Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Withdrawing for Prayer


Scripture
 
Luke 5:16 But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Observation

Jesus not only taught us words to pray, but his life gave us a pattern for prayer. Jesus often would withdraw to a deserted place to pray. This was not the only occurrence that we read about in the New Testament. What’s interesting about the use of withdraw here is that it implies that it happened frequently, and that Jesus found prayer so important that he made himself intentionally inaccessible. To be able to spend the time that Jesus needed in prayer, he had to stop the preaching, teaching and healing and get completely away from the people to spend time alone with the Father.

Application

Sometimes I think we set up a dichotomy and begin to argue over which is more important in our spiritual lives. Is it getting to know Christ? Or is it participating in Christ’s mission in the world? The reality is that we need both and it is in getting to know Christ that we can then join with Christ in participating in his mission in the world. But the only way in which we will really get to know Christ is by spending time with him. This means that we have to make knowing Christ a priority in our lives and that means prayer has to become a priority.

The most revealing thing about Jesus’ activity was that he intentionally withdrew to pray. There were always people who needed to be healed. There were always people who wanted to hear him preach. He could have worked 24-7 and still not reached everyone and yet, he intentionally established boundaries for his personal life.

If we are going to get to know Christ and be empowered by uniting with him, then we have to be intentional about our prayer life. We have to withdraw from everything else that we have on our plates and spend time alone with Jesus. If Jesus had to do this, how much more so do we? Jesus had to spend time with the Father and in doing so the Father’s passions became his passions, and the Father’s strength became his strength. The Father’s desires were his desires. The result was Jesus’ very effective ministry.

Slow down. Take time to withdraw to pray. The work will still be there, but just like Jesus, we will be recharged and able to tackle our work more focused and empowered.

Prayer

Lord, please help me know you more. Amen.
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Monday, September 26, 2016

Trusting Jesus


Scripture
 
Luke 5:1   Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,  2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”  11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Observation

Simon, James and John were all professional fishermen. They had been doing this for years. Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth and fishing was not his profession and yet, he seemed to understand much about it. What’s amazing about this story is that the fishermen, who knew their profession, trusted Jesus. He told them to put down their nets, even thought they had already been fishing all night. They trust Jesus and do so, probably not sure of any response. But in trusting Jesus they suddenly have a huge haul of fish and Simon Peter is a broken man. How can this man, Jesus, have known that they could catch this many fish — right now, and in this location? Jesus has something larger in mind. He has simply gotten the attention of the fishermen by revealing his power in the midst of their own personal strength. If they could trust Jesus in a profession they knew well — maybe they could trust him in something they had never done — and that was to become fishers of men.

Application

We may say that we trust Jesus — but do we really? Just as he did with the disciples, Jesus wants to come into our ordinary lives and reveal his power. When we learn to trust him at home and at work — then we will grow and will be able to trust him for the bigger things he has in mind.

Following and trusting Jesus was always meant to be a growing experience. We are to be stretched beyond our own comfort zones. The fishermen were comfortable fishing. We are comfortable in our own world and with the things that we know we do well. Jesus brought fish to fishermen and we will discover him as we go about the ordinary daily business of our lives, if only we will trust him.

Learning to trust Jesus means that we are willing to step out of the boat of our comfort and follow him wherever he may lead.

Prayer

Lord, may I trust in you and follow your leading throughout this day. Amen.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Best Thing Ever


Scripture

 
Matt. 13:44   “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Observation


Jesus gives several parables in a row regarding the kingdom of heaven. It was not unusual for people to bury their money somewhere on their land for safekeeping. Within the last 12 months there have been three major discoveries of caches of ancient Roman coins. These were treasures of 3000-4000 coins from the Roman era. That’s why this parable spoke to the people of Jesus’ day because they understood that throughout history people had hidden their treasures in fields. If you knew that a field contained 3000 ancient Roman coins, you would sell everything that you owned just to buy that field.

The kingdom of heaven is so much more than a treasure of Roman coins. Just as someone is not sad to give up their measly personal belongings to purchase a field with Roman coins, so giving up what we have now in comparison to the kingdom is also nothing. The kingdom is of such great value that we are joyful, almost giddy, to give up what we had before, just so that we can enjoy new life in the kingdom, for this is the best thing ever!

Application

Treasure buried in a field for future consumption is called a hoard. It was a common practice and, in case you are curious, you can see a list of Roman hoards found in Great Britain alone here.
People regularly buried their goods in anticipation of finding them at a later date and using them.

We can find ourselves all over this parable. There are plenty of us these days who are hoarders, so much so, that there are even television shows about people who are hoarders! Somehow we find comfort in collecting stuff — to the extent that the stuff overtakes our lives. It’s similar to investing in something that we are willing to put into the ground in hopes that we will dig it up some day and find it useful. Considering the fact that over 1200 hoards of Roman era goods have been found in Great Britain alone — it seems that plenty of people never got to use their hoards. The things that they thought were precious remained buried in the ground for hundreds, if not more than a thousand years.

Jesus reminds us to store up our treasure in heaven. The heavenly kingdom is eternal and everything in this world pales in comparison. It really is the best thing ever!

Giving up the things of this world should not be a sad or mournful endeavor. If that is the case, then somehow we are not comprehending the beauty of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is of such great value that we willingly and joyful give up what we have and take ownership as citizens of the kingdom. Our problem is that we fail to understand that eternal life in the kingdom is far better than anything we can imagine now. At this point we only have a little foretaste of the fullness of the kingdom. It’s like digging for buried treasure and finding just one or two coins. We are excited about it and we purchase the field in anticipation of locating the entire hoard. Life in the kingdom will eventually lead to the entire treasure and it will be better than anything we could ever begin to imagine. Jesus is inviting us into this space, giving us a glimpse of what lies ahead and providing for us citizenship in the heavenly kingdom. It really is the best thing ever.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for eternal treasure, far greater than anything we can imagine. Amen.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Not a Little Comforted


Scripture
 
Acts 20:7   On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting.  9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.  10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”  11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left.  12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

Observation

The power of the understatement occurs at the end of this scene in the ministry of Paul. After Eutychus falls down from a third story window and dies, Paul runs to his side and a miracle occurs as the boy comes back to life. The conclusion is that the people take the boy away alive and they “were not a little comforted” which is a great understatement. However, this statement seems to punctuate a story which gives us great insight about Paul and his ministry.

