Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Generous Spirit


Scripture
 
2Cor. 9:6    The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.  9 As it is written,
    “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
        his righteousness endures forever.”
10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;  12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.  13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others,  14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.  15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Observation

The spiritual transformation which occurs in the life of a believer reaches all the way down into their daily behaviors as well as their pocketbooks. Paul points out to the Corinthian church that their attitude toward giving must come from the heart and the offering which he is collecting is not any kind of taxation. Instead, they are to participate joyfully and give generously. He lays out the principles: sow generously — and you will reap bountifully! God supplies the seeds so generously spread them out and see what happens. We are to test God in this, for in sharing with others, God is generous with us.

Application
 
The spirit of generosity is revealed on many levels in our lives, both personally and corporately. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerism of our day and spend money on the many trappings of our lives. When we think about all that we have and then think about what we really need, is there a difference. I was reading an article this morning about people adopting an attitude of minimalism toward their clothing. An idea that you only need thirty three articles of clothing — and this includes your underwear and accessories. Could you do it? The article mentioned the money saved by having this kind of an attitude toward attire and the decrease in stress when it comes to thinking about what to wear! But when we spend less on ourselves, we can give more to others. Think about the significant ways in which we can impact others when we don’t worry as much about ourselves. When Paul talked about it being an indescribable gift, I believe that is true on many levels. The less we have the less stressed out we have to be about the things we have. There is great freedom in a life of simplicity and generosity toward others.

While this is true in our personal lives it can also make a difference in our corporate lives. In my tradition I’ve heard pastors and leaders refer to the funds to be shared with the district and denomination as a “tax.” I think Paul was addressing this attitude directly in this scripture. If you back up to verse 5, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion. “ (NRSV) Taxation — or even extortion is the way in which this can be translated. The transformational work of the Holy Spirit changes our hearts individually and corporately and as such we look for opportunities to give what we have away. It is in giving to others that we discover how God is in the midst of our work. I have generally found that churches who will give generously to missions are healthier overall. Those who decide that they shouldn’t give to others but would be better off helping their own church until they can support others begin to die. I believe that is because Paul is describing something life-giving to the church in Corinth. It wasn’t just life-giving for them but it is a promise for us too. We are challenged to test God in this — that when we have a generous spirit we get to live into the generous grace of our God. The gift of God’s grace becomes indescribable in the life of the believer and the church corporately.

Tithing hasn’t been such a “thing” lately as it has in the past. I’m afraid we’re missing out on what God wants to accomplish in and through our lives because we have not been a generous people. Test God on this one — try tithing and see what happens in life.

Church — try giving with a joyful spirit to the corporate work of God’s people around the world and see what happens.

Prayer
 
Lord, please help the spirit of generosity to overflow in me. Amen.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trust


Scripture
 
Psa. 76:4        Glorious are you, more majestic
        than the everlasting mountains.

Observation

The mountains always provided a certain sense of security for the Israelites and yet also a senses of reverent fear and awe. They served as a natural barrier to protect the people from enemies. At the same time they were home to animals of prey who were to be feared. The mountains were majestic and proved to be more powerful than anything that a human could create, even within their imagination.

The Psalmist, looking over the mountains is overcome with the glorious majesty of God. While the mountains may be awesome — God is even greater. Only a tiny reflection of God’s glory is seen in the majestic mountains. The one in whom we are to trust is greater than everything our eye can behold.

Application
 
I have awakened this morning to a beautiful view of mountains and yet, this Psalm reminds us that the one who created those mountains is so much greater. It’s normal to want to put our trust in the things of this world — the things that we can see, smell, touch and understand. I look at the mountains and they are incredible, but we serve a God who is even more glorious.

My morning view!

Today I choose to trust in the one who has created everything. He is more majestic than the everlasting mountains and he hasn’t given up on his people.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for your promises. Please help me have the strength and the courage to live into your leading every day. Amen.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Called to Royalty


Scripture
 
Judg. 5:3        “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
        to the LORD I will sing,
        I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

Observation


As Deborah sings her song of praise before the Lord we hear the challenge to God’s children. Origen gives us unique insight into this passage:

“Hear, O kings. She names them ‘kings’ who are called together to hear the word of God. You should rejoice, people of God, at this emblem of your nobility. It is not as just any people that you are called to hear the word of God, but as a king, for to you it was said, ‘You are a royal, priestly race, a people for God’s possession.’ (I Peter 2:9)  Because you are kings, therefore, Christ our Lord is rightly called the ‘King of kings and the Lord of lords.’(1 Tim 6:15; Rev 19:16.) However, as you revel in this title of your nobility, you should also learn what each one of you must do to be a king. Let me outline it for you briefly. You are made a king if Christ reigns in you, for he is called a king by reigning. If also in you, therefore, the soul reigns and the body submits, if you put the concupiscence of the flesh under of yoke of your command, if you subdue every kind of vice by the tight bridle of your sobriety, then you who know how to reign are also rightly called a ‘king.’” (HOMILIES ON JUDGES 6.3.)

You and I, as children of God are called to be royalty and to serve in the royal priestly race.

Application
 
Contemporary royalty has lost much of its sense of responsibility. In many ways they serve as figure-heads of nations but don’t carry actual power or authority. On the other hand they have great influential power and carry within themselves the regal nature of the nation whom they embody.

For the Christian there is great responsibility in bearing the name of Christ. In taking on the name of our Savior we become ambassadors, or members of the royal priesthood. Origen makes it clear that this happens when “Christ reigns in you.” Therefore to understand this possibility we have to consider what it means to have Christ reigning in us. It does require submission, as Origen puts it, of the body and the soul. He uses the word “concupiscence” which means strong sexual desire or lust. This is to be placed under the tight bridle or authority of the one who reigns in your life. We are filled with expectant hope as we see that we don’t have to be ruled by the drives of our bodies, but by Christ who sets us free.

The call to royalty is serious and has within it an expectant hope that the Holy Spirit can empower us to not only act like royalty, but to actually be transformed into royalty. We don’t have to live in a life of constant struggle against the flesh when God has promised to set us free. This is not just the hope of the life to come, but the expectant joy of life in the Spirit. We are then drawn into the life of royalty, to live as kings and princes of the LORD. In this place we sing and make melody to one who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Prayer

Lord, please continue to lead and fill me today. Amen.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dependable Decision Making


Scripture

Acts 1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,  22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”  23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Observation

This story is sometimes seen controversially in regard to making decisions. Was Matthias really God’s choice to take the place of Judas, or was it the Apostle Paul? There are arguments on both sides. However, they were following what they understood to be good practice at the time. They were in Jerusalem, Jesus had ascended and they were waiting in prayer. This was all being done in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ. They had no idea how the arrival of the Holy Spirit would change things — and them. Instead they simply had to go on what they knew and that included the traditional practices of selecting priests.

