Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Which Face Do You See?


Scripture
 
Luke 20:21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them,  24 “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.”  25 He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

Observation

There were those who wanted to trap Jesus and so they tried to pose a question that they thought would put him in a bind. They began with a question which seemed to affirm their understanding of who he was. They recognized that he didn’t show partiality toward people of high position. The word that is used here is that he showed no deference to any person — or face. This language becomes interesting when many of the early Church Fathers saw in this conversation the importance of the reflection of the image of God.

Humanity is called to be in a face-to-face relationship with our holy God. In doing so, we reflect the face of God incarnate, that of Christ, to our world. So, those trying to trap Jesus affirm that they see him giving no deference to the face of different humans. The draw of earthly power and politics would never be enough to draw the face of Christ in their direction. Jesus kept his face on the Father and as God incarnate was the Image of God.

Jesus’ response also becomes affirming of different faces. The coin has the face of Caesar on it and so the things in our lives which have the stamp and seal of the world on them should receive what belongs to them. But also to understand that if the Emperor can have his face placed on a coin, can’t the Image of God be stamped on God’s people? The face of God, the reflection of Christ, is to be stamped onto the lives of God’s people. Deference is given to no human face. Taxes are paid to the face on our money, but we have the capacity to reflect the face of Christ, whose image is seen in us.

Application

When people look at us they will see a face. Yes, it’s our face, but there will also be the face of something else reflected in our lives. Jesus showed no deference to people because his focus was on the Father. No other faces were reflected in him. It is the things in life which catch our attention which become reflected in our faces. The world has an uncanny ability to stamp its impression upon our lives and the things to which we show deference will be seen in us. The challenge for Christ-followers is to go against the tide, and not allow the imprint of the world to be burned into our flesh and become determinate of our behaviors. Through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to turn our faces toward God and reflect Christ in the midst of noise of contemporary culture.

The capacity to reflect the image of God is in each and every single individual. When people look at us, which face will they see?

Prayer


Lord, please help me to reflect you even in the midst of the noise of the world. Amen.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Brokenness


Scripture
 
Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

Observation

As Jesus completes the parable of the wicked tenets he reminds them of the cornerstone. This is the stone that the builders rejected but now he brings in some new meaning and understanding. For those who submit to Jesus, for those who will fall upon him, they will be broken by him. This is a breaking in a good sense. They will be broken of self-centeredness and all that it produces in their lives. Shattered will be the selfish motivations which drive life.

For those who reject the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, and do not submit, the weight of his Messiahship will eventually fall upon them.  It’s not just about rejection but also about those who actively engage against the Messiah. Those who hate him and persecute his followers will be ground to powder. The imagery speaks powerfully; ground to powder and blown away by the wind as if they had never existed. So powerful is the cornerstone which either will help shape us in brokenness or will grind us to powder.

Application

None of us likes to be broken. To have our heart shattered because of experiences is deeply painful. The moments when friends or loved ones disappoint us can create pain in the deepest spaces of our lives. However, it’s in those broken spaces that we can learn to stand on the Cornerstone. Jesus, the one who was rejected by the world, takes our brokenness and mends our hearts with his holy love. It is in the place of our wounds that his healing ointment can be applied. The wounds become filled with holy love and the end result is greater than that at the beginning. Yes, we are broken to pieces by experiences, and quite possibly experiences brought by falling on the stone. Yet, if we don’t experience brokenness, we could never experience the holy healing of God’s love. Jesus knew that brokenness and humility were necessary for the Cornerstone to actually be the cornerstone of the kingdom.

We will all be shaped by the Stone, in one way or another. Either we will fall in submission onto the Stone and allow Jesus to break and heal us, or we will eventually be crushed — ground to powder. Jesus is the Cornerstone of the kingdom and every person will be confronted with his reality. What will we do with the Stone?

Prayer

Lord, may I live in continual submission and in a posture of falling upon your Stone. Amen.


Monday, November 28, 2016

From Scarlet to White as Snow


Scripture
 
Is. 1:18        Come now, let us argue it out,
        says the LORD:
    though your sins are like scarlet,
        they shall be like snow;
    though they are red like crimson,
        they shall become like wool.

Observation

The prophet is defining reality for the Israelites. They are in great need of salvation and yet, they may have come to believe that they could save themselves. God is making it abundantly clear that there is nothing that they can do to save themselves but the gift of salvation comes from God.

Do the people want to argue about the need for salvation? God is ready and willing to have a discussion and “argue it out,” or “reason together.” Then the LORD clarifies the condition of the people. Their sins are as red as the blood-stained garment of a murderer. In their human understanding those stains are permanent, but not for God. God can take the permanently stained garments and do what no human can do. The scarlet stain of sin can be made white as snow, or as pure as wool. This is the promise and the work of the LORD.

Application


The reality is that all of us have sinned and we fall short of being God’s holy people. We have all done things in our lives that do not glorify God and there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. While we may try to be good people, we can never remove the stain of our sin — that can only be done by God.

At the same time we must be willing to live into the fact that God does, indeed, remove that stain. Far too often we continue to punish ourselves for our past. We think the scarlet stain remains emblazoned on our chest when in reality, God has turned it white as snow. That’s the conversation that God wants to have with us. We have sinned and fallen short and yes, those sins have created a stain on our lives. But no matter how hard we work at it, we cannot set things right. So, while we’re arguing it out with God, we are encouraged to repent and live into the salvation and new life that we receive from the LORD. This is the great promise, that those things which have been done in the past are erased from our records. The stain is no longer visible because of God’s working in our lives.

Come, be reasonable and understanding of God’s work in our lives. The LORD works a miracle of grace and salvation, taking that which we could never set right, and making it like new. Live in the newness that God has to offer.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the gift of salvation and newness of life. Amen.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Attentive


Scripture
 
Matthew 25:13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Observation


Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins who are awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. Five have extra oil and five do not. As their wait stretches out longer than anticipated the lamps begin to go out and the five with no extra oil have to leave to get more. They are not present when the bridegroom arrives and they miss out.

The church is the bride of Christ, challenged to be well prepared and to keep awake. A state of attentiveness is necessary, even in a time when one grows weary.

Application

Today we celebrate the first Sunday of advent where we anticipate the arrival of our Savior. This is not just the anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Christ — but the anticipation of the return of Christ. Christ will return again and while we may find ourselves in those long days of waiting, we must remain attentive.

