Sunday, January 31, 2016

Stand in His Holy Place



Scripture:


Psa. 24:3        Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
        And who shall stand in his holy place?
4     Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
        who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
        and do not swear deceitfully.
5     They will receive blessing from the LORD,
        and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6     Such is the company of those who seek him,
        who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Observation:

God’s loving invitation for his people continually reaches out us in a desire for us to join him, standing in his holy place. His intention is that we would all be his holy people, ascend the hill and fellowship with him.

His holy hill leads us to the very holy of holies of God, but only those who are righteous may stand in his presence. This is not because of some kind of punishment, but because of the purity of God’s holy love which destroys all impurities. He wants us to be in his presence, united with him. This is the goal of the holy life.

The holy life looks much different from the unholy life with a heart transformation that results in a purity of motivation and affects the ways in which we use our bodies — as the hands and feet of the LORD on a daily basis. Those with clean hands and pure hearts lead transformed lives that do not succumb to the desires of the flesh.

God is the salvation of his people and those who seek his face may stand in the company of the God of Jacob.

Application:

I’m not sure that we can fully comprehend what it means to be invited into the holy place of God most high. The language here reminds us of an invitation into the tent of meeting or the holy of holies. We are being called up into God’s presence and he wants to share our company! That’s an amazing thing and yet there is a cost attached. Too many want to live a type of cheap Christianity, one that requires very little of us. We may declare that we are culturally Christian but there is no pure heart and nor are there clean hands.

What is it that drives you from day to day? Is it a desire to climb the holy hill of God and stand in his holy place? Unfortunately there are too many things of this world that may be a distraction to that goal. We have to work. We want to spend time with family. We like to hand out with friends. Our hobby is taking much of our time, money and attention. While all of these things may not be bad, if they keep us from what God really desires for us they will keep us from reaching what he has in store for all of us.

Seeking the face of God results in reflecting him back to the world. His holy light shines into the dark corners of our lives and reveals the things which are unholy and cleanses them. A pure heart is suddenly filled with the things of God. The things that break his heart, break our hearts. His passions and motivations become our passions and motivations for as we ascend the hill we become more and more united with him.

As our hearts experience change the results will be seen in our behaviors. Our hands will become clean as we no longer desire to engage in activities which do not reflect the very nature of God. Our lives become an authentic expression and reflection of our holy God as we participate in his works and mission in this world. His holy love so fills us that there is no longer room for sin to grow. We are continually drawn to his face and this becomes the driving force of all that we do in life. As a result, we continue the upward climb empowered by the Holy Spirit, in confidence that we will stand in his holy place.

Prayer:


Lord, please continue to fill me so that my heart and hands reflect you.  Amen.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

What Are You Willing to Abandon?



Scripture:

Hebrews 10:35 Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.  36 For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

37     For yet “in a very little while,
        the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
38     but my righteous one will live by faith.
        My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.”

39 But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

Observation:

The faith that we have received through Christ is precious. This is not just something which should be easily tossed away or abandoned, but it is something to which we cling our entire lives. We are not to become victims of the world’s temptations which will destroy our path to heaven but we are to continue on in faith.

Those who have led others to a place of faith hold dearly to the deep conviction and prayer that none will be lost. The author of Hebrews was passionately concerned about those who had come to faith shrinking back. They would be lost! The plea is to hold steadfast to the faith which has been received. This is not a sprint, but an endurance race that brings us to the very end of our life’s journey.

The opening verse reflects upon the idea of abandonment and this is a serious charge, as if this were a child who abandons their parents. The result is disastrous as all ties with their family and relationships that can bring security are destroyed. In conversion we experience this great transference from the power of darkness into the kingdom of light in which we live in light, but the light of Christ also shines into every moment of our being.

Those who have been transformed and endure do not shrink back. They engage in intentional discipleship and refuse to abandon that which ties them so firmly to the Father.

Application:

We moved to Moscow, Russia in 1992. It’s hard to believe that 24 years have passed and the world has changed. In those early years of the roaring 90’s in Russia there was a rapid change as people grasped at the new-found economic opportunities. This included, for some, the appropriation of vast amounts of wealth. It was something that many had never before encountered and so adjusting to this new reality was, at times, a bit cumbersome. There were jokes about the “New Rich Russians” and the way in which they treated their new material purchases. Obviously, this was not the life of the ordinary individual, but simply for a handful. It was not uncommon for one of these individuals to purchase a very expensive car with cash. Insurance was difficult to obtain in those days and therefore, getting in an accident was pretty much an adventure which left few positive options. I recall reading an article in a newspaper about the numerous cases where these beautiful new cars would be totaled and the driver would get out, throw the keys into the car, and walk away. They simply abandoned the vehicles and moved on. They had used them up and were finished with them.

None of us would ever like to believe that we would treat our faith the same way, but maybe we have. We may have been excited early on with our newfound faith in Jesus Christ. Or, maybe you were raised in the church and it was just always something that was there that become normal to you. But now, the world has changed and there are bigger and better and more exciting adventures to be had. Instead of caring for and gently nurturing what we have been given, we throw in the keys and walk away.

My prayer and deepest conviction is that we would have no desire to leave the faith which has been so beautifully and sacrificially gifted to us. But just as we need to care for and maintain the material things which we have in this world, so we must be intentional about maintaining the precious spiritual gift which we have been given. That’s why we are encouraged to endure, and endurance has to do with discipleship. To not abandon what we have learned means that we must intentionally maintain it until the very end. Enduring is intentionality and self-discipline. This requires God’s people to be in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in fellowship with one another and in service to the kingdom. All of these lead to the intentional growth dimension of Christ’s followers and this is the only way we cannot shrink back.

We have received a priceless gift and we’ve been asked to lovingly steward and care for that gift until Christ returns. This is the gift of our faith, both individually and collectively. Will we toss in the keys and abandon our faith on the side of the road, or will we be willing to intentionally care for and endure until the end? I believe we should declare with the author to the Hebrews, “we are not among those who shrink back.” Amen!

Prayer:
Lord, please empower me through your Holy Spirit to live and endure in relationship with you.  Amen.
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Friday, January 29, 2016

Of Human Power and Godly Hope



Scripture:

Psa. 118:8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
        than to put confidence in mortals.
9     It is better to take refuge in the LORD
        than to put confidence in princes.