Paul used every single opportunity that he had to preach Christ and he didn’t want anything to go to waste. Paul was up preaching all night long because he had to catch a boat in the morning. His time was very limited and his heart was so full of Christ that he was simply bursting with desire to tell others about Jesus! Yes, he probably droned on an on and Eutychus couldn’t stay away, but that wasn’t what drove Paul. Love for Christ drove Paul and his desire that others would know all that they could in a very short period of time.

Paul would not allow distractions to keep him from his cause. Even after the incident with Eutychus, Paul went right back to teaching. Whether he was in front of the group or reclining at a table and breaking bread, Paul did not stop. He knew he had to make the most of every minute that he had been given. Ultimately the fall took place for the benefit of Paul, for it literally brought to life the message he was preaching. The people experienced the comfort that Jesus brings as he reaches out and touches the lives of individuals. The understatement is written for the benefit of those present and for us, for because of the incident with Eutychus, the evening would never be forgotten. They were more than “not a little comforted” but they were confronted with the passion of Paul for a Messiah who could bring about transformation.

Application

Just when you think something in life has happened to derail your plans, you discover that God just might be using it for greater purposes. The understatement may be the exclamation point on what God is trying to accomplish and if we get hung up on the incidents, we will miss the real mission.

I am challenged by the way in which Paul lived his life. He remained focused on the goal of Jesus Christ in everything that he did and didn’t allow anything to distract him. His own personal sufferings were never a barrier to knowing and serving Christ. My prayer is that this kind of a passion for the Lord would burn in you and me. That what appear to be distractions in life would not be a frustration but as God-appointed moments to be used as accents on Jesus’ work in and through us. That we would use every single opportunity which comes our way to focus on Jesus.

We may not have a boat to catch in the morning, but our time really is limited. May we live in the joy that God is in the understatements and using them for glory.

Prayer

Lord, may the “distractions” of this day be transformed by you. Amen.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Spontaneous Evangelism


Scripture
 
Esth. 8:15   Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced.  16 For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor.  17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

Observation

Haman had planned for the destruction of the Jews who were still living in the land. Those who had not returned home after the exile had become members of their adopted society. Lest we think that they completed assimilated within those communities, this story of Esther is a great reminder that they were counter-cultural and remained Jewish. Haman’s plan backfired and instead of destroying the Jews within the land, people converted to Judaism. People suddenly realized it would be advantageous to be Jewish and almost a complete change of mind by the public happened overnight. Haman’s plan for evil was used for good and the result was spontaneous evangelism.

Application

Within the scope of the story of Queen Esther we remember the salvation of the Jews, but rarely do we mention that people converted to Judaism. These were God’s people who were a remnant living in a land where they had been taken during the exile. They could have returned back to Jerusalem but after decades they had settled down into this place where they had been brought. This had become home for them and they had been trying to live peacefully among those who had been their oppressors. Haman represents the oppressors who wanted to rid the land of the Jews.

How does a community go from wanting to destroy a people, to wanting to join a people? This was not on the mind of the Jews who were simply living life for the long haul. As we live our lives faithfully day in and day out, without compromise to the culture surrounding, God will continue to be at work. The Jews lived for a long time feeling very oppressed and then, suddenly, things turned around. They turned around because God used a series of circumstances and used them for the kingdom’s sake. That’s what God does with our circumstances as well. We may not see what is going on behind the scenes and we may feel quite oppressed and yet, God is the one who is at work. We are to live faithfully, day in and day out, for the long haul.

The church is not in a condition of growth these days. In the United States, even with the advent of new large mega-churches, there is not a county in the US with more church attenders today than twenty years ago. (Rahner) We are just shifting around Christians when what we really need is a movement of God’s Holy Spirit in which there is spontaneous evangelism. This doesn’t come about by our own personal designs, but by God’s work. We are called to live as faithfully followers of Jesus Christ, day in and day out, for the glory of God. There will be times of difficulty and trials, but as we remain faithful, we just may get to see God’s spontaneous revival break out among those who suddenly realize that God is real.

Prayer


Lord, please help me to live in patient submission to you for the long haul. Amen.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Problem of Envy


Scripture
 
Luke 4:20   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;  26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Observation

Jesus had returned home to Nazareth and attended the regular worship service at the synagogue. The people had heard about things that he had done in other places but they wanted him to do his “magic” here at home. This wasn’t “magic” for the sake of doing tricks, but Jesus’ works were about the glorification of the Father. This was of no interest to them, but rather, they felt that they had ownership of him because he was from their own town.

He knew that they would not accept him for who he really was and that they simply wanted to have some personal advantage because they knew him. The problem with envy is that it becomes a barrier to the work of God. They didn’t need to be envious because the reality was that they had raised up the Son of God. They had a lot to be proud of — that he had come from their small town. Instead, they wanted to be able to control and manipulate him and that was not to happen. Instead, Jesus hints that the good news will reach out beyond the borders of Nazareth, and even the Jewish world, and transform those who do not "belong." When barriers of envy obstruct the flow of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will find an unobstructed path and pour out on Jew and Gentile alike.

Application
 
Ultimately, problem of envy becomes obstructive to the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The people of Nazareth didn’t understand their own problem and their envy led them to the edge of a cliff, wanting to destroy the very one whom they had raised. The destructive power of envy can drive good people into ugly behaviors as they succumb to the motivations of their heart.

Jesus lived into the life and ministry which the Father had set before him. He could not be troubled by the envy of those from his home town and he could not allow their attitudes to keep him from ministry. The Holy Spirit would eventually flow beyond the barriers of their envy and reach out to all of those who were open to receive what Jesus had provided. He was not to be manipulated.