When we were younger we would do crazy things like drive for long hours during the night. This was especially helpful on trips when our children were young. It was easier when they were fast asleep in their carseats. The problem was that the adults in the front seat needed to stay awake and attentive to the road ahead. Sometimes we would become very tired and would play games to stay awake. We listened to the radio and drank lots of caffeinated beverages. Whatever it took to remain attentive because falling asleep would be dangerous.

We must do all that we can to remain spiritually awake and alert during the long dark hours of the night. We may need pit stops along the way to refuel. Additional teaching and learning opportunities may be necessary. Active engagement in ministry may keep us attentive. Whatever it is, we must be intentional about remaining alert or we will be lulled to sleep. It’s far too easy and it happens in that moment when we take our eyes off the goal for just a moment.

In anticipation of the advent of Christ we do all we can to keep awake, attentive and in kingdom service until he returns again.

Prayer


Lord, please help me to keep awake and attentive, prepared to meet you at any time. Amen.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Holiness Unto the Lord


Scripture
 
Zech. 14:16   Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths.  17 If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them.  18 And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then on them shall come the plague that the LORD inflicts on the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.  19 Such shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to keep the festival of booths.

Zech. 14:20   On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the cooking pots in the house of the LORD shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar;  21 and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice. And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.

Observation

The prophet’s vision is one of the advent of Christ. When the Messiah comes there were be a dramatic change in Jerusalem for the city will be made holy because of his presence. The vision goes beyond the birth of the Messiah, but takes us to a view of the kingdom which Christ will establish. This is a holy kingdom in which God’s holy nature will abound. Holiness will reach far beyond the Levitical priesthood and the consecrated utensils and bowls in the temple. The Messiah will usher in a new era where God’s holiness will become the character of God’s people and beyond.

Holiness will be revealed in nearness to God. When the presence of God fills the city then a dramatic transformation occurs. The depiction is vivid for now the horses become as holy as the priests. Every cooking pot in the city becomes as holy as the utensils and bowls from the front of the altar. All of this because of nearness to the holiness of God.

Neither the horses nor the pots make themselves holy, but it is God’s presence that creates the transformation. This is the view of the kingdom which is to come, which is to be ushered in by the Messiah. It is in the presence of the Messiah that everything is to become "holy to the LORD."

Application

In my tradition we have embraced the phrase “Holiness unto the Lord.” We wrote it on our doorposts and hung it on banners in our church buildings for we were a church born out of the holiness movement. But somewhere along the way our understanding of the phrase began to disappear and little by little the signs came down. Now you have to look pretty hard to find that phrase anywhere in a holiness church.


Church of the Nazarene, Portsmouth, OH

If we understand this scripture properly we just might want to, once again, embrace the old phrase “Holiness Unto the Lord” — or the contemporary translation, “Holy to the LORD.” The phrase points to a day in which the kingdom of God is revealed in the messiness of what is happening here on earth. The things that are holy are those close to God. Therefore if a church were to embrace being “Holy to the LORD” — the church would embrace a deeper walk with Jesus Christ. It would be a place where everything in the building would be consecrated in service to Christ’s mission in the world and every parishioner’s home would be filled with cooking pots that are “Holy to the LORD.” These would be places of hospitality which become transformational because they bring a fresh taste of the kingdom to those in need.

We may not have horses but we have horsepower. For those who embrace life in the kingdom, even their material goods become tools for use in Christ’s kingdom. Our car becomes an instrument which is “Holy to the LORD” because of our proximity to Christ. When we embrace our nearness to Christ and recognize that he is making us holy, then our material goods are given over in complete and total submission to his service.

“Holiness Unto the Lord” should be a sign that screams everything about the nature of those who are living life in participation with our holy God. Could it be that we took down and hid our old signs because they no longer depicted the nature of who we were? Did the signs come down when we could no longer explain it to the next generation because we were not the visible representation of a people living in close proximity to Christ?

I long for us as a community of faith to deeply embrace our holy Savior, Christ. In doing so, may we experience the transformation that occurs in his presence. Then, possibly, without the need for signs or placards our lives will reveal that we are, “Holy to the LORD.”

Prayer

Lord, I want to know you more. Please help me to live a life of faithful service in nearness to you. Amen.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Real Peace


Scripture
 
Luke 19:38 saying,
    “Blessed is the king
        who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven,
        and glory in the highest heaven!”

Observation

In today’s gospel reading we find Jesus entering into Jerusalem riding on a colt. The people begin to cheer and shout, blessing Jesus and declaring peace and glory. The words are reminiscent of those heard by the shepherds watching over their flocks the night that Jesus is born. Here in joy and excitement the people want to embrace Jesus as their Messiah. Their hopes are set on him being a national leader who will wrestle political control and restore their nation. What they don’t understand is that Jesus is establishing a new kingdom and their own words are ushering in an era beyond their comprehension. It has nothing to do with political or national power, but everything to do with the joining of heaven and earth in the incarnation of Christ. When heaven and earth touch real peace is the result. This was the mission of Jesus Christ and their words, while not their hearts, affirmed the culmination of this vision.

Application

The declaration of Jesus as king is an affirmation of a kingdom which is not of this world. We are invited to participate with Christ in his kingdom, one in which real peace is experienced.

Jesus experienced incredible violence at the hands of the political and religious leaders and yet he was the Prince of Peace. We live our lives in the flesh and so we feel the pain of this world in very real ways. The kingdom of God is not escapist — it does not remove us from the pain of this world. At the same time, our citizenship is in Christ’s kingdom. Our entire perspective begins to change when we take our orders from kingdom leadership which has an eternal perspective.

Real peace is experienced when we live as children of the kingdom, bringing heaven to earth through our participation with Christ. We don’t remove ourselves from the pain and suffering of this world, but we engage as Christ would engage. We are to be instruments of the real peace of Christ and channels through which the world experiences the kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your life which brought heaven to earth. Please help me to live as your servant. Amen.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Use It or Lose It



Scripture

Luke 19:26
I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Observation

The parable of the ten minas, or pounds, reminds us that we need to give God thanks for that which we have been given. Not only are we to give thanks, but we are to use which we have been given to the best of our ability and for the benefit of the kingdom. It is the realization that all we have has been given to us by God for the sake of the kingdom. We are to use it for God...or lose it.

Application


It's easy to get caught up into thinking or believing that we are responsible for the creation of our own talents and abilities. As we become successful it's easy to forget that we have been created by God and our skills come from the Father. The abilities we have are not for our own personal benefit, but for the sake of the kingdom.