Observation:

The Psalmist understood the struggles of life and the desire for strength and security. This was not something that the things of the world could offer and hope was only to be found in the LORD. People and whatever power they may be able to exert would eventually be exhausted and the “mortality” of man revealed. Princes represented the political leaders of the day who would tickle the ears of their followers but would eventually let them down. When it comes to really relying, depending on or trusting in this life, we must turn to the LORD.

Application:

We are being exposed to political leaders who are promising us just about everything under the sun. The global economy is struggling for some kind of equilibrium and the geopolitical landscape is shaken with uncertainty. No matter what a person tries to promise us there are far too many factors which are beyond their reach or control. No human being — no prince — will be our good angel in whom we should put our trust.

There is no Gospel but the good news of Jesus Christ and what he teaches us is radically counter-cultural to things of this world. Mortal solutions to our needs will only be temporal and may step upon the needs of others. This is not the way of Christ! He is our LORD and we are to rest and rely upon him.

We need to radically disconnect from the power systems of this world and rest in Godly hope. For those who have been followers of Jesus Christ for a long time, it’s what we’ve been taught since our childhood. However, it seems hard to put into practice in the daily grind of life. The words of the Psalmist remind us of the intentionality of the prayer and we are invited to join in. Leave the mortal world and the power systems to themselves and thoroughly anchor in the LORD — every day!

Prayer:

Lord, your gentle reminder to trust you as my refuge is a revelation of your great love for us. Thank you.  Amen.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Inheritance



Scripture:


Psa. 119:57        The LORD is my portion;
        I promise to keep your words.
58     I implore your favor with all my heart;
        be gracious to me according to your promise.
59     When I think of your ways,
        I turn my feet to your decrees;
60     I hurry and do not delay
        to keep your commandments.
61     Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
        I do not forget your law.
62     At midnight I rise to praise you,
        because of your righteous ordinances.
63     I am a companion of all who fear you,
        of those who keep your precepts.
64     The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love;
        teach me your statutes.

Observation:

The Psalmist understands the beauty of God’s word and the significance to life. The LORD becomes the portion, or inheritance. We become heirs of God’s precepts and are fed by all that this means for us. We are provided for by way of promise. We turn to God’s decrees and they lead us as we journey through life. The commandments become a part of our being and therefore there is no hesitation to follow. Because of the inheritance of the Word the law is not forgotten and we spend time in the quiet of our lives to study and pray.

We are drawn to others who share our love for the word and to those who follow God’s leading in their lives. As we study the Scriptures we are filled with the steadfast love of the Lord. God’s Word is the beautiful inheritance which brings the word to life.

Application:

Driving to the airport today I was listening to a preacher on the radio. I enjoy doing that from time to time while I travel, hearing different voices from across the country. Today’s preacher was really good and giving an excellent exegetical sermon on Paul’s ministry in Athens. I was thoroughly engaged in what I was hearing. I thought about the depth of study involved in the preparation for that sermon and all that I was learning from the Apostle’s experience.

What struck me about the sermon was the very depth of the scripture that spoke to me from across the ages. That is the beauty of studying the word. It is in this place that we learn the statues of God. This is something that the Psalmist had come to understand in his personal life. He created space where he was quiet and meditated on the word and in doing so it became a part of the very fiber of his being. He lived in accordance with God’s precepts because they were so familiar to him.

Serious study of the word is vital to our Christian lives. We cannot live according to the commands or the precepts of God if we don’t know what they are! This takes commitment and discipline on our part. We won’t know the Bible if we never read it and I’m afraid too many people “think” they know the Scriptures when, in fact, they do not. If we really knew the word, we would know the living Word and we would be a reflection of him. If we are not serious about our study we will never know Christ.

Our inheritance — the gift that we are to receive is knowing the Word. It’s ours to claim if only we will take the time to fully receive it!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for this incredible inheritance.  Amen.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Exasperation



Scripture:

John 5:2   Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.  3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Observation:

There are numerous opinions regarding the lame man who was laying beside the pool. Some think that his response was rather snarky. Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well. He has no clue who Jesus is and his response is probably laced with sarcasm. His only understanding of how to get well has to do with the water being stirred up. Therefore he takes the time to explain to Jesus how healing should happen. He has to be the first one into the water but the problem is that he’s been there a long time and he has never been first. So sure, he’d like to be healed, but as far as he knows, it’s not going to happen.

He doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question. He probably thought the question was absurd because he would only be lying there if he wanted to be healed. He is exasperated and may have had his heart crushed as a result of his long and extended illness. Hope was not something that he lived with and instead, his illness got the better of him. Day after day he watched others get into the water before him and he allowed anger and bitterness to work its way into his heart.

Suddenly the Messiah was before him but he’s so frustrated with life, he can’t see who he is. Jesus asks him a question and he’s exasperated but maybe hoping that this man will help him get to the water first. It is in this moment that we see God’s prevenient grace at work — reaching out to the one who is feeling hopeless and very sorry for himself.

He really doesn’t see that there is any hope that he will ever be healed. Jesus sees him and all of his needs. In grace he approaches the one who has come to his wits end and holds out a hand of hope. Instead of grasping the hand the man continues to complain. Jesus doesn’t give up and doesn’t argue with the man. He simply tells the man to get up and walk. Can you imagine that the man was overwhelmed when suddenly he was able to get up and walk. In his place of exasperation, this unworthy man received a great gift of healing.

Application:


I think that sometimes we have a hard time understanding or accepting God’s grace. We may even convince ourselves that God can’t reach us in our current condition. Interestingly Jesus didn’t expect anything of this man who couldn’t even answer his question in a simply way; yet, Jesus healed him.

The beauty of the story is that Jesus did not turn away. There are days when we find ourselves in the place of the lame man. Life will have gotten us down, and even when Jesus reaches out to us we will give some kind of a snarky response out of our exasperation. Jesus knew the man’s need, and he knows ours too.

The hymn by Annie Flint invites to remember that his great love and grace will always be enough.

        He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

        When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

        Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

        His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.


Relax and live into the grace of God extended to us today.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your overwhelming love.  Amen.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Consider the Poor



Scripture:

Psalm 41:1     Happy are those who consider the poor;
        the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.

Observation:
 
David finds himself in a time and place of trouble. He has been sick, struggling with emotional and physical health, and in need of support from God and those around him. David has been generous to those who have been in need and he is affirming that the Lord does indeed help those who have helped others.