The process they outlined was really quite good as they established criteria for this individual. To be numbered among the apostles the individual had to have been personally discipled by Jesus, present from the time of his baptism until his ascension, and a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. After this criteria was determined they identified two excellent candidates. They didn’t pray long and loud public prayers over the situation, but simply laid it out before the Lord, asking for divine intervention in the decision making process. They believed that God knew their need and would direct. Matthias was chosen.

Interestingly, after the day of Pentecost their decision making process begins to shift. We see this when they have to raise up leaders for the new growing church but at the time this decision was made, they used all the information they had to try and do their best. It was the most dependable decision making in their day.

Application

Making decisions can sometimes be a rather fearful adventure. Worrying about making the right decision may result in making no decision. While people may criticize the way in which the apostles chose the person to replace Judas, at least they did make a decision and they followed a good process. I think that this does lay the groundwork for dependable decision making.

What we learn from the disciples is that when it comes to making a decision — we need to know the real question. For them, it was to find an apostle to round out the twelve. Sometimes we muddy the decision-making process by not identifying the real need. You can’t come up with a solution if you don’t know the problem.

After determining the need, the disciples took the time to set-up the qualifications for the person to fill that need. When making decisions we must slow down enough to establish the details of the need. Not just any person or solution is going to solve our problem. It’s not about the person that we know the best or a friend who needs to find a place to work, it’s about the best fit for the role. There were a lot of people who had been a part of the Jesus followers but they narrowed their choice down to these two.

Prayerfully seek God’s guidance in the decision-making process. Even if we establish a good process, it needs to be infused with God’s leading. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit and so we lean into that discernment when making decisions.

Now, regarding the casting of lots — I suppose we could call that a voting process — because I wouldn’t recommend just throwing some dice and seeing who wins. We live on the other side of Pentecost but that does not give us the excuse to not consider a thoughtful and careful process of decision making. We are provided with good examples to work in the kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the direction you provide for us in life. Amen.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Smoked with Slander and Parched with Persecution


Scripture
 
Psalm 119:83     For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
        yet I have not forgotten your statutes.


Observation

The Psalmist’s own life is used as a template for response to all that is encountered. In the nomadic life wineskins were filled for travel. Once they were emptied they were hung to dry near the open fire. There, after much use they became blackened and wrinkled, bearing the marks of life.

The man of God had been blackened and wrinkled by falsehood, “smoked with slander,” and “his mind parched with persecution.”(Surgeon) The possibility of being overcome by fear was great and yet he had learned that his life must be seasoned by prayer. In the midst of the suffering he continually went back to God and the Psalm becomes an example for prayer. The wrinkled and smoke covered exterior belies the soft and pliable heart which beats beneath the chest. Prayer is not to be the casualty of suffering but the remedy that leads us to the place of hope and life.

Application

It would be highly unusual if we did not have experiences in life that left us wounded. Jesus, himself, was wounded and his body bears the marks of persecution. Why would we expect anything different? We are called to take up our cross and follow him daily.

Where is Christ? Yesterday he had his throat slit in a church in France. Today he will be persecuted the world over; through the restrictive laws in Russia to the complacent “Christians” in the West. The journey to follow Jesus was never expected to be easy. The temptation, however, is to forget to go to God in prayer. In anguish we cry out with the Psalmist, telling God about our circumstances. God listens and hears our cries. We become smoked with slander and parched with persecution and instead of becoming an unusable wineskin we cry out to God for we have not forgotten God’s statues. Even blacked and wrinkled God can make the wineskin soft and pliable — useable for service in the kingdom.

The discouraging events of life have a tendency to take us away from God. We feel that God is distant and we are uncomfortable bringing our pain and frustration to the altar. The Psalmist reminds us that the remedy is found in prayer as we meditate upon God’s statues and faithfulness. New life is breathed into our weary bodies as we continue following and reflecting Christ.

Prayer
 
Lord, may I seek your face daily in prayer. Amen.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Creating Dissension


Scripture
 
Rom. 16:17   I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.  18 For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.  19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.

Observation


Chrystostom tells us “Division is the subversion of the church. Turning things upside down like this is the devil’s weapon.” (Homilies on Romans 32) This was exactly Paul’s concern for the church in Rome and he wanted them to be aware that there would be those intentionally seeking to create dissension within the life of the church. These are the ones who are constantly bringing things up which may be contrary to sound doctrine and yet, it sounds close enough that there are those who are willing to listen.

While they may sound as if they are actively defending the doctrine of the church, in reality they are serving themselves. They want to get attention and stir things up and for those who are less discerning, they become concerned about the state of affairs in the church. All of this is based in fear and not in reality. Paul wants the believers to be strong in their faith and to do so they need the Lord’s wisdom so that those who create dissension and offenses win the day. Chrysostom continues, “As long as the body is united he has no way of getting in, but harm comes from division.” (Homilies on Romans 32)

Application
 
Creating division in the church brings great joy to the enemy. Therefore we ought to think about the ways in which we participate in the activities of the church and whether we are bringing joy to our Lord, or to the enemy. Relationships may suffer within the church community when sisters and brothers don’t get along. Sometimes we hide behind matters of doctrine because we don’t want to deal with the real issues that may be bothering us. We allow our own personal needs to rise above the need of the faith community. Paul talked about people who served “their own appetites” or as some translations say, “their own bellies.” It’s as if creating dissension becomes comfort food to some peoples’ souls. But all of this is contrary to the character of Jesus Christ which is to shine through in the lives of his followers.

Remember the wise words of Chrysostom that when there is unity the enemy cannot find a way in to destroy the church. As we reflect the Image — Jesus Christ — in this world, his motives become our motives and his actions our actions. The holy love found in the Trinity is to flow through our lives in such a way that the community of faith is bound together. It’s important, just as Paul tells us, to avoid those who are trying to create dissension. These days they don’t often gather small groups around them or preach, but instead they spread their thoughts from a safe distance in blogs and e-mails and other social media venues. Their ideas can spread like wildfire and capture the hearts of the simple-minded for they know how to manipulate words to create a state of fear. Paul says not to pay attention and to follow the Lord’s leading and live into Christ’s wisdom.

May we seek the face of God and reflect our Lord and Savior daily in our practice and love for one another.