Let's give thanks to our Creator for all that we have. The good in life is a gift from God. We should never take for granted what we have been given, and we must use all that we have in service of the kingdom. It's easy to overlook the final portion of the parable...the use it or lose it section. Therefore, as we take time to be thankful for what we have, may we also recommit everything in service to Christ and his kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, I have lived a very blessed life. I am very grateful. Please, help me to live everyday in faithful service to you. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Seeking Out and Saving


Scripture
 
Luke 19:1   He entered Jericho and was passing through it.  2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.  3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.  7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”  8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”  9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Observation

Zacchaeus was disliked by those in his community because of his ill-gained wealth. Tax collectors were known for their unscrupulous practices, defrauding the people of their resources. We’re not told about Zacchaeus’ interest in Jesus, except that he was “trying to see who Jesus was.” It is Jesus who intentionally seeks out this man who has climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of him. Interestingly, when catching his attention, Jesus invites himself to stay at Zacchaeus’ home and Zacchaeus seems to be more than happy to comply. The transformation in Zacchaeus’ life is almost surreal as he responds from the place of his greatest interest — money! He gives to the poor and repays those whom he has defrauded.

No matter the depth of corruption, God’s prevenient grace is at work, seeking out and leading to salvation those who are lost. Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, a child of the king, one in need of redemption. Jesus actively and intentionally sought out those who needed to be saved.

Application

Jesus was actively engaged in the Father’s mission. Continuous spiritual growth leads us to ever-increasing participation with God. The result is that God’s passions become our passions. Our hearts are broken by the very things that break the heart of God. The result is that we must become just as intentional in our mission as Jesus was.

Jesus intentionally sought out those who were lost and needed to be found. It would have been easy to ignore the little man up in the tree. Instead, Jesus was always on the look-out for those on the margins. One might find it difficult to believe that a wealthy man was on the margins, but that’s where Zacchaeus found himself. He was ostracized because of his work. People disliked him and didn’t want to spend time with him. These are the people to whom we are called if we are to be like Jesus.

Not only did Jesus see him, but Jesus gave him attention. When the rest of the world walked by, Jesus treated him with respect. It was in the relationship with Jesus that Zacchaeus was transformed and it is in the place of personal relationships that salvation will come to the homes of those who need to know Christ.

This is the week of Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. This would be a lovely time to open a home, or a table, to someone that the world just might not see. We are invited, as God’s people, to intentionally go out and seek those who need to be saved. We become the channels of God’s prevenient grace to the world. May our tables, meals and conversations flow freely with the grace of our God, seasoning the lives of those who need to know our Lord.

Prayer
Lord, please give me your eyes to see those who may be waiting to be seen. Amen.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Prayer for Those Who Suffer


Scripture
 
Psa. 122:6        Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
        “May they prosper who love you.
7     Peace be within your walls,
        and security within your towers.”
8     For the sake of my relatives and friends
        I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9     For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
        I will seek your good.

Observation

The Psalmist was writing and praying for his family and friends who were suffering in Jerusalem. He was interceding on their behalf and became very specific in his prayers. The city whose name meant “peace” was anything but peaceful. There was great need for peace and a sense of security. Their very lives were in danger and therefore he was willing to sacrifice his time as an intercessor on behalf of those he knew. 

As God’s children we are inextricably connected to one another and therefore we pray for those who suffer, for the sake of the house of the LORD our God. We seek the good and sacrifice for our sisters and brothers.

Application

As I watched the news last evening I was overcome with sorrow as I watched the suffering in Aleppo. Almost without a breath the news reporter went on to talk about the political sea-change in the United States. I have to confess that I was struck by the contrast and the way in which we could so easily shift from the one to the other. All of a sudden it felt like I was watching #firstworldproblems on the news in contrast with real problems. Reading today’s scripture I was convicted about my lack of intercessory prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are praying for peace to come to their city.

While the Psalmist prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, for peace to come to God’s people in that place, we are called to intercessory prayer on behalf of those who are suffering as beloved children of the kingdom. Because of Christ, Christians in Aleppo are our brothers and sisters. Have we simply forgotten them as we have become so focused on ourselves?

There are many people in our world who are suffering today and God’s people are called to self-sacrificial service, honoring others above ourselves. Time in prayer is a gift of love which we joyfully give because of our participation with Jesus Christ and his mission to the world. In prayer our hearts will be broken for the things of God and the result is that we are motivated to reach out in love.

While many gather this week to give thanks, may we not forget to intercede for those who are suffering. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who will not be able to gather around a beautiful table and they need us to pray for them and for peace and security to come within their walls.

Prayer

Lord, I pray today for my brothers and sisters who are suffering. Please, provide your hand of protection — your security and your peace. Amen.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Hope In You

The Hope in You

Scripture

1 Peter 3:13-15

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

Observation

The Christ-follower is being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ and this results in a change of behaviors. The desire is to do good in all things. Sometimes this becomes misunderstood by those around. We are admonished to continue doing good and do not succumb to the fear which may be felt because of peer pressure. Continuing to grow in grace and holiness, our lives are to become more and more filled with the presence of Christ. This becomes the motivating factor for all that we do in life and makes it easy to explain our actions.

Application

At the core of our being and the major motivating force we must find the sanctifying power of the presence of Jesus Christ. We are on a journey in which the Spirit is continually perfecting God's children, leading to the goal of Christlikeness.

This transformation must be accompanied by Christ-like actions and often these actions will not make everyone happy. Jesus ruffled the feathers of the religious leaders because he didn't do things the way they thought he should. He was hanging out with the people on the margins and if we are following him, that is where he will lead us. Intentional interaction with people in the margins of life means that Jesus will be seen and experienced. Our actions become our defense or the gospel. This is the hope that is in us...that we can become more and more like Christ. Our actions become the testimony of Christ in us.

Prayer

Lord, please help me draw closer to you and continue to do your transforming work in my life. When things get rough, may my eyes be lifted to you and may your holy love continue to lead and guide. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trusting Yourself


Scripture

 
Luke 18:9   He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:  10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’  13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Observation


Jesus realizes that there are those in the crowd who are quite proud of their spiritual lives. The Pharisee has been following all the rules and has been tithing. These are all good things but not when they are used to justify one’s place before God. The Pharisee was trusting in himself and his own abilities rather than trusting in God. He was feeling self-sufficient about his faith because of the pride that he had in his religious practices and good works. He even tells God how good he is and this is a problem.