In many ways this Psalm sounds like a prelude to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where we are reminded to show mercy because our God is merciful. The entire construct of considering or caring for the poor revolves around the nature of God. Our God is a holy God, and just as God is holy, so we are to be holy. The nature of God is merciful, and we are to show mercy as he is merciful. We are to consider the poor, for God considers the poor.

Jesus, by entering into humanity, became poor for us so that we might obtain his mercy. This generosity is reflected in all that Christ has done for us, and when we minister to those in poverty, we are ministering to Christ. Jesus reminded his followers that when they fed the hungry and ministered to the needs of the poor they were actually ministering to him. It is in gratitude for what God has done for us that we freely give to others and consider the poor.

Application:

I believe there is more poverty surrounding us on a daily basis than most of us would want to believe. Many children arrive at school hungry every day. Schools are asking volunteers to help them fill backpacks with food for children to take home for the weekend to make sure they will be fed. Single parents struggle to care for their families. There are those who face blow after blow in life that makes it impossible to get on their feet.

“Happy are those who consider the poor.” These are the words that we receive from the Psalmist and it is a pronouncement for God’s followers. Many people who find themselves in poverty are there as a result of their circumstances. Unfortunately the pathways out of poverty or the opportunities to get out have not always been made clear. Too often we fail to realize that we may have had numerous doors opened for us that have made our current place in life possible. Those doors have not been opened for everyone so we are reminded — “consider the poor.”

God’s children have always been called to care for the poor. By ministering to the poor we are privileged to worship the Lord. David was faithful in caring for the poor and in the time of his need, the LORD delivered him.  May we love and care for the poor out of our love and  devotion to Christ.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the clear direction you provide for us.  Amen.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Those Who Seem Influential



Scripture:


Galatians 2:6  And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. (ESV)

Observation:

Paul had been in Jerusalem for a church meeting. It was in this place that there were discussions regarding Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. There were those who opposed him. They were legalistic and they were of the circumcision party. To become a Christian, in their eyes, meant more of a conversion to Judaism. They were in strong opposition to the ministry of Paul and this was a problem.

Paul points out that they were influential in their own eyes and believed that what they had to offer the church was of more value than his ministry. They wanted Paul to recognize their influence and authority. They had positions which they believed gave them power. Paul would recognize no authority, except that which was approved by God.

Application:

Our world is filled with people who are seemingly influential. We have a choice as to how we will respond to these individuals. We can be swayed and swoon over their positions, or we can continue to seek the face of God.

Human positions mean nothing to God.

God cares much more about authentic lived-out faith.

Those who seem influential will create unnecessary obstacles to faith, including a series of hoops though which one needs to jump. Unfortunately those who are seemingly influential may have positional power and will use that to their advantage. They make the rules about those who are welcomed to their table and often that invitation comes at a price. For Paul’s friend Titus, it meant circumcision. They wanted him to look like them!

What happens when those who seem influential expect everyone else to conform to them? They make themselves the “norm” and to be acceptable you must be as much like them as possible. Success and power are measured by conformity to the norm.  Paul soundly rejected this notion and made it clear that God did as well.

We are not to be swayed by those who may seem influential and nor are we to conform to their standards. Paul’s standard was found in the kingdom of God where the barriers had all been destroyed by Christ. We will all encounter those who believe that they are influential and in that moment we are to seek the voice of God. He is to be our influencer and we are to live as a genuine reflection of him. 

Prayer:

Lord, may you be the great influencer of my faith.  Amen.


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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Look Up!



Scripture:

John 4:35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Observation:

Jesus had been talking with the woman at the well and now she had gone off into town to tell people what she had learned from him. The disciples had been out looking for food and when they returned they had this conversation with Jesus. Obviously they were all working together in his ministry but they had no idea about the encounter which had just taken place with the Samaritan woman. In just a few moments people would be streaming from the town and out to the well to hear Jesus tell the story in his own words. Both physically and metaphorically Jesus was telling the disciples to look up and see the harvest. The harvest would literally soon be walking toward them.

The harvest was going to come from an unusual source. The disciples probably had their own ideas of a “normal” harvest and I’m sure it didn’t include the Samaritans! The seeds were certainly not planted by the disciples for they didn’t really like the Samaritans. Now, Jesus was telling them to look up and see that there was a harvest coming right toward them that was ready to harvest.

They were simply to realize that when God was involved, things would and could happen in a supernatural way. No single person could claim the credit for the harvest for this was God’s doing when his people were obedient and followed his lead.

They were to lift up their eyes — their thoughts and their insights, for God was at work!

Application:

I hear a lot of folks bemoaning the fact that Christianity is in decline these days — at least, seemingly so — in the US. But could it be that we are simply expecting a particular type of harvest and are refusing to see what God is already preparing? What I think I hear people bemoaning is that the Anglo church in America isn’t growing. There are a number of reasons for this but one single fact is demographics. The shift in the United States population is happening at a rapid rate and it’s time that we looked up and noticed what was happening. Society looks different than it did fifty years ago — and so should the church!

Jesus took the disciples into a place that they didn’t consider worthy of being harvested! What an attitude. Surely we wouldn’t have this attitude, would we? Are we waiting four months for just the “right” harvest field? Jesus says, “look up!” Look up! Get your heads out of your own world and culture and see what is happening to the kingdom right in front of you. There is a harvest field — it just may not look like what you thought.

Just a few weeks ago a man walked off a cliff in southern California while looking at his smart phone. He died because he didn’t look up. Church — we may just die if we don’t look up and see the ways in which God is at work in our world.

Prayer:


Lord, please help me to look up and open my eyes to your harvest.  Amen.


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Friday, January 22, 2016

The Nature of Worship



Scripture:

John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

Observation:

Jesus is conversing with the Samaritan woman. There were sharp disagreements between the Jews and the Samaritans and this included the place of worship. Jesus’ words are both prophetic and evangelistic. Because of his action in the world there is already and will be a new way to worship God. No longer will it be necessary to go to Jerusalem to worship in the temple made by human hands because “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The good news for her was that the nature of worship was much more important than the place of worship. This woman — a Samaritan who had been married multiple times and did not have a good reputation — would have access to the throne room of God because the nature of worship would be radically changed for those who lived in the Spirit.

Application:

Jesus was breaking down every possible obstacle to this woman’s worship of the Father. She had everything stacked against her and yet, Jesus, was able to break down those barriers. He is a model for us and an example of how we are to be engaged in reaching our world for him.