Prayer
 
Lord, I seek you this day and want to be a faithful servant within the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Monday, July 25, 2016

More Than Meets the Eye — Phoebe


Scripture
 
Rom. 16:1   I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,  2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

Observation


Paul commends to the readers a woman by the name of Phoebe. In personally carrying this letter to Rome Renan tells us, “Phoebe carried under the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian Theology.” (Vincent Word Studies) In commending Phoebe to the Romans Paul presents her titles so that they could understand who this woman was who brought them these important words. She is a deacon at Cenchreae, serving the church there. The word “deacon” carries with it great significance for it is not the feminine form of the word used in Greek, but the same term that Paul would use for himself when referring to his ministry. Origen, a theologian in the third century writes, “This passage teaches that there were women ordained in the church’s ministry by the apostle’s authority. . . . Not only that—they ought to be ordained into the ministry, because they helped in many ways and by their good services deserved the praise even of the apostle.” (Commentary On the Epistle to the Romans) Paul is making clear to them the significant role that this woman plays in the life of the church.

In making clear her position in the church he is helping the readers understand how they are to receive her. She is to be welcomed as a holy follower of Jesus Christ and respected in her requests. When she asks for something, Paul is telling the Romans, you will want to respond, for this is no ordinary woman!

After Paul lays out her ecclesial credentials he adds a little more weight to the matter by mentioning that she is also known as a “patron” or “benefactor.” Phoebe is a woman of great wealth and has been willing to support the work and ministry of many, including Paul. She is a highly respected woman who has wholeheartedly committed her life in service to the Lord and the Church. It is only when we dig into the details of the original language that we discover that there is more than meets the eye.

Application

This last chapter of the book of Romans is filled with salutations and it’s one that may be read quickly as we wrap up this thoughtful letter from Paul. However, in skimming over the details we may miss out on what Paul may be saying to us in the ordinary context of the day. For centuries some translators have said that Phoebe was a “deaconess” and a “helper” of many. Therefore we have been inclined to believe that Phoebe was just one of several women who helped out with the sick and needy at the church in Cenchreae. A nice lady but nothing significant of note. I would guess that she did engage in this type of work from time to time but there is more here to the story.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when we don’t know all of the details. Recently I was on a plane and during the boarding process I was trying to get some work done. I fly a lot and so I had been given a complimentary upgrade to business class. I was busy making phone calls and wrapping up the work of the day while the flight attendant was asking people around me if they wanted something to drink. She had a tray full of drinks when suddenly a boarding passenger ran into her and the entire tray of margaritas (I had to be told what it was) came tumbling down on me. Suddenly I was drenched in something I had never experienced — from the top of my head, all over my face, down the front of my clothing, my seat-belt and my skirt — soaked through. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages so I had no clue what this was but I had this sudden thought — “Don’t lick your lips!” :) People all around me started handing me everything they could to try and wipe all of this off of me. We were using airplane blankets, baby wipes and napkins. Eventually I realized that it was not going to be possible to dry off and I just had to fly for over two hours, soaking wet in these drinks!

When I got to the next airport I was to have a three hour layover. I decided I would walk for awhile to see if I could get my clothing to dry. The more it dried the harder it became. My hair was rather spikey by now as well. Eventually I decided to have a small bowl of soup for supper and make my way to the plane. Unfortunately during my travels I had been around some folks who had the stomach flu. Now, the nearer I got to the plane, the worse I felt. I began praying and telling the Lord that I REALLY did not want to get sick — but just to get home! I stood around the boarding area feeling quite nauseated but still okay. We boarded the plane and I tried to settle in for the flight home. I closed my eyes and began pleading with the Lord to just get me home when all of a sudden I realized that I wasn’t going to make it and I needed to get to the lavatory. They were just finishing up the boarding process when I leapt from my seat and lunged toward the lavatory at the front of the plane. The flight attendant told me I had to be seated. I just looked at her and said, “I’m going to be sick.” It wasn’t pretty! I barely made it to that little room and didn’t even have time to close the door when the soup and probably a few others things all came up. I felt badly for the folks who could hear me but there was nothing I could do. I tried to clean myself up the best I could but I was a mess. My skirt had now dried stiff as a board, my hair was spiked up with margaritas and I had gotten sick in the lavatory. However — I now felt much better.

As I stepped out to sheepishly make my way back to my seat I was stopped by the Captain. The flight attendants had gone and gotten him. He looked me straight in the eye and asked me what was wrong with me. I have to confess that at that moment I didn’t realize what a sight I was and didn’t have a clue as to what the Captain was probably thinking. He asked what I had been doing and was I going to be able to fly to Kansas City. He had such a serious look in his eye. I told him that I was much better now and I would be okay. He decided not to throw me off the plane. The flight attendants handed me a plastic bag and a ginger ale and I lowered my head and made my way back to my seat. I made it home without another incident but it wasn’t until later and I was feeling a bit better that I realized what the Captain and crew were thinking. Here I was, smelling like alcohol from head to toe and getting sick on the plane. I’m sure they thought that I had been on some kind of a drinking binge — all the while wearing my nice little “I am NTS” pin with the cross on it.

There’s often more than meets the eye, whether in the Scriptures, or in life. We make judgement calls far too easily and we skip right over what may really be happening, or what the Author may want us to know. Let’s not put Phoebe on the back-burner of Christianity and assume she didn’t have a significant role. Let’s not jump to conclusions when we don’t have all the information and let’s give others the benefit of the doubt. God can do more than we can ever imagine with people and in circumstances which may not make sense to us. You can’t put God in a box and there’s always more than meets the eye.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for the faithfulness of women like Phoebe who have gone before. Please, help me to take the time to slow down enough to not miss what is really happening and to learn from the lessons you place in my path.  Amen.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Making the Most of Your Circumstances


Scripture

 
Acts 28:30   He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him,  31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Observation


These two verses bring to a close what we officially know about the life of the Apostle Paul. There is much speculation as to what happened after this writing — whether he was released for a period of time and traveled to Spain — or whether he was soon executed by the Roman authorities. We don’t know, but we know that from beginning to end the book of Acts is one of proclamation. The good news about Jesus Christ is preached by his apostles. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God. They preach and they teach and when filled with the Holy Spirit they are able to do this “with all boldness and without hindrance.” This was the experience of Paul and so many others.

Paul makes the most of his circumstances. He was under house arrest in Rome where he could have complained that he was unable to get out to the synagogue to preach on a regular basis. That doesn’t seem to have stopped him from preaching. He could also have complained that no one was backing his work financially but instead, he used his own personal resources to provide a place where he could continue to minister. Day in and day out he welcomed those who came to him and remained an effective minister of the kingdom and the Lord.

The story ends abruptly, but in this way remains a challenge to those who are to come later. The story of the Acts of the apostles is not yet complete for we are called to become participants in that story. Each is invited to add chapters as this becomes an on-going witness to the activity of the Holy Spirit in and through believers today. Paul is an example that we are called to follow.

Application
 
Paul is a man of few excuses. He doesn’t seem to allow anything that life throws his way to become a hindrance to preaching and teaching. This was his calling — to preach and to teach — and therefore he would find a way to continue to fulfill his calling, no matter what! He made great sacrifices in his personal life to be able to continue to minister.

