Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Luke’s Irony


Scripture
 
Acts 12:20   Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.  21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them.  22 The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!”  23 And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. 

Observation

After reconciling with the people of Tyre and Sidon, Herod prepared to speak to the people. We are told that his royal robes were made of silver thread and that he glistened in the sun. He stood before the people and spewed forth beautiful rhetoric.  Between the clothing and his words the people were quite impressed. So much so, that they cried out that he must have been a god. It is in this moment that we begin to see the irony in Luke’s writing. This man, Herod, who had been living among the Jews knew the Hebrews’ respect for God. He was, but a mortal, but the shouts of the people that he was a god implied immortality. By not denouncing their words he faced his own mortality.

The irony is that Christ was immortal, and yet the crowds did not shout about his immortality, but rather cried out for his death. The words of the crowd were just as meaningless when applied to Herod as they were to Christ. Odem tells us that Herod’s death “serves the people as a divine correction of their hyperbolic flattery.” (Ancient Christian Commentary)

The historian Josephus confirms Luke’s account, that Herod was struck ill while speaking. Evidently he was taken to the palace where the worms in his intestines ate him from the inside out over a period of several days, providing an excruciating death.

But his death didn’t bring life. He was just a man.

Application

Life has it’s ironies and often they are circumstances in which we are to learn a lesson. Herod learned that he could not take the place of God. Only Jesus, who really was the son of God, could rightfully be called God! Jesus suffered under Herod but ultimately Jesus was victorious. Herod thought he was powerful, but he died at the hand of God.

Circumstances may seem unbearable at the hands of others, but some day you may be ministering the very ones who caused your suffering. This is the irony of the Christian walk. The suffering servant becomes the king. The powerless become the powerful.

How is this possible? Through the authentic life of faith; a life which may not always make others comfortable, and may even result in one of those experiences of irony. But even if that is the case, wouldn’t we want to come out reflecting Jesus, rather than Herod? Let’s humble ourselves before our Lord and join in fellowship with our holy God and follow Jesus through the ironies of life.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for life’s lessons. Amen.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Willing to Listen


Scripture
 
John 8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.

Observation

Jesus was continuing to teach in the Temple and the Jewish leaders had a hard time with what he was saying. Jesus knew that they were struggling but they did not want to admit that he just might be right. In their stubbornness and pride they refused to truly listen to what Jesus had to say. Their hearing needed to be healed by the great Physician who could open them to understanding, if only they were willing to listen. However, they knew if they were to listen, they would need to receive his words and obey.

Calvin paraphrases Jesus’ words like this, “What is the reason why my speech appears to you barbarous and unknown, so that I gain nothing by speaking to you, and so that you do not even deign to open your ears to receive what I say?”  (Calvin’s Commentaries) The question was an important one to pose for the religious leaders were proud of their intellectual practices. They had been using their own reason and judgment to oppose him and he was condemning them for refusing to listen. They were unwilling to listen because his words were convicting and his truth could revealed their hypocrisy. They intentionally refused to listen to what he had to say and as a result, were lost.

Application

Jesus continues to challenge the Jewish leaders, and us, to consider whether we find listening to him a bit inconvenient. Selective hearing becomes destructive to the Christian life. Jesus is telling them the truth but this is far too uncomfortable.

The truth is uncomfortable and force us to examine our behaviors and responses. The only way that we can follow Jesus is to be willing to listen to what he has to say. It is our stubbornness and pride that gets in the way of Jesus’ words cutting through the static of our self-centeredness so that we can hear. It’s not that Jesus hasn’t pointed out the way for us, it’s that we refuse to listen to the directions. It’s as if we have turned on the GPS on our phone and while Siri tells us which way to go to find our destination, we simply tune out and fail to take the right exit. Let’s admit it — it happens from time to time. But when this happens on a regular basis spiritually, we end up in the wrong destination.

Just as we must pay attention to the voices leading us to our destination, so we must listen to the voice of Christ who shines the light of truth into our lives. To follow his directions means we must be willing to listen and bring down the barriers of pride and arrogance. It means admitting we may be wrong before we can regroup and follow Jesus. The longer we refuse to listen the further we will be from our destination.

Dr. Ralph Earle, New Testament Professor Emeritus at Nazarene Theological Seminary used to challenge his students by encouraging them to pray to be willing to be willing. If we’re refusing to listen, let’s just begin by praying to be willing. Jesus will bring down the barriers and suddenly we will have perfect hearing and discernment as we follow him.

Prayer

Lord, may I listen intently to your voice and leading. Amen.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Prepare for Action


Scripture
 
Acts 11:27   At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius.  29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea;  30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Observation


Sometimes the role of the prophet is misunderstood because there is an expectation that this is one who will predict the future. The voice of the prophet is not so much about prediction, as it is calling a people to action. In this case Agabus is preparing the fledgling church for the challenges ahead. It appears that a famine will probably reach the entire Roman Empire, and therefore the Christians must prepare to take action. The mother church in Jerusalem would suffer greatly and now those who had benefited from the mother church spiritually would have to determine how they would respond. The Jerusalem church had provided spiritual food but soon they would need physical food.

We are to respond to the needs of those around us, not just of those neighbors close-by, but to those who have provided the pathway for us to receive the good news. Odem, paraphrasing Chrysostom tells us, “Our failure to hear, in the cry of the poor, the call of the gospel, is in itself a spiritual famine for us much as it is a physical one for those we ignore.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Acts 11:27-30) Chrysostom challenges us, “Now, both we and the poor are famishing: they from a lack of necessary sustenance and we because we, in our luxury, lack the mercy of God. (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 25)

Therefore the preparation for action is two-fold; both physical and spiritual. Meeting the needs of the poor and suffering becomes spiritual food for God’s people.

Application

The prophetic voice is calling out in regard to a world which is suffering, both physically and spiritually. How will the church today respond to that call? Amazingly it is in the Middle-East, where Christianity began, that struggles continue as God’s children become caught in the cross-hairs of those wrestling for power. Not only are they hungry and displaced, but small children suffer as victims of war. Hoping to find a place of refuge they flee to other parts of the world, awaiting a welcome embrace from those who are listening to the prophetic voices. Today it may be a Syrian child in a boat in the Mediterranean but next year it could be your grandchild who is seeking a place of safety and won’t you be praying that someone would respond and lend a hand!