Jesus presents the tax collector as a contrast. Here is a man who is humble before God, understanding that he is undeserving of grace. Grateful for all that God has done for him, he trusts in God alone for his salvation.

Application

Our posture before God speaks volumes about where we are placing our trust. For those who have been in the church for a long time much can be taken for granted. Eventually, living for the Lord, having devotions, paying our tithes and offerings, and going to church can become routine. If there isn’t a freshness in the heart we can become like the Pharisee who began to trust in himself.

I’m afraid our churches may be filed with those who believe that they are righteous before God because of what they have done personally. They may be tempted to stand before God and demand a particular response because of how they’ve lived. It’s that temptation to tell God that my child must be healed because I’ve been so good.Or the temptation to tell God that because I’ve been faithful my business must succeed. Or that my marriage should be perfect because I’ve worked hard at loving God and my spouse. We can slip into the place of the Pharisee pretty easily and I think Jesus knew that.

We are all sinners saved by grace. Even if we’ve been walking with the Lord for a long time, we must come before God in humble gratitude. All that we have is because of the Lord’s intervention in our lives. We have no right to demand anything. We have already received more than we deserve.

When we begin to trust in ourselves and think that we are sufficiently righteous we will be tempted to tell God what to do. God’s children are invited into a holy relationship in which we are daily gripped by the grace of our Lord. It is here that we live in humility for we are overwhelmed by the presence of Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father. In the throne room of God’s presence we discover that depending on ourselves is complete folly and worship of our Creator sustains.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your incredible love and patience with us. Amen.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Giving Our Very Best


Scripture
 
Mal. 3:8   Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings!  9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you!  10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.  11 I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the LORD of hosts.  12 Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

Observation

I”m not sure that the people would have thought that they were robbing God. More than likely they felt that their resources were stretched beyond their capacity and so they calculated what they thought they could give to God. The problem was that God had a plan, and that was for his house to be cared for and supported by the people. If God would become the priority in their lives; if they would care for the things of God first, then the house of God would not suffer.

God places a challenge before the people. They are to test the LORD in this — that by caring for God first, then God will care for them. The LORD tells them that their entire land will become a place of delight because they have given God their very best.

Application

Tithing seems to be a shrinking spiritual discipline. Many have decided that tithing to the church is no longer important, but it’s okay to give to a number of different causes. The problem with this is that we no longer live in faithful obedience to God’s request to us, but we place ourselves in charge. We decide what to give to and what not to give to. This was not God’s intent. God’s intent was that the tithe, the 10% was to be given into the storehouse, the church. If all of those who attend church would tithe into the church, the circumstances of the day would be much different. The poor could be fed. Education would be supported. Medical needs would be cared for. Pastors wouldn’t have to work part-time jobs on the side.

We don’t have a financial problem as much as we have an obedience problem. God understood this and it was at the heart of the concern for the Israelites, and it’s not so different today. We don’t want to believe that we are robbing God if we don’t tithe into the church. Our personal financial struggles are real, but often because we have over-extended ourselves. We have embraced a lifestyle that is beyond our means and so we have to spend money to keep up. There isn’t enough left for God.

The statistics on tithing are pretty poor these days and at the same time, Christianity seems to be in decline. Is there a connection between the two? What would happen if God’s people would recommit themselves to giving the very best that they have to God. It’s painful to be told that we are robbing God, but the prophet made it pretty clear. Giving with hearts filled with generosity will make a difference and the promise is a land of delight. Obedience means giving God our very best and then resting in the LORD.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the gentle reminders. May I give faithfully and trust you in all things. Amen.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

True Worship


Scripture

 
Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

Observation


The people of God had returned from exile and found themselves floundering in their faith. The temple had been rebuilt but their hearts were growing cold. Instead of bringing their very best to sacrifice before God they were bringing their leftovers. The prophet was chiding the people because he knew that they would have brought their best before the secular king, and yet they brought their worst to God.

In the midst of his prophetic words we read this verse which provides a vision of the future. When the chosen people of God refuse to worship, then God’s name will spread and become great among the nations. The Gentiles will come to worship God — the very people that the Jews looked down upon would take up their place in the kingdom.

In the future there will be a pure offering made for God and true worship will occur when they come to know the LORD of hosts.

Application

It’s easy to wear the label of Christian, but not so simple to live out authentic faith. We can become caught up in all the trappings of doing church without really knowing Christ. That’s when we begin taking short-cuts and we stop bringing our very best to God. Sunday morning service attendance simply becomes a formality and a weekly habit, rather than a place of intimate and authentic worship of God.  Bringing a tithe becomes optional and many of us rationalize that we can personally decide when and where to give our funds. In the meantime we are missing out on participating in the heavenly vision of true worship.

The time will come when all the world will see and understand that Jesus Christ is Lord. The name of Jesus will become great among every nation and true worship will become a reality. The best we have to offer will be brought to the Lord with a generous heart.

We don’t have to wait for that day to arrive but we can participate now in that true worship. Our focus must remain on Jesus, the one whose name is great and greatly to be praised. In love and adoration we bring Jesus the very best that we have to offer. We give God our best time, talents and resources and provided in sacrifice to the Lord of hosts. In humble service we participate with God’s activity in the world and our lifestyle, everything that we do, day in and day out, becomes our true act of worship.

Prayer


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


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Faithful Obedience

Faithful obedience

Scripture

Luke 17:1-4

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Luke 17:10
So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

Observation

Jesus is speaking about one disciple sinning against another. This would have been really painful for this small group of people and yet, they were to care for one another so that no one could become a stumbling block. Holding one another accountable was a responsibility of discipleship. The grace of Jesus is to be extended to those who sin against us. In obedience and love we forgive again and again with the hope of helping out our brother or sister.

Lest we think that we are doing something outstanding by forgiving, we must recognize that this is simple obedience to Christ. This is his nature which is to be revealed in our behaviors and responses. Forgiving is simply what we ought to do.

Application

How often do we find it challenging to come alongside those who are struggling? I don't think that Jesus is encouraging us to be critical, but loving and gentle. At the same time, this takes time and energy. I also know that I can become frustrated when someone doesn't seem to be getting things right. We expect them to learn and eventually our patience runs thin.

As we grow spiritually, we are to become more like Christ. Christ gave up his entire life to forgive us. We are called to become like him therefore to have great compassion for those who have sinned. We must forgive over and over again for the sake of the entire community of faith.