I hear far too many of us these days complain that we are unable to minister or share Christ because the circumstances aren’t “just right.”

“The church we attend is not conducive to inviting new folks.”

“We don’t have the financial resources to put on the type of events that are needed.”

“Our church doesn't have a lavish multi-age children’s programs.”

“I haven’t been taught how to present the Gospel to someone.”

“I can’t invite people to my house because it’s too small and I don’t have the financial resources to fix it up nice.”

“I’m not a good cook so I can’t have people over.”

“I don’t have time to clean my house thoroughly so I’d be embarrassed to have people around.”

And the list goes on!

Paul could have had a long list of excuses. The man was under house arrest and he had to pay for the house himself. That is certainly not a situation that’s particularly conducive to doing ministry but he never let it stand in the way of his calling. The call of the “priesthood of all believers” is very real. Paul isn’t supposed to be an anomaly, instead he’s an example to us all. The first chapters have been written and now we are to make the most of our circumstances to write our own chapter. Will it be short, long, or multiple chapters? It’s really up to us and our willingness to live wholeheartedly into the calling before us.

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me not to make excuses but to follow you anywhere you lead. Amen.

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Open for Examination


Scripture
 
Psalm 139:23     Search me, O God, and know my heart;
        test me and know my thoughts.
24     See if there is any wicked way in me,
        and lead me in the way everlasting.

Observation

David opens himself up to examination from God. He is willing to place himself before God and requests that every nook and cranny of his being is searched. Not only does he ask God to examine his actions, but also his motivations. He is opening himself up to scrutiny before God most high and hides nothing. If there is any wickedness that remains in him, he wants God to point it out so that it can be removed and he can follow in the eternal pathways God has placed before him.

Application

I’m guessing we all have thoughts that pop into our minds that we’d like to keep secret. There may be moments of anger, jealousy, and frustration. We may allow our thoughts or minds to linger in unhealthy spaces but we work really hard to keep all of this hidden from the people around us.

Having the light of examination shine into the deep recesses of our minds could make us feel incredibly uncomfortable, but that is exactly what David is asking God to do. In our context it is an invitation to the light of the Holy Spirit to shine into our lives and reveal to us our true motives.

Are we willing to join the Psalmist in this prayer? The only way that we are able to find a deeper place in our walk with the Lord is by opening ourselves up to examination. This is how we grow spiritually, and when the Holy Spirit takes control of our heart, thoughts, and motivations, then things begin to change. Our desire becomes God’s eternal pathway and nothing more. Every activity in life is motivated by a desire to become more like Christ. His reflection in our lives grows until the world sees Christ and Christ alone. There is no room for anything wicked to remain. The holy love of God so fills our being that sin is extinguished, for there is nothing left to fuel its activity. This is all possible when we allow ourselves to be examined by God.

Prayer
 
Lord, search me. Amen.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Enjoy the Company


Scripture
 
Romans 15:24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.

Observation


Paul was very focused on his ministry and he followed his calling into many new places. He was a missionary and was frequently on the move from one location to another. In this letter to the Romans he mentions that he plans to go to Spain to do ministry but on the way, he would stop in Rome. His purpose there would be twofold; to be sent on by them and also to enjoy their company.

Application
 
I am struck by this line, “once I have enjoyed your company for a little while,” for it makes me evaluate my own life. I am one of those who is in a hurry and frequently on the go from one thing to the next but there is also a great need to stop and enjoy the company. We need friends and partners in our lives and we need to learn how to slow down enough to simply enjoy being together.

The temptation of electronic devices seems to always be present and may be destroying our ability to enjoy the company of others. It seems to me that the ability to hold dinner-table conversations has diminished. This was the place, in my parents’ home, where we had incredibly stimulating conversation over a variety of subjects. I simply thought that was normal and when I was together with my college friends I would try to have these kinds of conversations. It never dawned on me that this may not be the norm. One of my roommates went home with me to visit and after returning to school announced to my friends, “now I know why she is like she is.” This made me a little self-conscious but she went on to describe the conversation around the dinner table at my parents’ home. Again — I just thought this was normal.

Whenever I would go to England for the residential portion of my doctoral program my supervisor and his wife would have a group of us over to their home. We always loved having dinner at the Nobles’ as they would serve everything with lovely bone china and the meal stretched over several different courses. While the food was always incredible, so was the conversation. I was struck by the fact that Dr. Noble kept a variety of resources within arms reach of the dinner table — just in case there needed to be some fact checking. But sitting around that table and enjoying the company was always a pleasure.

Years ago Rueben Welch wrote the book, “We Really Do Need Each other.” There is great truth to that little phrase, and every time I go to San Diego I have the privilege of spending a little time with Rueben. He’s now in his 90’s but still teaching Sunday School and makes time to hang out with friends. The reality is that we are made for community and this Christian life is not one which we can live on our own. Paul needed to be sent by other believers. He needed to enjoy their company.

We need to slow down from the busyness of all that we are doing and enjoy the fellowship of the community of faith. From time to time we need to minister to one another so that we have the strength to go on. We need to put away our electronic devices and have undistracted conversations about the things that really matter. Slow down. Enjoy the company.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to enjoy the company and fellowship this day. Amen.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Authenticity


Scripture
 
Psa. 50:7        “Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
        O Israel, I will testify against you.
        I am God, your God.
8     Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
        your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9     I will not accept a bull from your house,
        or goats from your folds.
10     For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
        the cattle on a thousand hills.
11     I know all the birds of the air,
        and all that moves in the field is mine.
 
Psa. 50:12        “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
        for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13     Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
        or drink the blood of goats?
14     Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
        and pay your vows to the Most High.
15     Call on me in the day of trouble;
        I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

Observation


The people of God were following the letter of the law when it came to sacrifices. They were going through the formality of the burnt offerings. Outwardly they were doing the right thing but their hearts were not in it and this was the problem. God didn’t need their bulls or their goats — he already owned them all! This wasn’t about giving God something that he needed, this was about the authenticity of the peoples’ offering. Looking upon the hearts of the people God wanted them to live authentic lives of thanksgiving. Out of the gratitude of their hearts they were to give back to God. In this way they were to pay their vows and to call upon God in the times of trouble.

Application
 
Somehow I was struck by God’s response in this passage today. It’s pretty obvious that God doesn’t need our stuff. He already owns the cattle on a thousand hills so our one sacrifice isn’t because he needs another cow. Our personal offerings aren’t made because God needs more money. The sacrifices we make in serving God are not because God can’t figure out how to get things done. The whole passage is about the genuine and authentic offerings of thanksgiving which are brought before God.