The prophetic voice challenges our consumerism which is enjoyed on the backs of those who have very little. You’ll find this little article on “Your Clothes Are Killing Us” a wake-up call. Follow-up by watching the trailer for the documentary, “The True Cost.” Then, you’ll discover that as Christians we need to ask ourselves some really hard questions when we realize the trickle-down effect of our lifestyles.

The call to action was for those who were living in the blessing of that which they had received physically and spiritually. For many Christians in the west we are living with far more than we need and someone, somewhere, is paying. What will we do to help bring balance is the question of the prophet. In the Old Testament the prophetic words were often a call to justice. Justice is seen over and over again in the Scriptures as a revelation of God’s nature and we are called to reflect God in all we do.

Difficult days are here and I believe even more difficult days lie ahead. How will we respond now, and what will we do to prepare for the future? It’s time to prepare for action.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to hear the voice of your prophet and not just listen, but take action. Amen.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Stumbling in the Darkness


Scripture
 
John 8:12   Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”  13 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.”  14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.  15 You judge by human standards; I judge no one.  16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.  17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid.  18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.”  19 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  20 He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

Observation

Jesus continues his teaching in the treasury where the religious leaders are listening in and trying to discern what he is saying. They find him frustrating because they don’t really comprehend the depths of his words. Human arguments are used against him but Jesus stands firm for he who knows who he is and where his mission will lead him. He has not come to judge but to bring light and this will transform the world.

This understanding of transformation can be seen in the writing of Gregory of Nazianzus who tells us, “Let us not remain what we are, but let us become what we once were. The Light shines in darkness in this life and in the flesh. It is chased by the darkness but is not overtaken by it. I am referring to the power of the enemy that leaps up in its shamelessness against the visible Adam. But it encounters God and is defeated. Let us put away the darkness so that we may draw near to the Light and may then become perfect Light, the children of perfect Light.”  (On the Holy Lights, Oration 39.2) We stumble around in the darkness of this world but it need not overtake us because Jesus as light is victorious. This is what the religious leaders could not understand and instead of following the light of Christ, they continued asking for a formal witness. They stood in the shadow of darkness when a bright light shone before them and refused to accept that he was light.

Application

Traveling for work means that I find myself in many different places at night. That can be troubling when you have to get up and find your way to the restroom in the middle of the night. This happens the older we become, or the more time zones we traverse in a short period of time. Having the furniture arrangement memorized before heading to bed is not always a priority. That leaves the very great reality that I will stumble around in the darkness trying to make my way in unfamiliar territory. The crazy thing is that my cell phone is usually right there beside me on the nightstand and I could quite easily flip on the phone, or the flashlight on the phone. And yet, I find myself tripping over a bed corner or a piece of luggage when I could have had light.

We all have the possibility of light in Christ. The darkness of this world cannot consume the light of Jesus. The light does not shine on our lives to judge but to provide a pathway to wholeness in Christ.

Why stumble around in the darkness when we can be guided by the light of Jesus? We don’t need any further proof of the light because Jesus is, even now, shining his light of grace on the pathway to him. The time has come to stop stumbling in the darkness and walk freely in the light of transformation that will lead us to wholeness and holiness in fellowship with the Triune God.

Prayer

Lord, may I not stumble in the darkness but follow your light today and always. Amen.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Water on a Hot Summer Day


Scripture

John 7:37   On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,  38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”  39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Observation


People were making preparations for their travels home from the festival and this would have included enough water for the journey. Jesus’ cry to those who were thirsty would have resonated. People would have flocked to the idea of Jesus providing enough water for them. However, he was inviting them into a new future in which their parched souls would be eternally watered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would then overflow and water not only their lives, but of those surrounding, bringing new and eternal life.

Application


Recently my husband and I were beginning a drive up into the mountains. As we began we were in a lower valley which was dry from the summer heat. Everything was brown or yellow, and evidence of wildfires abounded. Blackened hilltops dotted the countryside and you knew that the land was suffering the consequences of summer.

As we drove on we rose to higher heights and eventually found ourselves beside a river. The scenery changed rather abruptly with the presence of water. Lush green grass abounded and the pine trees soared when fed by the rushing and foamy waters of the river.

I thought about my own spiritual life and how it can begin to feel like the parched earth of summer. Long days in the beating sun can make one thirsty and ready to burn like tinder. But when we stop along the banks of the river to drink from the waters of the Spirit we are renewed. Life courses through our veins and our souls are nourished by the Spirit’s presence. The circumstances are no different — it’s still hot and the sun is beating down — but the situation is changed by the presence of living water.

We are encouraged by the Spirit’s presence who brings us what we need in the midst of our circumstances. Like water on a hot summer day, so the Spirit fills us, satisfying our needs to overflowing.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the privilege of drawing from your deep well of refreshing. Amen.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Life of Devotion


Scripture
 
Acts 10:1   In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called.  2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.  3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.”  4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.  5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter;  6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.”  7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him,  8 and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

Observation

Cornelius was a good and devout man who did not know about Jesus. He earnestly sought the face of God and was a leader who managed his own household well. Giving to others was a major feature of his life, as well as giving himself to prayer. While he was a Gentile, it was the sincerity of his motivations to which God responded. God had just used Peter to bring life to Tabitha, a woman who had been engaged in good works. Now, God would use Peter to transform this man’s good works and devotion into a Spirit-empowered new life in Christ.

Both the eunuch in Gaza and Cornelius in Caesarea were men of high rank. At the same time they were devout seekers of the truth and because of this, God responded to the deep desire of their heart. Both of these men had dignified positions, but they were especially devout and lived pious lives. What an incredible testimony when people of position humble themselves before God and are willing to be used as servant leaders.

He was a devout man who cared for his household but also his soldiers, and all the people. His devotion was not just a personal piety, but one which permeated every sphere of influence. This is what happens when one lives a life of devotion.

Application

Genuine devotion to God cannot be hidden for it will be visible in the way in which we live out our lives and the way in which we interact with our children, fellow employees and beyond.

The number of young people leaving the faith these days is quite astounding but the concerns they are voicing are very real. The disconnect between the expressed faith and the daily life have been far too visible in the lives of their parents or other influential adults and this has been disappointing. There is a deep desire to see faith lived out in word and deed in a way that is genuine and reflective of Christ. Not only our children, but the secular world is gazing in on Christianity and wanting to see authentic faith.