If we allow envy to grow in our hearts, we will suffer. Just because someone is more “successful” than we are, or more “popular,” or has more stuff is no reason to envy. God has gifted each and every individual in unique ways for the sake of the kingdom. If we are all faithfully serving in the kingdom then there is no need to become envious of another because of their gifting. We should celebrate what God is doing in and through the lives of servants dedicated to the glory of God. If we refuse to respond in this way, we will become an obstruction to the flow of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and we are the ones who will suffer. The people of Nazareth missed out on what Jesus really had to offer because they had their own ideas of what they wanted. Allowing our own ideas of what we want to dominate our lives means we will miss out. The problem of envy is that it can only hurt you.

Prayer


Lord, please help me to live into the unique life and ministry which you have placed before me. Amen.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Power to Overcome


Scripture
 
Luke 4:1    Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,  2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.  3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Observation

Jesus’ own life becomes a blueprint for living. At his baptism he is filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for the life of ministry and service which the Father had intended for him. Now, filled with the Spirit he spends forty days in the wilderness, and for forty days is tempted by the devil. Just as the first Adam fell by eating, Jesus becomes an overcomer by not eating. The first Adam was deceived by the devil and gave in to the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit. The devil turns to Jesus, the second Adam and again begins to deceive with food but Jesus will not be tricked. When the food is not deceptive enough, the devil tries to prod him into proving who he really is. This won’t happen either, for Jesus, filled with the Spirit is in the process of sanctifying human flesh, and setting aright all that had gone wrong through Adam. What was lost by eating in Adam is now found, and we are made more than conquerers in Christ who had the power to overcome.

Application

Our spiritual life, empowered by the working of the Holy Spirit, has the possibility of a very wholistic response. Maybe we have created a misnomer by speaking about a "spiritual life," because we may think that this only relates to life in the Spirit. We may equate this to our devotional and/or worship life. In reality this is an early church heresy, that of gnosticism, in which we divide the individual into the physical and the spiritual. The “spiritual” life can grow and have knowledge of God, but there really is no hope for the physical life, for in this world it will remain tainted. Jesus’ action in the wilderness refutes this. He suffered a very physical temptation and overcame that temptation to provide the opportunity for us to be set free.

We can be set free from our physical temptations. We may receive power to overcome many physical temptations by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

We can overcome our unhealthy relationship with food by the power of the Holy Spirit. Food has become much more than sustenance to many people in this world. For some it has become a joy and comfort. For others it has become entertainment. We eat more than we need and we have a generation of young people looking at Christ-followers, who may have enjoyed a few too many church pot-lucks, and are asking whether we have succumbed to the temptation of food. I believe this is why Jesus often demonstrates a lifestyle of prayer and fasting, to provide an example to God’s people that we do not have to be ruled by our stomachs.

We can be set free from sexual immorality. The early church was radically counter-cultural because they refused to accept and engage in the sexual practices of their society. The power to overcome means that God’s children do not have to succumb to the lifestyles of the age. Let’s be honest, pre-marital sex has become a common practice among “Christian” young people. The world has been telling us it’s okay for a long time. Without a strong call to following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as God’s holy people, people will simply follow the pattern of the world. Without examples of those who are overcomers in the flesh, Christianity will become a purely “spiritual” endeavor and we will end up back in the first century as gnostic heretics. It’s why we think we can get away with watching pornography in the secrecy of our homes and go to church on Sunday and feel good about how we are doing spiritually.

Jesus’ entire life is one which creates a pathway to union with God. The Holy Spirit draws us into this relationship with God and we are given the power to overcome. This doesn’t happen because of our own will-power, but because of Holy Spirit power. At the same time we must be active participants in what God desires for all of us. Jesus willingly, on his own power, walked to the wilderness. He went to the place where God wanted him to be and there, full of the Holy Spirit, he overcame the temptations which had come in the flesh and began to set everything aright. With our own two feet we can follow Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit can take us to the place of overcoming.

Prayer

Lord, may your Holy Spirit lead me today and help me to follow you in the flesh. Amen.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Let's Get It Right



Scripture

Acts 18:24-28

Ministry of Apollos
Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

Observation

Apollos was a very bright young man and had been extremely well educated. However, he didn't know enough about Jesus. Priscilla and Aquilla approached him and provided some gentle correction and additional understanding which made his preaching more accurate. While he had been good before, they wanted him to be even better. As a result, his ministry became powerful.

Application
I'm not sure that any of us look forward to being corrected and yet there is something important in getting things right. Apollos was pretty good at preaching and was enthusiastic and yet, after a little correction, he was powerful.

Could it be that we settle for pretty good, because we don't want to have to go through some correction to become powerful? This may relate to preaching, but also to our spiritual lives, or even our vocation. Being satisfied with being "okay" may limit what God can to do in and through us. As God's children I would think that we would desire to be the very best that we can be to represent the family.

Followers of Jesus Christ should be willing to do everything they need to do, to get it right. In every sphere of life we should seek to be ambassadors of the kingdom, serving with excellence. We shouldn't be satisfied with mediocre, but desire to be the very best we can, accepting advice, criticism, and direction, so that we can reflect on our Lord well.

Prayer

Lord, may my heart be open and willing to hear from you. Mold me and shape me by those who speak into my life and may I not be defensive, but willing to learn. Amen.


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Monday, September 19, 2016

An Expectation of Change


Scripture
 
Luke 3:10   And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Observation

John the Baptist was preaching to the crowds that had gathered. They were listening with great expectation as he called them out as children who did not resemble their father Moses. Calling the people to repentance they asked him what they should do.  Children of God, those who followed in the footsteps of Moses, were to reflect the nature and character of the chosen family. A follower of God was to live a life transformed.