Faithful obedience turns the extraordinary into the ordinary. We don't receive praise for our actions, but we simply walk after Jesus.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your grace and may I show that love and grace to others. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Clear Vision


Scripture

Habakkuk 2:2     Then the LORD answered me and said:
    Write the vision;
        make it plain on tablets,
        so that a runner may read it.
3     For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
        it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
    If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
        it will surely come, it will not delay.
4     Look at the proud!
        Their spirit is not right in them,
        but the righteous live by their faith.
5     Moreover, wealth is treacherous;
        the arrogant do not endure.
    They open their throats wide as Sheol;
        like Death they never have enough.
    They gather all nations for themselves,
        and collect all peoples as their own.

Observation

Habakkuk has brought his complaint before God and now he receives a response. The LORD answers him and tells him to write down the vision. It is to be written on a tablet and hung in a place of where it will receive the attention of the people. It’s probably somewhere in the center of the city where everyone will be able to see the words. The runner will be able to read it and take the news to across the land.

The vision is made very clear for all of God’s people and it brings with it a word of hope. Life may be difficult at this time with exile a contributing factor. However, this will pass because God’s vision is clear and it will come to be. Those who have the power and authority will be at a great loss for the material gains of this life will mean nothing in the future. The clear vision is one of final deliverance from the hand of Babylon and this good news is to be hung in a visible place where all who pass by will be able to see it. God will be victorious and God’s people will be set free.

Application

Not only does God answer Habakkuk’s question, but God also instructs in the value of a clear vision. There was to be no guesswork about God’s vision and we are to participate in making that vision clear. Just as Habakkuk was instructed to hang in the vision in a place of prominence, so are we instructed to place the good news into the center of life. The vision of the kingdom of God must be made clear and the invitation understood.

Somehow I think that we have tried to be far too clever when it comes to sharing about the kingdom. We look for ways in which the message can be made more palatable to the culture. The result is that the message becomes hidden and not plain. At times it is so hidden that we don’t even recognize it for what it truly is. Lost is the message of hope and the clear vision of transformation at the hands of the LORD.

In frustration Habakkuk cried out to God and the LORD’s response was the clear vision. We needn’t be afraid to come before the LORD with our questions. We won’t always be comfortable with what is happening in life and we will want to ask God for direction. When we get that response, it becomes our responsibility to keep the vision clearly before ourselves and others. We should never hide the good news of Jesus Christ and must focus on keeping the vision of the message of hope clear for all to see and receive.

Prayer


Lord, thank you for placing a vision clearly before us. Please, help me to follow your vision and keep it clear before others. Amen.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Missing the Point


Scripture
 
Matt. 23:16   “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’  17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?  18 And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’  19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it;  21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it;  22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

Observation


Jesus is quite angry with the Pharisees and the scribes who seem to be missing the point. They are hypocrites who have misunderstood that which is holy. The holy one, Jesus, was standing right in front of them and yet they were blind to true holiness. Instead they were “blind guides” who led people astray.

They had developed a convoluted system whereby they determined that which was to be venerated as holy. The sanctuary wasn’t holy, but the gold was! The altar wasn’t holy, but the gift on the altar was holy. The intimation of Jesus was that they misunderstood the sanctity of the house of God, and of God’s altar. They had replaced the things of God with the things of the world — including gold and their gifts. They had shifted the entire focus and had become self-centered. It was all about what they had to offer which made them holy and, according to Jesus, this made them stupid and blind. The sanctified one stood before them and their selfishness made them blind to his truth.

Application

Woe to us if we become blind guides, leading people into any type of holiness which is not based on Christ. Jesus came and lived in human flesh to make us holy. The restoration of humankind in the image of God was to restore the reflection of God’s holiness in us. Christ sanctified human flesh every day of his life here on earth. The call to holiness then is to participate with God in fellowship with the Holy Trinity — and this fellowship is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As we partake of divine fellowship we are transformed and become more like the one with whom we are fellowshipping. This holy transformation is the point and this is only possible through participating in Christ.

Missing the point, the Pharisees were swearing by the gold in the sanctuary and the gift on the altar. These were all items made and/or brought by human hands. There was no divine indwelling or intervention in these objects.

What is our gift, or our gold which we believe makes us holy? Could it be a literal gift? Do we believe that our tithes and offerings will make us holy? No amount of money that we can give to the church or any type of parachurch organization will ever make us holy in the eyes of the Lord. Our offerings and gifts do not make us holy or righteous in the eyes of God. Turning our gaze toward the Holy One and allowing fellowship to transform us into his image is the only way in which we are made holy.

Entering the sanctuary for worship on a Sunday is not about seeking out an experience that I can enjoy, but about worshiping the one who indwells the space. Looking into the cosmos and the star-studded sky leaves us speechless and in awe for our Creator who is seated on the throne. Focusing on the things which we can personally accomplish diminishes the glory which should be given to God. When we fail to see the Messiah present we become blind guides, leading people into divergent spaces and conversations.

Let’s not miss the point today. There’s a lot of conversation which may lead us to swear by a political party or a particular person. If we do, we will miss the point. Jesus is here graciously calling us to look to the one who indwells the sanctuary and remains seated on the throne of heaven.

Prayer

Lord, please help me not to get so distracted that I miss the point. Amen.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Confounded


Scripture
 
Luke 15:1   Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Observation

Jesus frustrated the religious officials by the way in which he ministered. He didn’t do things the way that they would have expected but neither did they listen to or heed his words. The tax collectors and sinners were outcasts of society and the Pharisees and scribes would not have wanted to be near them. Jesus tried to take his message of hope to the Pharisees and scribes but upon rejecting him, he went to those who would listen. It was the unexpected people of society who came near and paid attention to what Jesus had to say. Jesus didn’t do anything to gain personal approval or power within society. He didn’t belong to the powers of this world and so he continued to confound the people as he clothed himself in humility and poverty to save all of humanity.

Application

The word confound may resonate for numerous reasons. Often we are confounded by what we are experiencing in the world and we try to make sense of it all. While we can ponder the things of this world, it is when we try to get our head around the kingdom of God that we really become confounded. It is in this space where Jesus goes against all the constructs that we think should exist. His response has nothing to do with his contemporary political context, but everything to do with living out his kingdom responsibility.

Jesus’ kingdom is simply confounding and he is the example for us to follow. First of all, we are to be a people who will listen. It may be easy to fall into the trap of the Pharisees and scribes. They were unwilling to listen to what Jesus had to say and we may become too busy to really pay attention to what Jesus wants. Jesus just kept moving until he found a people who would come near to him, pay attention and listen. Jesus went to the unwelcome and welcomed them, showing great hospitality.