Authentic faith was being reflected in the life of a man who did not know Jesus. That’s pretty amazing. A life of devotion is necessary for God’s children and God will respond to those who are sincere. God will continue to work outside the bounds of traditional religion when there are those who are devout and are seeking with all their heart. We hear testimonies to this among refugees and persons of non-Christian faiths. If this can happen for people outside the Christian world, why not for those within? Maybe because there is a lack of devotion.

God’s people should be devoted in private and reflecting Christ in public.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to draw closer to you today and reflect you in all I do. Amen.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Participation


Scripture
 
Acts 9:36   Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.  37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs.  38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.”  39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.  40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.  41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.  42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.  43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Observation

The reputation of Christ’s apostles was growing and people began to call upon them when they had need. This woman, Tabitha, was a good woman who devoted herself to helping others. She was gifted with her hands and used her talents and abilities to help those in need. Sadly, she seems to have died quiet suddenly and her small communities was very distraught. They heard that Peter was nearby so called for him to come. Immediately he came and discovered what an amazing woman she had been. The people wanted him to know everything that she had done for them. The widowed women, without financial support, were grateful for the beautiful things she had created for them. One can only imagine the joy of a simple beautiful piece of clothing when one has nothing.

Peter, knowing that they were all suffering, sent them outside and he remained alone with the body. He becomes quiet, kneels down and begins to pray. The rest of the scene unfolds as he speaks to her, telling her to get up. Amazingly her eyes open and seeing the apostle, she sits up. This miracle was one which was retold on numerous occasions and because of it, many believed in Jesus.

Application
 
Let’s look at Peter a moment.  Not only did he pray, seeking to know where God was leading but something transformative happened in that time and space. God’s plan is for us to be transformed into the image of Christ – for us to be reflections of Christ in this world. This is holiness – we are to be like our holy God, participating with God, as we live our lives in the world. It’s easy to slip right over the significance of Peter taking time to pray in the story but it is in that moment that we see him slip into participation with Christ. Not only is it participation, but in participation there is transformation.

What we see happening in the middle of the story is a change in focus. Tabitha, or Dorcas, was known for her good works. This was wonderful and her life was a testimony because of the good things she had done. However, Peter’s goal was not to do good works – his goal was to become like Christ. After praying, he turns to the body of Dorcas and uses her Aramaic name – Tabitha. If he spoke the entire sentence in Aramaic his words would have been only one letter different from the words that Jesus spoke when he raised the little girl from the dead, “Talitha cum.”…now Peter speaks, “Tabitha cum.” It’s in that moment that we look at Peter and we don't know if we’re seeing Peter, or if we are seeing Christ. We don’t know the difference…and this is the call of Christian life – one of holiness – which leads us out into mission.

The call of the Christian life is participation in Christ. We are to be partakers of the divine nature, being transformed by his holiness which will always lead us to mission.

Prayer

Lord, may my simple prayer lead me to participation in you today. Amen.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

An Invitation to Partake


Scripture
 
John 6:52   The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;  55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.  57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.  58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”  59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Observation

The Jews were continually confused by Jesus. What was he suggesting in this language? The idea of partaking his blood and flesh would have sounded ridiculous and repulsive to them but they didn’t seem to understand, or possibly desire to understand this metaphorically. Jesus had come to provide a way for humanity to partake of the divine nature and to become God’s holy people. No longer was this to be through the law but by the transformation of their lives through participation in Christ. That’s why the bread came down from heaven, to be accessible to all. The love of the holy Father compelled Christ to come in the flesh so that flesh might become partakers and live forever.

Application
 
Not everything in Scripture is literal and when we get hung up on the literal we may lose sight of the real message. This invitation to become partakers of Christ is really quite astounding. It is a pathway to transformation in all of our lives that is probably beyond our human understanding and it goes to the very core of holiness. It is in partaking that we become abiders. This continual, day in and day out abiding in holy communion with God provides for us a way in which to live. The strains of life can be overwhelming and far beyond our control. It is in the moment that we think we have one thing settled that another arises and we discover that we have no control. All we can do is partake and abide and live in the peace of knowing Christ.

The invitation to partake comes to us directly from Christ. Every time that we fellowship at his table we are reminded of this beautiful promise of participation in God. This is our hope for today and the future. We can learn to trust in the Lord and walk daily, nourished by participation in Christ.

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me to live in your abiding presence today. Amen.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

THE Name


Scripture
 
Psa. 113:2        Blessed be the name of the LORD
        from this time on and forevermore.
3     From the rising of the sun to its setting
        the name of the LORD is to be praised.
4     The LORD is high above all nations,
        and his glory above the heavens.

Observation

The name of God, the LORD had been revealed to Moses at the burning bush. The LORD, the great “I am that I am” is God’s name forever and title for all generations (Ex. 3:15). The name reveals us to us the very nature of God and a commitment to life. There is an endlessness that is expressed in the name of the LORD and praise responds at its revelation. All of creation joins in praising the LORD whose name is worthy of all praise.

Application
 
Every now and then I have to get up really early to catch a flight. If I leave the house between four and five in the morning I experience something that I usually miss and that is the awakening of the birds. There is such an incredible cacophony of praise which can be heard throughout the trees of the early morning just before the rising of the sun, and it is stunning. Could it be that all creation is awakening with the dawn and praising the name of the LORD? If the simple creatures of this earth know how to praise God with the rising of the sun, why can we not do the same?

The Psalmist leads us into a beautiful song of praise before the LORD. Day in and day out praise and worship of the LORD should be on our lips for God is worthy of our praise. The name of the LORD reveals more than we can truly comprehend. We have tried to take YHWH — what is known as the “tetragrammaton” and translate it into something meaningful for all of us. Because there were no vowels in early Hebrew those four letters have been expanded to become Yahweh. Throughout our contemporary translations of Scripture whenever YHWH is encountered in the original Hebrew we find LORD — which is not to be confused with Lord in the New Testament. LORD, in all caps, is the English translation of YHWH. THE name means “I am” or “I am that I am,” THE name is the very root or essence of life itself and has eternal qualities. God has always been, is presently, and always will be. God is life itself.