John seemed to be speaking to the wealthy present who were told to share what they had — food, clothing and financial resources. Nothing was to be hoarded for personal pleasure, but to be generously shared with others. No one was to use anyone else for personal advantage but to be satisfied with God’s provision in their own lives. The expectation for those who repented was a life-style change which was counter-cultural.

Application

John the Baptist’s message points right to the consumerism we find in our own lives. Flipping through television you find channels dedicated to feeding the frenzy of pleasure and personal gain. Whether it’s the Food Network — who has turned eating into an art form, or “Say Yes to the Dress” — which encourages us to think that the money and energy put into the wedding is more important than the marriage — or QVC which runs continually telling us that there are still more articles of clothing and just the right accessories that we may need in our lives, we are bombarded with the messages of our culture. For God’s children there is an expectation of change, or of living counter-culturally. Sadly, it’s just not happening.

What if we were being called, as God’s people, to simply our lives for the sake of others? We are not supposed to live like everyone around us, but we are to have lives of generosity which reflect the love of Christ to a needy world. Most churches these days are struggling to make ends meet. Many pastors are barely being supported by their congregations and are looking at a new future in which they will be co-vocational. At the same time, if God’s people were faithful in giving their tithes and offerings into the church, we would have no problem. Tithing is hitting new lows as people continue to decrease their support of their local church. I hear people talk about tithing as if it’s an optional fund which you may choose to give to a myriad of social causes. At the same time we continue to purchase what we want to maintain our lifestyle. If we continue moving in that direction the church will die a slow death, and we will be personally responsible.

The church began to have it’s “tax-exempt” status back in the 4th century when it became acceptable under the Roman Empire. It was “tax-exempt” because the people of the church sacrificed and provided services for the poor and needy within their communities. The church survived while it’s ministry of compassion was funded by Christians who lived into the radical expectation of change. As we diversify our giving we also render the church incapable of fulfilling her mission. But has the church failed in fulfilling her mission because she has not had a radical expectation of change? Has the church abdicated her mission to the poor and needy because she invested too much in herself?

Following Jesus is radically counter-cultural and requires a life-style which seems at odds with the world. This is not a feel-good gospel, but a gospel that reflects the already of the Kingdom of God. May we ask the Lord to open our eyes to the vision of the kingdom that he has for us and may the Holy Spirit empower us to live into this radical life-style change. When this happens, when God’s people unite in radical change, then we will be more fully equipped to reflect Jesus. Jesus didn’t look or act anything like the people around him, and neither should we.

Prayer

Lord, please examine me, my life and my lifestyle so that I can live in a way pleasing to you. Amen.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

When It Simply Becomes About Power


Scripture

 
Esth. 1:13   Then the king consulted the sages who knew the laws (for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and custom,  14 and those next to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king, and sat first in the kingdom):  15 “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus conveyed by the eunuchs?”  16 Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.  17 For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’  18 This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath!  19 If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.  20 So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”

Observation

The drinking had been going on for days without restraint and by now the men where “merry” with wine. In his drunken revelry the king thought he would show off his beautiful queen and called for her to come before the men. This, however, was completely inappropriate. The Queen was to be modest and secluded from public gaze. To ask her to “perform” for other men was degrading and her response was one which would have been in line with saving both her reputation, and that of the King.

The king turned to his advisers, who were all filled with wine as well and the one, Memucan, spoke up. He “turned the matter into a national crisis that threatened male supremacy!” (Ryrie Study Bible) He played to the interests of those present, flattering the king and drawing all of the other counselors into agreement. Probably too intoxicated to disagree, or to think clearly, they all determined that Vashti would need to be punished for the sake of maintaining order. It wasn’t just about maintaining order, but about power and control. Even if they were in the wrong, they could not have admitted it, for doing so would have meant sharing power with women. The men were in the wrong and the woman was trying to do the right thing for all of them. Unable to see this truth and face their own limitations, they punished the one who was in the right, all for the sake of power.

Application

It’s easy to point fingers at the drunken officials at King Ahasuerus’ party and see the folly of their decision making. Unfortunately, we continue to make decisions about power as well, and we don’t always have the excuse of not thinking clearly! When we refuse to do the right thing to “keep the order” we are in the wrong. Being the people of God means that we become intentional about doing the right things. The result is potential disruption of order and power, but those should not be the definitive factors. As God’s people, we may need to go against the powers that exist to make a difference.

At the same time we need to examine the ways in which we hold onto power. Each of us has power in some sphere of life and, if we were to be honest, we don’t like to share. There are pockets of corporate America who are suddenly discovering a dearth of individuals to fill upcoming leadership voids. The problem is that some individuals have held onto positions of leadership for such a long period of time, retaining power, that they have been unwilling to share with those who may be developing leaders. When power is not shared, people will leave and go somewhere else where they feel empowered and wanted. The same is true in the church. If we do not allow for the sharing of power with younger people, minorities and women, the church will suddenly find herself devoid of fresh and upcoming leadership. The argument may be made that these individuals don’t have as much experience and that they don’t know how to do it the ways in which it has been done. That is probably true, but unless we share some power and give people a chance to learn and grow, there will be precious few who will be around to carry on into the future.

The King’s advisers held on for the sake of power, for power itself becomes intoxicating. Release from the addiction of power is necessary to become intentional about empowering others and, being a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave up all of his power to save you and me. He did not hold to the conventions of the world, but intentionally empowered his followers. Jesus reached out to the down and out and gave them new life. The religious officials, who thought they had the power, were not amused.  Ultimately they lost everything and the simple fishermen from the Galilee were empowered to heal the sick and preach new life throughout the world. When it simply becomes about power, everyone loses.

Prayer


Lord, may your power be released through your servants — all of them. Amen.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

It’s Not Just About You


Scripture
 
Acts 16:25   About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.  27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.  28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”  29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.  34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Observation

The book of Acts, even with the difficulties that the disciples face, is always full of hope. Therefore, when Paul and Silas find themselves in prison, they use it as an opportunity to continue to praise and worship the Lord. They pray and sing hymns which the other prisoners can hear. They realize that this imprisonment is not just about them, but about the way in which God can use them to reach out to others. Therefore, they praise and glorify God, even when in chains.