This begs the question as to whether we have created too many barriers to our worship. Yes, there are those who have worked hard to make “seeker sensitive” services, but is that really the place where the barriers need to be removed? I would argue that the barriers that Jesus removed for this woman had everything with the nature of worship and providing a pathway for her participation. He was sitting at the well talking to her and showing her the way right at the point of her deepest need. The pathway to worship was initiated not by what happened at the temple, but by his going out and meeting a needy woman at a well in the middle of the day.

I think it’s possible that we have spent much time and energy trying to make the type of worship that practice in church the place where the barriers come done and possibly in doing so, we have watered down the true nature of worship. I don’t think the barriers are found in church but are found in us! We are afraid to go to the woman who is at the well in the middle of the day — the unfavorable person with whom no one wants to speak. It’s easy to try and change the worship service and hope people will come — but it’s much harder to go to the sinner’s hang-out and lead them by the hand into the very nature of worship.

Jesus knew how to do this because he knew how to be intimate with God. It could be that we are simply so unfamiliar with intimacy with God that we don’t know how to lead anyone else to that place.  We must first personally discover the nature of worship before we can lead anyone else there.

The invitation is to worship the Father in spirit and truth. This is the nature of worship which the Father desires from you and from me. Let’s begin in that space and then reach out following the model of Christ to lead others in the same direction.

Prayer:

Lord, may I faithfully serve you and worship you.  Amen.


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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Divine Necessity



Scripture:

John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Observation:


There is a divine necessity indicated in the word “must.” These words of John the Baptist are spoken out of his own understanding of his relationship to Jesus. At this point his ministry and followers began to decrease because the followers of Jesus were increasing. He understood this and knew his own role in the bigger picture.

John’s disciples didn’t really like what they were seeing and they felt there was a rivalry developing between the ministry of John and that of Jesus. John refused to become envious because the divine necessity was in the forefront of his mind. He understood that Jesus “must” increase.

While this was a conversation about ministry, we also see the divine necessity in our own personal spiritual lives. It’s not that the nature of Jesus changes, that he becomes more than he already is, but that the space that he occupies in our lives increases. Our personal self interest and/or selfishness decreases as he increases in our lives. The result is freedom from envy and this becomes a crossing point in history. The old era is decreasing and giving voice to the new era of the Messiah. John’s response is one of joy as he declares the divine necessity of this change and recognizes the authority of Christ.

Application:

These words of John ought to be the mantra of every follower of Jesus Christ. The only problem is that we can get caught in the same emotions in which the disciples of John found themselves. They were struggling with envy. They had worked hard together with John and their ministry had been fruitful. Now, this new guy comes along and everything begins to change. They are no longer as popular as they had been and they are not sure what to do about it.

It’s easy to get caught up in envy and look at what is happening in the life of others. We wonder why things are happening for them and they don’t seem to be happening for us! This focus on self simply means that we are still large and in charge of our own lives. This scripture is a call for us to live into our relationship with Christ and allow him to radically transform us. We are to participate in fellowship with the holy Trinity and become so engaged that our self-centeredness eventually disappears in the will of God. His heart becomes our heart as we live into the divine necessity.

The “must” of this verse is central for it is necessary for us to grow spiritually. Following Christ is not a static adventure. If we refuse to grow, we will die.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the possibility of growing in you.  Amen.


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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Best Gift



Scripture:

John 3:16   “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Observation:

This verse, so well known, can easily be taken for granted. In these few words we find expressed the deep and abiding love of God for his creation. Gifts of great value are evidence of affection and that’s why the verse begins with an expression of God’s love. God loved the world so much that he was willing to give his very best as a gift. He didn’t create something to be used as a sacrifice, but chose to give his only begotten son for us.

The foreshadowing of this event begins when Abraham is asked to give up his son Isaac. This father-son love is a bond which is difficult to explain and the love of God is beyond our comprehension. John Chrysostom writes, “We put gold necklaces on ourselves and even on our pets but neglect our Lord who goes about naked and passes from door to door. . . . He gladly goes hungry so that you may be fed; naked so that he may provide you with the materials for a garment of incorruption, yet we will not even give up any of our own food or clothing for him. “ (HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 27.2–3.) That which we are willing to surrender will reveal the depth of our love.

We cannot truly accept the gift unless we recognize the cost involved. It is in that cost that the love of God is revealed to us and in accepting the gift we also realize the implications for our own lives. We are restored as God’s children and as such, we continue to give the best gift to the world around us. That is why Chrysostom argued in his sermon that we too are to sacrifice to reach a world in great need. Because God loved us he gave us the best gift. Because God loves us, we give others the best that we have.

Application:

This is one of those verses that we are encouraged to memorize from a young age. While that is a good thing, it may also mean that we have become so familiar with the words that we take them for granted. The implications are huge.

We’ve just passed through the Christmas season and this is a time of gift-giving and receiving. It’s a time when we are challenged to think about what it is that we want to give others. I know that for most of us we try to imagine what it is that they may want, or what could be of significance to them for we want to give the best gift.

God gave the gift that cost him everything. He sent his only son — the son who was of his own nature. This wasn’t something or someone that God had created for companionship or to be a sacrifice, but his son, eternally begotten from the beginning of time. God loved the whole world, so much so, that he gave up the very thing that was most precious to bring us salvation.

What are we willing to do to bring the good news of salvation to the lost around us? It seems that the idea of evangelism has lost some of its luster these days. Maybe we have been frustrated with programs and tactics of the past but that should never dampen our passion for those whom God loves! We have been blessed with the best gift but we are also responsible to pass it on. The gift is not just for us to hang onto and enjoy, but there is enough to share.

The best gifts have some kind of cost involved — whether personal or financial. If we are to help share the best gift, we must be willing to pay the cost. God loves the whole world. We are to be his ambassadors of love sharing his gift. Are we willing?

Prayer:

Lord, the thought of your gift overwhelms me. Thank you is not enough — but I am so grateful for what you have done. Amen.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

It’s Time To Grow Up



Scripture:

Ephesians 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Observation:


Paul was encouraging those who had come to know Christ in Ephesus to grow in their faith. He needed to speak the truth to them, both by his words and his actions. Just as a living human being must continue to grow to remain alive, so a living spiritual being must grow. If we stop feeding ourselves physically, we will die and the same is true spiritually. Every follower of Jesus Christ must continue on their spiritual journey and grow.

This growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum but within the context of a community of faith. As we grow up into Christ we are also “joined and knit together” with others in the community of faith. It is when Christ is leading the “joining and knitting” that things will come together nicely and become what he has in mind. When we begin to take into our own hands the “joining and the knitting” — who knows what the final product will look like! The entire pattern will be lost and will no longer function the way in which God had planned. There will be a loss of growth.

These consequences are not what God intends for his children and therefore we come back to the admonition to listen to the words of truth spoken to us and grow up into Christ. When we all, as a community, are sensitive to his leading, then the body will be beautifully knit together, will be filled with the Spirit and will work properly. This is God’s desire for his people so let us join with him, and grow up!

Application:

I’m afraid that we have not always been intentional about helping one another “grow up” in our faith. John Wesley’s Methodist Societies were places of discipleship and accountability. The questions that they asked one another were to be spoken in truth and love. The result was a group of individuals who were growing radically in their faith.

The Sunday School was patterned after the work of Wesley. I find it interesting that somewhere along the way we shifted from accountability to Bible Study. I think we are much more comfortable with quietly sitting and listening to a lesson than answering difficult questions of accountability in front of one another.

Questions in the Methodist societies used to include:
1) How does your soul prosper?
2) What means of grace have you attended in the past week?
3) What opportunities have you had for ministry and how have you availed yourself of them?
4) What temptations have you faced and how did you respond?

Can you imagine what would happen in our small groups if we took time to ask one another these kinds of questions — and if we truthfully answered!

Paul knew that this type of accountability was necessary for there to be spiritual growth among the people of Ephesus. I think that we have to look at what Paul sees as the intended result of this type of honesty and growth and that is a beautifully knit together community of faith that functions well and produces fruit. If we are part of a community that does not function well, is not producing fruit and looks a tad mismatched — maybe we ought to back up and see whether we are growing spiritually. More than likely that is the root cause of the dysfunction. There is still time for us to speak truth to one another and grow in God’s grace. The dysfunction can be replaced with function as God carefully rejoins us together in his beautiful pattern.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your patient love that graciously leads us in growth. Amen.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

What’s the Word Today?



Scripture:

13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Observation:

God’s children are on this journey together and as such are to be an encouragement to one another. When a brother or a sister seems to be wandering off it should break our heart. Our passions and desires should be for the whole community of faith and therefore we are to speak words which keep us focused in the direction of Christ on a daily basis.

If we do not support and encourage one another we may find it easy and convenient to move into a life of sin. This may not be overt sin to begin with, but it can be an attitude of mind which may lead to being deceived. This deception can eventually harden ones heart and may cause permanent damage both to the individual and the community as a whole. That’s why we are not to be afraid to speak up and embolden one another daily with a word of encouragement.

Application:

I’m afraid that we don’t do all that well at taking responsibility for the spiritual community as a whole. Our focus tends to be quite individualized and yet, we are encouraged over and over again to remember that we are part of an entire community of faith. It is God’ plan that we journey in our faith together and that we are accountable to one another.

We have to be careful and not interpret this scripture in a way that makes us believe that we are to be police enforcers of others’ spiritual lives. What it does mean is that God’s people are to be speaking the word to one another every day. In other words — share the good news about Jesus Christ and what that means for the ways in which we are to live! Talk about the positives that give direction and in doing so, the pathway becomes clear. It also becomes quite obvious that there are those who will not listen and will choose to go their own way.

All of God’s children are to be in a process of discipleship. This occurs when we take responsibility for one another within the community of faith. Let’s not be afraid to share a word with our sister or brother today and learn together what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me be willing to listen to the words of others that may direct and shape my life.  Amen.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

He Is Not Ashamed



Scripture:

Hebrews 2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,  12 saying,
    “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
        in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
13 And again,
    “I will put my trust in him.”
And again,
    “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”

Observation:

Holiness or sanctification is God’s plan for his people. His desire is that all will be like him and reflect his holy love to the world. We are sanctified through participation with Jesus Christ. As a result both we and Jesus have the same Father and Jesus is not ashamed of this fact! Jesus came to this earth so that we come become his brothers and sisters. He is willing to claim us and let the whole world know that we are his!

Application:

I’m guessing that we have all been around that friend or family member that likes to do things that we all find a bit embarrassing. There’s that moment when you want to turn your head and pretend like you really don’t know them or you don’t want people to know that they are with you!

Just imagine what it’s like for Jesus when he looks at our behaviors. There have got to be times when he wants to turn his head and pretend as if he doesn’t know us! He must be ashamed by the way in which we carry on the family name “Christian” for all the world to see.

And yet we are told that he is not ashamed. Just as a parent continues to love their child through all the crazy antics of life, so Jesus, our brother continues loving us. He is not ashamed to call us his siblings. That is an overwhelming thought when we consider how unworthy we are to be a part of his family.

We are privileged to be invited into the family of God. We are made holy by our holy older brother who is not ashamed of us — no matter what! That is holy love.

May we take the time to simply soak in the thought of his holy and overwhelming love for us. We are very blessed children!

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for loving me even when I am unlovely.  Amen.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Blame Game



Scripture:

Genesis 3:12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Observation:

The man and the woman were living a peaceful life in paradise when suddenly the serpent came and tempted them. They succumbed to the temptation and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result their relationship with God, their creator, was changed. No longer were they comfortable spending time in God’s presence but they went and hid themselves. God knew that something was wrong.

As God reached out to them he discovered what had happened and the blame game began. The man blamed both the woman and God for eating the fruit. God gave the man the woman so obviously his sin was God’s fault. If only God hadn’t have created that woman! It was also the woman’s fault for she handed him the fruit. 

God gave the woman a moment to respond as well. The blame game went even further and she told him that it was the fault of the serpent. He had deceived her — she really didn’t know what she was doing — and so she ate.

Neither the man nor the woman took responsibility for their own actions. God had made it clear that they were not to eat from that tree but it was easier to blame something else than to confess their own sin.

Application:


It’s easy to get caught in the blame game. Taking responsibility for our own actions is not something that we like to do. We would probably fit right in there with Adam and Eve, pointing fingers at others and saying that they made us do it!

We will face temptations in life and we must consider how we will respond. We have personal responsibility when it comes to the choices we make. Blaming someone else for our circumstances simply doesn’t work.

If we find ourselves in the midst of difficulty don’t give in to the temptation to blame everyone else around you. Adam and Eve refused to admit  that they had been personally disobedient. They had to live with the consequences of their action  and the sad truth is that the consequences were far reaching, not just in their own lives but in generations to come.