The creatures awaken at the dawn and sing praises to the LORD. We are invited into that beautiful life of praise and worship of the One who brings life to all things. As we arise with the dawn and head out for the day may we join with all creation in singing our praises to the LORD who is worthy.

Prayer
 
Lord, with the dawn of this new day, I praise your name. May praise for you be on my lips throughout this day until the setting of the sun. You are great and glorious. Amen.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Just One More Miracle


Scripture
 
John 6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 

Observation

Jesus had just fed the 5000 and then traveled to the other side of the sea. The people were looking for him because of the miracle and they wanted to experience more. Suddenly greed was taking hold and they wanted what Jesus had to offer, but they didn’t want Jesus! Chrysostom tells us:

There is nothing worse, nothing more shameful, than gluttony, which clouds the judgment and reduces the soul to satisfying appetites. . . . For instance, nothing can be more unreasonable than their asking for another miracle, as if none had been given already. And they do not even leave the choice of the miracle to our Lord but would oblige him to give them just that sign that was given to their ancestors: “Our fathers ate manna in the desert.” . . . There were many miracles performed in Egypt, at the Red Sea and in the desert, and yet they remembered this one the best of any. Such is the force of appetite. . . . They do not mention this miracle as the work either of God or of Moses, in order to avoid raising Jesus on the one hand to an equality with God or lowering him on the other by a comparison with Moses. Rather, they take the middle ground, only saying, “Our fathers ate manna in the desert.” (Chrysostom, HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 45.1)

Expecting Jesus to perform for them on demand, they were disappointed for what he had to offer was was much more transformational, as he was the bread of life.

Application
 
Life comes crashing in around us and we cry out to the Lord for help. The Lord supplies our need and we are grateful but somehow we become fixated on the thing that met our need, and not on Jesus himself. We pray earnestly for the things that we think that we want, but we don’t seek the face of God. We want just one more miracle and we promise that we will be satisfied but we don’t want God to rule in our lives. The struggle becomes very real as we refuse to confess that Jesus is Lord and instead hang onto every bit of power that we can.

Expecting one more miracle from Jesus, just so that he will perform at our whim, is manipulative. Jesus will not perform on demand and there won’t be just one more miracle. We are, instead, invited into the very presence of the one who will transform our lives and feed us with himself on a daily basis. Seeking the face of God on a daily basis we are transformed as we reflect Jesus in all that we say and do. This is the miracle and none other is required.

Prayer
 
Lord, I seek you today and my desire is to be more like you.  Amen.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

For the Love of Power


Scripture
 
Acts 8:18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,  19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!  21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God.  22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.  23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.”  24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

Observation

Simon saw the way in which the disciples were transformed when filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of understanding the infilling of the Holy Spirit as a way for the good news of Jesus Christ to be spread throughout the world he immediately began to imagine the ways in which his life could be enhanced. The Holy Spirit was powerful and lives were being changed and people healed as a result. If only he could harness this power he could make money! Basil the Great reminds us however, that “the Spirit’s power is not a business transaction.” The Holy Spirit is not presented for the love of power, but for the love of Jesus.

Peter pronounced judgement on him, not because of vengeance but because of justice. What the man was wanting to do was simply wrong and the results would be catastrophic in his own life. The grace of Jesus was extended to Simon who was offered repentance. If he would have the right heart, he would seek with the right spirit then the love of power would dissolve and the love for Christ would consume.

Application
 
The love of power can be intoxicating. Wielding gifts and talents given by God with the wrong motivations can lead to a very destructive path. We hate being reminded of that and may even take offense when being corrected. But correction may be coming from a heart of love that is trying to deter the individual from misusing what has come from God.

Power can be manifested in many ways in our lives. Little children, early on, learn the power of manipulation. It’s amazing how such little humans can control a room of adults! Later in life we find power in relationships in which there is to be mutual love and submission. The love of power encourages one to dominate the other. In different countries of the world people of particular race or ethnic backgrounds may simply be born to power. Without realizing they have been born with the privileges of power people assume it is simply the natural state and love their positions. As people accumulate wealth they exercise power. When justice begins to question the role that power may be playing righteous indignation often ensues.

The good news is that there is room for repentance. Peter revealed to Simon the depth of his sin but also provided him a way out. Confronting the love of power may be necessary to help bring us to the place of repentance. We can be set free from the love of power and be bound by the love of Christ.

Prayer
 
Lord, may your love consume me today and every day.  Amen.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Near As Our Shadow


Scripture
 
Psa. 121:5        The LORD is your keeper;
        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6     The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.

Observation
 
The Lord is thy keeper. Here the preserving One, who had been spoken of by pronouns in the two previous verses, is distinctly named—Jehovah is thy keeper. What a mint of meaning lies here: the sentence is a mass of bullion, and when coined and stamped with the king’s name it will bear all our expenses between our birthplace on earth and our rest in heaven. Here is a glorious person—Jehovah, assuming a gracious office and fulfilling it in person,—Jehovah is thy keeper, in behalf of a favoured individual—thy, and a firm assurance of revelation that it is even so at this hour—Jehovah is thy keeper. Can we appropriate the divine declaration? If so, we may journey onward to Jerusalem and know no fear; yea, we may journey through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. A shade gives protection from burning heat and glaring light. We cannot bear too much blessing; even divine goodness, which is a right hand dispensation, must be toned down and shaded to suit our infirmity, and this the Lord will do for us. He will bear a shield before us, and guard the right arm with which we fight the foe. That member which has the most of labour shall have the most of protection. When a blazing sun pours down its burning beams upon our heads the Lord Jehovah himself will interpose to shade us, and that in the most honourable manner, acting as our right hand attendant, and placing us in comfort and safety. “The Lord at thy right hand shall smite through kings”. How different this from the portion of the ungodly ones who have Satan standing at their right hand, and of those of whom Moses said, “their defence has departed from them”. God is as near us as our shadow, and we are as safe as angels.(Spurgeon’s Treasury of David)

The sun and the moon are both objects that either bring or reflect light. In both of these circumstances there is a shadow that cannot be shaken. The visible enemies of the day and the invisible of the night are all seen by God who remains near as a shadow and always on guard on our behalf.

Application
 
I remember as a little girl playing with my shadow. Maybe I had recently read or seen “Peter Pan” but I found it fascinating that no matter what I did, I could not disconnect myself from my shadow. I would jump and run and try and hide, but somehow my shadow always came with me. On a bright and sunny day it was impossible to escape my shadow because it was attached to me.