Suddenly there is an earthquake that one assumes is for the deliverance of Paul and Silas. If that were the case they would have run from the place immediately, but they did not and nor did their fellow prisoners. Interestingly, God wanted to use the earthquake for the deliverance of the jailer. The response of Paul and Silas, as well as the fellow prisoners who had been listening in on their worship, was one of patience. They did not run from the jail but instead calmed the nerves of the jailer who feared for his own life. Deliverance came to the jailer and his entire household.

What appeared to be the deliverance of Paul and Silas did reach the jailer and his household, but also all of their fellow prisoners. When the earthquake struck it was not only Paul and Silas’ cell which was opened, but “all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” In that moment God was glorified and lives were transformed. Not only Paul and Silas remained in the jail after the earthquake, but all of the prisoners remained. Something had taken hold of their lives and their response was not typical.

We tend to focus on the miraculous deliverance of Paul and Silas from the jail but they understood that this was not just about them. They would have to suffer in order to be able to reach those whom God wanted them to reach. In patient obedience they withstood all that came their way and allowed their troubles to deliver others.

Application

In the West we have become very focused on a personal spiritual life and we may have trouble thinking about the ways in which our lives are to intersect with those of others. We are not an island unto ourselves, for our actions have implications for others. In this case we must ask what we might be willing to do to help others come to Christ. I’m afraid that we live within a wall of excuses and seldom feel comfortable using the circumstances in which we find ourselves for God’s use. If we follow Christ who poured himself out for us, then our lives are to be for the blessing for others.

This takes us beyond our individualistic way of thinking and raises within us the passion of our Lord to seek and to save the lost. This was not a passive, but an active process in which Jesus engaged. When we become united with Christ, his passions become our passions, and we are driven by the desire to do all that we can be like him. We can imagine that Jesus would have been in that jail, and in fact, he was! Paul and Silas were willing, just as Christ, to give themselves up as living sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.

In many countries of our world Christianity finds itself under threat from government authorities. At times, Christians find themselves concerned about their own personal welfare in light of more restrictive environments. What could have been more strict that where Paul and Silas found themselves, but they weren’t worried about their own welfare. They didn’t wait to try and invite the prisoners and the jailer to church to tell them about Jesus. They participated with Jesus in the jail cell and used their difficult, but ordinary situation for the extraordinary. They were not concerned with their own welfare, but with the mission of Jesus Christ. The mission of Jesus Christ must become our driving passion and this will take us far beyond ourselves.

Prayer

Lord, unite me to you and your mission today. Amen.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dying for Life


Scripture
 
John 12:20   Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.  21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Observation

Lazarus had been raised from the dead and the curious crowds were seeking to know more about this incident. Jesus seemed to have been the man responsible and so even Greeks tried to get close to him. Finding the disciples with Greek sounding names they asked whether they could see Jesus. Upon encountering the Lord he began to speak to them in a story which may or may not have made sense to them. What they didn’t understand was that soon he would die on the cross and so the references to his glorification may have seemed odd. But then he used an illustration from agriculture that would have been familiar to all, for they knew that for a plant to grow the grain must die. A single kernel of grain on its own can do nothing but when it is buried in the ground, it dies and in dying the outer layer breaks down and suddenly all the water and nutrients of the soil bring it back to life and it bursts forth with new fruit. The result is that from the death of the grain comes a new crop, much larger than the original kernel of grain.

Application

Jesus was telling them that those who cling to their individual way of life will remain like a singular grain of wheat. An isolated unit that lives in a self-protective cocoon will be terribly lonely. It is only through giving yourself away in self-sacrifice that you can truly find life. It is this process of dying which is required in order to find new life.

The grain must fall into the ground to die and this is not a pleasant experience. Dying to self can be painful as we allow God to peel away the self-protective layers of our lives, exposing the tender heart which may be nurtured, fed and grown into something spectacular. But the fruit bearing only comes in this way — by the way of the Cross — by the way of death.

Prayer

Lord, may my life bear fruit for you. Amen.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Foolishness of Containment


Scripture
 
John 12:9   When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,  11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Observation

The Jewish leaders were frustrated with the traction that Jesus had gotten among the people. Somehow they believed that they would need to contain the reports of his activity. The story of Lazarus was beyond belief, and this was a problem. Too many people were coming to Christ as a result and something needed to be done.

Trying to contain the story of Lazarus’ resurrection, they plotted to kill him. Can you imagine the absurdity of trying to kill someone whom Jesus has already raised? It would seem, had Jesus raised him once from the dead, he could raise him again! Trying to contain the truth of what had happened with Lazarus simply made the religious leaders look foolish.

Application

In today’s language one might say that the Jewish leaders were engaged in damage control. Jesus, raising a man who had been dead and in the grave for several days was beyond belief.  As this story spread “many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” It was the story of Jesus that was compelling, but the religious officials thought it would be clever to get rid of Lazarus. The truth of the work of Jesus and the attraction to the Messiah could not be contained for God is far more powerful than any of our human schemes.

We face issues of containment on many fronts. There may be a family member who simply doesn’t want to hear about Jesus. There may be political pressure which tries to set up legal barriers to the spreading of the gospel. There may be pressure from more powerful religious groups or denominations who seek to silence the voice of the gospel. All of this is folly! Trying to contain the gospel is just as ridiculous as trying to kill a man who had already been dead.

Let’s look for a moment on the flip-side of this argument. If containment is folly, then why should we be discouraged. Anytime we try to manipulate the truth and realign the story for our own personal benefit, we will ultimately lose. That’s because Holy Spirit empowered truth cannot be contained. People will spend energy, time and resources on trying to contain that which is impossible to capture. Lean into the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Allow the Holy Spirit to empower on a daily basis and follow the Lord’s leading and there will be no barriers able to contain what God can do in and through you.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live into your truth and leading today as you overcome the barriers of this world. Amen.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Blaming God


Scripture
 
Job 40:8     Will you even put me in the wrong?
        Will you condemn me that you may be justified?