Participating in worship services is to be a thank offering before God. Our participation is to be genuine and authentic, coming from our hearts. Sadly, it seems that we have turned much of the worship experience into entertainment and then we shop for the entertainment which we like the best. I’m guessing God is saying — I don’t care about the entertainment — what I want is you! God wants our hearts and minds to be in a spirit of gratitude when we come before him.

In my own life I’ve discovered that my Sunday experience at church is greatly dependent upon my daily time in God’s presence. When I have been spending time with the Lord then Sundays simply become a time when I can actively engage in worshipping him in community. It really doesn’t matter the style of the worship service because it becomes all about God and not about me.

God doesn’t need our sacrifices — God just wants us. This is the authenticity that is required in our relationship with God who can see through all the smoke and mirrors. No matter how generous you may be, God still sees the heart and is saddened if we are not genuinely thankful for what has been done for us. The Psalmist encourages us to offer “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” May this be the authentic cry of our hearts today.

Prayer

 
Lord, search me, my heart, and my motives. May my offerings come from a heart of gratitude. Amen.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Building Blocks and Stumbling Blocks


Scripture

 
Rom. 14:13   Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.

Observation

Paul was writing to the Roman church about the fact that some of them were stumbling blocks to others who were trying to grow in their faith. Jews and gentiles were worshipping together and they had differing perspectives on what was okay to eat and what was not. Strong opinions existed in two very different camps, both sides believing that they were in the right. When one group didn’t do things just like the other they passed judgement and condemnation. This division within the church was visible to the world and was damaging to their testimony. Instead of spiritual growth and vitality the church was becoming a breeding ground for criticism.  Paul was deeply disturbed by this behavior for it ruined the witness of the church and stifled opportunities for growth.

Application

It seems that Paul is saying that our reactions to one another in the church can either result in being a building block or a stumbling block. I believe this highlights the need for careful self-reflection as we seek to be a community of faith that reveals Christ to the world. This idea of reflecting the Image is not just about us individually, it’s also about the church corporately. Think of the relationship found within the holy Trinity, one which is continually united and moving together in the same direction. The very nature of God, holy love, is reflected within the the relationship of the Trinity. Corporately we are to do the same thing — reflect God’s nature of holy love. In doing this the world will see God at work in and through the life of the church.

When there is division within the church we cease to move in the direction of Christlikeness. Instead the stumbling blocks become major obstacles to any kind of spiritual growth and eventually a church may simply die. That’s why this conversation was so important to Paul and it should be to us as well. The focus of a church community should be on spiritual growth and creating the building blocks so that a clear reflection of God will be recognizable.

So, maybe it’s time to reflect on whether our actions or behaviors are building up the community of faith or creating such stumbling blocks that the result is spiritual stagnation. Those who believe they may be helping a church by pointing out everything that’s wrong may actually be the stumbling blocks causing spiritual death for the community.

Stop passing judgement on one another and begin building each other up. Encourage spiritual growth within the community as together we become a beautiful reflection of the Image.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for the reminder that I can be critical. Please help me to be a building block. Amen.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Taking Stock


Scripture
 
Psa. 48:12        Walk about Zion, go all around it,
        count its towers,
13     consider well its ramparts;
        go through its citadels,
    that you may tell the next generation
14         that this is God,
    our God forever and ever.
        He will be our guide forever.

Observation

The people of Jerusalem had been through a difficult time, besieged by one of their enemies. Now, that they had to take the time to inspect the city and determine whether there had been any damage. However, as they inspected for physical damage, as they took stock of their assets, the Psalm turns from an emphasis on the physical structures of the city and focuses on God. Their relationship with God and ability to pass along their faith to the next generation is of greater value than the physical structure of the city. Taking stock meant that they recognized the place of their eternal relationship and protection with God in comparison with the temporal structures of the city.

Application
 
Every now and then we need to slow down and take stock of where we find ourselves in life. It may be that we have been dependent upon physical resources when we are called to be dependent upon God. Walking around our physical resources, or examining our bank accounts may be a good exercise. It was good that the Israelites made sure that the city walls and towers were in good condition. However, it was in making sure that these things were secure that they realized their dependence upon God. There is only so much that you and I can do to secure our own lives or our futures. The rest has to remain in God’s hands.

Taking stock leads us to testimony. It was in taking stock that the Israelites were telling the next generation about all that God had already done.

Last night I was on a walk with my family in an area of Kansas City known as the Plaza. Everywhere we went people were stumbling around looking at their cell phones. They were playing the game, Pokemon Go. They were completely absorbed in their virtual reality and quite oblivious to the world around them. While this may seem as if it is an extreme, I’m wondering if we’re facing a new reality where people are so caught up in social media and virtual worlds that they are losing the ability to communicate well with one another. If this is the case, how will we pass along our faith from one generation to another. Taking stock may mean that we have to put down our devices and have meaningful face to face conversations with one another and intentionally share the stories of our faith. Tell the next generation what it is that God has done for us. Tell them that God is our forever guide and protector.

Maybe today is the day in which we need to slow down and really take stock, and make a few decisions to intentionally live into our relationship with our holy and loving God.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live my life faithfully serving you. Amen.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

False Hope


Scripture
Psa. 30:6        As for me, I said in my prosperity,
        “I shall never be moved.”
7     By your favor, O LORD,
        you had established me as a strong mountain;
    you hid your face;
        I was dismayed.

Observation

David found himself in a new position of political and financial prosperity. No longer did he have enemies chasing after him but life had settled down and he had everything that he could have humanly thought one could want. The temptation was to feel overly secure, that his confidence might turn into conceit. But there is no greater temptation in life as to suddenly be lulled by tranquility. Just because one has plenty of resources today does not mean that it will last. It was Divine favor which brought David his prosperity and yet in this Psalm he reveals that which brings him fear.

David’s joy had always been dependent upon the presence of the Lord but he had allowed his success to seduce his heart. He believed that he was a strong mountain, so strong that he could no longer be affected by adversity. Suddenly he discovered that God was displeased with his pride and David was reflecting his treasures, rather than the face of God. The shock of this was more than David could bear for he was no longer reflecting God, but his own material and temporary treasures. He had developed a false sense of hope and security, in the things he had accumulated and these were nothing in light of seeking the face of God.

Application

There have been times in life when I have thought…”If only I had…” and that usually ended with some kind of financial resource. Hey — I grew up a missionary kid and then a preacher’s kid. We never did have a lot of financial resources and yet, as I reflect, I have had a great life. The best moments in life have had nothing to do with worldly or financial resources — but with relationships. Relationships with other people and with the Lord.

Birthday parties in Russia are some of my best memories. In Russia the person with the birthday has the party at their home. The party is usually a nice dinner, sitting around the table with friends and family. It’s about the fellowship — not about the stuff. Conversation can last for hours and there may even be some singing and game playing. Much joy!