The Lord is our keeper who cannot be shaken from us. God’s prevenient grace is always reaching out to draw beloved children back home. In the midst of trials and adversity God never runs away but remains as a tool of defense in the time of trouble.

Either we embrace the beautiful gift of God found at our right hand, or we try in vain to create distance. Trying to do things on our own looks just as silly as a child trying to shake their shadow. The natural order creates the shadow and so the natural order is for God to be our helper. Managing without the help of God doesn’t work well because we were created with connection. God is near as our shadow, so live into the peace of the presence of the shade at our right hand.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for always being near.  Amen.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Delusional


Scripture
 
Judg. 17:1   There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah.  2 He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and even spoke it in my hearing,—that silver is in my possession; I took it; but now I will return it to you.” And his mother said, “May my son be blessed by the LORD!”  3 Then he returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother; and his mother said, “I consecrate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make an idol of cast metal.”  4 So when he returned the money to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into an idol of cast metal; and it was in the house of Micah.  5 This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest.  6 In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.
Judg. 17:7   Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the clan of Judah. He was a Levite residing there.  8 This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah, to live wherever he could find a place. He came to the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim to carry on his work.  9 Micah said to him, “From where do you come?” He replied, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to live wherever I can find a place.”  10 Then Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a set of clothes, and your living.”  11 The Levite agreed to stay with the man; and the young man became to him like one of his sons.  12 So Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.  13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”

Observation

The entire story is one in which the members have deluded themselves into thinking that they are doing the right thing. We don’t know, but possibly Micah and his mother were sincere in their desire to worship God, but the whole story becomes quite convoluted. The scene unfolds with Micah admitting that he has stolen silver from his mother. He returns to her that which he had taken and she blesses him, consecrates the silver and has an idol made out of it. Pleased that they have an idol, Micah builds a small chapel on his property so that he can worship in the convenience of his own home. Finally, he appoints one of his sons to be the priest of his homemade place of worship. He, his mother, and his entire family are deluded into believing that this is all a good thing.

Suddenly it appears that things are getting even better when a Levite comes passing by. The problem with this scenario is that a good Levite would have been placed into an assignment and the fact that this priest is wandering around the countryside raises suspicion and questions about his commitment to ministry. The doubts must continue when he agrees to serve Micah at his personal place of worship that is filled with homemade idols. The final delusional statement comes from Micah, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.” It may be that he was satisfying his guilty conscience by replacing his son with a “real” priest. Somehow he believed that by establishing an appearance of religion there at his own home he would, indeed be in good favor with God.

While they may have thought they were being sincere in worship, they had strayed from the truths that God had placed before the people. Instead of leading toward God they were now headed in a direction that would lead toward death.

Application
 
Micah and his family had deluded themselves into believing that if they appeared religious, they were indeed religious. From all appearances this entire story makes you wonder how in the world they could have thought they were doing the right thing. It’s filled with thievery, idolatry, selfishness, and lies. There is no genuine worship of the true God here and therefore their path will ultimately lead to destruction.

Casting judgement on others is easy but taking a critical look at ourselves is not. Any form of religiosity without true and authentic faith in Jesus Christ is just as delusional. Going to church on Sunday but living like the world all week long is delusional. Carrying your Bible to church but watching porn on your computer when no one is looking is delusional. Being unwilling to share your resources with a needy world and yet saying you love Jesus is delusional. Never sharing Jesus with people around you who are suffering is just delusional. Only praying before you eat (if that) is delusional.

When our religious lives become a facade that never reaches to our hearts we are simply playing a game. We may be able to fool ourselves and our neighbors for a little while but God is never fooled.

Soon after Joshua had died the Israelites each did their own thing, determining in their own eyes what was right. They adjusted their faith to their own circumstances but God was not pleased. God will not be pleased if we continue to accommodate our faith without remaining faithful. Jesus Christ is God incarnate and has prepared the way for us to follow. Any deviation from that path and we are deluding ourselves into believing we are doing a good thing. Micah and his family were reflecting the idols of the world and had convinced themselves that this was a good thing. Don’t be deluded into believing that you should reflect anything short of Jesus Christ.

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me to seek your face and reflect you. May there be no distractions.  Amen.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

And Finally


Scripture
 
2Cor. 13:11   Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.  12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
2Cor. 13:13   The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Observation

Paul brings this epistle to a close with a prayer and an admonition. There is to be unity in the church and his appeal has been for the community of faith to be intentional about reconciliation. Things are to be put in order as believers reach out to one another in holy love, taking the time to come to agreement. Jesus Christ came as the prince of peace and so as God’s children continue to grow and reflect Christ, his peace will be revealed and the peace and love of God will surround those who are called Christian.

Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss of betrayal but those who are reflecting Christ will greet one another with a holy kiss of God’s love and peace. It’s hard to greet someone in love when you are angry with them and so the holy kiss becomes a visible expression of the love and peace of God within the community. The holy ones, those living in the holiness of Christ send their greetings with an anticipated hope of the participation of the Corinthians in that holiness as well.

The closing statement  of the prayer is Trinitarian expressing the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship which can be enjoyed because of the Holy Spirit. It is an invitation into participation in God’s very nature which becomes revealed through grace, love and communion.

Application

Somehow I think I hear a big sigh from Paul as he comes to the end of this epistle. He takes a deep breath and then begins this prayer which ties together the pieces of everything he has been trying to say to the Corinthians. And finally — his desire is that they become God’s holy people.

We can take time talking about all kinds of issues and problems but ultimately, we are being called to be holy, just as God is holy. And finally — Paul prays for the very nature of God to be revealed in God’s people.

And finally — farewell dear friends, but make sure you “put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.” He matches this to the final statement of his prayer referring to the grace, love and communion to be found in the Triune God. Sandwiched in the middle are all the saints who greet the Corinthians. All of those who are holy send their greetings because they are already participating in the grace, love and communion of our holy God.

And finally — dear brothers and sisters, God wants us to stop bickering about the little things that create division and distractions and focus on what is really important.

And finally — we live in the presence of the God of love and peace. When we spend time in God’s holy presence we are consumed by the nature of love and peace. God’s nature becomes our nature and our response to the things around us changes dramatically. No longer do we have to fight back to win from our perspective, but we are willing to allow the God of peace to bring reconciliation.