Observation

God is engaged in a very probing conversation with Job around the subject of vindication. If Job is to vindicate who he is or what he has done, is he willing to so that at the expense of the character of God? By trying to vindicate, Job is taking on God’s responsibility, that of judgment. The problem is that it calls into question the very nature of God. If Job is vindicated, what does that mean about God’s righteousness? Is God righteous, or in this action does Job take upon himself the mantle of righteousness? These are serious questions asked by God when the humans begin to assign blame.

Application

Blaming God in the midst of difficulties is a pretty common human response. God had great respect for Job and in this conversation we see an exercise into critical thinking. Sometimes we are unwilling to take the time to consider the ramifications of our thoughts or actions.

What is it that we are really saying when we blame God? What we are saying is that we know the circumstances better than God does and we are literally, putting ourselves in the place of God. That is a scary place to land for we are limited and we do not have all the answers.

Putting God in the wrong and blaming God will take us to a place of complete disorder. In reality, when we blame God we refuse to acknowledge that God, in righteousness, exists. Gregory of Nazianzus refers to the chaos that ensures when people cease to believe in God. When we blame God, there is no longer a governing principle on which we, or the world can function. The result is disorder, with systems and structures which begin to deteriorate, “disorder being the prelude to disintegration.” (Nazianzen, Oration 29) All of this stems from humanity blaming God so that there may be self-justification.

We step into dangerous territory when we begin to blame God.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to avoid the temptation of self-justification. Help me to take responsibility for my decisions and actions and to trust in you with all my heart. Amen.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Little Perspective


Scripture

 
Job 38:4        “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
        Tell me, if you have understanding.
5     Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
        Or who stretched the line upon it?
6     On what were its bases sunk,
        or who laid its cornerstone
7     when the morning stars sang together
        and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

Observation

After all the advice of his friends and Job’s comments, God responds. There is no attempt on God’s part to belittle Job or his intelligence, but God tries to give Job some perspective. God is inviting Job into a larger understanding or perspective of the world in which Job finds himself. It is also a perspective on the awesome power of God.

Application

Sometimes those days of frustration arrive like wave upon wave on the shore of the sea. Somehow you just wish they would stop for a short period of time, and yet they don’t, or maybe they can’t. It’s easy to get so focused on what lies right before you, that sense that you are drowning, that you fail to have perspective. The waves crashing on the ocean shore are part of a larger picture which, when our eyes are lifted up are able to see the great expanse of the waters, the division of earth and sky and the beauty of the sun by day and moon by night. It all has to do with perspective and those things which create pain and frustration may serve a purpose beyond our particular view when we step back and gain a larger vision.

There are events in life that come at us like a deluge. When death comes marching in and grief becomes more than we can bear we are overwhelmed. When we are disappointed that all of our hard work and plans didn’t turn out the way we thought they should have, it’s easy to become discouraged. When those we love struggle in their personal lives with issues far beyond our control we feel that we might just lose our mind.

This was the experience of Job and he was struggling with what it all meant. Was it to have had meaning or a special interpretation, or was it to drive him into a deeper relationship with God? God stepped in to bring perspective to the situation. God is far larger and greater than what we face today. We may not be able to make sense of what we are dealing with but God has promised to never leave us or to forsake us. We are called to seek first the kingdom of God.

We were never promised that life would be easy if we followed Jesus. Jesus did not preach a health and wealth gospel but challenged us to take up our cross and follow him. The view from the cross was not pretty but it led to eternal possibilities and this was God’s perspective.

Prayer


Lord, thank you for the reminder and encouragement. Please, help me to seek you and your kingdom this day. Amen.

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Can Holiness Be Beautiful?


Scripture
 
Psalm 96:9     Worship the LORD in holy splendor;
        tremble before him, all the earth.

Observation

The people of God are singing a new song for God has done something new in their midst and they are breaking out in worship. The Psalm brings you in to the place of worship before God. Verse nine speaks to the way in which we are to worship the LORD, and that is “in holy splendor.” The trouble is that the translators can’t agree on what this exactly means. Some would say that it refers to the people worshiping the LORD, whose holiness is beautiful. Many of the older English translations use the word beautiful rather than splendor. At the same time some translators believe that this refers to the priests themselves who are to be adorned in the splendor, or beauty of holiness so that they can worship the LORD.

Either the LORD is beautiful in holiness or the worshippers are beautifully adorned in holiness before the LORD.

Application

This phrase about holiness leaves us wondering about the circumstances of this worship. God, who has broken into humanity and done something new, is being worshipped in holiness (his or ours). I would like to suggest that it is not one or the other, but it is both and that there is something significant about understanding holiness as splendor or beauty.

For far too long holiness has been defined by negatives, that is, what we don’t do! We have embraced an understanding of holiness that has us separated from things which may be considered unclean. Sadly, the world doesn’t see this kind of holiness as beautiful, but rather, begins to describe us as “intolerant.”

The holiness of Jesus can never be tarnished with engagement with the world. The woman who had a bleeding disorder reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. In Jewish religious understanding he would have become “unclean” because of her disease. This never happens because Jesus can’t be made “unclean” because of her disease, instead his holiness makes her clean. This is beautiful holiness, a holiness that is not separate, but a holiness that reaches out into a broken world and brings healing. This is the new song, one that rejoices in a holy God who goes to the very deep, dark corners of this world and brings hope.

Holiness is beautiful and the source of the beauty is the LORD. Now we begin to understand the call to worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness for worship is to be a face-to-face experience with our holy God. God is always arrayed in the beauty and splendor for holiness for this is the character or nature of the LORD. When we come before the LORD in worship we are to focus on God alone. Worship is not about our personal attire or outward appearance, but about our stance before the LORD. If, when we are engaged in worship, we focus entirely upon the LORD and we draw nearer, then we will reflect the LORD’s holiness. We behold the beauty of the LORD in the sanctuary and we are adorned with the beauty of holiness for Christ is in us.