When we stop playing the blame game, God can work. He needs to get at the root issues in our own lives. Blaming others is simply a cover up for our own short comings. God wants to help us in our areas of weakness and this can only be done when we come before him as authentic and transparent followers. We need God to touch us at the point of our greatest weakness for in that moment we become strong. Blaming never allows for God to do his transformational work in and through us. It’s time to stop and let God, through the Holy Spirit, make us strong.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your work in and through us. Please help me not to blame others for where I find myself in life.  Amen.
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Monday, January 11, 2016

Grace Upon Grace



Scripture:


John 1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 

Observation:

Jesus, the Word became flesh. It is in this season of year that we continue to thank God and celebrate the gift of Jesus. As a result we have received the incredible gift of grace that has been bestowed upon humanity. The ways in which God has continually reached out to humanity reach us as wave upon wave of his grace. It is at the moment in which we need his gracious response to our need that his grace is received. This grace is new day by day and moment by moment for it becomes specific to our very need.  This grace upon grace comes upon us like the waves of the ocean, time and time again, the superabundance of God’s love for his people.

Application:

Grace is not something that was talked about much in my tradition. Instead there was more of a focus upon our own personal engagement in living a lifestyle of holiness. The result was that, at times, we felt almost as if grace ended when we were saved. We understood the prevenient grace that reached out to us that brought us to salvation but somehow not the grace that would continue to come to us in our time of need.

This “grace upon grace” is for those who are his followers. It is not a pile up of grace from which we pick and choose, but it is instead grace which flows out to us in the everyday moments of life. No matter where we are in our spiritual journey there will be those moments when we need a sense of his holy presence helping and leading us through.

There will be moments when we will disappoint our Lord.

There will be the times when others will disappoint us.

Our hearts will be broken.

We will need to ask forgiveness.

We will mess up.

And it’s in that moment that the waves of grace come washing over us, bringing healing to our place of woundedness.

The fullness of Christ is revealed to us when we realize he is enough. His grace is enough for yesterday, today and tomorrow. We are lavished with his “grace upon grace.”

Prayer:

Lord, words cannot express the gratitude for your great grace.  Amen.
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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Undeterred



Scripture:

Luke 9:51   When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;  53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  55 But he turned and rebuked them.  56 Then they went on to another village.

Observation:

Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem and eventually to his death and resurrection. The Samaritans were not unkind to pilgrims traveling through to Jerusalem, but they chose not to show hospitality to Jesus. His reputation had gone before him and they knew of the miracles he had performed. They wanted him to put on a “show” for them, but this was not to be his purpose. He was rejected by these people because he would not perform for them.

Jesus knew his mission and continued on toward Jerusalem. At the same time he was not revengeful when rejected. The Samaritans lacked an understanding of his Messiahship and the fact that what he would do in Jerusalem would be of far greater value than anything he could do there in their town. Sticking to the mission, Jesus went forward, undeterred.

Application:

Opposition to God’s mission is nothing new. If we are discouraged when we face that kind of resistance, then maybe we don’t know what it really means to follow Christ.

Even well-meaning religious folks may not always understand the mission. They may try to distract us along the way and encourage us to do things the way they would like them done. The only problem is that if we stop for their endorsement, we may just miss out on the mission.

People pleasing doesn’t necessarily come with Jesus following. Keep pressing forward, undeterred from the mission God has placed before you. Set your face toward him, reflect him, and follow him where he may lead.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to follow you today and every day.  Amen.
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Thursday, January 7, 2016

What Kind of Bread Do You Want?



Scripture:


John 6:48 I am the bread of life.  49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Observation:

Jesus had fed the 5000 and there had been twelve baskets full of left-overs. It was an amazing event and yet, somehow, the people wanted to compare what he had done with Moses. Moses gave the people food every single day that they wandered in the wilderness. This miracle that they had experienced — was it something that Jesus could do for them on a daily basis?

They didn’t understand the significance of Jesus’ presence and how his very life was the bread of life. The thing that the people were clamoring for, manna, was only temporary. It fed the people while they walked in the wilderness, but all of those people had long since died. Jesus was the new kind of bread that had come down from heaven.

He refers to himself as the “living bread.” He was inviting his listeners to become partakers of him — of the divine nature. In doing so we would be transformed into God’s holy people. The hope of this living bread was so much more than the manna in the wilderness.

Jesus would give his very life so that all could be fed by him. This was now not just the gift of the Father, but the sacrificial gift of Jesus himself.

Application:

I love really good bread, but for me, really good bread has to be firm and whole grain. I’ve lived far too long in Europe to be comfortable with things like “Wonder Bread.” It literally makes me “wonder” what in the world it’s made of! I go to the bread section in an American grocery store and poke the bread looking for something that is firm. I know it’s just my opinion — but I’m looking for what I consider really good bread.

Jesus was offering the people the very best bread — but they didn’t want it. They thought that what they wanted was for him to supply their daily physical needs with bread like the manna from heaven in the days of Moses. What they really needed was his bread — the bread of life.

It’s very tempting to try and tell God what is best for us. Just like the Israelites we may be explaining to the Lord that we want that manna! Is there something that we are wanting from God these days that simply may not be the best thing for us? For the people of Jesus’ day to understand what he was saying, they would need to listen carefully and have faith to believe in him.

Jesus is trying to offer us the best today. The problem is that we may be wanting the wrong kind of bread and we may be pestering him for what we think is best. Relaxing and trusting in God can be difficult at times, but it is the only way to get the very best. Don’t be satisfied with the things that will be gone tomorrow, but trust the Lord for the eternal.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for what you provide and help me to trust in you.  Amen.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Servant Leader



Scripture:


Matt. 12:15    When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them,  16 and he ordered them not to make him known.  17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18     “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
        my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
    I will put my Spirit upon him,
        and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19     He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
        nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20     He will not break a bruised reed
        or quench a smoldering wick
    until he brings justice to victory.
21         And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Observation:

Jesus had been engaged in preaching and healing, but everywhere he went those who conspired against him followed along, trying to cause trouble. These were those bent on his destruction. He intentionally withdrew from them and from the public eye in a desire to curb the publicity. Jesus was a servant leader, not a self-promoter. He didn’t want the attention for himself, he wanted to glorify his father. If his presence created too much of a public fuss, he withdrew.