The Christian community often lives far too divided. It’s easy for us to point our fingers at the Corinthians when we fail to see what may be happening in our own communities. From the comfort of our pews we aren’t sure how to reach out to those who may be from another economic status, or ethnic background. The God of love and peace transforms our hearts to the point that we can no longer be the same. We reach out to our sister or brother whom we may have difficulty understanding — but we greet them with a holy kiss of God’s love and acceptance. Physically touching and breaking down barriers, we reach out, and in doing so we step into the communion of the saints.

And finally — the difference in our lives is dramatic. No longer does the world see the bickering members of the church, but they see the love, grace and fellowship of God at work, bringing a healing balm to the pain of this world.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for Paul’s prayer which has been preserved as a reminder to us today. Please, help me to live into your Trinitarian presence and fellowship.  Amen.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Among the Nations


Scripture
 
Psa. 108:0   A Song. A Psalm of David.
1     My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
        I will sing and make melody.
        Awake, my soul!
2     Awake, O harp and lyre!
        I will awake the dawn.
3     I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples,
        and I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4     For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens,
        and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Observation

Singing songs of praise includes spreading the good news of God among the surrounding nations. Never was the joy of this relationship meant to be kept to ourselves but to be shared with all those we may encounter. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness reaches beyond all human barriers or boundaries drawing all people through immeasurable grace.

Application
 
This morning I had the privilege of worshiping in English and in Spanish. Both experiences were wonderful as we spent time in genuine worship of our Lord. However, we worshipped in two separate rooms at the same time because each group was comfortable with the type of worship that was normative for their their culture. There is nothing wrong with this because it can create great freedom for worship. However, if we begin to think that one culture or the other is normative for all, we have a problem.

The kingdom is a beautiful patchwork quilt of God’s people from many tribes and nations who unite together in worship. That means that no one does it just right, and neither does anyone do it wrong. It’s just about pure worship of Jesus Christ.

The church in America needs to be prepared for the changes that lie ahead. Philip Jenkins tells us that the US will see the biggest demographic shift the world has ever seen in the next 30 years. That means that things will be changing in neighborhoods, but also in churches. Instead of seeing this as a threat, we can live into what God is doing and embrace our new friends who are arriving from around the world. The mission field is arriving at our doorsteps and suddenly it is even easier to sing praises to the Lord among the nations.

The beautiful patchwork of cultures will create a new picture of the church and worship. Instead of lamenting the past, it will be exciting to embrace a new and beautiful future where the steadfast love of God is reflected in ever broader hues. God’s love always and forever sung among the nations.

Prayer
 
Lord, thank you for the privilege of serving you in this time.  Amen.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Planting Olive Trees


Scripture
 
Psa. 102:18        Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
        so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD:

Observation

This prayer of intercession has been penned and in the center we discover a plea for the faith story to be recorded for a generation not yet born. The faith of this generation is to be carried into the next and the next. What happens to the author of the Psalm has the potential of everlasting impact when the eternal is in view. The concern reaches far beyond this day, or even next month because one looks beyond their own immediate needs. Just as the people of the middle-east taught us that they don’t plant olive trees for themselves, but for the next generation, so God’s followers are to record God’s faithfulness for those to come.

Application
 
I’m not sure that we think too much about olive tree planting and living these days. We live in an instant world and often we want immediate satisfaction. We don’t think about doing things that may have no impact on our lives whatsoever, but will produce fruit in the lives of our children. Yet, this is the call of the psalmist, to think about the ones who are yet unborn.

What I find in the church these days is a desperate attempt to solve the problem of decline. How in the world do we get more people to come to our churches? We are looking for short-term solutions without considering the long-term consequences. It’s easy to fill a building by attracting people to exciting events. The only problem is that there may not be much spiritual depth which follows and the shallow roots will eventually lead to fragility. When the winds of change blow there will be no deep root system to keep the church aright. We’ve all known this since the days of our childhood when we sang about the wise man who build his house on rock. It takes a lot of time and energy to build a house on a rock. To build a house on sand is quick and easy, but the destruction is great.

We need to metaphorically plant olive trees. That is, we need to consider that ministry is about investment for the long-term and not just to feel “successful” today. What will our children inherit from us spiritually? Hopefully we will take the time to cultivate a spiritual life that will someday bear fruit. This takes years of investment in discipleship, training and education so that they grow up healthy. The same is true about churches. As communities of faith we need to take the time to slow down and get to know God. In knowing God we allow the Holy Spirit free reign to do  transformational work in our lives.

We also need to give space to those called to ministry to take the time to be discipled and gain an education. When we begin to look for short-cuts we end up with shallow root systems. There will be the occasional “olive tree” that makes it to maturity but many will not survive. Those who are unborn may not have an opportunity to praise the LORD because we have not faithfully invested in "recording" the faith for the generation to come.

What we do today is not only for our personal experience, but an investment for those to come. Now that I have a baby granddaughter that point really does make a difference to me. I want her to experience the love of Jesus. I want her to experience Christ through the church. I want there to be an awesome pastor who influences her life and points her in the direction of Christ. I want to plant an olive tree for her and for the many who are yet unborn. 

Prayer
 
Lord, please help me not to take short-cuts for my own personal benefit.  Amen.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Conflict in the Church


Scripture
 
Acts 6:1   Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.  3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,  4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”  5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

Observation

The church was growing rapidly and the Apostles were facing challenges they had never encountered. This was a loving and sharing community in which people made sure that the needs of everyone were being met. Some of those who had become a part of the church were Hebrew and some were Greek-speaking. There seemed to be a concern that those who were Greek-speaking were being overlooked. They were a multi-cultural church from the very beginning and this challenged the way in which they were functioning. It was beginning to appear that a particular cultural group (the Hebrews) were getting special treatment. This was not the way that things were supposed to be so action had to be taken.

The Apostles faced the concerns head on realizing that they had to become more organized and delegate certain responsibilities. They understood their calling and felt that they needed some good managers to help with the details of waiting on tables — which may have been serving at the tables where money and food were distributed. To select the individuals they didn’t cast lots as they had when replacing Judas. Now, the process seemed to include a new criteria — being filled with the Holy Spirit and those who reflected faith. They also seemed to have managerial skills and another quality — probably they were bi-lingual. Their names suggest that they spoke Greek.