When we become consumed with building our financial kingdom and the accumulation of things we become distracted and almost without notice we take our eyes off the Lord. It is so easy to become so busy that we forget to seek his face and then comes the moment when we feel that he has hidden his face from us, when in reality we are the ones who have lost touch with him. David was dismayed when he found himself in this spot. There is nothing more life-giving than a face to face relationship with our holy God. He is the one who leads us day by day and will always be with us no matter what the day may bring.

Money, power, prestige and security can all be lost in an instant. We never know what tomorrow may bring for the things of this world are out of the realm of our power and control. Last night it was an attempted coup in Turkey. Two days ago it was a man on a rampage with a truck killing people in France. A week ago it was racial tensions tearing up a nation. A few weeks ago it was a vote for “Brexit” that sent the world markets tumbling. What will happen today or tomorrow? Who knows, but God remains the same. He is our constant and he is our hope. Placing our trust in the things of this world is fleeting at best. Seek the face of the One who will remain the same will lead us into the everlasting.

Prayer

Lord, please help me not to be enamored by false hope. Amen.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Wrestling with the Word


Scripture
 
Rom. 12:14   Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Observation

The words from Paul to the Romans were clear. The Roman Christians were living in an environment that was completely hostile to them. They would face the very real possibility of becoming martyrs for their faith. Paul admonished them to keep on loving those who hated them; to try every way that they could to live at peace with those around them. Instead of seeking revenge, God’s people were to leave that to God. Their response was to be one of holy love, overcoming evil by the power of God’s goodness in action. They were to go and feed the hungry and provide water for the thirsty. This was the word of the Lord for God’s people in Rome.

Application
 
I leave us to simply wrestle with that scripture today and what it might mean for us personally and corporately.

Prayer

Lord, we pray for your peace and grace to be revealed in and through your followers. Amen.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Love and Honor


Scripture
Rom. 12:10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

Observation

Paul is calling God’s children to exhibit love in all that they do. They are to love their fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and be intentional about showing honor to one another. We may think that he is only referring to Christians showing mutual affection to one another but this is not the case. Jesus came to save sinners and love them. If that is the case then he loved us when we were yet sinners and we are to follow his example. Therefore we extend love and that is seen in the ways in which we honor others. Love and honor are connected and reveal the love of Christ in action.

Application


During a time in which it seems people are becoming more divided the word of God constantly calls us back to unity. We see disunity around the globe as people find all kinds of ideological reasons to dishonor one another. The divisions are coming right into our own communities and neighborhoods and creating friction among people who may have previously been friends. The call to God’s people is to go above and beyond in loving and reaching out to one another.

Intentionality in love and action is what reveals honor. Put others’ needs and concerns before your own and think of ways in which you can share from your own resources with others who may have need. In sharing, respect the others and never allow them to feel any lower than you because they may not have as much as you.

Too often we think of love in passive ways but this scripture spurs us on to love in action and to consider ways in which we can honor others. I see it as a challenge from the Apostle Paul reaching us down through the centuries. Christians — outdo the non-Christians in your communities in showing love and honoring others! Church — take responsibility to outdo others in showing love and honoring others!

Maybe it feels a little competitive, but maybe it should. Paul thought that Christians ought to reveal Christ above all and never allow the popular culture to win the day when it comes to the topics that belong to the realm of God. I’m afraid we’ve been abdicating our responsibility to others and as a result the Church may be losing her voice. It’s not just a voice, but love in action which needs to be seen.

Take up the challenge from Paul and see what can be done as we try to outdo one another in showing love and honor.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for this challenge today. Amen.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Passing Guest


Scripture
 
Psa. 39:12        “Hear my prayer, O LORD,
        and give ear to my cry;
        do not hold your peace at my tears.
    For I am your passing guest,
        an alien, like all my forebears.
13     Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,
        before I depart and am no more.”

Observation

The Psalmist feels like an alien here on earth and desires to be with the LORD. The struggle is so great at times that the tears stream down his face. Life, soon coming to an end,
 causes time for reflection. Gazing upon the face of our LORD we recognize how unworthy we are in the presence of his holiness. And so we cry our tears and in moments where things seem out of focus, we realize that we are just a passing guest, an alien, and what we truly desire is to simply go home.

Application


Being reminded that we are simply passing guests or aliens here on earth is often helpful. Sorrow and pain will come our way. The endless news cycle can be simply mind-boggling. Trying to make sense of it all can make our heads hurt.

David’s life was filled with turmoil. He may not have had the internet but he had an endless stream of individuals whose responsibility it was to give him the bad news of the day. I’m sure he heard it day in and day out. He lost loved ones, even having them turn their backs on him. He loved God and yet there were times he had failed God. Thinking about the closing days of his life, how could he look upon the face of God? He knew that he had his own short-comings and the very gaze of God made him a bit uncomfortable. But instead of turning away, he cried out to God. He embraced his alien status here on earth and looked forward to dwelling in that place of his eternal citizenship. This brought him the hope he needed to live life to its fullest to the very end.

With the eternal in view we can remain a passing guest as we lift up our heartfelt prayers to the LORD.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live faithfully this day. Amen.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Making Provision for the Long Haul


Scripture

Matthew 25:11 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 story of the ten bridesmaids or virgins is familiar to us. They were to wait with their lamps lit for the arrival of the bridegroom. They all became drowsy and fell asleep as they awaited him, but when he did come at midnight they woke up. Unfortunately only five of them had thought ahead and brought enough oil to keep their lamps lit. Those without enough oil tried getting some from the others but that wasn’t possible so they ran to get more but when they returned it was too late. They hadn’t taken the call to be prepared seriously and so, at the end they were left out.

Application
 
There were ten young people who were a part of a Bible Study and were greatly inspired by the word of God. Excited about serving the Lord in this world they all took off in different directions, some to further education, some to begin their vocation, and some to spend a little more time finding their way. All were good and kept seeking God.

Throughout the years life came along and interrupted some of their dreams. Even those with visions of ministry positions had their struggles as things just didn’t appear to be “successful.”

People in the church disappointed them.

Parents disappointed them.

Friends disappointed them. 

Their own children disappointed them.


But in the midst of the strain of life the members chose to respond in different ways. Five of them allowed the circumstances to make them better — not bitter. In the midst of the challenges they continued in the word and in prayer, daily seeking the face of God. God gave them provision to make it through the obstacles placed in their way and the result was quite beautiful. The struggles of life served to mold them into beautiful reflections of Jesus Christ.

The remaining five continued to attend church and speak of the things of God, but they didn’t invest in the time to get to know God intimately. When faced with turbulence they were jolted off the path and deeply wounded. There was no balm to be found in Gilead — they were scarred by all that they had experienced. Little by little they were hardened into a rigid image, reflecting the difficulties of life.