If I am to follow Jesus in this life then I, too, must clothe myself in humility, reaching out as the hands and feet of Jesus to touch those with the greatest need. This is what confounds those around us because it makes no sense in the eyes of those seeking power. Following Jesus requires self-emptying and putting the needs of others above our own. It means that we intentionally seek out those who may not be like us and we bring them the good news of Jesus.

Following Jesus means that I practice hospitality among those who need it most. Just as we are welcomed to the table of fellowship with our Lord, so we welcome others. Space must be created for all to come near and listen. Jesus confounded the religious leaders by tearing down the walls of social construction. He loved those whom the world had deemed unlovable.

When we are clothed with Christ our behaviors and responses will be confounding as we welcome the sinner and show hospitality to those who are undeserving. This is confounding.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to follow you and serve you in the kingdom. Amen.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Inconvenient Timing


Scripture
 
Luke 14:15   One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  16 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.  17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’  18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’  19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’  20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’  21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’  22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’  23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.  24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

Observation

Little by little Jesus was opening up the peoples’ eyes to concept of the kingdom. People seemed to think that they wanted a taste of that kingdom but Jesus realized that they didn’t understand the commitment involved. In the Jewish culture the banquet was often used to illustrated the bliss which would be found in heaven. Therefore, Jesus used this metaphor to speak about the kingdom. Examining life’s priorities meant realizing that the kingdom was of more value than anything else that might come up in life. The call to the kingdom wasn’t always going to be convenient. The duties of life often get in the way of answering the kingdom call and so the excuses begin to roll in. There are business transactions which need to be completed, family issues at hand, or financial troubles which need to be resolved. The timing of the kingdom call isn’t always convenient to the priorities in life and that becomes the problem.

When those who are giving the opportunity of life in the kingdom refuse to respond, the movement of God will go elsewhere. The Spirit of God begins to move among the poor and needy for they respond. The timing isn’t inconvenient for them and they begin to fill up the house and yet there is more room. Finally the Spirit will go out into the roads and lanes and bring in any who will drop everything and enter the bliss of heaven. But for those who had too much going on — who felt the timing was inconvenient — they missed the banquet, never to be invited again.

Application

The time to respond is when the invitation is given. The offer will not be made at a later time and when we simply think it’s inconvenient, we are allowing the things of life to take precedent over the things of God.

What is it that has become so important in life that it has taken priority over the kingdom? We all go through seasons in life and with each season come new and different priorities. I’m in the season of Grandparenthood. I love my granddaughter, but I would be doing her a disservice if I didn’t make my participation in the kingdom a priority. Why? Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be passing on to her the importance of faith. Instead, if I made her the most important person in my life, she would grow up believing that all of life revolves around her, leading her to be self-centered. As much as we love our grandchildren and we want them to succeed in every sport and extracurricular activity there is, when we give up the central place of God in our lives for the things of this world, we are missing out on that which is better. No, the timing of the things of this world will not always be convenient to the things of the kingdom, but that’s what helps to place priority on what becomes most important.

I know there are some preacher’s kids who feel that they were cast aside for the work of the church. I don’t think that is what Jesus means here. But I think there is an invitation into spiritual life — not religious work — which must take priority. When I was a child we moved from Germany to California. The pace of life was much different in America than it had been in Germany. My parents were involved in ministry and they were busy, but so were we! There were four active children in the household and as American life began to dominate my parents realized that the pace of things was a bit out of control. Family devotions had always been a priority in the household. We had breakfast together as a family, read from the word and prayed together. This was so important to my parents that when we moved to California they realized they would have to change their own schedule to make sure that this could happen on a daily basis. All of us would have to get up earlier every morning so that we could spend time with the Lord as a family.  It taught the four of us that the kingdom was a priority -- even when it was inconvenient.

There is an invitation to respond to life in the kingdom and the timing won’t always be convenient. We need to learn to be spiritually sensitive to the moving and nudging of the Holy Spirit. This comes when we settle into listening to God so that we can hear the invitation to participate. The noise of life's clutter is far too often subtly distracting us from the kingdom invitation.

Prayer

Lord, help me to hear your call and direction, and may you give me the strength to respond without delay. Amen.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lavish Generosity


Scripture
 
Matt. 20:1   “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace;  4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’  7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’  8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’  9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.  11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,  12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

Observation

There are many points to uncover in this parable of Jesus but at the end we discover that kingdom culture is not worldly culture. The ways in which the kingdom function do not make sense in the eyes of the world and God’s generosity toward humanity is beyond our comprehension.

No one in this parable is paid an unfair wage. The landowner pays everyone a generous amount of money for working. The reality is that none of them, even those who began to work at the beginning of the day, is worthy of the salary that they receive.

The different laborers, hired at varying times have been interpreted in numerous ways. This includes a focus on various people groups. Who are those who are invited into the kingdom? Some would argue that it’s a progression beginning with the Jews and ending with the Gentiles. Or, we might say that it’s the good church folks at the beginning and ends with those who have just been saved off the street.

In our human understanding of “fairness” we would think that those who have served longer in the kingdom should receive more. We find ourselves right there with the long-suffering laborers, but we fail to understand the lavish generosity of the wage. No matter when the laborers began their work that day, the wage was more than generous. It’s the lavish nature of the kingdom of God. Then Jesus reminds them of what he had said previously about those who would sit at the places of honor at the wedding feast. The last are first and the first last because the scales of the world are not the scales of the kingdom. Those who think they deserve more will get nothing and those who serve faithfully without power and honor in the world will receive a great reward. God’s grace is not bounded by human understanding and lavish generosity means that even being last in the kingdom is a generous gift.

Application

It’s fun to give gifts to my family members. Watching packages be opened and the look of surprise is always a joy. We want the best for those whom we love and I’m sure that most of us have wished that we could lavish more on those within our circle.

I think that I’m learning a little bit more about this love as our little family expands. When it comes to planning Christmas gifts we now have a new member of our family. Mackenzie is our granddaughter and she will be about a year and a half at Christmas this year — an age where ripping paper and pretty lights will be fun for her and for us to watch. As I plan for Christmas I don’t plan gifts around how many years someone has been a part of our family. If that were the case, Chuck would get more and Mackenzie would get very little. Everyone else would get something somewhere in between. That sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? We give gifts because we love every single member of our family and we wouldn’t think of treating one differently from the other. It doesn’t matter how long someone has been a member of the family, they are ours and we want to love them with lavish generosity.