The beauty of holiness is not an either/or. The source of holiness is the LORD, but when we face God in worship and reflect God’s holiness we become adorned in the splendor of holiness. Holiness is beautiful for it leaves the sanctuary enamored by the beauty of a holy God and can’t help but reflect that image to a needy world. The things of this world can never destroy the beauty of God’s holiness and therefore we do not live in fear, for holiness is not about what we can do in our own strength, but about Christ in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is beautiful!

Prayer

Lord, may my worship always be focused on you. Amen.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When You Feel Like Giving Up


Scripture
 
John 11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Observation


Thomas was always known for having a rather dark view of things. He is a bit discouraged by Jesus’ desire to go to Bethany to visit Mary and Martha. Lazarus is already dead and he only sees death as a possible future for Jesus. He imagines the Jewish leaders lying in wait, ready to kill Jesus. At this point he assumes that if they go with Jesus, they will all face death as well. He has no idea that Jesus will be bringing death to life, and so he moves forward in despair. Instead of the hope and life that will be revealed through Jesus he feels like giving up and resigns himself to death.

Application

It’s easy to be critical of Thomas. His nickname became “doubting” Thomas, so it seems that his character is being revealed on a regular basis. He has a hard time imagining anything good coming out of his circumstances.

The circumstances of life come crushing in on all of us. Despair grips us when we can’t see what lies ahead. Thomas had no idea that Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Instead he assumed the very worst and gave in to the feelings of hopelessness. His faith was small and already he was doubting what Jesus might be able to do.

When we feel like giving up we are succumbing to the temptation to despair and joining Thomas in the bleachers as a spectator in the kingdom. Thomas didn’t stay on the sidelines but eventually got into the middle of everything. The transformational moment came when his doubt was turned to belief as he touched Jesus’ side. When empowered by the Holy Spirit Thomas went on to minister to many hostile regions of the world, no longer giving in to his fears.

When we feel like giving up we may need to spend some time refocusing on Jesus. Jesus never gave up on Thomas and allowed him to speak his words of doubt and despair and yet gently nudged him along in his spiritual journey.

We can be honest with our Lord about our times of frustration and despair, but we must never give up. Keep moving in the direction of knowing Christ and in the process of being discipled follow in the flow of the Spirit’s moving. Too much in life is outside of our control and can lead us to despair. However, knowing the resurrected Lord who gives life is worth more than anything that can happen to us here on this earth. Don’t give up, but believe in Jesus, the giver of life.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the honesty of Thomas and the hope that you provide. Amen.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Revelation in Good Works


Scripture
 
John 10:31   The Jews took up stones again to stone him.  32 Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?”  33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”  34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?  35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled—  36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?  37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.  38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”  39 Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

Observation


The incarnation was a very difficult concept to grasp but Jesus was present to reveal the Father to God’s people. Jesus came to bring salvation to all of creation and yet there was such little understanding. Jesus chides the religious leaders for wanting to stone him for doing good works. They responded that they weren't going to stone him for good works, but for making himself God. What they didn’t understand was that the good works were in and of themselves revelations of God.

God was visible in the activity of Jesus Christ and that was the purpose. At the same time we embrace the words of Irenaeus, “God became man that man might become God.” (Adv. Haer., 3.19.1) Athanasius puts it this way, “Christ was not man [first], and then became God. Rather, he was [first] God, and then he became man, and that to deify us.” (DISCOURSES AGAINST THE ARIANS 1.11.39) The revelation in Christ’s good works is that God is revealed in the life of a human. Christ prepares the way for all of humanity to become participants or partakers of the divine nature. Just as good works in Christ reveal God, so we do not do good works to be saved, but we do good works for Christ is in us. Christ is in the Father and his good works reveal the very character of God to the world. Doing good works, while blessing many, angered the religious leaders and they wanted him arrested.

Application

This story is really about a theological message which Jesus is illustrating through his actions. This concept of Jesus and the Father being one was not easily grasped by the religious leaders. Jesus participated in the good works of the Father so that the Father could be revealed through him. While Jesus’ activity frustrated the religious leaders, they failed to understand that what they were really seeing was God at work right in front of them. They rejected Jesus’ good works because they couldn’t believe that Jesus just might be the Son of God. Over and over again God, is reaching out to humanity and providing a pathway back into a relationship of transformation into the likeness of the divine image.

You don’t have to be a Christian to do good things, for there are plenty of people who like to do good things. You don’t have to do good works to be saved. However, if you are in a relationship with God on a daily basis, you will do good works. The reality is that when you are united with Christ you are compelled to do good works because of the nature of Christ at work within you. What is revealed in our own behavior is Christ in us.

This glimpse of Jesus and his relationship to the world is a foreshadowing of our own participation in this world. When we are in Christ we may experience the same response from those around us regarding our actions or behaviors. They may not be pleased and may even result in arrest. It happens regularly in many parts of the world! But this did not deter Jesus from his mission and neither should we be deterred from our mission. We are to invited into the holy relationship that Jesus described. He and the Father are one. We are invited to fellowship in the relationship found in the holy Trinity and when we do that on a regular basis we cannot help but be engaged in good works. Our good works are not meant to glorify ourselves, but to glorify our heavenly Father. They are to reveal God to this world.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to fellowship with you today and may you be reflected in the works of life. Amen.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Continual Growth


Scripture

Psa. 52:8        But I am like a green olive tree
        in the house of God.
    I trust in the steadfast love of God
        forever and ever.
9     I will thank you forever,
        because of what you have done.
    In the presence of the faithful
        I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

Observation

The call of God’s children is to become like a green olive tree within the Father’s house. These trees are a unique sight in the dry desert heat of the middle-east. They are green all year round and continually growing. They send off shoots which become new trees, spreading their fruits. God’s children are to be fed by continually trusting in God. The steadfast love of God feeds the heart and the soul and with great gratitude we live in that ever-nourishing relationship. Because of this, God’s children proclaim the name of the Lord, for what they have experienced is good!