The Apostles lay hands on these individuals — a vision of ordination — and empower them to minister with authority.

Application
 
The church seems to be adept at conflict avoidance but this passage provides us with a template for conflict response:

1) They acknowledged that they had a problem. Too often the issue put forth here would not be dealt with because our defense mechanisms would not allow us to admit there was a problem. We would probably begin by saying, “No, the widows are not being neglected.” And then we would come up with some lengthy explanation as to how they ARE being served and maybe, we might just be able to blame it on the widows themselves because they probably just weren’t being assertive enough. We never even get to problem solving because we spend too much time in problem denying.

2) The Apostles evaluated the situation and what they believed was to be their role in the community of faith. The process of evaluation allowed them to affirm that their calling was to the preaching of the word and if this were the case, then they would need to find a solution to the current concern. There needed to be people who could manage the tables on a daily basis. If the Apostles would do this they wouldn’t have the time that they felt they needed to preach. They would need to find people to manage the tables.

3) Once they evaluated the situation and realized their need was for people to manage the tables, they set out the criteria for those individuals. The Scripture leads us to believe that they did this with the input of the people. They were willing to listen to engage the community of faith transparently in the decision making process. The people selected would need to have the right skills for management; filled with the Spirit; a track-record of faithfulness; and the ability to speak in multiple languages — especially Greek.

4) With specific criteria in hand they engaged the people in the selection of the right individuals who met the need. There was no cronyism involved. They didn’t just select their friends so that they could be seen as important in the new church but they matched the need to the gifting.

The needs of the community were met by the way in which the Apostles managed this conflict. Instead of the problem continuing, it was solved. Not only was it solved but by facing their problem they created a structure that would help the church grow and expand even further. They created space for new leaders to develop and Stephen goes on to become the first Christian martyr whose testimony lives on to this day.

Conflict could be a gift from God that nudges the church on to growth. Don’t ignore conflict but confront it and let’s allow it to make God’s church a better place.

Prayer

 
Lord, thank you for the conflicts and please help me to deal with them well.  Amen.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

You Can’t Stop It!


Scripture
 
Acts 5:38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail;  39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Observation

The Apostles were preaching daily the good news of Jesus. This was stirring up the citizens of Jerusalem and it caused great consternation among the religious leaders. They had the apostles arrested and placed in prison, but God sent an angel to set them free. The religious leaders were again upset by discovering that these men were back outside preaching so they were brought to the council where the high priest questioned them. Peter’s response affirmed the call that the apostles had received from God and that they had to be obedient to that call and not to human authorities. This, of course, made the leaders mad but, after dismissing the apostles, Gamaliel made his speech.

Interestingly, this Gamaliel may have been the same man who was Saul’s teacher. If so, he was known for his great learning and wisdom. These uneducated men from the Galilee must have dumbfounded him, along with the entire council. However, he was not willing to just dismiss them because he recognized that through them a movement was developing. More than likely, however, he did not believe that God was on their side, but that this was simply a new rebellion. He assumed that this would simply fizzle out and so he gave this piece of advice. Let the men go because it will probably just go away, but if God is in it, we won’t be able to stop it.

Gamaliel became a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ with his words. He affirmed that if the power of God was in this new movement, no one will be able to stop it. The words are prophetic because as I write this today, the rebellion led by the uneducated apostles from the Galilee continues to spread throughout the globe. When the work is from God, nothing can stop it!

Application

Today we have the privilege of participating in God’s work in this world. If you read the news, you just might get discouraged. It seems as if there are new laws around the world that seek to prohibit the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. However, that’s a rather funny thing, because we know that laws have never been able to contain the working of the Holy Spirit. Human boundaries mean nothing to God.

The apostles were beaten for the first time after this encounter with the religious leaders. They did not leave discouraged but instead, were joyful because they had suffered for Christ. Is that how we view the barriers and difficulties? Maybe we ought to rejoice that the world thinks it has to try and contain God’s work. The words of Gamaliel ring true today because if this truly is God’s work, nothing will be able to stop it! Let us rejoice in our sufferings that we might be worthy to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” (v.41)

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the obstacles that help me to be dependent upon you. Amen.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Loving the Light


Scripture
 
John 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Observation

Jesus is the light of the world and the brightness of his own life shines into the dark corners of the world. The world is exceedingly uncomfortable with the light that Jesus shines because it reveals all that is being done in the dark and secret corners. People want to have things hidden so that no one will ever find out what they have really done. This is why the light of Jesus is so blinding and people run to find the darkness.

Those who are openly reflecting Christ have nothing to hide. The light of Christ shines through everything that they do and there is great transparency in their lives. All that they do is clearly revealed in God’s words and deeds seen through them.

Application

I’m just thinking this morning of different places where we experience light and darkness. Sometimes we like one and sometimes the other.

As a teen I loved to sit on a beach in the sunlight and get a tan. I’ll probably pay for that some day!

When we go to restaurants they dim the lights so that they create an atmosphere in which they hope we will spend more money on dinner. It may be because we can’t clearly see the menu!

While living in Russia the winters were long and dark. I used to buy a big bag of tea light candles from Ikea that would last for months. Each evening I would light about ten candles in our apartment that would burn from about 6-10pm. This was to brighten our apartment because as more people came home to the building, more power was used. Little by little the electric lighting would go dim and so the candles were needed to provide light. When the candles went out — we went to bed. I thought our apartment was pretty clean during the winter months too — but then came springtime. Along with spring came bright and sunny days and as the sunlight would stream into the apartment I could see all the dirt that I had missed during the winter months. There had to be some spring cleaning.

We all have times when we need some spring cleaning in our spiritual houses. We must allow the light of Christ needs to shine brightly into our lives and reveal those dirty corners that desperately need to be cleaned. Only in this way will our faith be genuine and will others be drawn toward the clear image of the reflected Christ.

If the light causes discomfort, maybe we ought to evaluate what we are trying to hide in the darkness.

To love Jesus is to love the light.

Prayer

Lord, please shine your light into my life and help me to be willing to allow you to do your cleaning. Amen.
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Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Dead Calm


Scripture
 
Mark 4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

Observation

As Jesus and the disciples were in the boat traveling to the other side of the sea a terrible storm arose. While the disciples were terrified, Jesus remained fast asleep. Eventually they woke him up and asked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” His response is today’s text. Obviously he cared for his disciples but they still didn’t realize who it was that was with them. This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, that he is the Creator and that he has power and authority over that which he has created.