The grace of God reaches out to all of God’s children wanting them all to participate in the rewards of the kingdom. The sad part is that sometimes we play the role of the grumbling laborers and almost feel that we are begrudgingly engaged in kingdom work. It is work which comes with a great reward and when we fail to keep our eyes on the goal, we lose the joy that we have been given by God. At the same time, when we understand what the reward will be, wouldn’t we want others to have the opportunity for the reward as well?

I remember early in our days in Russia when I was doing some work at a polyclinic. Food was in rather short supply in the early 90s and in the middle of the day one of the doctors came and got me and dragged me by the hand outside. A truck had arrived with frozen chickens and everyone was lining up to get one or two. She wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on what was being offered that day. She loved and cared for me enough that she would take me by the hand to make sure I had an opportunity to get a chicken!

We have the opportunity to take others by the hand and lead them to the kingdom where they will receive the same reward as those who have been in the kingdom for a long time. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been in the kingdom, the reward is more generous than anything we deserve. Wouldn’t we want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the lavish generosity of our Father?

Life in the kingdom will never make sense to the world. Jesus invites us to live in the space where the last are first and the first are last and rest in the generosity of holy love which has been lavished on us.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your overwhelming generosity. Please, help me to share the way into the kingdom with others. Amen.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Humble Service is Required

Humble Service is Required

Scripture

Luke 14:7-14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Observation

Jesus and his disciples practiced hospitality. He was constantly concerned with the needs of others, healing the sick and feeding the poor and needy. The ones who thought they were deeply religious often ignored those who needed help and thought very highly of themselves.

The religious leaders tried to assume positions of power within society. When invited to events, such as weddings, they simply took the positions of honor, assuming they were meant for them. Jesus was trying to give them a glimpse of the new kingdom. What they didn't realize was that in the kingdom of God, he was the man with authority. In the world of the religious leaders they would place themselves in the best positions and Jesus and his disciples would humbly go about their business and take the places of lowest regard. But in the kingdom things would be set right. Those who thought themselves to be religious would be removed from their high positions and be replaced by the humble Messiah and his disciples.

Those who thought of themselves as highly religious and worthy of power and honor would be disgraced for they did not understand the kingdom.

Application

The application of this parable seems pretty straightforward, we just have to substitute certain players. The warning here is for those who may have spent their entire lives in the church. It's far too easy for church to become a part of our own culture. What can happen is that we become so engaged in the culture of church and society that we miss out on the reality of the kingdom.

There have been times throughout history that the church has had an honored position within the political sphere of the culture. Once Christianity became acceptable within the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, things began to change. At first Christianity was simply tolerated as another religion, but within a few decades Christianity had tasted the power of the Empire and gradually things began to change. By the end of the century Christianity was not only tolerated, but was becoming the preferred religion. Those who had been persecuted for their faith seemed to have forgotten their pains and readily took upon themselves the role of persecutor. Position within the Empire and proximity to the Emperor became important for church. Memories of the early centuries and how the Holy Spirit had moved the Christians to imitate Christ faded, and now, intoxicated with political power they threw in their lot with the Empire.

The hopes of those fourth century Christians was that the Empire might serve as a vehicle for the spread of the Gospel. Indeed, it did seem to work, and yet, there was a major cultural shift within the church as a result. Corruption and accommodation ensued. Whenever we align ourselves with human power and authority we set ourselves up for a great fall.

If we humbly follow after the Messiah we will not be tempted by the power of the world. We will live into kingdom power, that which comes from the Holy Spirit, and reveals the radical hospitality of God. We are welcomed into the great banquet feast of the kingdom where the first will be last and the last first.

Resist the temptation to be intoxicated by the powers of this world for they are nothing in light of the kingdom. Humbly follow the Messiah into the places of greatest need. Allow others to take their positions of power in this world while we live in the already of the kingdom.

Prayer

Lord, help to seek you and your kingdom today. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Eschatological Hope of the Kingdom and the Chicago Cubs


Scripture
 
Luke 13:18   He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?  19 It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Luke 13:20   And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God?  21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Observation

The imagery of these two parables spoke to the context of the day. The kingdom of God had already come and yet, it appeared to be very small. Faith was required to understand what might happen with the mustard seed. That small seed could be planted and become a great tree. Just so, faith in the kingdom would eventually lead one to see the great growth of God’s kingdom here on earth and in the age to come.

The disciples had already heard about the yeast of the Pharisees and its destructive powers because it would permeate the entire batch of dough. Now, however, Jesus wanted them to see that faith in light of the kingdom of God. The small amount of faith, just like yeast would eventually spread throughout all the bread. The small amount of influence that the kingdom currently held would eventually increase and spread throughout the entire world.

For the disciples to envision the victory of the kingdom was extremely difficult for the seeds of the kingdom were just being sown. Jesus wanted them to have faith because he knew that someday their hopes and dreams would become reality.

Application

My husband is one of those die-hard Cubs fans. He grew up in northwestern Indiana, right on the outskirts of Chicago and fell in love with Wrigley Field and the Cubs. The family’s first television was often tuned to those Cubs games and as a little boy he memorized players names and their statistics. He loved the Cubs and had faith to believe that someday they would win the World Series. My husband is now sixty years old and he has waited his whole life for this moment and watching the last few games of this series was rather agonizing. There was a moment last evening when he said, “turn it off, it’s over.” He thought that his beloved Cubs had “choked again.” He really couldn’t take having it off and did turn it back on to watch his team — the one in which he has had faith — finally win the World Series.

I suppose the Chicago Cubs could serve as Jesus’ modern-day parable about the kingdom. Cubs fans haven’t seen a World Series win in 108 years. For those who are members of my tribe — that’s the year the Church of the Nazarene was birthed! What’s amazing to me is that even with years and years of losses, most fans haven’t given up. They had faith to believe that some day their team would win again. They bought the shirts and joined together singing, “Go, Cubs, Go!” Wrigley field continued to be sold out for years. Last night people were dancing in the streets!

For those who think Christianity is dead, one only has to look at Cubs fans. People wrote them off for years and thought they were crazy. Plenty of people think that hope and faith in God’s kingdom is a futile endeavor. Why would people go to church on a regular basis, buy team shirts and sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” while waiting around for Jesus to return? (This is our eschatological hope) If people can hope for more than 100 years that a baseball team will win — why can’t we have faith the size of a mustard seed and believe that our Messiah will return to rule in the kingdom?