By Jesus’ response Matthew sees him fulfilling the prophetic words of Isaiah. God is pleased with this type of servant leadership. He is not violent, and yet he is passionate about justice and is ultimately victorious.

Jesus’ withdrawal also allows for time to be alone with the Father. Jesus often leaves to find a quiet time and space to spend in prayer. Therefore he withdraws from the confrontation and unites himself to the will of the Father and in that space he is able to move forward with his ministry. This is a servant leader.

Application:

We love to be right, don’t we? These days there are many ways in which to confront those with whom we may not agree. We don’t have to confront them in person, but we can stealthily strike others through social media! Literally it can come out of nowhere and destroy before we even know it.

This was a tactic that I believe Jesus would have refused to employ. He could not be prodded into a predictable human response and this is what we need to learn from him. We may encounter those who do not like what we do, or at least disagree with the ways in which we do things, but Jesus becomes our model for response. There are times when we simply need to withdraw.

A servant leader doesn’t immediately fight back in defense but instead may withdraw to spend time with the Father and to learn from him what the proper response should be. Jesus wasn’t trying to win the day, he was trying to win the battle for the long haul. He had eternal views in mind and proving himself right to the religious officials would never have brought about salvation for all of humankind. Ultimately he wanted his Father to get the glory. He was not a self-promoter and was not desiring the attention for himself.

A servant leader puts the needs of those whom he/she is serving above his/her own. Jesus was willing to suffer for us.

If we are poised to respond immediately to all that we encounter, maybe we need to take a lesson from Jesus.

Slow down.

Don’t post that first thought on Facebook.

Withdraw.

Pray.

Take the long view.

And then only act on God’s desires.

The world needs more servant leaders!

Prayer:

Lord, help me to slow down enough to withdraw and lear from you.  Amen.


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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stand Firm



Scripture:

Eph. 6:10   Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Observation:

This passage on the armor of God comes at the end of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians and is a conclusion or a culmination of the entire message. From the very beginning of Ephesians he has been challenging these believers to be united with God in Christ. Christ is already victorious and our desire is to know the power of his resurrection. The battle has already been won, therefore as God’s children we are now called to “stand firm.”

The language of this passage is about the body of Christ and how we are to be united together as a corporate army and not individual warriors. This isn’t a passage about our personal battle with spiritual warfare but about the victory that Christ has won and how the church is to live into that victory. We are not to wander off as a lone soldiers in the battle for they become vulnerable and are  generally picked off or captured by the enemy. The body of Christ is to unite together, each one donning their spiritual armor so that there are no weak spots where the enemy can attack. Only in this way can the church, and hence God’s people,  stand firm.

Application:


The enemy’s desire is to divide God’s people for he knows that our strength lies in our unity. Too often we think about our faith in very individualistic terms. Not only do we have an individual responsibility to grow in our faith, but we owe it to the greater community. We will only be as strong as the weakest among us. That’s why the community of faith has a responsibility to unite together and help one another grow.

This means that God’s people need to look for opportunities to build one another up so that together, we can stand firm. When God’s people pick at one other, we are simply weakening the whole armor. Instead of poking at our weaknesses we ought to be doing everything that we can to build up the weaker area. It’s also not time for us to take off on our own, for we may soon find ourselves in enemy territory and unprotected.

Let’s pray that God opens our eyes to see those within our community of faith who may need to be encouraged and strengthened today. It is the only way that we can all stand firm.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me not to be the weak spot in the armor.  Amen.
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Monday, January 4, 2016

A Memorial Forever



Scripture:

Josh. 4:1   When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua:  2 “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe,  3 and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’”  4 Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe.  5 Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites,  6 so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”

Observation:

After the Israelites had wandered for forty years in the desert, it was time to cross over the Jordan into the promised land. This was a huge moment for these people as they moved on through a new act of faith. No longer would they live in the daily provision of God’s care in the wilderness but they would be a people on the move, taking over the land God had promised to them.

There were barriers to embracing the promise of God, and the first one was to cross over the Jordan river. This one would take a huge step of faith for the river was in its flood stages and they weren’t sure how this was to come about. The priests were to go first, carrying their beloved ark of the covenant. God, in his faithfulness, provided for the children of Israel and they crossed over on dry land.

As a reminder to the people that God had been faithful Joshua sent twelve men back into the bed of the river, each to find a stone representing their tribe. These were not small stones, but large stones which they had to carry on their shoulders and bring to the shore. Then the stones were placed together as a memorial forever. Anytime the people would pass by these stones they were to remind their children and their children’s children of God’s faithfulness to his people. The story of God’s salvation would be told again. This was the purpose of the memorial which would speak to God’s people forever.

Application:

Now, just as in the past, it is time for us to build our forever memorials to the work of God. Our children and our grandchildren need to be reminded that God has been faithful to us in the past, and he will continue to be faithful into the future.

There have been many blog posts and conversations regarding the future of the Church of the Nazarene recently. This is the tribe to which I belong. There were twelve tribes in Israel and each was invited to pull a stone from the riverbed and hoist it to shore as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. It was the collection of the stones together — which created the forever memorial.

We must never imagine that our tribe exists without the greater body of Christ. We are but one stone in the memorial, and yet, a piece of the whole. The Church of the Nazarene was born out of a movement of God’s Holy Spirit in this world. When we wonder what the future holds, maybe we ought to look back at the memorial stone and recognize where we have come from. God was faithful and God birthed this church. If we look into the face of God and seek him with all of our hearts we may discover that he continues to lead us.

God had a plan for the Israelites to conquer the entire promised land. They never did it because they got their eyes off of him. They forgot where they had come from, they ignored the memorials to the past and became consumed by their own lives, personal preferences and fears. That’s not what it was like when they boldly stepped into the Jordan river to cross over into the promised land.

I am a church historian and love to hear the stories of our past but I don’t just love to hear them for the sake of the stories, but because they are memorial stones. We have had our moments, including the miracle of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene and the way that lives were being transformed.  The result was that those who were witness to this transformation were astounded by the work of God.

Across the United States we find the stories and the memorial stones of those who have gone before and that continued moving forward when God commanded. Agnes Diffee ministered in Arkansas where God used her in a powerful way to grow the largest Nazarene church in the United States in her day, with 1000 in attendance. She believed that God opened the door for her to become engaged in radio broadcast ministry, a real pioneer, as she spread the good news of Jesus Christ on a daily basis throughout Arkansas. What a memorial.

