypt. That’s what the people of Jesus’ day wanted and it’s why so many missed the arrival of the Messiah.

Jesus is here. Jesus is coming again. He won’t be found in earthly solutions. Seek him and we will find him — and then we must actively trust him by following and reflecting him in this world. This is the action we are called to take as his children who are transformed in the intimate space of prayer.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be aware of your leading today and may I not be afraid of the places where you may go. Amen.


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Friday, December 4, 2015

Anticipating the Great Banquet



Scripture:

Matt. 22:1   Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:  2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.  4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’  5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,  6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.  7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Observation:


Speaking in parables, Jesus was trying to teach the leaders about the kingdom of heaven. Their earthly aspirations were clouding their eternal perspective.  Because of their inattention to the things of the eternal kingdom they would miss out on the eschatological marriage feast. They were being invited to a great banquet and within the kingdom there was great anticipation of this remarkable event. It would be like nothing that anyone had ever experienced before and yet, although invitations were sent, there was no response.

The great banquet was lavishly spread with more delicacies than one can imagine for the kingdom is filled with more resources than we need. Instead of participating in the kingdom the leaders misused and abused those who tried to get them to come to the banquet. The result would be the loss of their city, for Jerusalem would be destroyed because of their inexcusable behavior.

This did not signal the end of the great banquet, but instead the invitation went out to everyone who could be found until the hall was completely filled. The Master prepared a great banquet and while there should have been those who were awaiting with anticipation, they missed it for they were too preoccupied with themselves.

Application:

Last evening I was walking in the Plaza area of Kansas City. It’s a beautiful place to be around during the Christmas season for it is beautifully decorated for the holiday. As I looked out over the row of brightly lit shops I recognized a location where there used to be a store that sold beautiful fabrics. I remember winter 33 years ago when my mother and I came down to Kaplan's Fabrics on a snowy day to purchase elegant lace fabric to add to her wedding dress which she had worn 35 years previous — and to prepare it for my wedding which would be in just a few short months. I was so excited to think about all the preparations and was eagerly anticipating my wedding and marriage.

This is the way that it’s supposed to be — excitement and anticipation of the great banquet when we will be seated at the table with our Lord. We are in the season of Advent — where we await with longing the coming of our Messiah, Jesus Christ. We want to be at that great banquet but at the same time we live in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to the kingdom of heaven. They may even kill those who are bringing the invitation to the kingdom. Cities may be lost because of the foolishness of their leaders. But the Master never stops preparing the great banquet.

Just as I was anticipating a wedding so years ago, so we anticipate being reunited with our bridegroom, Jesus. We are already invited to participate in the bounty of the kingdom, sharing and inviting those around us to come. The day will come when all will be prepared and we will be ushered into his holy presence and we will sit at the table and feast. Until that day we we are called to faithful anticipation of the great banquet, being prepared for you and me.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to live faithfully in anticipation of what you are doing in and through your kingdom work. Amen.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Perfect Way



Scripture:

Psalm 18:30     This God—his way is perfect;
        the promise of the LORD proves true;
        he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

Observation:

The Psalmist acknowledges the ways of God and that God’s way is perfect. This is the way of holiness for it is God’s plan that his people follow the pathway that leads them into reflecting his holiness in all things. For those on the journey, God becomes the shield, the grace that continually draws us upward as we trust and take refuge in him. God’s people live in a responsive spirit to his gentle nudges as he keeps us on the perfect way.

Application:

It’s easy to misunderstand the ways of God and imagine that God has designed a “perfect” path for each of us. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we may always be trying to look for the path and we may have a tendency to punish ourselves when we think that we have failed to stay exactly on the path which God has created for us. That is not the Psalmists understanding.

The perfect path is the one that leads us into a deeper walk with God. He is perfect — perfect in his holiness. The perfect path allows us to become what he intended us to be — God’s holy people. There may be detours that we take along the way but it doesn’t mean that we can’t be drawn back into the journey where we are being formed and shaped into his image.

Too often we punish ourselves when we feel that we have failed to live up to a perfect way that God may have planned for our lives. While there are consequences for sin which we may scar us for life, God’s grace continually reaches out as a welcoming shield for those who will take refuge in him. No matter how marred our lives have become from the things of this world, God can take us and clean us up until we become perfect — fulfilling the purpose for which we have been created, which is to reflect Christ. While I may still have the scars from this life, Jesus can be reflected in me. This is the promise of the LORD — and it proves true. Remember, this is David who is writing — the same David who had plenty of times in life when he really messed up.

The perfect way is not out of our reach, for knowing Christ is never out of reach. Take refuge in allowing him to lead onto the pathway of holiness. This is God’s way, and it is perfect.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the provision of your perfect way. 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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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A remnant



Scripture:

Amos 3:12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

Observation:


The shepherd was responsible for all of the sheep. If any were lost, the shepherd would have to pay the owner for that loss. Therefore, when a lion attacked one of the sheep, the shepherd would try to retrieve the left-over parts to prove to the owner that there had been an attack and that the shepherd would not have to pay for the loss. That’s why a shepherd would rescue a couple legs or the piece of an ear. Just a little bit — but unfortunately, not the whole animal.

God’s people had moved to places of relative safety and some were dwelling in Samaria and beyond. They may have settled into lives of oriental luxury which may have been the reference to the couch and the bed.

God’s people may have been trying to save themselves by cozying up with the world. Sadly they were placing themselves within the grasp of the lion. A remnant would be saved, but just enough for the master to be able to prove that yes, these truly were his children. But because of their folly and their wanderings many would be lost.

Application:

God’s people didn’t want to listen to the words of the prophets. They wanted to fit in with the rest of the world and so they gave up their first love and spent themselves with the things of the world. The warning was for God’s people then and God’s people now.

Jesus would come to save the remnant. In the advent season we find hope in these words. For those who do not seek out a place of safety among the temporal things of this world will be saved.

It’s tempting to find peace and safety among the things that the world has to offer but Jesus has promised that he will care for us. As we walk through this season of anticipation and the hope that we find in the coming Savior, may we continually seek his face and draw closer to him. Pray to resist the temptation to recline on the luxurious couches the world has to offer and instead, recline in our blessed Savior who has promised to love and care for us.

Psalm 119:1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2  Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3  who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your blessed promises. 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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