The Chicago Cubs are a hopeful reminder that the kingdom of God is already breaking into our current reality. The impossible becomes the possible. The mustard seed becomes a tree big enough for birds to rest in its branches. The tiny grains of yeast eventually leaven all of the bread.

Just like the long-suffering Cubs fans who are today rejoicing, so God’s children hang onto their faith. There will be seasons of loss and frustration but we cling to that eschatological hope — the hope that Jesus is already ruling the kingdom and we can partner with him in the kingdom. Someday he will return, but in the meantime, we work diligently in the kingdom, never giving up hope that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

Prayer

Lord, may the faith that I have continue to grow beyond anything that I could have imagined. Help me to live as a faithful witness to your kingdom today, and every day. Amen.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Bent Over


Scripture
 
Luke 13:10   Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.  11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.  12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”  15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”  17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Observation

Jesus was committed to attending the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was there on a regular basis, teaching from the Scriptures. In this place a woman appeared who has been crippled for eighteen years. She was bent over and bowed down toward the ground. It’s quite possible that she was paralyzed, or was born with a spinal deformity. Whatever the cause, the disease was destructive to her entire life.

One would think that she came hopeful to the synagogue. We aren’t told, but I’m assuming she had to have help to get there. It wouldn’t have been easy for her to get to Jesus, and yet, somehow her situation was organized so that she could come face to face with the Messiah.

Jesus had compassion on the woman and he responded in holy love. He reached out to the woman and set her free. Can you imagine the shock of the religious leaders as this woman is able to stand upright and praise God? This is an incredible miracle and yet, the response of the religious leaders is one of anger. There is no excitement at seeing something they may have never encountered in their whole lives, but instead the leaders are picky and complain that Jesus could have done it on another day. Jesus calls them out as hypocrites, for even they have compassion on their donkeys and will give them water on the Sabbath.

The story opens with a woman who is bent over and bowed down to the ground. It ends with the religious leaders who fail to recognize that they are bowed down to the earth, their own pride constricting them from healing. They are bent over, and will remain crippled for they refuse to see Jesus for who he really is.

Application

Cyril of Alexandria reminds us, “The whole human race, like this woman, was bent over and bowed down to the ground.” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 96) When Jesus heals this woman he is revealing his power to heal all of humanity. Christ, in the assumption of human flesh, brings about the healing of humanity which has been corrupted by sin. From the moment of his conception in the womb of his mother Mary, he is healing and sanctifying humanity. This woman symbolizes all of us, bent over and bowing down to the ground. We are overcome by sin and the weight of the world bends us over. We become weighed down by our burdens and there is no hope in the dust of the earth.

Somehow this woman had heard that a man named Jesus just might heal her. There is hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the good news which has been spread but just like this woman, we must respond. Just a hint of good news and somehow people must have been organized to bring her before Jesus. She would have known that it was the wrong day of the week, but she didn’t care. There was hope and nothing would deter her from reaching out to the one who just might be able to take away her burden. She is driven to seek out the Savior and she becomes a model for our response.

When we hear that there is hope for the condition in which we find ourselves, we should do everything that we can to receive that grace. Get yourself to church! Get into the word! Spend time in prayer! Put some effort into receiving what Jesus has to offer us.

Jesus heals this woman and no longer is she bowed down, but standing upright and seeing the world with a new perspective she is able to glorify God. When we remain in our bent over position we will see nothing but our problems. It is only in presenting ourselves before Jesus that our gaze can be lifted from our problems to the glory of God of the Father. We may be feeling bent down but there is healing for the crippling position in which we find ourselves. That healing can come about when we are willing to submit ourselves to Jesus to allow his healing touch to transform us and lift us above our circumstances. There is no reason to live bent down and focused on the troubles of this world. and Jesus never rests from good works.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for a beautiful promise of healing from the distractions of the day.  Amen.



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Expectations


Scripture
 
Luke 13:6   Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’  8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Observation

This parable may have referred to Israel, for they were provided with three years of Jesus’ ministry in which to repent. The owner was frustrated with the lack of fruit that was produced but the Gardner plead their case. While a fig tree should bear fruit in its third year, the Gardner wanted to give it more care and allow it time to respond. God was giving Israel a little more time to respond but if they didn’t, their fate would be in their own hands. The “fig tree” was undeserving of the patient care which it received and yet the Gardner advocated and interceded on its behalf.

The expectation is one of fruit-bearing. While extra time is given, ultimately there must be fruit, or a harvest from the tree. If not, it will be cut down and the soil and energy given to another plant in its place.

Application

God the Father is patient with his children, not wanting any to miss out on what he has prepared. At the same time there is an expectation of spiritual growth and development. God, through prevenient grace, reaches out to all of us, tending to the garden of our lives. There is an expectation of growth and development, and fruit bearing. When that doesn’t happen, we should expect the Gardner of our lives to examine us and determine whether we need a little more spiritual food to help us grow, or maybe some pruning. Eventually, however, if we refuse to take in the nourishment which is provided and we do not grow or bear fruit, we may be cut down and removed.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be growing. Following Jesus was never meant to be a stagnant activity. There is an expectation of growth and this growth results in a deeper love for Jesus Christ that overflows with a love for the world. When we love Jesus, we can’t help but love others and want others to become his followers. Ultimately fruit bearing results from the overflow of our spiritual lives and the way in which it intersects with the lives of others. Some people are pretty uncomfortable with the idea of “evangelism.” They are worried about what that might imply in their own lives and I’ve heard plenty of excuses as to why we can’t just go around talking about Jesus. At the same time, those who are so filled with Jesus will discover that the overflow from within them cannot be contained. Fruit bearing results because it is an indication of spiritual maturity. This was the point with the fig tree. The expectation is that a fig tree will bear figs. The expectation of a Christian is that they will help to bear new Christians. This isn’t just an option for those who may be more talented as “evangelists.” Every follower of Jesus Christ is to bear fruit as Christ’s passions become our passions. His love for the lost becomes our love for the lost.

The fig tree was expected to bear fruit in its natural environment. It wasn’t being challenged to do anything un-fig like. Neither are we. The call to God’s followers is a natural fruit-bearing which is not forced, but comes from the overflow of our relationship with Christ. The expectation is for us to grow. God is patient and gives us time and provides us with all that we need. We simply need to relax in the Father, soak it all in and allow him to grow and stretch us spiritually until fruit becomes a natural result.

Prayer


Lord, please feed me and fill me to overflowing this day.  Amen.