The oil of the lamp is the anointing oil which pours over us in the time of our deepest need. The oil of God’s Holy Spirit wants to fill our wounds and heal us from the inside out, producing soft and pliable scars that are barely visible. We are on this journey with the Lord for the long haul. Even the virgins in Jesus’ parable fell asleep while they were waiting. It was a long time!

As we await the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we discover that we are in this for the long haul. We need to fuel the relationship with our Lord on a daily basis to be able to continue through. The same can be said of earthly relationships. Unless they are fed on a daily basis they will eventually grow cold. The sustenance of a face to face relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is the promise of making provision for the long haul. We get to experience something more beautiful than we could ever imagine. Yes — it’s worth it!

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me to be filled by you on a daily basis. Thank you for helping me through the obstacles of life. Amen.

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Place of Servant Leadership


Scripture
 
Psa. 110:0   Of David. A Psalm.
1     The LORD says to my lord,
        “Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies your footstool.”
 
Psa. 110:2        The LORD sends out from Zion
        your mighty scepter.
        Rule in the midst of your foes.
3     Your people will offer themselves willingly
        on the day you lead your forces
        on the holy mountains.
    From the womb of the morning,
        like dew, your youth will come to you.
4     The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind,
        “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
 
Observation

There is almost universal agreement that this Psalm is written in reference to the coming Messiah. The resurrected Lord will sit at the right hand of the Father and rule as people offer themselves as free-will offerings. This King, whom we know as Jesus, will not rule as an earthly ruler, but will be a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He does not come from any earthly lineage but has appeared to make sacrifice for God’s people. This King-Priest does not fit the mold of traditional leaders, but comes as a servant leader who will ultimately care for his people throughout all of eternity.

Application
 
Christ as the King-Priest produces for us a beautiful vision of servant leadership. A partnership is developed with those who willingly give of themselves to become a part of the mission because the leader is willing to sacrifice unselfishly for those who are a part of the team. Authoritarian rule has no place when the leader sees that they are to serve others as priest, becoming a conduit for the working of the Holy Spirit.

Today I am encouraged by those leaders who are Christ-followers who are making a real difference in the world. In a place of secular business they are leading in the model of our Messiah as King-Priest and, as a result have a huge sphere of influence for the kingdom. Every day they are lifting up our Lord by the ways in which they reflect Christ.

Sadly, however, there are others who have chosen to leave their religion in the pew on Sundays and not carry it out into the workplace.

Christ has never stopped being our King-Priest and there’s no place nor time for us to stop reflecting him. We are not to face him in worship on Sundays and then cover him up during the week. The genuine nature of our faith will be lost on the world around us because there will be nothing authentic about our lives.

The need for servant leadership has never been greater and must be seen at every level of society. This is the time to reflect the priest who forever comes to us from the order of Melchizedek.

Prayer
 
Lord, I know there are times that I fail, but I pray you will help me to follow your example of servant leadership. Amen.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Our Refuge


Scripture
 
Psa. 16:0   A Miktam of David.
1     Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2     I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
        I have no good apart from you.”

Observation

When everything seems to be closing in, the Psalmist seeks refuge in the only place where it can truly be found — in God. The Hebrew word used here for God is El — and the same word that Jesus Christ used for God when crying out to him from the cross. It’s a cry for the Almighty God, and Omnipotent helper of his people to respond.  But this safety and security can only be found when we seek for it in God. In our times of suffering God, our refuge, conveys to us the promise of our eternal hope which is in him.

The Psalmist confirms his trust in the LORD. We have the promise of our Lord, Jesus Christ and he is the good. There is no good apart from the one who is good. We lean into the future which we have with God and in return we do not need to fear the present. God as our refuge remains our bodyguard, protecting us on all sides from the power of evil.

Application
 
Pain, suffering and evil, it all seems to surround us. This day is filled with news that is devastating to the soul and makes us realize that there is so little in this world in which we may place our trust. But maybe that’s what we must face in order to realize that we have been seeking refuge in all the wrong places. Let’s be honest, it’s not until we have been stripped of all that makes us feel secure that we recognize our incredible deep need for God. It is in David’s cry for protection that he is protected. It is in his cry that he declares the truth of his relationship with God and that there is no good apart from the Lord.

We have nothing apart from the good which is found in God. Nothing else can satisfy. Every system in this world will eventually let us down. People will let us down. The church will let us down. It is not until we sit in humble submission at the foot of the cross looking upon the face of our Savior, crying out to God the omnipotent helper, that we see the pathway to refuge opened before us. When we dwell in that place of refuge then God, our bodyguard, surrounds us on all sides, helping us maneuver through everything that the world throws our way.

Let me be clear, this doesn’t mean that we avoid what is happening in our world. Instead, we respond by trusting in God,  and responding out of that place of refuge. The place of refuge gives us the humble courage to respond with the heart of Christ without fear of what others may say or do to you.
Protection comes when we cry to the Lord for refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer
 
Lord, I pray that you help me to seek you and your refuge today. I pray for those who are suffering in so many ways from acts of violence, racism and emotional struggle. Please, help us to know how to respond as your people, not hiding from the pain, but traversing through it as you hold us in your hand. 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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Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Gift of Floating Iron


Scripture
 
2Kings 6:1   Now the company of prophets said to Elisha, “As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us.  2 Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.” He answered, “Do so.”  3 Then one of them said, “Please come with your servants.” And he answered, “I will.”  4 So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees.  5 But as one was felling a log, his ax head fell into the water; he cried out, “Alas, master! It was borrowed.”  6 Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float.  7 He said, “Pick it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it.

Observation

Elisha was not alone but was a member of a company of prophets. The fellowship had grown considerably and they needed a larger place to live. One of the company wanted to help out in the process but was poor. He had no ax because iron was very expensive. He didn’t just “borrow” an ax, but he literally “begged” to use the one that belonged to someone else. The sense of responsibility was overwhelming when he saw the ax head fall into the water. While this may seem like a small thing to us, he may have seen his entire life flash before his eyes as he contemplated the reaction of the owner of the ax.

Elisha’s response is one of great compassion in which he intercedes on behalf of the one who is lost and needs salvation. Embodying the love of God, nothing is beneath Elisha if it means redemption.

The scene leads us to the parting of the waters found in baptism when one is raised to new life. The life of the one was saved by the raising up of an iron ax head from the waters. Iron doesn’t float and the dead are not to be raised to life but both happen when the power of God is unleashed on behalf of all who are in need.