His words translated mean to silence or muzzle the waters. The response of the sea is like that of an exhausted child who finally stops fighting their parent, relaxes in their arms and drops off to sleep. The heaving of the waters cease and complete rest, “a dead calm” comes upon the entire scene. It is a peace and stillness that only the Creator could have brought about and this leaves the disciples in stunned silence and awe.

Application
 
The world around us is a raging sea and the storms of life are blowing. Simply turning on the television or perusing the internet for news makes us realize that there is an incredible storm brewing.


Of course the storm doesn't have to be on the world stage, political or economic front but can be found within our own home. It could be an illness, a strained relationship or any number of other things. We can live overwhelmed by the raging storm or we can live in the dead calm and peace found in Christ. The One who has power over nature is still in control today.

Prayer

Lord, may I live resting in your peace. 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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Saturday, August 6, 2016

There’s Not Much Worse Than Hypocrisy


Scripture
 
Acts 5:1   But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property;  2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?  4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!”  5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it.  6 The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.
Acts 5:7   After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.”  9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

Observation

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is really quite disturbing because the punishment was so severe. The young fledgling church was developing and people were sharing all they had for the community of believers. Ananias and Sapphira were ambitious individuals and wanted to be viewed as eminent disciples. They assumed a public posture which would gain them prominence among the believers.

As a part of the believing community they made the appearance of offering themselves wholeheartedly as living sacrifices to Jesus Christ and the church. When they sold their land they declared that the entire amount was God’s and thus sacred. It now belonged to God and to the community. By lying about what they had done they sinned against God and they stole from the entire community of faith. They were not forced to sell their land, nor were they forced to give all the money that they made. They had chosen from their own free will to appear to give generously. Somehow they did not realize that their commitment in and of itself was a promise and so in holding back the money, they were stealing from God’s sacred treasury.

The hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira was huge and damaging. They wanted to appear as if they were great disciples when in fact, they were not disciples at all. It was all a charade for their hearts were not truly transformed. This serves as a warning to the church, for those who carry the name of Christian, that they must be the same inside and out. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not an image that we simply desire to carry, but we are to bear within us the very likeness of Jesus Christ who is the visible image of God. Both Ananias and Sapphira died because of the seriousness of their hypocrisy and the damage which they were doing to the entire community of faith.

Application
 
We have always been a family that has listened to, read or watched the news. Researchers tell us that third-culture kids see the news in 3-D. In other words, it is incredibly real to people like me who have lived in multiple cultures because we see the reality of the news and it’s not just something happening “over there.” As a child I could never understand why, when I listened to the news, they would say that the Christians and the Jews are fighting. Or, the Protestants and the Catholics are at war. From what I had heard about Jesus from family devotions and Sunday School this kind of language was simply incongruous with what I was learning. If you were truly a Christian, you couldn’t be at war with another Christian! Or, so it seemed.

What Ananias and Sapphira did would have tarnished the reputation of the entire fledgling community of faith. Their corruption was not just individual but had the possibility of much more widespread corruption corporately. Having presented their bodies publicly as living sacrifices to Jesus Christ and then living as hypocrites was simply sacrilege. They had united with the holy and were now potentially contaminating that which was holy with the unholy. By their action they paved the way for their own deaths because the unholy cannot live in communion with the holy. The holiness of Christ has the power to destroy all that is evil. Hypocrisy is when we try to unite evil with God’s holiness and the result is amazingly destructive.

We have all experienced the destructive power of hypocrisy within our own lives. When Pastors and church leaders speak one way but then act another we are deeply disappointed. We expect there to be consistency throughout. That which is said outwardly is to be lived inwardly. Christianity does not begin and end on a Sunday. Christianity is lived day in and day out in relationship with family, friends and coworkers. Anything short of this may condemn us to the same judgment as Ananias and Sapphira, for if we pledge on Sunday that we are living sacrifices to Jesus Christ but then hold back during the week, we are stealing from his holy treasury. We committed to be entirely his and to give all that we have and all that we are to him. It is hypocrisy to say this with our mouths and not live it out daily in our actions.

The community of faith grew rapidly in those early days and I believe that it will again when God’s people commit themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord on a daily basis. There is not much worse than hypocrisy; for the individual, for the community of faith and for Christ’s witness in this world.

Prayer
Lord, please help my life to genuinely reflect you in all things. Amen.

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


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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What Do You See?


Scripture

 
John 1:29   The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Observation


John the Baptist declares what he sees in the man Jesus. He may have made the connection to the historic words of prophesy in Isaiah 53 and recognized that this was no ordinary man. God revealed to the Baptist that this was the Messiah. In these words John declared more than that which meets the eye. This man would become the sacrifice for all of humanity and would provide a pathway for the sin of the world to be removed. The hearers may not have understood because they couldn’t see beyond the seemingly normal exterior of the man who stood before them. Only through God’s power could John see who Jesus really was.

Application

Just like John, God provides us with the ability to see Christ. But it was John who had to declare who it was that he really saw because those around couldn’t see Jesus for who he really was. In the case of John the Baptist he had to declare that this one was to be the Messiah.

Jesus has already been revealed to us as the Messiah and his life, death and resurrection provides the pathway for us to see and participate with him in this world. Now, we are challenged to see the hand of God in our daily lives and to recognize when and where we are to be at work in the kingdom. We will all encounter Jesus in one form or another today. The question will be whether we see him or not and how we will respond. We read in Matthew’s gospel: “Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “ (Matthew 25:44 -45) John the Baptist saw Jesus for who he was and declared his Messianic role. We are to see Jesus in the needy of this world and respond as Spirit-filled believers who demonstrate Christ’s activity in and through us, reflecting the love found in the Trinity.

We will all journey through this day and encounter people with needs. Will we only see the exterior and quickly move on, or will we give space to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives to see more? There is always more going on than what meets the eye. We must pray for God’s provision to see what God sees. When we see in this way we will be moved by God’s passions and respond with a heart of love. John the Baptist was motivated for ministry because he really saw Jesus. What will you see today?

Prayer

Lord, please help me to see you and to follow you today. 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