Just read the list of all the rescue homes, rest cottages, missions and orphanages where we ministered to the down and out throughout the years and they are memorial stones to the work of the Church of the Nazarene. Lives transformed and entire families led to a new trajectory because they had encountered the message of holiness.

The list of memorial stones could go on almost indefinitely for God has been at work in a powerful way. I’m sure that just yesterday there were more memorial stones which were erected as God was at work in churches around the globe.

Let us also not forget that our message of holiness is one of those memorial stones. There are those who refer to this as our distinctive doctrine. I’d like to argue that the doctrine of holiness exists throughout the entire Bible and all of church history. The only problem is that often the Church feels uncomfortable with the idea of transformation in the here and now into a reflection of Jesus Christ. It’s easier to make excuses for the ways in which we live our lives. The distinctive of the Church of the Nazarene and other holiness denominations was that we preached it! This is a memorial stone and when we fail to remember it, then we fail to remember who we are as a people and why we exist.

The memorial stone of our tribe stands there among all the others. Together we make up this beautiful thing called the Church. We are reminded to stop from time to time and remember what God has done in the past and has promised to do into the future. It is the power of God at work in our tribe and in the whole body of Christ that will determine our future, not our own personal decisions.  The memorial stones were reminders of God’s work and intervention in the life of the Israelites. We are to continue to build memorials forever as we seek to reflect him in this world.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for the memorial stones and reminders of your eternal faithfulness.  Amen.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Test of Your Faith



Scripture:

John 6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

Observation:


The feeding of the five-thousand is found in all four of the Gospels. Obviously it was an incident that had a profound effect on the disciples themselves. It was to be a test of their faith and in this scripture the author spells it out...that Jesus did this to test Philip.

Philip is the logical one who is constantly thinking things through. He would be the one to ask because he was from the nearby town and would have known what kinds of resources were in the area. He quickly begins to compute all the possible answers to Jesus’ question. He wants to find the answer but he knows that, even if he could find people who would sell him food, he would need cash and then looking over the crowd he realized it would take a whole year’s worth of wages to pay for it all. His logical mind was coming to the conclusion that this simply wasn’t possible.

Andrew, the helper, not wanting to give up begins to scan the crowd for another option. Maybe there are enough people with food that they would be willing to share, but his search results in a boy with some bread and fish — small fish — probably something like sardines! This wasn’t much to go on and by now Philip has determined that the situation is hopeless.

This is just where Jesus wants Philip to be — at the end of his own personal resources. It’s reminiscent of Moses speaking with the LORD in the burning bush. Moses is asked, “What is that in your hand?” — and there is his staff. The staff was the symbol of Moses’ on self-sufficiency, everything that Moses knew how to do well. God tells him to throw it down and in that moment it becomes an instrument of divine intervention. In the very moment that Philip recognizes that he cannot solve the problem of the food for the people present Jesus is able to perform his miracle which is not just about food, but that the eyes of the disciples would be opened to his divinity. This was the test of Philip’s faith.

Application:

Our faith is often tested by the situations in which we find ourselves and it may be in that place that God is trying to teach us more about him and his nature. We can find ourselves in the middle of the test along with the disciples. We may also have similar responses.

I tend to be rather analytical and my brain can begin trying to work out every single scenario for a particular situation. I think, in that regard I can relate to Philip. He’s thinking about all the places he knows in town that would be willing to sell food. He probably had that all figured out and then began to calculate the cost. Part way through that exercise he realized the numbers were getting to be far too big and there would be no way that he could come up with all that money. The problem was bigger than what his mind could solve.

There will be problems that we confront that are larger than our human minds can solve. We look at the immediate resources. We think about what it is that we know — Philip knew the town and what they could provide. While he knew it all well, he also knew its limitations. The people of Bethsaida could not feed all of these people. He felt hopeless and we find ourselves feeling hopeless when we can’t find the answer within our own comfort zone. It’s hard to imagine that God would go outside of the way in which we’ve always understood things to be done, and yet that is exactly what God wants to do.

Philip began to calculate the cost — and so do we. Our mind does the mental math on what God may be challenging us to do and we come up short. It just doesn’t work out at the end of the pencil and yet, God is asking us to do it! Jesus was asking Philip to help feed 5000 people. Philip couldn’t figure out how that was going to be accomplished.

God may be asking us to participate in something much larger than ourselves and we can’t figure out how that’s supposed to be done. That’s the beauty of the story. The test of Philip’s faith is the test of our faith. God wants us to do things that are far beyond our own capability and it is only when we realize we can’t do it — that he can! 

What is the symbol of our own self-sufficiency? For Moses it was a staff, for Philip it was his ability to calculate and manage. They had to be willing to let go of their own abilities and resources in order to trust God for the extraordinary. God is still in the business of the extraordinary, if only we will trust in him. This is the test of our faith.

Prayer:

Lord, please help me to let go of my own self limiting view of what you can accomplish.  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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Friday, January 1, 2016

A River of Providence



Scripture:

Psa. 46:4        There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
        the holy habitation of the Most High.
5     God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
        God will help it when the morning dawns.
6     The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
        he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7     The LORD of hosts is with us;
        the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Observation:

The Psalmist knew what it was like to live in a time of turmoil and yet looked to God for all that he needed. The providence of God would spread throughout his city, reaching all of those in need. Just as a great river with its tributaries can provide the necessary water for life so can God’s river provide for those whom he inhabits.

God’s people are to be his dwelling place, God is to be in the midst of the city. When God remains at the center of the life of his children, then they will not be moved by the things of this world. Day by day, every dawn, at the very moment of need the river of providence provides.

Yes, the nations may be “in an uproar” but God is with us. He is our strength and our refuge and he will sustain.

Application:

Today marks a new year. Last evening many were celebrating and people are looking forward to starting over with a new and clean slate. The world hasn’t changed all that much in the last twenty-four hours.

We are still in an uproar.

There are terrible floods. We live with the threat of war. Refugees are seeking a safe harbor. Elections loom. Economies hang in the balance. Kingdoms are tottering.

In the midst of it all the river of providence continues to flow. Since the day of Pentecost the Spirit flows and reaches out to all of God’s people. He dwells in their very midst and promises protection and provision, new with every dawn.

We don’t know what 2016 has to hold but we do know that we can drink from the river of provision on a daily basis. May we meet God at dawn and drink in the deep cooling and sustaining waters which he provides to all who dwell in his city. This is his promise for 2016.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for a new year and may it be a great year of trust in you.  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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