Application
 
Last evening I was having a bite of supper sitting outside of a train station in London when a woman stopped in front of me to ask me if I had any change. Thin as a rail, face gaunt wearing tattered clothing and smelling as if it had been a long time since she’d had the privilege of bathing I had nothing to offer her. I felt guilty. Then she noticed the NTS pin I was wearing — with the cross on it. She asked about it and what it meant. I almost felt guilty because I didn’t feel that I could be a good representative of Christ. What did I have to give her? But I tried to give her what I could — so I stopped what I was doing and looked her in the eyes and we had a conversation. Eventually our discussion came to and end and she reached out to shake my hand and I was happy to feel her hand in mine. She disappeared into the crowd. I don’t know if I’ll ever see here again but her name is Sada and I want to remember her!

Within a few seconds of her departure a policeman came stood at my side and wanted to know what happened in my interaction with that woman and whether she had asked me for something. I mentioned that she had asked whether I had any coins and he responded that it was illegal to beg in England. He then went on to give me a bit of a history lecture on English laws as related to the poor and begging. I think we talked sufficiently long enough that he forgot about Sada.

Elisha reached out and brought life to the one who had begged for an ax. The poor prophet was not beneath the love and compassion of the great prophet. When we begin to see the world through the eyes of Jesus Christ we will be troubled because the Sadas of this world will not just be a beggar interrupting our solitude, but will be the lost soul who may have their only experience of Christ in our response. The responsibility to be a faithful witness will break our hearts as the protective barriers of self-preservation are removed by the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Floating iron became the gift of life. We have been given the gift of life in the new birth symbolized in baptism. By the receiving of the gift we are called to participate as agents of Christ’s redeeming work and help someone else’s ax to float.

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me to be a faithful witness for you. Help me not to be afraid to reach out and touch those whom you place before me. Please be with Sada today, provide for her daily need and may she encounter you. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Retaining knowledge


Scripture
 
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
(Hosea 4:6 NASB)
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
(Hebrews 2:1 NASB)

Observation
 
There seem to be cycles in history, periods of time which appear to repeat themselves. There are times when knowledge and education are highly valued, and then there seem to be times when that knowledge comes under attack and we retreat into the more experiential. However, if we linger too long in the experiential, we become like the children of Israel. There was no longer any knowledge of God to pass on to the next generation. They had rejected their religious education and therefore knowledge of God and His word. No longer were there those who could serve as priests because they had forgotten God's law. By no longer studying God's word the people drifted away from their faith, and each subsequent generation found themselves further and further away from God's ideal.

Application
 
We live in a day where there is a great deal of information available to all. Education is available to most all who would desire to study. But -- the looming question for the believer is whether we are educating ourselves in the things of God? If we do not take time to know the Lord, to know the word, then we, too, will drift away. There will always be tension between knowledge/education and the experiential. This is why we really need both. Sadly, there seems to be a fear of education because of where it may ultimately lead us -- a fear that it may take us away from God in a sort of rationalistic approach to the world. However, the more that we learn, the more we realize we don't know and instead, it can take us to a place of awe and wonder about the One who created and designed an amazing master plan for all of that we behold.

Let us not fear knowledge, but rather, place our knowledge in humble subjection to the One who has provided all for us. May we devour all that he has for us, and especially when it comes to the things of God. May we be prepared as a people of God to express and pass on God's law to the generations that follow. And may there never be a day when God can find no one to be his priest!

Prayer

Lord, lead us into a deeper walk and understanding with You today. May we not fear that which we do not know, but may You lead us into all truth. Amen.


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


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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Amazing Love



Scripture:

Romans 8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  36 As it is written,
    “For your sake we are being killed all day long;
        we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Observation:


In the new order of things Christ’s love reigns supreme. Through the incarnation God revealed the depths of his love to all of humanity and that love was seen in action through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord. Christ suffered in the flesh to remove all barriers to God’s holy love. The result is that all that we experience in this life cannot separate us from the amazing love found through Christ.

Application:

There are times when things happen in life that don’t seem to make any sense. Whether it’s the loss of a family member or loved one, or difficult relationships with others, or your own inner personal struggles — or all the details that just don’t seem to be coming together. We all face these times in life and when they pile on, it seems even tougher. We may wake up and wonder about the presence of God in the midst of these tough days. It’s then that we are reminded of these words from the Apostle Paul. He was a man who was well acquainted with the struggles of life and had overcome one hurdle after another. He knew what he was talking about when he said that he was convinced that nothing could separate him from the love of God.

The amazing love of God — more than anything that we could ever imagine! It’s God’s sticky love. No matter what we may do in life, we can’t get rid of it. God’s love follows us wherever we may go and is there with us in everything that we may be experiencing. It’s a holy love that is always there with us in our pain and frustration. Amazing love — indescribable and yet palpable.

Prayer:


LORD, thank you for your love which has no limits.  Amen.

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


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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Awestruck



Scripture:

Acts 19:7 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.  18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.  19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.  20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

Observation:

God’s power was at work in Ephesus in such a way that things would never be the same again. All of the people were awestruck over what was happening. The miracles of God were far greater than anything that they had experienced before. Their magicians were nothing in comparison to the work of God among them. As a result, the name of Jesus was being praised throughout the community.

Because of God’s work among the people many began to confess the name of Jesus and to turn away from questionable practices in their lives. Their trust was no longer in the magicians who practiced black magic, but in the Messiah who brought about transformation. To show the world that they truly were awestruck and that their center of faith had shifted they brought out the books that revealed their old faith and burned them. The drachma represented one day’s wages — therefore the value of the books burned was 135 years of wages. (NBC) The awestruck people were giving up everything to follow Jesus Christ.

Application:


I’m afraid that sometimes we think we have to do something in our own power and ability for others around us to be awestruck. If you’re engaged in ministry, you may certainly feel this way. The sermon has to be good, or the program planned for the weekend has to be awe inspiring, the worship band phenomenal!

We also tend to believe that we need to be the voice of conscience that turns people away from their past indiscretions. Very often the church has set herself up as the moral compass for those around. While this isn’t bad, it can, however, forget to leave space for the working of God’s Holy Spirit. In Ephesus the Spirit was so powerfully at work that people were awestruck and began repenting. When we put God in a box, then we don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.

We serve the same God today that was at work in the city of Ephesus. I believe that we need to spend time in God’s holy presence and allow the Spirit to flow out of our lives and ministry in such a way that people will, once again, be awestruck. It’s when the Spirit is at work that we see an exponential effect. The spontaneous book burning and its value was quite overwhelming. This was a very visible result of the power of God at work in the world.

The books of sorcery represented what these people trusted. As their lives were transformed they shifted their trust to God. Our society may not be trusting in sorcery but there is plenty of hope and trust in the material, political and social. We need another mighty movement of God’s Holy Spirit that will bring about a radical transformation and return our trust to God alone. My prayer is for people to once again be awestruck by the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in our world and lives.

Prayer:

LORD, please pour out your Spirit and may we be awestruck by who you are.  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.



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