Application


Continual growth can only come from on-going abiding in the presence of God. We become that green olive tree that remains fresh and growing at all times — even in the midst of a dry and dusty journey. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit we can produce new shoots of growth, brand new spiritual fruit. We can make all kinds of excuses about the hostile world in which we find ourselves but if God is providing the growth through steadfast love, then there will still be fruit. We are called to abide in God’s faithful presence each and every day.

As I think about abiding today I can't get this hymn off my mind for it is a sweet reminder of remaining in God.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find, to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure

Gives unto each day what He deems best—

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day, the Lord Himself is near me

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Power;

The protection of His child and treasure

Is a charge that on Himself He laid;

“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation

So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation

Offered me within Thy holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till I reach the promised land.

Abide and thrive in the steadfast love of God.

Prayer

Lord, may my heart be open to hearing from you today and everyday so that I may grow and thrive. Amen.

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



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Friday, September 2, 2016

Seeing and Not-Seeing


Scripture
 
John 9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”  41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Observation

The Pharisees were angry with Jesus for having healed on the Sabbath and had even gone to the extent of harassing the poor man who had been healed. In this follow-up conversation with Jesus they begin to understand that he is now talking about their spiritual state. Surely he wouldn’t suggest that the Pharisees were blind spiritually! These were very well educated men who knew their Scriptures.

In pronouncing their pride at knowing the Scriptures the Pharisees are also pronouncing their own condemnation. They are not blind because they have been well-versed in the words of the prophets. Therefore they should have seen that Jesus was the Messiah. They were seeing and yet not-seeing. They were not blind and so they should have seen Jesus as the fulfillment of all that they already knew. They had no excuse for not seeing Jesus and yet they were not-seeing and the result for them was sin. The Pharisees had physical sight and were very proud of what they perceived as their own spiritual sight. Sadly, they were spiritually blind and yet didn’t really know it. They are stunned when the words of Jesus begin to sink in.

Application

For those who have been raised in the church and in the Scriptures there remains a temptation toward spiritual blindness. We can become accustomed to reading the words and they become so familiar that we no longer allow them to speak to us. We put on our own spiritual blinders through complacency and little by little our spiritual vision becomes dull. No longer do we see Jesus leading the way and out into the harvest field. Instead we become myopic and so focused on ourselves that our spiritual vision is destroyed.

We may need to stop and ask Jesus whether we are seeing. Are we becoming spiritually blind? It’s always good to have a spiritual check-up, or eye exam. Honest self-evaluation can lead to spiritual growth. An eye exam before the Lord can lead to correction in our spiritual vision that will clearly lead us toward participating with Christ in this world. Seeing and yet not-seeing is like having vision but wearing eye covers. That would be ridiculous so maybe it’s time to examine ourselves and see whether we are truly seeing. By the grace of God it is possible!

Prayer

Lord, thank you so much for challenging us to keep our vision clear. 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, September 1, 2016

A Turning Point


Scripture
 
Acts 13:4   So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.  5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.  6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus.  7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God.  8 But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  9 But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?  11 And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand.  12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

Observation

Luke, the author of Acts, masterfully unfolds the story of the expansion of the gospel story across the known world and, very specifically, to the Gentiles. Beginning with the Ethiopian Eunuch, to Cornelius and his family and now Sergius Paulus, the proconsul in Cyprus, the news is being spread. This story becomes a turning point in several ways for itt reinforces the place of Gentiles in the Christian story and leaves us, without hesitation, to understand the mission of Barnabas and Saul.

It was not unusual for secular leaders to have numerous advisors. Some leaders within the Roman world had begun to invite Jews into their inner circle of counselors, for they were pleased with their discipline and relationship with just one God. Somehow a false prophet, Bar-Jesus, had made his way into a place of influence with Sergius Paulus. However, he was far from following the truths of God and practiced magic, which was taboo for the religious Jews.

Sergius Paulus heard that Barnabas and Saul had arrived on Cyprus and one must imagine that he thought they might also be enticed into providing him with advice or direction. It is in this curiosity that we find a major turning point. The proconsul was an educated man and Saul with his great education steps forward. A great miracle is performed through Saul, also known as Paul. One also assumes that he argued well for the faith, because overcoming evil is often understood as teaching. Because Sergius Paulus becomes a believer the place of Christianity is solidified within the Gentile world. From this moment forward Luke only identifies Saul or Paul — as Paul. This is an acceptance or adoption of his name for the Gentile world.

The other major turning point is that no longer are they referred to as Barnabas and Saul. The missionary team is renamed, Paul and Barnabas, as Paul takes over the leadership role within the partnership. 

Application


There are moments in life which become turning points. Usually they are completely unplanned or unexpected. Paul had no idea what he would be facing in Cyprus, but simply walked in faith, abiding in the presence of the Lord Jesus, and God took care of the rest. By being obedient to the call, there came a turning point in his life, but also in salvation history. God would use the educated man, Paul, to overcome evil with the power of the Holy Spirit, but also with the persuasive words that came from his mouth. It simply required the right moment in which God could take all of Paul’s surrendered abilities for the sake of the kingdom.

The turning point was not about boosting Paul’s ego, but about super-boosting the message of the gospel. God is not looking for moments to energize the careers of professional clerics, but for those who are willing to submit to God’s leading into a turning point. God did far more with Paul than he could have ever imagined. Paul lived into God’s leading with great humility. The turning point was not about Paul’s career, but the ability for God to use him for the greater good of Christianity.

Turning points are not about us, but about the kingdom. If we fail to see them in this way then we are losing sight of our call to follow Christ, the humble servant. Embrace life’s turning points for the kingdom’s sake and allow God to get all the glory.

Prayer

Lord, I know that there have been turning points in my life, and I am grateful. Please help me to walk with you daily into the places where you would lead. May the turning points all be yours. 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